The Ocean Receives a (Barely) Passing Grade.
The Ocean Health Index (OHI) was released earlier this year, leaving a precedent for measuring oceanic health in its wake (pun fully intended). In it, over 65 scientists and ocean experts have collaborated to give the ocean an overall health card. The result? Our world’s oceans have barely passed with a grade of 60 out of 100.
According to the OHI, a healthy ocean is one that provides a range of benefits, both now and in the future. This ideology has been sectioned into ten major ‘goals’ for our oceans (an ideal grade would be 100/100, obviously). These include (overall 2012 scores are in brackets): Food Provisioning (24), Artisanal Fishing Opportunities (87), Natural Products (40), Carbon Storage (75), Costal Protection (73), Costal Livelihoods and Economies (75), Tourism and Recreation (10), Sense of Place (55), Clean Waters (55), and Biodiversity (83).
There are also individual scores for the 171 countries that are adjacent to shorelines on our planet. You can explore more about the OHI (and individual countries’ scores) here.
From a scientific standpoint, I believe this index is a good tool for ongoing oceanic conservation. It allows individual countries to see where what goals they are deficient in, but also allows them to see where they stand among other countries. In this, countries can give feedback about unsuccessful/successful conservation techniques to others. This may help global communication about the successes or failures of oceanic conservation.
The OHI is also valuable because it recognizes the importance of the human need for oceans. It incorporates fishing opportunities; for example, instead of taking the unrealistic view that we need to stop fishing now to help oceans recover to their previous biodiversity levels (which is true, just very impractical).
I believe, however, that the OHI has the potential to be dangerous as well. For example, if a country receives a high grade, say 80, there may evolve a mindset that ‘everything in the ocean is fine’. Conservation is an ongoing effort, and I’m worried that if a country gets too comfortable, efforts and opportunities to make our oceans better could slip through our fingers (or flippers!).
All in all, the OHI is a valuable tool for an ongoing assessment of oceanic health. However, it should only be taken for what it is – a number.