Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ocean Health Index Provides First-Ever Global Benchmark of 171 Coastal Regions

New platform provides global leaders with an important baseline to track changes in ocean policy and practices  

Conservation International, The National Geographic Society, the New England Aquarium and the Pacific Life Foundation today unveiled the Ocean Health Index, the first comprehensive measure of ocean health for 171 coastal regions worldwide.

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. (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

Findings from the Ocean Health Index, published today 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.

Global and U.S. scores for each of the goals:
Global        U.S.
Food Provision                    24 25
Artisanal Fishing Opportunities                    87 97
Natural Products                     40 35
Carbon Storage                    75 66
Coastal Protection                      73 79
Livelihoods & Economies                    75 97
Tourism & Recreation                    10 1
Sense of Place                    55 82
Clean Waters                    78 74
Biodiversity                    83 76
Total average score:                     60 63

The Index provides an important tool to policy-makers for making decisions in the future. Resource management decisions can be examined across the suite of goals allowing policy-makers to assess trade-offs.

The Index is a framework that can be used at scales from global to very local – wherever quality data exists.

“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.”

The Ocean Health Index also reveals: 
  • 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.

This photo shows a coral reef scene with a pink anemone (Amphiprion perideraion) fish in
a giant anemone with a school of small fish in the background. Coral reefs are the most diverse
ecosystems in the oceans and are a key component of the Ocean Health Index. Learn more.
(Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

Scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us, Conservation International, the National Geographic Society and the New England Aquarium collaborated with ocean experts from universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to develop this landmark approach and digital platform. It has been designed to raise awareness of ocean issues, guide policy priorities, and facilitate a more inclusive and proactive approach to managing the oceans.

By re-envisioning ocean health as a portfolio of benefits, the Ocean Health Index highlights the many different ways in which a coastal area 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. Consistent with this idea, the Ocean Health Index highlights the many options that exist for strategic actions to improve ocean health.

“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. “The index is backed by pure science and it is our intention to see that it is used to influence people who have the ability to alter policy for the oceans to make the right choices for our future before it is too late. We know what to do to save the oceans; we just need to convince people to change their behaviors. We can indeed co-exist in a way that benefits both humans and the oceans at the same time.”

A photograph of mangroves in Indonesia with exposed Heliopora sp. (blue coral) in the foreground.
Mangroves play a key role in coastal protection, one of the ocean conservation goals emphasized
in the Ocean Health Index. Learn more.

More than 40% 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% 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 global score of 60 is a strong message that we are not managing our use of the oceans in an optimal way,” said Bud Ris, president and CEO, the New England Aquarium and co-author of the paper in Nature. “There is a lot of opportunity for improvement, and we hope the Index will make that point abundantly clear.”

“For the first time, we have a comprehensive measurement of what’s happening in our oceans and a global platform from which to evaluate the implications of human action or inaction,” said Dr. Greg Stone, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist for Oceans with Conservation International and co-author of the paper in Nature. “The Index provides a practical means to inform management decisions by government and business leaders through a robust and quantitative framework that uses the best available data for any particular place across ecological, social, economic, and political conditions.”

“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.”

“We believe that effective management of our oceans is critically important to help sustain the economies and people dependent on them,” said James Morris, chairman of the Pacific Life Foundation. “We are pleased to support the Ocean Health Index in order to help shape a new direction for global policy on the oceans.” The Pacific Life Foundation has committed up to $5 million towards the development and implementation of the Ocean Health Index.

A newly hatched green sea turtle heads out to sea in the Turtle Islands of the Philippines/Malaysia.
Protecting biodiversity is a key aspect of the Ocean Health Index. Learn more. (Photo: K. Ellenbogen).

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.

The authors readily acknowledge methodological challenges in calculating the Index, but emphasize it represents a critical step forward. “We recognize the Index is a bit audacious. With policy-makers and managers needing tools to actually measure ocean health—and with no time to waste--we felt it was audacious by necessity,” said Dr. Ben Halpern, lead author and scientist on the Ocean Health Index.

Ocean Health Index Expedition
Photographer and videographer Keith Ellenbogen traveled to Indonesia, the Philippines and the California coast gathering many of the photographs and video in used to present the information on the Ocean Health Index website. Read his expedition posts from those travels on the Aquarium's Global Explorers Blog.


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