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2017 global scores for Ocean Health

Ocean Health Index Releases 6th Annual Global Ocean Health Assessment Score, 70/100

Today, the Ocean Health Index (OHI) launched its sixth annual global ocean health assessment scores at the Global Environment Facility Large Marine Ecosystem meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. The 2017 average score of 70 remains the same from 2016 but has decreased one point from global scores for 2012 – 2015.

A score of 70 tell us that while the ocean isn’t “dying” it is a far cry from the desired score of 100 for a healthy, sustainably managed ocean. Eighteen regions did score 80 or above, however many of those are remote islands with few or no human inhabitants. On the other end of the spectrum, 12 regions scored 50 or below. Nine of these are in Africa.  Additionally, over the past six years, more countries have witnessed decreases in their score rather than improvement. In comparison, 137 individual scores have decreased while 82 have increased. 

See 2017 score highlights.

”Each year of scores gives us deeper insight into how the oceans are doing, where major challenges remain, and where success stories can offer lessons on how to improve ocean health in other parts of the world,” noted Dr. Ben Halpern, lead scientist for OHI, Director of NCEAS and Professor at the Bren School at University of California Santa Barbara. “You can’t manage well what you don’t measure, and the OHI provides a key tool for measuring the health of the ocean.”

As observed in previous years, regions with stable and effective governance tend to score much higher than regions where corruption, dictatorship, civil strife, war and poverty are chronic. This stresses that improving ocean health requires effort from all sectors to promote peace, justice, gender equality, socially-responsible business and other
aspects of civil health. When progress is made in these areas, it is much easier for communities and nations to improve the environmental and economic conditions needed to boost ocean health.

Geographic distribution of scores for the 2017 Ocean Health Index

OHI & SDGs

Fortunately, 2017 marked a record year as the oceans community took significant strides to do just that. In June, the United Nations held the first-ever Oceans conference at its headquarters in New York. More than 4,000 representatives attended the conference including 16 Heads of State or Government, two deputy Prime Ministers, 86 Ministers, and 16 Vice Ministers from 193 UN member nations, as well as participants from civil society, international and regional financial institutions, academic and research institutions, Indigenous peoples, and the private sector. Participants convened with the shared goal of partnering to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water: to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The UN Oceans conference culminated in 1328 voluntary commitments by governments and other ocean stakeholders ranging from protected area designation, to collective action on marine pollution, and funding scientific research and capacity-building initiatives.

While the goals set out by SDG 14 are urgently needed, they will be no easy feat. As such, to help countries meet their targets and commitments, the Ocean Health Index has been proposed as implementation mechanism for SDG 14. Specifically, the OHI has been recommended as a means to operationalize Target 14.2, which encourages countries to use ecosystem-based approaches to manage, protect, and restore marine and coastal ecosystems towards healthy and productive oceans.

“The global SDGs are aspirational but organizing action around each will be challenging,” says Johanna Polsenberg, Ph.D., Senior Director, Ocean Governance and Policy, Conservation International. “The reality remains that SDGs are unlikely to succeed unless the governance challenges crucial to implementation are addressed. The OHI is designed to do just that.”

In November, the Government of Samoa formally announced its use of the OHI independent assessment framework (OHI+) as a tool to inform its national ocean policy and to meet its voluntary commitment made at the Oceans conference. It is well underway towards that commitment.

 “OHI provides an excellent basis for understanding the status and progress on biodiversity, livelihoods and fisheries among other values, of Samoas oceans. The OHI Assessment will first train local technical officers from Government and other sectors so they are empowered to do the calculations themselves, this means we are building the capacity of National Government while at the same time providing very important input into the planned Oceans Policy for Samoa. OHI is already being used as a tool to monitor indicators under the SDGs at the regional and international level.”

Ms. Jackson further highlighted the value in the collaborative process involved in conducting an OHI+ for a more coordinated approach and the strength of the OHI in measuring economic, ecological and sociocultural elements of the ocean, which are of equal importance for Samoa as an island state whose well-being as a community and country is closely linked to the well-being of the ocean. 

“The global SDGs are aspirational but organizing action around each will be challenging,” says Johanna Polsenberg, Ph.D., Senior Director, Ocean Governance and Policy, Conservation International. “The reality remains that SDGs are unlikely to succeed unless the governance challenges crucial to implementation are addressed. The OHI is designed to do just that.”

OHI formally adopted into Samoa's national Oceans policy - November, 2017
Ocean Health Index side event at the UN Oceans Conference - June, 2017.

The Ocean Health Index team is working directly with more than 25 countries leading their own independent OHI assessments, also known as the OHI+, across priority marine regions such as the Pacific Oceanscape, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. OHI+ assessments have already driven marine conservation actions at the national level, such as helping shape China's 13th 5-year plan, Ecuador's National Plan for Good Living and Mexico's National Policy on Seas and Coasts.

By providing an annual comprehensive database baseline for global ocean health, the OHI offers all coastal countries, at any level of capacity, a starting place for assessing the status of their marine resources and environments and utilizing an ecosystem-based approach toward management.