Oceans and COVID-19: Perspectives, Reflections, Recovery and Regulatory Frameworks

Saleem Mustafa(Universiti Malaysia Sabah)
John Hill(La Trobe University)
Sitti Raehanah M. Shaleh(Universiti Malaysia Sabah)
Abentin Estim(Universiti Malaysia Sabah)
Zarinah Waheed(Universiti Malaysia Sabah,)
Madihah Jafar Sidik(Universiti Malaysia Sabah)
Chen Cheng Ann(Universiti Malaysia Sabah)
Rossita Shapawi(University Malaysia Sabah)
Lim Leong Seng(Universiti Malaysia Sabah,)


The Novel Coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan city of China in December 2019 assumed the global pandemic proportions during 2020. The disease it causes (termed as COVID-19) has created an unprecedented public health crisis, taken 1,324,461 lives so far, infected 54,817,231 people around the world, battered the global economy and paralyzed the normal activity. The world has been pushed into recession with resulting long-term financial hardship and social misery for all and global goals of development have been challenged. This situation is evolving so rapidly that the data on numbers of infections and deaths are changing daily and the economic impacts are difficult to evaluate at this stage and probably will not be exactly known in the near future. There will be domino effects of the containment and mitigation measures that will be implemented for years to come. It is important to determine the genesis of the outbreak to understand the root causes of COVID-19 and to prevent such pandemics from occurring in the future. It is believed that the virus originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that was also trading in wildlife for human consumption. Such practices are associated with the habitat degradation and biodiversity loss, leading to an imbalance of the natural ecosystems. The zoonotic spillover of this infectious outbreak is a reflection of this impairment of natural systems. While concern for biodiversity is fairly widespread, its practical translation into conservation action is slow. One strategy is to invest more efforts into linking biodiversity with issues that affect daily life such as food security, public health, economy and the general wellbeing of the societies. In addition, the role of oceans, whether direct or indirect, must be examined and recognized. Scientific and anecdotal evidences demonstrate the significance of marine critical habitats in combating and containing human diseases. Marine bioprospecting for antiviral compounds in many marine organisms can lead to identification of organisms possessing curative properties that can be used to treat the COVID-19 patients until vaccines are developed and made available. There are many other ways in which the oceans can help in human health. In addition to providing an analysis of the COVID-10 outbreak, this paper also suggests knowledge-based and informed measures that need to be applied to prevent a repeat of such catastrophic events while highlighting the role of oceans in this context. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is a unique phenomenon and the current models relating to its growth and development are limited both in terms of credibility and effectiveness. Thus, a serious introspection is needed to holistically investigate the consequences of COVID-19 as the world moves towards rebuilding the economies and societies. The disruption of supply chains, the closure of industries, the collapse of domestic and international travel, coupled with widespread unemployment, are some of the most visible disruptions to normal living. The growth, societal paradigms and existing systems of governance should be up for a review.  Plans and strategies for recovering the global economy and ensuring its resilience will require incorporating natural and ecosystem restoration in conjunction with implementing the concept of sustainable living.  In this context, sustainability of the oceans is a key consideration in the development of a framework for post-COVID-19 recovery and this aspect is the major focus of this paper.


Ocean solutions; pandemic; coastal architecture; marine bioprospecting; sustainable development

Full Text:



Allen, W. (2020). Learning for sustainability. Will Allen & Associates, Richmond, VA, USA.

Beyer, L. and Anderson, J. (2020). Collaboration on need-based solutions is key to resilient city infrastructure. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

BI (2020). Transforming education: A conversation on fostering students’ reconnection with nature. Biomimicry Institute, Missoula, MT, USA.

Bickley, S.J., Macintyre, A. and Torgler, B. (2020). Sink or Swim: The COVID-19 Impact on Environmental Health, Fish Levels and Illicit Maritime Activity. Behavioural and Social Science, Nature Research, Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland.

