A blog on the Great Lakes for World Oceans Day? Let me guess, you’re thinking, “C’mon Shedd—get your waters straight!” It’s true the Great Lakes are fresh water, but these “inland seas” connect to the world’s oceans through a series of tributaries, rivers and other bodies of water.

It’s pretty incredible to think about how everything is connected in this world. I’m sure you’ve heard of the six degrees of separation phenomenon (where it’s said that each person is “connected” to another person within six relationships of each other). This same principle of interconnectivity applies to natural resources and the animals and humans who rely upon and call these resources home. Keeping this general interconnectivity concept in mind, let’s take it one step further: One Health. A current buzz phrase in the scientific, veterinary and environmental communities, One Health is the school of thought that animal, human and ecosystem health are connected and therefore impact one another.

What does a One Health example look like? Many of us have heard news stories about limiting how much we eat of certain fish because they contain unsafe levels of mercury, but we might only get part of the story. One Health looks at issues like these holistically, from where the mercury originates to how it affects us long-term. Mercury-laden pollution affects ecosystem health when it infiltrates a body of water. Animal health comes into play when fishes from this habitat eat dinner and also consume mercury. Eventually, human health comes into the picture when people catch and eat those fishes, and mercury travels up the food chain again. One Health looks at how all these different components are connected and then seeks solutions.

Recently Shedd Aquarium convened a group of innovative leaders to discuss One Health under the lens of the Great Lakes. This all-day dialogue brought together veterinarians, human and public health doctors, environmental conservation leaders, academics, scientists, public-policy makers and others to evaluate what they deemed the most critical One Health issues in the Great Lakes before discussing challenges and solutions. The morning was spent identifying the biggest issues of concern, like storm-water runoff and the need for more public education; the afternoon was spent discussing barriers, potential solutions, key stakeholders and next steps. A Great Lakes One Health convening synthesis report will be available later this summer. Just like in the headline news example, it’s easy to focus on just one component of an issue, and this meeting made it possible for participants to consider issues in a broader context.

At Shedd Aquarium, we care about all of the world’s waters, which create habitats that are vital to the health of ecosystems, animals and people around the globe. Although the Gulf of Mexico is 1,000 miles away, water from the Great Lakes reaches the gulf through connections from one body of water to the next. It’s important for us to think about our actions and the impact they can have, not only on our Great Lakes, but on oceans, too. So yes, we might be seemingly far from the oceans, but these lakes—these Great Lakes right in our back yard—connect us to the oceans and so we celebrate World Oceans Day.

Posted by Sarah Sinovic, conservation