Monday, August 20, 2012

Ocean Health Index: scientists present new measurement that includes humankind

A cooperative effort by scientists from several ocean-related organizations including Conservation International and Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions has resulted in a new "health index" for rating the world's oceans.  On a scale of 0 to 100, the scientists gave an overall rating of 60.

As reported by Nika Soon-Shiong in the Los Angeles Times, the new index differs from other types of measurements that have been done in the past because it includes the presence of mankind, either as a positive or negative influence depending the specific factor being measured.  Those factors could range from pollution to sustainable fishing to shoreline protection, and more.

"The old model of trying to save nature by keeping people out simply won't work," said study coauthor Steven Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index for the nonprofit environmental group Conservation International based in Arlington, Va. "People and nature are not separate anymore."

Scores were given for particular nations, or the seas with which they share, and the numbers ranged from a high of 86 to a low 36.  The United States scored a near average 63.  The scientists gathered a variety of data: economic data from the United Nations; ocean temperature, sea ice, and UV radiation from NOAA; and considered 133 ocean economic zones.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "The index score for the United States suggests, according to the Nature study, that the country could improve its ocean health by supporting tourism businesses that are environmentally friendly; encouraging sustainable fishing practices; and investing in aquaculture to provide jobs and economic benefits to coastal communities.

Boosting the global index score rests mainly on improving sustainable fishing and cultivation of marine organisms for food provision as well as halting the loss of coastal habitats, the study found.

Generally speaking, higher-income countries had higher scores thanks to better environmental regulations and more money to devote to ocean-friendly pursuits. But there were several exceptions, most notably Singapore (which scored a 42) and Poland (a tad better at 48). Both countries had low levels of food provision from the ocean and fewer "lasting special places," among other problems.

Conversely, developing countries like Seychelles and Suriname earned relatively high scores — 73 and 69, respectively — thanks to high levels of carbon storage, sustainable harvesting of natural ocean products, coastal protection and opportunities for artisanal fishing."

With plans to recalculate the score each year, the scientists hope that the new ocean index will provide policymakers with a helpful yardstick as to how measure current conditions and policies.  After all, these are people who do not make decisions outside of human considerations, like it or not.  By including human interests in the ocean than the new measurement will not only reflect our mistakes or failings, it will also highlight how the ocean benefits mankind and, remarkably, vice versa.

Source: Los Angeles Times. 

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