By Laura Shin
Posting in Environment
Scientists created an ocean health index to judge how oceans are faring in providing us with food, jobs and carbon storage. The U.S. scored just above average, at 63.
The world's oceans provide society with so many benefits: food, recreation, jobs, tourism dollars, plus environmental benefits such as carbon storage. And let's not forget about pure beauty.
And now finally, we have a way of measuring how healthy oceans are -- and how well they can keep giving us these benefits.
Over the last two years, dozens of scientists, policymakers and conservationists in the United States and Canada worked to develop the Ocean Health Index, which they described in a paper published in Nature.
They then scored oceans all over the world, giving oceans worldwide a score of 60 out of 100. Among the 133 countries with countries, the worst score went to Sierra Leone (36) and the highest to Jarvis island, an uninhabited spot near Hawaii (86). The coastline of the U.S. got a score of 63.
“You can’t manage something like ocean health without actually having a tool to measure it,” Ben Halpern, director of the Center for Marine Assessment and Planning at the University of California, Santa Barbara and one of the leaders of the indexing project, told The New York Times.
The index focused on 10 benefits oceans provide people, such as food, jobs, carbon sequestration and beauty, plus awarded points for clean waters and biodiversity. Sustainability of its usage was a big factor in a region's score.
To score each country, a group of more than 30 scientists gathered data from a number of sources: economic data from the United Nations and satellite data on ocean temperature from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They defined each region by a shoreline on one side and 200 nautical miles out to sea on the other.
Study coauthor Larry Crowder, science director of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford, compared the index to a hospital visit that begins by looking at a patient's vital signs: "When someone shows up at the ER, there are things people look at: breathing, heartbeat, pulse," he told The LA Times.
Previous ways to measuring ocean health focused on the ways humans have damaged the ecosystem, whether by polluting it or driving species to extinction.
The index doesn't just give one score. Individual countries can determine which factors are most important to them and weight the score to prioritize them.
For instance, according to the New York Times,
"If a country thinks the best way to treat to the ocean is to preserve it, it can weight conservation factors more heavily in its score. If a country thinks the best use for the ocean is to extract resources from it, it can weight those factors more heavily."
This index is more focused around various goals that the users of that particular ocean may have: for instance, prioritizing coastal jobs might harm the score for clean water but increase the overall score.
"The old model of trying to save nature by keeping people out simply won't work," study coauthor Steven Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index for the nonprofit environmental group Conservation International based in Arlington, Va., told The LA Times. "People and nature are not separate anymore."
How countries scored
Developing nations, which tend to have fewer resources to plan and control ocean usage, tended to have lower scores, and developed nations generally had higher scores. Britain scored 61; India, 52; and China, 51.
There were some exceptions to these trends: the Seychelles and Suriname scored high (73 and 69, respectively), while Poland and Singapore had relatively low scores (42 and 48, respectively). Singapore and Poland's water are suffering from a combination of pollution, overfishing, lack of coastal protection, and other problems.
Dr. Halpern said that he was surprised that the global score was 60. According to National Geographic, "he said it leaves a lot of room for improvement, yet it also shows hope in the face of gloom and doom from the advocacy community."
In the U.S., there was regional variability. The West Coast got higher marks, while the Gulf Coast scored lower because it had not invested in ocean protection. But overall, the U.S. is doing well when it comes to coastal protection and coastal economics, but could improve in the areas of food supply and clean water.
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- James Cameron on his dive: 'culmination of a lifelong dream'
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- James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge expedition (photos)
- Video: Explore the seafloor with Google Earth
- How epidemics begin with human actions in nature
thumbnail: Artisanal fisher (Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)
Aug 20, 2012
Certain countries like Singapore practice reclamation that is why for such low scores even though we can be considered affluent.
...that affluence improves ecological quality. The polluted areas almost exclusively surround poor countries. People living near-subsistence existences do not/can not care about their environmental impact.
Article says, "But overall, the U.S. is doing well when it comes to coastal protection and coastal economics, but could improve in the areas of food supply and clean water." I find this grading system to be rather vague in that it really does not expose the levels of POLLUTION that are daily running off into the ocean. This article reads like a medical exam given for health, while the 'patient' continues to smoke four packs a day and drink alcohol! Due to the fact that roads do not allow for the filtering effect of the ground, then all of the chemicals and petroleum by-products will run down the roads to the drainage ditches, and then into open water. Hence it is called URBAN RUNOFF Every town and every city along a coastline has it. And every time it rains, it is like a major Exxon OIL SPILL that happens to our coastlines. http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Po-Re/Pollution-of-the-Ocean-by-Sewage-Nutrients-and-Chemicals.html Monsanto agricultural chemicals, the 'drug' of choice, runs off with all of these oily little drips and drops that are coming out of almost EVERY vehicle older than five years. Collectively it adds up to one BIG drip and drop and glip and glop, and increasing each year. You could say, in a funny sort of way, that the humans forgot to put the BOTTOM on every car! There's has been no accountability for the rolling OIL SPILLS that we daily drive. For example, boats cannot just pump their oily bilge water. First, the oil must be extracted from the water and then consciously disposed of. Accountability is what this is, and it is a good thing. It has saved our harbors from becoming in much worse shape than they presently are. Now this accountability needs to come ashore, and responsibility taken with dealing with these LEAKY mechanical contrivances that we choose to use. And all of this gooey leakiness is self-perpetuating, for it is much EASIER to top off the leaky power steering pump once a day for $1, than it is to shell out $500 for a new one. The OIL BARONS win again, for we truly VOTE with our dollar. Get rid of using petroleum and all of its chemical by-products, and the Earth will heal itself. Though, not likely to happen any time soon, for it is a petroleum-based mentality across the board. For a lasting change to occur, people need to be empowered to have a direct say with where their income taxes go for. Projects that get funded are the ones that people individually support. The one's that don't then fall by the wayside. What if already operating, non-polluting alternative energy systems were to be subsidized to the same extent that petroleum presently is? What if Monsanto had to LABEL their GMO products as such? If they are so proud of their achievement, why don't they do so? Teaching the children to know how to EASILY deal with their toxic waste, and the many ways of how not to create it in the first place. This will then shift our thinking over to a CLEANER way of getting around. One system uses a 'Zinc Air battery.' The company's name is ReVolt, and here is their battery technology: http://www.revolttechnology.com/how-it-works.asp. Read up on Google how swappable 'Zinc Air Batteries' is a game changer for stopping all of this disbursement of petroleum goo, by not needing it in the first place! We've proved it works with our cordless drills, for when one battery pack is charging up, the other is in use and plugged into our drill. Our vehicles and houses can become linked together in the same way. Solar PV panels, passive thermal hot water and wind power can give us some good sources for charging up a bank of swappable Zinc Air batteries. These batteries run electric motors that are built right into the hub of each wheel. Not a new idea, but a good one, and from the year 1901.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd8lBlLc9qY&feature=player_embedded My latest 'balancing rickshaw' electric vehicle designs: http://darinselby.1hwy.com/one_wheeled_chariot.html
I suppose you have to start somewhere. This seems to be too broad a brush to be professionally useful. The first disconnect I see is not knowing what the historic potential was for the sights and the direction they are heading - particularly in speciation. I note the FL Keys got as high a rating as the rest of US waters, in spite of a drastic degradation over the past 50 years - like the much of the Caribbean.