The ocean's health is our health. We rely on the oceans for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and opportunities for recreation. All too often though, quantified scientific assessments of the health of our oceans fail to make that human connection—salmon is a key indicator species for gauging coastal conditions and so are surfers and commercial fishermen. Marine scientists this week introduced in the journal Nature a new "Ocean Health Index" that crunches data from ten factors—including the direct benefits to humans—that rates the marine health of individual countries as well as a global score.
What we found most interesting were the inclusion of factors like "sense of place" and "artisinal fishing opportunities." Not the sorts of phrases often seen in a dry scientific paper. The lowest score goes to the waters off Sierra Leone: a 36 out of 100. The healthiest waters on the planet? You'll find those off the completely human free Jarvis Islands (86) near Hawaii. The blue planet as a whole scores a 60 out of 100.
Ars Tecnica calls the new tool a Dow Jones index for the ocean:
To an extent, the index quantifies what we already knew: human activities such as overfishing, coastal development, and pollution have already taken their toll, altering marine ecosystems and the services they provide now, and for future generations. But it could also be used as a tool to help keep further damage from accumulating.
Spend some time mousing around the index's interactive global map and you'll see a breakdown of the score for each country. Canada's doing much better than the United States, which ties with tiny Malta and Oman for scores of 63. Three of the scientists who developed the index wrote in Pacific Standard Magazine that the tool "is an invitation to the world’s scientific and policy community to use, improve and expand."
Our efforts to establish an Index score now means that we will have something to compare ocean health to next year, in five years, and in 20 years. We have a benchmark against which we can assess and document progress and, where necessary, point out and hopefully reverse declines.
There's certainly plenty of room for improvement and we hope the new index will give leverage to policy makers and improve general awareness of the importance of cleaning up our seas.
Image via Ocean Health Index Facebook page