At Ocean Conservancy, we often get asked “How is the ocean doing?” That straightforward question is actually quite difficult to answer. This vast resource, our planet’s life support system, faces many complex challenges. Quantifying them is no easy matter.
The new Ocean Index announced in Nature is one way to assess and compare the health of ocean ecosystems across different countries. To date, there’s been no comprehensive source that brings together all manner of ocean-related research in one place. The Index is a good starting point.
Sixty-five scientists and other experts worked together to create this tool. They use a series of indicators to measure ten goals important to us all, including
- food provision
- coastal protection
- tourism and recreation
- coastal livelihoods and economies
- clean waters
The Index looks at the current status for each, as well as the likely scenario for sustainability into the future. Overall, the health of the ocean received a score of 60 out of 100. The United States is in the middle of the pack with a score of 63.
Obviously, that leaves lots of room for improvement. On the other hand, it also means that there are several things that the U.S. is doing well. In fact, the paper calls out the National Ocean Policy for focusing on “…using comprehensive ecosystem-based management to address the needs of both humans and nature.”
The Index provides a solid basis for discussion, helping demonstrate how the decisions we make matter to our health and wellbeing, and showing us where to focus on solutions.
For instance, the goal of clean waters gets a global score of 78. The Ocean Index takes into account research on all kinds of impacts on water quality, from excess nutrients to oil spills and ocean trash.
Or take a look at coastal protection, which covers habitats like mangroves that protect our shores from storms: 73. Not so bad, but not where we want to be, either.
Putting together scientific information about concerns like habitat destruction and chemical pollution alongside key information like the cost of storm damage to coastal communities can boost the success of ocean conservation work.
The Ocean Index also shows how crowded the ocean really is, and how many different sectors rely on its resources, which is why we need smart ocean planning, (among other objectives listed in the National Ocean Policy), to help make smart choices when it comes to how our ocean is used.
As we move forward with the National Ocean Policy, we can use this collective scientific information in the Ocean Index to help make better decisions for the health of our coasts, ocean and communities. Working together, we can move to the head of the class.
Check back on The Blog Aquatic tomorrow for further analysis of the Ocean Health index from my colleague George Leonard.