Introducing the Ocean Health Index

Introducing the Ocean Health Index
A clownfish in the Philippines

A group of scientists and marine experts has revealed a new way to measure the overall health of the sea. The Ocean Health Index is shedding surprising light on how the health of the ocean impacts our daily lives.  Some believe the way we interact with the sea could be putting the vital resource in serious jeopardy.

Record breaking storms, rising sea levels, and collapsing fisheries could be important signs from the ocean that the relationship between man and the sea is out of balance with potentially devastating consequences.

 “Our society is going to be tested in ways that it’s never been tested before,” said Tom Karl of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

During the month of September, KATU News and KATU.com will present a series of reports from the Ocean Health Index about the state of our planet's oceans.

Experts point to man’s reliance on the sea for everything from jobs to food, to clean water and storm protection.

“We need to protect the ocean as if our lives depend on it, because they do,” said oceanographer Sylvia Earle. “It's tricky business.  It's vital business.  And somebody has to do it.”

Until now, there hasn’t been a way to gauge the overall health of the ocean and its relationship with man. The Ocean Health Index creates a new world standard that boils down the best in ocean science and expertise into a single number score that gauges the health of the ocean based on the ten vital needs we have from the sea – things like seafood, livelihoods, coastal protection from storms, recreation, and more.

“You can't manage what you can't measure or what you don't measure,” said the managing director of the Ocean Health Index, Steve Katona. “But it can be measured.  And it must be measured.”

The goal is not perfection, but rather balance.  A score of 100 indicates man is getting all he needs from the ocean, while also protecting the ocean so it can continue to provide for man for generations to come.  Low scores indicate an imbalance that could be putting the life-giving relationship between man and the sea in jeopardy.

 “People have studied parts of the ocean in great detail.  But nobody has ever put together information from all of those studies into a coherent integrated assessment of everything in the ocean, including people,” said Katona. “So this is the first time that we've been able to put numbers on how the ocean and we are performing together.”

Experts believe this new view of the ocean will give man the information he needs to change course where necessary and chart a path to a healthy ocean.

“The Ocean Health Index provides policy-makers some guidance directly because it’s like a thermometer for the ocean,” said Andrew Rosenberg, a professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire. “You can measure if things are getting better or worse on a scale that’s understandable and comparable from one year to the next.”

Developing the Ocean Health Index took more than three years and 60 scientists to complete. Scores will be issued annually for the ocean as a whole and for each of the 171 countries with a shoreline.

To learn more about other factors impacting the health of the ocean and what it might mean to our future, you can visit http://www.oceanhealthindex.org.