Böhringer, N., Fisch, K.M., Schillo, D., Bara, R. et al. (2017) Antimicrobial Potential of Bacteria Associated with Marine Sea Slugs from North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Frontiers in Microbiology 8, 1092. DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.01092

Bondad-Reantaso, M.G., MacKinnon, B., Hao, B., Huang, J. et al. (2020). Viewpoint: SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of COVID-19 in humans) is not known to infect aquatic food animals nor contaminate their products. Asian Fisheries Science 33: 74–78

Broome C.S., McArdle F., Kyle J.A.M., Andrews F., et al. (2004). An increase in selenium intake improves immune function and poliovirus handling in adults with marginal selenium status. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, 154–162.

Claudet, J., Loiseau, C., Sostres, M. and Zupan, M. (2020). Underprotected marine protected areas in a global biodiversity hotspot. One Earth 2 (4), 380 – 384.

Datta, A. (2020). Will COVID-19 change how our cities are designed in the future. Geospatial World. Geospatial Media and Communication, Noida, India.

Davies, E. (2020). What will be the future for brands in a post COVID-19 world? GRIN Newsletter, Birmingham, UK.

EMA (2020). Beware of falsified medicines from unregistered websites. European Medicines Agency, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

FAO (2010). Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption. Fisheries and Aquaculture Report No. 978. 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy.

FAO (2020). State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome, Italy.

FDA (2020). Beware of fraudulent coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments. Food and Drug Administration, Maryland, USA.

Gill, H. and Walker, G. (2008). Selenium, immune function and resistance to viral infections. Nutrition and Dietetics 65, S41–S47.

Harris, W.S. (2004). Fish oil supplementation: evidence for health benefits. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 71, 208 – 221.

Holland, J. (2020). UN: The world is producing and consuming more seafood, but overfishing remains rife. Seafood Source, Diversified Communications, Portland, ME 04101

ILO (2020a). Pillar 1: Stimulating the economy and employment. International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

ILO (2020b). COVID-19: Sectoral impact, responses and recommendations. International Labour Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

Imperatore, C. , Gimmelli, R. , Persico, M. , Casertano, M. et al. (2020). Investigating the antiparasitic potential of the marine Sesquiterpene Avarone, its reduced form Avarol, and the novel semisynthetic Thiazinoquinone Analogue Thiazoavarone. Marine Drugs 18, 112; doi:10.3390/md18020112

Ivory, K., Prieto, E., Spinks, C., Armah, C.N. et al. (2017). Selenium supplementation has beneficial and detrimental effects on immunity to influenza vaccine in older adults. Clinical Nutrition 36 (2), 407–415.

Jarred, Y.B. and Lu, Y. (2010). Marine compounds and heir antiviral activities. Antiviral Research 86, 231 – 240.

Karpiński, T.M. (2019). Marine Macrolides with Antibacterial and/or Antifungal Activity. Marine Drugs 17, 241.

Keesing, F., Belden, L.K., Daszak, P. and Dobson, A. (2010). Impacts of biodiversity on the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases. Nature 468, 647 – 652.

Lamb, J.B., van de Water, J.A.J.M., Bourne, D.G., Altier, C. et al. (2017). Seagrass ecosystems reduce exposure to bacterial pathogens of humans, fishes, and invertebrates. Science 355 (6326), 731-733.

Liao, I. C. and Chao, N. H. (2009). Aquaculture and food crisis: opportunities and constraints. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 18 (4), 564–569.

Lindequist, U.(2016). Marine-derived pharmaceuticals. Challenges and opportunities. Biomolecules and Therapeutics 24 (6), 561 – 571.

Lubchenco, J. and Grorud-Colvert, K.(2015). Making waves: the science and politics of ocean protection. Science 350, 382-383.

Martins, N., Imler, J.-L. and Meignin, C. (2016). Discovery of novel targets for antivirals: learning from flies. Current Opinion on Virology 20, 64–70.

Matsunaga, S., Fusetani, N., Hashimoto, K., Koseki, K. et al. (1986). Bioactive marine metabolites. Part 13. Kabiramide C, a novel antifungal macrolide from nudibranch egg masses. Journal of the American Chemical Society 108, 847–849.

Mohammed, A. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic exposes global ‘frailties and inequalities. UN News, United Nations, New York.

Morris, M.C., Evans, D.A., Bienias, J.L. et al. (2003). Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology 60, 940–946.

Munson, S.M., Reed, S.C., Penuelas, J., McDowell, N.G. et al. (2018). Ecosystem thresholds, tipping points, and critical transitions. New Phytologist 218 (4), DOI.org/10.1111/nph.15145.

