The ocean touches nearly every aspect of our lives – making it essential to the economic, social, and ecological well-being of everyone, everywhere. But how do we measure the health of the ocean? The Ocean Health Index is a new, comprehensive measure of the ocean’s overall condition – one that treats people and nature as integrated parts of a healthy system.
Conservation International, The National Geographic Society, the New England Aquarium and the Pacific Life Foundation have unveiled the Ocean Health Index, the first comprehensive measure of ocean health for 171 coastal regions worldwide. The Index provides an important tool for policy-makers, representing a framework that can be used at scales from global to very local — wherever quality data exists.
The new Index is a quantitative measure of ocean health that considers human beings as part of the ocean’s ecosystem. It assesses ocean health in terms of the benefits from the ocean, organized as 10 goals that are enjoyed by people in a sustainable way. These goals include food provision, artisanal fishing opportunities, carbon storage, coastal protection, tourism & recreation, biodiversity and livelihoods & economies. Resource management decisions can be examined across the suite of goals allowing policy-makers to assess trade-offs.
Findings from the Ocean Health Index, which have published in the journal Nature, revealed a global score of 60 out of 100. Scores farther from 100 mean that we are either not maximizing the benefits from the oceans or we are not accessing those benefits in a sustainable way.
“The Index is a tool to be actively used by policy-makers and business,” said Steve Katona, Managing Director of the Ocean Health Index. “The Ocean Health Index website is unique because it is a portal to the Index; it’s a direct route to the methodology, goal scores and the components within those scores for every country with a shoreline (i.e. Exclusive Economic Zones – EEZ’s). Users can dig down to the raw data behind every component. For this reason, the research and website together are a breakthrough in taking science into action.”
Findings of the Ocean Health Index revealed
The Ocean Health Index provides an easily accessible online platform for users to look at country scores and to compare them with global scores. South Africa for example, scores 15 for food provision, 95 for artisanal fishing opportunities, 25 for coastal protection, 79 for carbon storage, 81 for biodiversity and 2 for tourism and recreation.
Key findings include:
- Food Provision scored 24 out of 100, further reinforcing the need to improve fisheries management.
- Mariculture, a subset of Food Provision, also received one of the lowest scores (10 out of 100), revealing opportunities for countries to sustainably raise seafood to help meet the demands of the growing population and provide economic benefits.
- The highest-scoring locations included both densely populated and highly developed nations such as Germany as well as uninhabited islands, such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific.
- West African countries scored the lowest on the Ocean Health Index. These countries also rank low on the Human Development Index, suggesting a relationship between good governance, strong economies and a healthy coastline.
“We are very excited about the launch of the Ocean Health Index — the first comprehensive measurement tool for the health of the oceans,” said William Wrigley, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of the William Wrigley Jr. Company and Board member of Conservation International, Co-Chair of Marine Strategy and Co-Founder of the Ocean Health Index.
Significance of a global tool to track ocean health
More than 40 percent of the world’s population lives along the coast and as the world’s population grows from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, people are growing more and more dependent on the ocean for their food, livelihoods, recreation and sustenance. However, approximately 84 percent of monitored marine stocks are now fully exploited, overexploited, or even depleted. The capacity of the world’s fishing fleets is estimated to be 2.5 times sustainable fishing levels.
“The Ocean Health Index is like a thermometer of ocean health, which will allow us to determine how the patient is doing” said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala. “The Index will be a measure of whether our policies are working, or whether we need new solutions.”
The lead scientific partners of the Ocean Health Index are the University of Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Synthesis and Analysis in collaboration with the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us. The founding partners are Conservation International, New England Aquarium, and National Geographic Society. The Founding Presenting Sponsor is the Pacific Life Foundation. Darden Restaurants Foundation was a founding donor. The founding grant was given by Beau and Heather Wrigley.