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Population size is the total number of people living in a country, territory or other region scored by the Ocean Health Index. Data for the total human population of scored regions is a component of the analyses of some goals.

Total population is not relevant to the analysis of some goals, which are instead based on ‘coastal population’ living within a goal-specific distance from the shore. For example, measurement of Pathogen Pollution uses coastal human population within 50 km (29 mi) of the coast, Trash pollution uses population within 80 km (50 mi) of the coast; Habitat Destruction of intertidal zones uses population within 1 km (0.6 mi) of shore; and population within 100 km (58 mi) and and 25 km (15 mi) are both used in scoring the Mariculture subgoal.

How Was It Measured?

Data on total population are obtained from the World Bank. Population data for China include its special administrative regions in Macau and Hong Kong. For regions not included in the World Bank database, population estimates were obtained from Wikipedia searches. Wikipedia population estimates for earlier years are scaled to present by increasing them at the average yearly percentage change calculated across all regions in the World Bank database.

Data on coastal human population are based on the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) Population Density Grid Future Estimates, v3 accessed from Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), where data for population density (number of people per square kilometer) were globally available for 2005, 2010, and 2015. Grid data are at 2.5 arc-min resolution, i.e. squares approximately 5 km x 5 km at the equator, but decreasing at higher latitudes.  Years in between those dates were interpolated using methods described in Halpern et al. (2015).  For a number of small island regions total population was used as the measure of coastal population. 

Total population and coastal population size are used differently in different goals. Total population size is used as a component in calculating the status score for the Tourism and Recreation goal. It is also an indirect component in calculating per capita GDP in the Livelihoods and Economies goal. To learn more about how coastal population is used in the OHI, please see our Coastal Population page.

What Are The Impacts?


Proper planning and management measures are crucial when there are increased numbers of visitors to a sparsely populated destination point. There can be negative repercussions if the given area and facilities cannot accommodate the increase in population size. These can include the destruction of coastal habitats during development, overfishing, and increased erosion, runoff and pollutant discharge. Well-managed tourism levels can promote the preservation of natural resources as well as induce increased environmental awareness and education.


Overcrowding at tourist destinations can add pressure and stress to local populations and waste treatment systems.

Tourists can introduce disease organisms or transport them to other locations.

Tourists may influence local culture and traditional lifestyles (e.g. attire, consumption habits).


Population size and distribution in relationship to space and resources is fundamentally important to nearly every aspect of social, economic and political life, as well as the quality of natural environments. Population increase, whether from reproduction, migration or tourism can bring economic benefit, but may also bring substantial costs if social, economic, infrastructural and regulatory systems cannot adapt quickly enough.  


Goeldner, C. R. & Ritchie, J. R. B. (2008). Tourism: Principles, Practices, Philosophies. (Wiley: 2008).

Koens, J. F., Dieperink, C. & Miranda, M. (2009). Ecotourism as a development strategy: experiences from Costa Rica. Environment, Development and Sustainability 11, 1225–1237 (2009).

Ryan, C. Recreational Tourism: Demand & Impacts. (Multilingual Matters: 2003).

Global Tourism, Third Edition. (Butterworth-Heinemann: 2004).

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