Mustafa, S. and Estim, A. (2019). (2019). Blue Economy and Blue Growth in the Context of Development Policies and Priorities in Malaysia. Penerbit UMS, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Mustafa, S. and Shapawi, R. Ed. (2015). Aquaculture Ecosystems: Adaptability & Sustainability. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, UK.

Mustafa, S., Estim, A. and Saleh, S.R.M. (2019). A call for open access for marine bioprospecting. Environmental Policy & Law 49 (4-5), 232-236.

Mustafa, S., Estim, A. and Shapawi, R. (2020). Higher education and sustainable development of marine resources. In: Encyclopaedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Life Below Water (Walter Leal Filho, Pinar Gökçin Özuyar, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Londero Brandli and Tony Wall, eds.). Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland.

Newman, D.J. and Cragg, G.M. (2016). Drugs and drug candidates from marine sources: an assessment of the current “state of play”. Planta Medica 82, 775-789.

OECD (2011). Towards Green Growth. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France.

O’Leary, B.C., Winther-Janson, M., Bainbridge, J.M., Aitken, J. et al. (2016). Effective coverage targets for ocean protection. Conservation Letters 9, 398-404.

Osava, M. (2020). Prioritizing life or the economy will determine the post-pandemic focus in urban areas. IPS, Rome, Italy.

Ostfeld, R. S. (2017). Biodiversity loss and the ecology of infectious disease. The Lancet Planetary Health 1 (1), DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196 (17)30010-4.

Picheta, R. (2020). Coronavirus is causing a flurry of plastic waste. Campaigners fear it may be permanent. Cable News Network, 4 May 2020.

Pidot, S., Ishida, K., Cyrulies, M. and Hertweck, C. (2014). Discovery of clostrubin, an exceptional polyphenolic polyketide antibiotic from a strictly anaerobic bacterium. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 53, 7856–7859.

Raposo, M.F., D. J., de Morais, A.M.B. and de Morais, R.M.S.C. (2015). Marine Polysaccharides from Algae with Potential Biomedical Applications. Marine Drugs 13(5): 2967–3028.

Raveh, A., Delekta P.C., Dobry, C.J., Peng, W., et al. (2013). Discovery of Potent Broad Spectrum Antivirals Derived from Marine Actinobacteria. PLoS ONE 8 (12): e82318. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082318

Readfearn, D. (2020). How did coronavirus start and where did it come from? Was it really Wuhan’s animal market? The Guardian 28 April 2020, London, UK.

Ribeiro, A.R., Altintzoglou, T., Mendes, J., Nunes, M. L. et al. (2019). Farmed fish as a functional food: perception of fish fortification ad its influence of origin- insights from Portugal. Aquaculture 501, 22 – 31.

Soccol, C. and Oetterer, M. (2003). Seafood as functional food. Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology 46, 10.1590/S1516-89132003000300016.

SRI (2020). COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic has a natural origin Scripps Research Institute, California, USA.

Teleki, K., McCauley, D. and Thienemann, G.F. (2020). Eight ways to rebuild a stronger ocean economy after COVID-19. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.

Tortorella, E., Tedesco, P., Esposito, F. P., January, G.G. et al. (2018). Antibiotics from deep-sea microorganisms: current discoveries and perspectives. Marine Drugs 16 (10), DOI: 10.3390/md16100355

UNCTAD (2018). Review of Maritime Transport. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). Geneva, Switzerland.

Washington, H. (2013). Human Dependence on Nature: How to Solve the Environmental Crisis. Taylor & Francis, London & New York.

WEF (2020). Half of world’s GDP moderately or highly dependent on nature. World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland.

WHO (2020a). Timeline COVID-19. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

WHO (2020b). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

WHO (2020c). Climate change and human health - risks and responses. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

WWF (2015). Reviving the Oceans Economy: The Case for Action—2015. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, D.C.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.36956/sms.v2i1.238


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Saleem Mustafa, John Hill, Sitti Raehanah M. Shaleh, Abentin Estim, Zarinah Waheed, Madihah Jafar Sidik, Chen Cheng Ann

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
: +65 65881289 : info@nassg.org