Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ocean Health Index Data Makes a Difference

As a global leader in ocean conservation, the New England Aquarium carefully watches research indicators that reflect changes in the marine environment. One of those indicators is the Ocean Health Index.

Wayag Lagoon, Raja Ampat, Indonesia (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

The Index is a comprehensive measure, launched last year, that scores ocean health from 0 to 100. It defines a healthy ocean as one that sustainably delivers a range of benefits to people both now and in the future. 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.

This scoring methodology recognizes that humans are part of the natural system, and that the benefits we derive from the oceans depend on our ability to manage our impact in a sustainable and thoughtful way.

Exuma Cays Land And Sea Park, Bahamas (Photo: J. Yonover)

To assess the relative state of the world’s oceans, the Index accounts for ten major goals that contribute to the health and quality of a country’s waters. These ten goals represent the key ecological, social, and economic benefits that a healthy ocean provides. Each goal score is averaged to provide an overall score for ocean health (ranging from 0 to 100) on a country-by-country basis.

Tuna fishing boat in Manta, Ecuador. Among other goals, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape aims to help participating countries regulate their fisheries sustainably. (© CI/photo by Keith Lawrence)

These indicators can promote action. A perfect example of this is Colombia, which scored 62 out of 100 on the overall Index score. The overall score was driven by low scores in both Food Provision and Tourism and Recreation. Colombia regarded this score as a call to make political decisions that would improve the management of natural resources. The Colombian government launched a “Blue Agenda," to strengthen the implementation and enforcement of existing environmental protection systems and supporting jobs, biodiversity, clean water initiatives and sustainable food production. Read more about those efforts and similar work done in Ecuador in response to the Index.

The Index is emerging as an important vehicle for elevating the profile of and promoting discourse on the conservation and management of marine resources. While the final Index score may provide an important benchmark and incentive for some, countries like Colombia are using the evaluation process to take meaningful action. After a year the Index is prompting change.

Heather Tausig
Vice President of Conservation
New England Aquarium

Meghan Jeans
Director of Conservation
New England Aquarium

Kristin Kleisner
Research Scientist
The Nature Conservancy
NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center

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