Ocean pollution causes viruses and toxic algae to proliferate

Seaweed piles up on Los Machos Beach in Ceiba, Mexico on August 8, 2015.

The state of the oceans is deteriorating. A group of scientists launches a new solemn appeal from Monaco, Thursday, December 3, at the address “ leaders of all countries and citizens of the whole earth ”. The content is easy to summarize: it is more than urgent to stop polluting the marine world, it is a question of human health, more generally of all life on earth and of the preservation of the planet. This alert message concludes two days of a symposium entitled Human health and the ocean in a changing world. If the participants presented what we owe to the ocean: an essential supply of animal proteins – even unique in some islands -, and a healthy diet, a remedy for depression, new molecules for the pharmacy…, they also have underlined what one can fear.

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Rising sea levels, more powerful storms, acidification and loss of oxygen, collapse of fish populations and invasive species: climate change poses many threats, but the rise of pathogens is directly linked to behavior of human societies and their colossal production of various pollution. An important synthesis of knowledge, published in the journal Annals of Global Health and made public on the occasion of the Monaco meeting, devotes a large place to them. This generous report is signed by some forty scientists, mainly American and European, and two main authors: Philip Landrigan, director of the pollution and health observatory of Boston College, and Patrick Rampal, president of the Scientific Center of Monaco.

Diarrhea, gastroenteritis and infections

Pollution of marine environments is defined therein as “A complex and ever-changing mixture of chemicals and biological materials that includes waste plastics, petroleum-based pollutants, toxic metals, manufactured chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and a harmful mixture of nitrogen , phosphorus, fertilizers and wastewater ”. Result: while “Each cubic centimeter of seawater contains, on average, one million microbial cells”, both natural marine pathogens and microorganisms introduced into the oceans from land-based sources are gaining ground. And they don’t just cause diarrhea and gastroenteritis. They are also the cause of eye and respiratory infections, hepatitis, wound infections, amnesia, death, and promote antibiotic resistance.

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