Introducing the Brazil Regional Ocean Health Index

April 02, 2014
Written By Dr. Steven Katona, Managing Director, Ocean Health Index
News



© Luana Luna

Pioneering a New Study for Ocean Health in Brazil

On April 2, 2014 PLOS One published "A regional-scale ocean health index for Brazil."  The entire Ocean Health Index team is pleased to share this first Regional Assessment.  Scores and findings for this Brazil study can be found here.

Introduction from Lead Author Cristiane Elfes

Lead author Cristiane Elfes

© Cristiane Elfes

I have long been interested in understanding marine systems, and developing practical tools for achieving better ocean health. This interest was first sparked during a school field trip in my home country, Brazil, in which we explored mangroves, went snorkeling and watched a fisherman’s catch being brought in. Since then, my interest and concern for our oceans has only grown, and I was very excited when I heard of the opportunity to develop an Ocean Health Index tailored to Brazil. The Index can be a powerful tool for tracking progress towards more sustainable use of our oceans. My hope is that in Brazil it will become an on-going, collaborative effort of Brazilian scientists, and will become even more powerful as better data becomes available. My sincere thanks to scientists at Chico Mendez Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, and many others who provided useful advice.

© Projeto Tamar Brazil/Marine Photobank

Introducing the Brazil Regional Ocean Health Index

Brazil just became the first nation to have its ocean health evaluated with the Ocean Health Index (Index) using local and regional data. The results, published today in PLOS ONE, assessed ocean health in all 17 coastal Brazilian states. The study offers a valuable guide for ocean management and policy in that nation.  It also confirms the Index’s applicability at national and sub-national scales, opening up the potential for very broad use.

Why is it Important?

The Index was initially created to work at the global scale, using global-level information that is available and comparable for the marine waters and shores of all 221 coastal countries and  territories. Such consistency of data is essential for making comparisons between countries.

However, some countries possess detailed data about aspects of their marine and social environments that could not be used in the global study because similar data were not available elsewhere. Therefore, the Index was designed to be flexible so that such data could be incorporated into a study focused on a particular region. Results of such studies cannot be compared between regions, but each study can be more relevant and useful to its own region. 

The question was, how such a study might be done and what might it look like. To find out, scientists decided to carry out regional studies for three areas: Brazil, Fiji and the U.S. West Coast. Locations were selected to test the Index’s performance in places that differ geographically, latitudinally and in the availability of data. Brazil was chosen because it has one of the longest coastlines in the world, very high marine and coastal biological diversity, and one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies. It is the first of the regional studies to be finished and published in the scientific literature.  

© Charles Young/paisagembrasileira.com

How Was it Done?

Cristiane Elfes (Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB)) led the work, with colleagues from UCSB, Conservation International-Brazil, and with support from various Brazilian environmental scientists and managers . The team searched all 17 coastal states for data relevant to the Index’s 10 goals and found state-level data for use in four goals -Mariculture, Tourism & Recreation, Biodiversity (Iconic Species) and Clean Waters - as well as measures for cumulative Resilience and Pressures.  

The study used the same general methods as the global study to assess how well an area optimizes a sustainable long-term flow of benefits to people, comparing the benefits gained for each goal with a sustainable reference point. A goal score is the average of its present Status (the most recent value) and Likely Future Status (the probable change in Status during the coming 5 years). Each goal scores from 0 to 100, where 100 means that the system is delivering all of the specified benefits it can and is likely to continue doing so in the near future. Lower scores indicate either that the optimal amount of available benefits was not gained or that benefits were gained in an unsustainable manner.

What was Learned?

Brazil’s overall score was 60/100, indicating considerable room for improvement. The highest scoring goals were Carbon Storage (89), Coastal Protection (92) and Biodiversity (85) - all of which depend on healthy marine habitats.

Natural Products (29), Tourism & Recreation (31) and Food Production (36) were the lowest scoring goals. The very low score for the sub-goal Mariculture (6), contributed to the low score for Food Production.

Partly because Brazil’s ~7,500 km long coastline, the world’s 16th longest, extends from 4 degrees north of the Equator to approximately 34 degrees south of it, coastal states vary ecologically, sociologically and economically.  Those differences are reflected in scores that range from 47 for Piauí in northeastern Brazil, whose 66 km (41 mi) coastline is the shortest for any state, to 66 and 71, respectively, for the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

What's Next?

As Brazil considers whether and how to use this newly available information, results of the Fiji and U.S. West Coast studies are being readied for scientific publication and presentation on the Ocean Health Index web site.  Other regional studies have been initiated by scientists or government agencies in China, Colombia, Israel, and are also being organized by scientists and others elsewhere, as shown above.

Perhaps one day the entire map will be colored in and all countries will use the Ocean Health Index as a tool for improving the lives of people and marine habitats and wildlife.




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