Ocean and Human Health Blog from the SOPHIE Project

Identifying Priorities for Oceans and Human Health – A Stakeholder Engagement Process.


by Dr. Easkey Britton, Applied Systems Thinking research cluster member and post-doctoral research fellow on the SOPHIE project.

How do we understand the links between oceans and human health? What are the top priorities for oceans and human health in Europe? How do we protect public health and the heath of the marine environment for a more sustainable future?

These are just some of the questions we explore as part of the SOPHIE (Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe) project; A 2.5 year EU H2020 funded CSA project that aims to establish a Strategic Research Agenda for Oceans and Human Health (OHH) in Europe.

The primary action of our work package (WP3), co-led by Dr. Christine Domegan and Dr. Patricia McHugh, is to engage and listen to a broad mix of people, from different backgrounds and disciplines across Europe, to define future Oceans and Human Health research priorities. Identifying the research needed to maximise the health and wellbeing benefits of marine and coastal environments is a complex issue. It affects numerous people and organisations, and no one person or group is fully in charge. Yet every person in Europe has a stake in promoting and protecting the benefits to health and wellbeing provided by the marine environment, whether it is high on their agenda or not. Through stakeholder discussions, we are bringing together a network of people and organisations interested in the links between oceans and human health, and exploring how public health, marine sectors and citizen science can contribute to this exciting area of research.

Over 800 expert stakeholders from across marine and public health sectors in Europe and around the world were invited to have their say in our Online OHH Conversations by identifying their top priorities to our trigger question:


 “What, in your opinion, are the top priorities for protecting public health and the health of the marine environment for a sustainable future?”

Following our online OHH Conversations, we brought together 32 experts at a series of workshops at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin in February. This gathering of ocean minds included a diverse mix from clinical / medical and planetary health backgrounds, marine conservation and activism, marine policy and planning, research, tourism, education, and more.

In order to gain a deeper insight into stakeholders’ top priorities for OHH a Collective Intelligence methodology was used that specialises in facilitating diverse group discussion and consensus building around priorities and solutions. Our conversations went significantly beyond just asking people for their opinions or what might be called ‘participation by consultation’. It gave invited participants a voice about the priorities and ownership and responsibility for solutions, together learning how to protect the health of the marine environment and public health for a sustainable future. Through this process, structural maps were created that highlight the dynamics and interrelationships between top priority areas and the key forces at play in the OHH system. Break-out groups worked on ‘calls to action’ which led to some very insightful discussions and action steps to help realise these top priorities for OHH. Most importantly, the workshop allowed space for everyone to connect, network and actively build collective leadership capacity, vision and commitment.  The environment we live and work in matters and our workshops were held a stone’s throw from the sea. A few brave souls took advantage of the local swim spot for a sunrise sea dip in the ‘invigorating’ waters of the Irish Sea!


The ultimate outcomes of this process of engaging stakeholders, individual and institutional, are to co-create transformational relationships across sectors and to determine priority areas of research, alongside a final report with specific recommendations for OHH research.


A full workshop summary will be available soon and later this year we will repeat this process with citizens to better understand priority areas for OHH across diverse groups in Europe.


An important conversation on OHH has begun, I hope this is just the beginning. To join the conversation, visit our Ocean & Human Health group on LinkedIn.


SOPHIE is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No 774567.


Pictures from the February workshops held in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin: