The development of OHH research will require transdisciplinary and trans-sector collaborations with all relevant stakeholder groups. No single group in isolation can address the research questions raised for the three target action areas, given their complexity and transdisciplinary nature.
In order to enable research collaboration, different stakeholder groups need to meet on an equal footing. Traditionally, marine and health researchers have limited opportunities and/or interest to interact professionally. This needs to be encouraged and enabled, and it is important for such meetings to be held in a neutral setting. Researchers also cannot address the three target action areas alone, and so collaboration with external stakeholders is required. This means engaging and involving the community at large. Again, these interactions will need to take place in a transdisciplinary forum where all relevant groups are able to input. Interaction opportunities need to be supported by awareness-raising campaigns to highlight the importance of OHH, and the mutual benefits of interaction and eventually collaboration, with appropriate incentives for participation. It is acknowledged that engaging the community and stakeholders in bottom-up initiatives is not easy and requires dedicated building of relationships and trust over time, including through shared experiences. However, willingness and interest to engage has been evident throughout the SOPHIE Project. Once a relationship has been established, it is easier to maintain and continue collaboration.
During the SOPHIE Project members of Irish Doctors for Environment (IDE)(1), public and medical health professionals experienced their own ‘blue space’ immersion with local surf tourism providers and engaged in a beach-clean before joining a workshop. This kind of direct learning and trans-sectoral experience can help break down silos and bridge the (knowledge and communication) gaps.
Another important initiative is the Oceans & Health Chair(2) created in 2017 by the University of Girona(3) and the city of Roses (Spain)(4), with sponsorship from the Fishermen’s Association of Roses(5) and the Fishmongers Guild of Catalonia(6). This Oceans & Health Chair is an example of how stakeholders, the marine sciences and medical disciplines can work together at a regional level.
Structured and facilitated dialogues with clear and realistic goals will also be required. It is important that all parties can share their own perspectives, aims and challenges and have those understood before moving towards research cooperation. The societal stakeholder and citizen deliberation surveys used in SOPHIE employed a Collective Intelligence(7) approach. Such discussions are very dependent on who is participating; therefore, it is important to ensure an equal balance of representation.
Funding calls for research in the target action areas should require the formation of inter-/transdisciplinary and trans-sectoral consortia. They should consider longer project timescales to allow for the development of common understanding and stakeholder relationships before new research is initiated. The timeline requirements highlighted to address the different research questions should be considered, possibly requiring a series of linked or related projects. Funding for regional research and solutions will also be appropriate, as important regional differences have been demonstrated in the results obtained within SOPHIE.
There will also be a large disparity in the language used by different groups, both literally and figuratively. As an example, the term “climate change” was rarely referred to by citizens, and instead the term “global warming” was more commonly used. This is a small change in terminology, but very important in ensuring clear communication. Appropriate language and framing of a discussion should be considered when communicating with different stakeholder groups.
It is also interesting to consider who provides the information, and in what way, to ensure the greatest uptake. As an example, within the citizen science pilot projects run within the SOPHIE Project(8), key OHH messages were distilled down into ‘fun’ or ‘interesting facts’ that eco-tourism operators could share directly with their customers. Breaking down complex issues made them easier to understand, and providing eco-tourism operators with information and background knowledge they would be comfortable sharing both proved very successful. These facts also made the activities that tourists were engaging in more interesting as well as enhancing the ‘knowledge authority’ of the operators and the image they convey as professionals who know about and care for the ocean.
Finally, systems thinking and behavioural change will be required to take OHH forward. The OHH community and policymakers will need to consider how to apply and operationalize the INHERIT model in practice(9).