Paris /Arlington, Va. USA (December 8, 2016) – Today, the Ocean Health Index (OHI) announced its 5th annual global ocean health assessment score, 71 out of a possible 100, at the 18th annual Global Environment Facility Large Marine Ecosystem meeting in Paris. The 2016 score remains overall the same as global scores for 2012-2015 (despite a minor, yet statistically insignificant, increase in 2013), all of which are based on updated data and goal score calculations. The OHI, established in 2012, is a partnership led by scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Conservation International.
A consecutive global score of 71 indicates that, while the ocean has remained at a stable state, it is far from the desired 100 indicative of a fully sustainable ocean. At the individual Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) scale, however, high scores for populated areas such Germany (ranked 4th among the 220 EEZs assessed, with a score of 85 and a population of 81 million) and Seychelles (ranked 8th, with a score of 84 and a population about 97,000) exemplify the necessity of effective social and environmental governance systems for improving ocean health.
The OHI combines and compares the biological, physical, economic and social elements of ocean health to assess how sustainably ocean resources are utilized within a given region. The scores, which range on a scale from 0 to 100, provide decision makers with a tool to holistically understand, track and communicate the status of ocean health and, thus, promote the most effective actions for improved ocean management at subnational, national, regional and global scales.
"Understanding all of the factors contributing, both positively and negatively, to the current state of our oceans is the first step toward ensuring the ocean can continue to provide benefits to humans," said Dr. Johanna Polsenberg, Senior Director of Governance and Policy for Conservation International's Center for Oceans. "By also offering a means to advance ocean policies at different scales and measure future progress, the Ocean Health Index provides a cross-sectoral coordinating platform for informing decisions about about how to manage and protect marine ecosystems in an integrated way."
The Ocean Health Index team is working directly with more than 25 countries leading their own independent OHI assessments, also known as the OHI+, across priority marine regions such as the Pacific Oceanscape, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. OHI+ assessments have already driven marine conservation actions at the national level, such as helping shape China's 13th 5-year plan, Ecuador's National Plan for Good Living and Mexico's National Policy on Seas and Coasts. By providing an annual comprehensive database baseline for global ocean health, the OHI offers all coastal countries, at any level of capacity, a starting place for assessing the status of their marine resources and environments and utilizing an ecosystem-based approach toward management.
"What is really exciting about having several years of assessment done is we can start to see where and by how much scores are changing year to year, and begin to understand the causes and consequences of those changes," said Ben Halpern, Chief Scientist for the Ocean Health Index project. "We've given the oceans their annual check-up and the results are mixed. It's as if you went to the doctor and heard that, although you don't have a terminal disease, you really need to change your diet, exercise a lot more and get those precancerous skin lesions removed. You're glad you're not going to die but you need to change your lifestyle.'
Five years of global Ocean Health Index assessments have identified potential trends in ocean health. The Livelihoods & Economies goal showed the most rapid score increase between 2012 and 2013, possibly reflecting recovery from the recession that began in 2008; and Lasting Special Places, a sub-goal of Sense of Place, scores improved by an average of 0.5 points per year, likely due to the designation of marine protected areas.
Consistently low scores for Tourism & Recreation (47) highlight that countries are not sustainably maximizing benefits that can be derived from a healthy tourism sector and scores for Food Provision (54) and Natural Products (48) indicate that many regions are either harvesting unsustainably or are not maximizing their sustainable potential to produce more food from the sea. Furthermore, the overarching issue of poor quality data (or no data at all) limits the ability to estimate the status of fish stocks in many regions as well as the overall status of fisheries.
While Biodiversity (91) and Coastal Protection (87) remain the highest scoring goals,
reference points for both goals include maintaining coastal habitats at or about their extent in 1980, so decline of their scores from 100 have occurred in less than four decades. Continuing threats to habitat condition would lower scores further.
"We believe the Ocean Health Index gives reason for hope by providing a detailed diagnosis of the state of ocean health and also a framework that allows countries to identify and prioritize the most necessary resilience actions to improve ocean health, said Polsenberg. "This is where our work is most valuable. It may take some time for such actions to be reflected in the scores — but the steps being taken are essential to ensure a healthy ocean into the future."
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About the Ocean Health Index
The Ocean Health Index is the first assessment tool that scientifically compares and combines key elements from all dimensions of the ocean's health – biological, physical, economic and social. The Index's ten goals provide leaders with the portfolio of information they need to promote a more sustainable human ocean ecosystem. The Index can be used globally, regionally or for an individual bay. It allows for direct comparison across different aspects of ocean health and different locations in a way that is not possible with current assessment tools.
The Ocean Health Index was developed with the contributions of more than 65 ocean experts including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the University of British Columbia's Sea Around Us project. The founding partners of the Index Are Conservation International, National Geographic, and The New England Aquarium. The Founding Presenting Sponsor of the Ocean Health Index is the Pacific Life Foundation. The founding grant was provided by Beau and Heather Wrigley. For more information, please see www.oceanhealthindex.org or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.