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Health risks

Health risks from the sea

Despite the immense benefits that marine ecosystems bring to our health and well-being, the sea and the oceans are also a source of health risks that must be evaluated in order to minimize them.

Apart from the obvious physical dangers arising from maritime accidents, storms and coastal flooding, etc., there are other, less visible dangers. Among the main risks of this kind are contaminants (for example, mercury, which produces neurotoxic effects and is related to certain types of cancer), pathogenic organisms (for example, the Anisakid parasites, which can cause allergies and digestive problems to some consumers) and marine biotoxins (especially in cases of the proliferation of toxic algae on the coast and the toxins present in some of the fish and shellfish that we consume, which can produce various health problems for consumers and bathers alike). These risks, which can affect humans via exposure or ingestion of contaminated seawater or consumption of contaminated fish products, can be reduced with sound management of fisheries resources and marine ecosystems, and of the adjacent coastal zone.

Anchovies with AnisakisPhoto: Dolors Ferrer


Table of main risks to human health associated with the sea

Type Product Kind Health risk
Chemical contamination Toxic contaminants in seafood products
  • Heavy metals
  • Persistent Organic Contaminants (POCs): Dioxins, DDT, etc.
Immunological system
Nervous system
Reproductive system
  Radioactive particles   Cancer
Material contamination Solid materials, most of them plastics
  • Domestic and industrial waste
  • Microplastics
  • Nanoparticles
Skeletal abnormalities
Reproductive system
Biological contamination Biotoxins I: toxic phytoplankton: “Red tides” (toxic algae proliferation) Toxins in filter-feeders (PSP, DSP, etc.) Nervous system
Gastrointestinal problems
  Biotoxins II: Emerging marine toxins
  • Tetrodotoxin (TTX)
  • Ciguatera
  • Toxins produced by cyanobacteria (saxitoxins, microcystins, anatoxins, etc.)
Nervous system
Gastrointestinal problems
  Pathogenic organisms
  • Bacteria (Vibrio, resistant bacteria, etc.)
  • Virus
  • Parasites (Anisakis, etc.)
Gastrointestinal problems


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