2013 Ocean Health Index:
Sustainable Food Provision an Area of Grave Concern


Jenny Griffin

The Ocean Health Index (OHI) is an annual assessment of the health of the oceans conducted by a team of more than 65 collaborating international scientists and ocean specialists, and partnerships between various scientific and conservation organizations. According to the OHI, a healthy ocean can be defined as one that is capable of providing a wide range of services to human populations around the world in both the short and long term.

The OHI offers a useful tool for evaluating ocean health, advancing ocean policy, and comparing future progress, and can be used as a decision-making tool by managers when making important decisions regarding marine ecosystem use or protection.

“I'm encouraged because people, organizations and governments are paying attention to the Ocean Health Index and what they can learn from it,” said Ben Halpern, a research associate at UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), and lead scientist on the project. “Not only has the OHI been adopted as an indicator to gauge how well countries are meeting their biodiversity conservation targets, but it is beginning to inform the United Nations World Ocean Assessment and was named by the World Economic Forum as one of two endorsed tools for helping achieve sustainable oceans.”

The Ocean Health Index assesses the health of the world's ocean by evaluating the oceans around 171 countries based on ten broadly accepted socio-ecological goals. Each country is scored (out of 100) according to the ability of their surrounding ocean to sustainably provide these services. A global score is then calculated, with the Index score being the average of the 10 goal scores. The 2013 OHI scores are as follows:

Artisanal Fishing Opportunities 95/100
Biodiversity 85/100
Coastal Protection 69/100
Carbon Storage 74/100
Clean Waters 78/100
Food Provision 33/100
Coastal Livelihoods & Economies 82/100
Natural Products 31/100
Sense of Place 60/100
Tourism & Recreation 39/100

The 2013 Ocean Health Index (OHI) scores the global ocean 65 out of 100, which clearly shows that there is room for improvement in terms of managing our ocean resources. More concerning, however, is that food provision is one of the lowest scoring goals – an area that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. With food production being one of the most important ocean resources that humans around the world are dependent on, it is concerning that it was the second-lowest-scoring goal with a score of just 33 out of 100 for wild caught stocks and mariculture combined. A score of 100 is given for wild-caught fisheries if the biomass of landed stocks at sea is within ±5 percent of a buffered amount below the biomass that can deliver maximum sustainable yield. For mariculture, the number of tonnes of product per coastal inhabitant living within 31 miles of the coast is calculated for each country, and all countries above the 95th percentile receive scores of 100. Countries that have never had mariculture are not scored.

“Seafood is a major source of protein for one-third of the world's population, and it is estimated we will need 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed the growing population,” said Daniel Pauly, principal investigator of the Sea Around Us project and leader of the University of British Columbia team of science contributors to OHI. “The score of 33 out of 100 for food provision indicates we are not ready to meet that challenge.”

Coastal protection was another goal that was evaluated for the 2013 OHI – receiving a global score of 69 out of 100. Natural habitats such as coral reefs, salt marshes and sea-grass beds, mangrove forests, and sea ice offer coastal regions protection from storm damage as a result of storm surge and coastal flooding. A score less than 100 indicates a deterioration of key natural habitats that offer coastal zones protection form storms. Forty-five countries that are prone to annual tropical cyclones scored an average of 52 out of 100, making them vulnerable to coastal flooding during these events.

More concerning is that coastal protection scores of heavily populated cyclone-prone nations where the population exceeds 10 million, averages 51, which is much less than the global average of 69. This score was slightly less (-0.2%) than the 2012 score and the OHI calculates that this is likely to decrease by 1% further over the next five years.

“Restoring natural protective habitats in storm-prone regions, in combination with sensible coastal planning and creative civil engineering, is essential,” said Greg Stone, a leading authority on marine conservation policy and ocean health issues and executive vice president at Conservation International's Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans.

According to the OHI, wealthy countries have the greatest impact on industry and policy so their performance on the OHI is important to ocean health, but there was little correlation between their economic performance as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) and their OHI scores. The average score of countries with the 15 highest GDPs was 65 –– higher than the global average, but still not optimal.

“In its second year now, the OHI demonstrates that the areas with the least human impact have healthier oceans, but it also shows that nations who manage their resources better achieve higher OHI scores,” Halpern said. “We depend on the health of the ocean for many benefits, such as food, livelihood and tourism, and the OHI indicates that the condition of these benefits needs to be improved in order to provide a healthy thriving ocean for our children and their children.”

The full set of scores for each country can be found at oceanhealthindex.org.


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