Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, was joined Wednesday by Reps. Lynn Woolsey of California, Chellie Pingree of Maine and Bill Keating of Massachusetts in introducing the Oceans and Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2011 — legislation to reauthorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Oceans and Human Health Initiative (OHHI).

This science-based program seeks to increase our understanding of and maximize the health benefits from U.S. ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources, improve the safety of American seafood, reduce beach closures and detect emerging threats to human health in a proactive rather than reactive manner.

The Oceans and Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2011 would continue the OHHI’s national research program that examines the role of ocean and coastal resources in human health. It would also coordinate an interdisciplinary team of federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to update the goals and priorities for federal research on oceans and human health. Finally, it would reauthorize the secretary of commerce to direct the OHHI to coordinate and implement NOAA research activities, including grants and training programs for distinguished scholars and scientists.

“When the health of our ocean ecosystems is significantly compromised, human health is also affected, often with negative and lasting impacts,” Capps said. “For example, polluted runoff can lead to harmful algal blooms that cause mass fish mortalities, making people sick and disrupting the local economy. That’s why it’s so important to understand the links between human impacts to our oceans and coasts and human health.”

Congress recognized the importance of understanding linkages between ocean and human health and authorized the Oceans and Human Health Act under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 in the 108th Congress. Since its inception, this law has fostered successful partnerships between agencies, academia and the private sector, resulting in innovative and interdisciplinary research on oceans and human health. In turn, these partnerships have led to the development and delivery of beneficial tools, technologies and information to public health professionals, natural resource managers and the public.

According to a growing body of scientific evidence, the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes directly and indirectly affect human health — from the water quality at beaches to the safety of seafood. They also harbor substances that benefit human health, such as anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medicines derived from marine plants, animals and microbes.

“Because we continue to rely so heavily on the resources that our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes provide for day to day life, it is critical that these ecosystems remain healthy,” Capps said. “Reauthorizing the Oceans and Human Health Act will help us to achieve that goal.”

“Research funded by Rep. Lois Capps’ bill will allow us to understand the best techniques for protecting and preserving our oceans and their ecosystems for future generations,” Rep. Woolsey said. “These national treasures deserve streamlined interagency coordination, the use of advanced technology, and investment in the best methods to protect the ocean, environment and public health. We must take steps to stop the degradation of our vital resources through bills such as this and my bill, H.R. 192, the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries Boundary Modification and Protection Act.”

“Maine has been particularly hard hit in recent years as red tide comes to our shores with greater frequency and intensity. Local economies have lost tens of millions of dollars at a time when every dollar counts,” Rep. Pingree said. “We need to support the state’s shellfish harvesters by improving our knowledge of red tide and our ability to forecast them.”

“As every person in southeastern Massachusetts knows, there is a direct link between the health of our ecosystem and the health of our local economy,” Rep. Keating said. “A clean ocean and coastline is integral to the success of the tourism, fishing and agricultural industries. Reauthorization of the Oceans and Human Health Act will provide local research institutions with additional tools to better research and monitor this vital environmental connection.”

The Oceans and Human Health Reauthorization Act of 2011 would:

» Amend the Oceans and Human Health Act to expand the interagency oceans and human health research program to include coasts and the Great Lakes.

» Direct the president, through the National Science and Technology Council, to continue coordinating a national research program to improve understanding of the role of the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes in human health and deliver information, products, and services to assist the nation in reducing public health risks and enhancing health benefits from the ocean.

» Direct the Interagency Oceans and Human Health Task Force, to update the Oceans and Human Health Research Implementation Plan that: establishes the goals and priorities for federal research that advance scientific understanding of the connections between oceans and human health; provides information for the prediction, surveillance, and forecasting of marine-related public health problems, including those related to climate change; and uses the biological and chemical potentials of the oceans to develop new products for the prevention and treatment of diseases and to increase our understanding of ocean resources.

» Add surveillance, forecasting, mitigation, prevention and outreach goals to federal research priorities; and authorize social, economic and behavioral studies of human health and well-being.

» Authorize the secretary of commerce to continue directing the Oceans and Human Health Program (OHHP) to coordinate and implement research and activities of the NOAA related to the role of the oceans, the coasts and the Great Lakes in human health.

» Require the OHHP to continue to support: (1) centralized research coordination; (2) an external advisory panel; (3) NOAA national centers of excellence; (4) diagnostic laboratories; (5) transition of discoveries from research activities into applications; (6) research grants; and (7) a distinguished scholars and training program for scientists to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the oceans and human health research.

» Authorize development of new technologies for detecting and reducing hazards to human health from ocean sources.

— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.