Global Ocean Health scores 67 out of 100
Annual Ocean Health Index Report also assessed the Antarctic and high seas oceans for the first time, critical regions for maintaining a healthy climate, safeguarding biodiversity and providing sustainable food sources
Source: Conservation International
Researchers have announced the scores for the most comprehensive assessment done by the Ocean Health Index, which scored the entirety of the Earth’s oceans at 67 out of 100 in overall health.
The third annual update from the Index, a partnership led by scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at UC Santa Barbara and Conservation International, is the first to include scores for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean plus the 15 other ocean regions beyond national jurisdiction (high seas areas).
Together with the 220 Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) measured in 2012 and 2013, the Index now measures all of the oceans on planet Earth.
Antarctica and the Southern Ocean region scored 72 while the average score of the other high seas regions was 67 out of 100. These distant areas had not been included in the earlier assessments because they required additional data.
In 2012 and 2013, the Ocean Health Index only assessed the 220 EEZs of coastal countries and their territories. The overall score for those regions, accounting for modification and updates of data and methods, was 67 in all three years.
“During our first two years, we were able to show the health of the oceans within 200 nautical miles of coastlines, but it was like a doing a jig-saw puzzle where you put the edges together first,” said Ben Halpern, professor at Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara, associate with NCEAS, and lead scientist for the Ocean Health Index. “Filling in the rest of the puzzle with Antarctica and the high seas completes the picture and is a major step toward better understanding the state of our entire oceans.”
Adding into the Index the approximately 64% of the ocean designated as high seas, including Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, begins to provide a more complete picture of ocean health, even though most of those areas are not yet adequately studied.
The Antarctic and Southern Ocean
The eight goals assessed for Antarctica were Food Production (55), Natural Products (29) Coastal Protection (99), Economies and Livelihoods (83), Tourism and Recreation (55), Sense of Place (46), Coastal Protection (99), Clean Water (100) and Biodiversity (94).
“Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are protected by distance from many of the threats caused by human populations such as chemicals, excessive nutrients, pathogens and trash. That’s why we see a very high score in a goal like Clean Water,” said Greg Stone, chief scientist and executive vice president of the Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International.
“Fishing is still having an impact in this region, despite improved monitoring, successful efforts to reduce by-catch and new management of krill fisheries. This is also a region where illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries (IUUs) still persist.”
Catherine Longo, project scientist at NCEAS and lead scientist of the Antarctica assessment, said: “The Antarctic’s biodiversity score of 94 out of 100 is encouraging, but it is based on data from only 132 species that have been formally assessed.
“On the good side many historically overexploited species are recovering, such as the blue whale and Antarctic fur seal, the Southern right whale, and humpback whale. But 38 species are decreasing, including some iconic species such as Southern bluefin tuna, basking shark, porbeagle, Gentoo penguin, and the Tristan, wandering and black-browed albatrosses. Two of the species are critically endangered, seven are endangered, 14 are vulnerable and 15 are near threatened according to the IUCN Red List.
“Prey declines due to fisheries may play a role, but climate change is also an important factor, because the whole system is dependent on sea ice, and warming temperatures are changing where and when it forms and melts. How well species will adapt is still unclear, but the plight of different penguin populations, some increasing, some declining, warns that these changes are already happening.”
“A basic problem,” Longo continued, “is our lack of information about so much of this region’s sea life. For example, 53 of the 132 species assessed have unknown population trends; and of the 48 species identified as iconic, 13 are data-deficient for status and 26 for trend. This doesn’t even consider the organisms that aren’t yet part of any regular monitoring, such as the marine benthos.”
Sense of Place scored 46, evaluating the ocean’s intangible benefits to cultural, traditional, spiritual and aesthetic values. As proxy measures, this goal assesses the status of iconic species, which scored 90, and special places, which only scored 1, because just a tiny percentage of Antarctica’s nearshore waters and coastline is protected compared to the target of 30%.
“The score of 100 that is set as a target for each goal reflects a status that is feasible to achieve and can sustainably produce maximum benefits now and in the future. Any score below 100 means there is room for improvement,” said Steve Katona, managing director for the Ocean Health Index. “In Antarctica, as elsewhere, low scores in Food Provision, Natural Products, Sense of Place and others point to things to improve so that we can maintain the health of ocean habitats, wildlife and economic species and still help meet the needs of our growing human population.”
Three goals and sub-goals were appropriate for the assessment of the High Seas: Fisheries, Iconic Species, and Biodiversity (measured as the threat of extinction to all assessed Species).
“The High Seas are important to people because they are home to important fisheries for species such as tuna and provide habitat or migratory pathways for iconic species such as whales, sharks and sea turtles,” said Elizabeth Selig, conservation scientist with CI and the lead scientist on the High Seas assessment.
“As in the Antarctic assessment, the vast size and remoteness of the high seas has limited our ability to study all of the habitats and organisms present, so the biodiversity scores for these regions were based only on species whose populations have been formally assessed.”
The Western Indian Ocean and Eastern Central Atlantic Ocean scored highest overall at 79 and the Northwestern Pacific Ocean scored lowest at 53.
The Eastern Central Atlantic Ocean also led in Fisheries, scoring 81 out of 100, followed by the Western Indian Ocean (80). Several very productive species contributed to those scores and fish stock biomass appeared to be closer to the target of being within 5% of the biomass that produces maximum sustainable yield. Scores also incorporate factors for the quality of fisheries governance, resilience of the stocks and specificity of taxonomic identification of the fish caught.
Less specific identifications are penalized more heavily; however, there is no way to know what the penalty should be if catches are not identified at all, so none is given. Index scientists therefore caution that fisheries scores could be artificially high in such areas.
The Northwestern Pacific Ocean had the lowest fisheries score (7) because, among other things, its stocks were farthest from the biomass that provides maximum sustainable yield.
In addition, to this third global update, the Ocean Health Index has also issued two regional assessments this year: one that evaluated ocean health of Brazil’s 17 coastal states, and a second measuring the health of the United States West coast.
The next planned global assessment is scheduled for September 2015.
About the Ocean Health Index: The Ocean Health Index is the first assessment tool that scientifically compares and combines key elements from all dimensions of the ocean’s health – biological, physical, economic and social. The Index’s ten goals provide leaders with the portfolio of information they need to promote a more sustainable human-ocean ecosystem.
The Ocean Health Index was developed with the contributions of more than 65 ocean experts including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project. The founding partners of the Index are Conservation International, National Geographic, and The New England Aquarium.