Ocean health index provides first global assessment combining natural and human dimensions of sustainability
Using a new comprehensive index designed to assess the benefits to people of healthy oceans, scientists have evaluated the ecological, social, economic, and political conditions for every coastal country in the world. Their findings, published today in the journal Nature, show that the global ocean scores 60 out of 100 overall on the Ocean Health Index. Individual country scores range widely, from 36 to 86. The highest-scoring locations included densely populated, highly developed nations such as Germany, as well as uninhabited islands, such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific.
Determining whether a score of 60 is better or worse than one would expect is less about analysis and more about perspective. “Is the score far from perfect with ample room for improvement, or more than half way to perfect with plenty of reason to applaud success? I think it’s both,” said lead author Ben Halpern, an ecologist at UC Santa Barbara. “What the Index does is help us separate our gut feelings about good and bad from the measurement of what’s happening.”
The Ocean Health Index is the first broad, quantitative assessment of the critical relationships between the ocean and people, framed in terms of the many benefits we derive from the ocean. Instead of simply assuming any human presence is negative, it asks what our impacts mean for the things we care about.
“Several years ago I led a project that mapped the cumulative impact of human activities on the world’s ocean, which was essentially an ocean pristine-ness index,” said Halpern, who is a researcher at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), as well as UCSB’s Marine Science Institute. He also directs UCSB’s Center for Marine Assessment and Planning. “That was and is a useful perspective to have, but it’s not enough. We tend to forget that people are part of all ecosystems –– from the most remote deserts to the depths of the ocean. The Ocean Health Index is unique because it embraces people as part of the ocean ecosystem. So we’re not just the problem, but a major part of the solution, too.”
In all, more than 30 collaborators from universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, led by NCEAS and Conservation International, pulled together data on the current status and likely future condition for factors such as seafood, coastal livelihoods, and biodiversity. All together, 10 “shared goals” define the health of the ocean as its ability to provide such benefits now and in the future.
The Index emphasizes sustainability, penalizing practices that benefit people today at the expense of the ocean’s ability to deliver those benefits in the future. “Sustainability tends to be issue-specific, focused on sustainable agriculture, fisheries, or tourism, for example,” said Karen McLeod, one of the lead authors who is affiliated with COMPASS, a team of science-based communication professionals. “The Index challenges us to consider what sustainability looks like across all of our many uses of the ocean, simultaneously. It may not make our choices any easier, but it greatly improves our understanding of the available options and their potential consequences.”
By re-envisioning ocean health as a portfolio of benefits, the Ocean Health Index highlights the many different ways in which a place can be healthy. Just like a diversified stock portfolio can perform equally well in a variety of market conditions, many different combinations of goals can lead to a high Index score. In short, the Ocean Health Index highlights the variety of options for strategic action to improve ocean health.
via University of California, Santa Barbara
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