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The Ocean Human Health Research Program

The OHH research program was started in 2000 by Dr. Eric Dewailly, a coastal people public health specialist, and Philippe Max Rouja, PhD, a social/cultural anthropologist specializing in fishing and coastal people, to move forward significant research projects that fell outside of normal funding parameters.

Many of these projects were based on 'Curious Data' – data that challenged or were unknown to current scientific thinking. Often the questions investigated have been based on ideas and theories put forward by local experts among coastal people. The long standing connection to place that characterizes many traditional cultures means that they have a continuous empirical understanding of the environment, its patterns, its changes, and, more importantly, its anomalies. The insights that have been gained through such research queries have been invaluable. 

Across disciplines from medicine to engineering, psychology to environmental biology, we see increasingly the benefits of the application of traditional knowledge that has been hard won by generations of specialists. The knowledge and scientific perspectives that they preserve and expand is a key element in managing the way forward in a changing and complex world.


Strong cross cultural scientific partnerships have been the foundation of our work in OHH. Incorporating native traditional knowledge has been the strength of our research projects.

The scientific traditions of groups like the Bardi (Australia) or the Inuit (Canada) are based on a fundamental understanding of the interconnected nature of all things. The local perspective of the innate complexity of the world is difficult for western science to model or replicate. The marrying of western science with a science based on a view of the world gathered by traditional experts, however, makes for a very promising and, in our experience, incredibly rewarding partnership.

The scientific insights we have already achieved range from the impact of specific nutrients on human health such as the global shift in our understanding and consumption of omega three fatty acids based entirely on knowledge gained from northern indigenous groups to an understanding of past processes related to shifts in climate to understanding the social solutions reached by groups that sought balance between growing human societies and the consequences to the natural world around them.

All solutions need to be on the table.