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August 28, 2012

Ocean Health Gets a Failing Grade

It’s no secret that the health of our oceans is under extreme threat.

With dangers like overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, keeping our oceans healthy is a complex problem that has proved difficult to address.

Scientists and policymakers now have a little help, however, with the recent creation of the Ocean Health Index. Developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, the index provides an overall score for global ocean health, using 10 different social, economic and ecological criteria such as water quality, habitat, livelihoods, and coastal protection.

The research findings, published in the journal Nature last week, gave our oceans a collective score of 60 out of a possible 100 points. Scores were calculated for 133 different regions located around the world, with marine waters from some countries ranking as low as 36 while others as high as 86. The United States scored only a little higher than the global average, with 63 points. Disturbingly, only 5 percent of these regions scored above 70 points.

Luckily, these “Ocean Report Cards” are helpful tools for scientists to help keep our oceans healthy in the future. Not only do they give us a baseline for judging future progress, they also provide a more comprehensive analysis of environmental problems facing marine environments. This Index is particularly useful in helping scientists identify hotspots of poor ocean health and the causes of these problems.

This new evaluation tool is an important milestone in marine conservation. Going forward, the creators of the Ocean Health Index said they hope the model can be improved upon and used on a smaller, more local scale. Hopefully, conservation planners will make use of this valuable resource to help reverse the deteriorating condition of our world’s oceans. After all, the oceans are what define our blue planet, and a score of 60 just doesn’t cut it.

Casey Youngflesh is a protected species intern at Oceana.