What Do We Do?
Oceanic and coastal waters harbor and transport microorganisms and chemicals that cause disease or otherwise affect in humans and other animals. Additionally, as modulators of climate, the oceans indirectly influence disease patterns and the distribution of many pathogens. At the same time, the oceans are changing as a result of human activities: sea surface temperature is rising, fresh water supply to estuaries and coasts is being altered, chemical and microbial contamination is increasing, and independent of greenhouse warming, increased CO2 in the atmosphere is leading to greater uptake of carbon dioxide by the ocean, which significantly reduces the pH of surface waters. How these changes will impact marine ecosystems is an area of active research. How these ecosystem changes will in turn affect human health is a largely unexplored field. The Georgia Oceans and Health Initiative (GOHI) graduate training initiative is an effort to respond to this need by training doctoral students to reach across traditional disciplines to better understand the linkages between the oceans and human health. This initiative will bring together for the first time, ocean, environmental, and public health scientists at the University of Georgia and affiliated institutions to initiate such a graduate training program.
In addition to fostering cross discipline interactions through oceans and health curriculum and seminars, all trainees will participate in research with investigators at in oceans and human health programs at various NOAA laboratories. Students also explore the public health policy implications of their research by working directly with non-governmental organizations as well as federal, state and local agencies.
Currently, researchers across UGA are engaged in research related to the mission of NOAA’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative. In particular, the PIs have nationally recognized programs in microbial ecology and human pathogens in estuaries and shellfish, pharmaceutical contaminants and aquatic toxicology, and the effects of climate change. Investigators include microbiologists, biogeochemists, toxicologists and ecologists with on-going research programs in which a human health component already exists or can be easily incorporated. Furthermore, collaborating investigators at NOAA centers will complement these research strengths. In light of these core research areas this training program focuses on three principal areas: microbial ecology and human pathogens in coastal zones; aquatic toxicology; and the role of oceans and microbes in climate change. The training program provides research, travel and salary support for support for pre-doctoral students for one to three years. Upon completion of their traineeship, students will be broadly trained in both aquatic/ocean sciences and its application to human health and health policy and will be prepared to successfully move forward in this growing field. The additional benefit of this training program is the increased collaboration between UGA faculty in traditional natural and ocean sciences and public health and increased collaboration with regional NOAA research scientists, leading to future research partnerships in ocean and human health issues.