Picture yourself at a beachside barbecue, about to enjoy some fresh clams picked by your friends. How do you know if they are safe to eat?


Pollution in the ocean directly affects our health, especially if we eat seafood. Shellfish are particularly sensitive to pollution. They eat tiny organisms called plankton. Sometimes these plankton contain toxins, which make the shellfish poisonous for humans.


Pollution, especially added nutrients (as from fertilizers and sewage), can lead to plankton blooms, which are sometimes toxic. The government runs the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program, which monitors whether shellfish harvesting areas are safe.


The health of the marine environment directly affects you in other ways, too. For example, our beaches are sometimes closed due to unsafe levels of fecal coliform, which can result from improper sewage treatment or leaking septic tanks.

Mercury in fish poses a health risk to people. Fish that eat fish, such as tuna and swordfish, can have especially high levels of mercury. Mercury pollution comes from the improper disposal of electronics, batteries and thermometers, and the burning of coal.

Out of sight, out of mind? We might like to think so, but the intimate connection between ocean and human health betrays this lie.

Let’s treat the ocean with respect and we will all benefit.

Kai Chan is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair at the Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC. Hes a transdisciplinary environmental researcher, integrating ethics and social and natural sciences. Natalie Ban is a PhD candidate at the UBC Fisheries Centre.