Defra report features Centre research on ‘blue health’

Posted on 18th July 2020

Researchers at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health and Plymouth Marine Laboratory have teamed up with Defra in a study that shows that spending time in marine and coastal environments has positive benefits on health and wellbeing.

Funded by Defra and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the review reveals that visits to marine and coastal areas with designated or protected status and those with higher levels of biodiversity are associated with greater levels of calmness, relaxation and revitalisation, compared to locations without this status.

The project synthesised research from a range of studies and found that South West beaches encourage families to be physically active and increase social and family interactions. Coastal activities such as beach cleaning, rock-pooling and walking were linked to a positive mood, more pro-environmental intentions such as recycling, and higher marine awareness.

One of the included studies also showed that people living in the South West are more likely than residents in other regions to swim or take part in watersports when visiting the coast.

In England, 271 million recreational visits are made to coastal environments annually and the report shows that regional variations exist, with more visits to coastal environments made by people living in the south-west and north-east compared to London, where more visits were made to urban open spaces.

The report takes into account evidence from 46 academic studies on the effect of marine and coastal environments on health and wellbeing, more than half of which were led by the University of Exeter in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Plymouth, highlighting the high calibre of expertise in the field of environment and human heath in the south-west region.

Dr Rebecca Shellock, who synthesised the research as part of a joint PhD at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Exeter, said:

“This evidence statement provides an overview of the benefits of the marine and coastal environment for human health in the UK and provides a useful reference document for policy and decision makers. This type of evidence is vital for marine and coastal protection and for encouraging the use of marine and coastal environments. It’s notable that the evidence statement features a large number of articles from Westcountry institutions, they are leaders in oceans and human health research and have created an evidence base to inform and benefit people across the world”.

Findings also demonstrate that degraded marine environments may reduce recreational opportunities and result in emotional upset, indicated by feelings of sadness and anger and, therefore, reduce the wellbeing benefits of visiting such an area. They highlight dangers such as the presence of harmful algal blooms and possible spread of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in South West waters.

In the coming decades, climate change and extreme weather have the potential to jeopardise sensitive marine habitats, demonstrating the importance of the UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

Professor Lora Fleming, director of the European Centre, said:

“Our research has shown that the coast helps to cater for a variety of human needs, from keeping healthy to connecting with others. There are, however, a number of evidence gaps which we wish to further explore, such as the effects of marine environments on obesity prevalence in children and Vitamin D in adults; or the life stage at which nature-based interventions are most effective and how they may vary among economic, social and cultural groups in the population.”

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