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Economic Prowess Not Translating To Healthier Oceans

Wealth ≠ Health

As might be expected, many of the lowest scoring countries on the Ocean Health Index – North Korea, Somalia, Angola, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Haiti – are poor or have a recent history of war, ethnic conflict, or poor governance. Yet the world’s wealthiest countries do not see the same correlation.

Wealthy countries arguably have the greatest impact on industry and policy, so their performance on the Index is an important indicator of overall ocean health.  Yet none of the fifteen wealthiest countries (by GDP) break into the top 20 of the Index.  The United States, the world’s largest single-country economy, ranked #115 of countries scored, and China (the second biggest economy) was even lower at 165. The average score for the fifteen wealthiest nations was 65, which is above the global average but leaves considerable room for improvement.

Although the news seems dismal, there is cause for hope.  Recent actions and interest in ocean management by both the United States and China are promising, even if neither can exactly be called a leader yet. The U.S. State Department is hosting an International Oceans Conference later this month, Oceans Under Threat: Charting a Sustainable Future, to discuss key threats facing the ocean and how the U.S. can begin to address them. And China has recently decided to use several natural capital indexes to assess and monitor their environmental practices, including the Ocean Health Index.

Food Security at Risk

Over three billion people depend on the oceans, primarily as a food source. Yet, with a global score of only 33 out of 100, Food Production from wild harvest and aquaculture was the second lowest scoring goal in the Index.  Interestingly, most of the high-scoring countries were island nations in the Western South Pacific, where much of the world’s tuna populations can be found.

Yet those countries that report the highest catches from wild fisheries – China, Peru, Russia, United States, India, Indonesia, Chile, Japan, Norway, and Taiwan (Province of China) – average only 29 on the Index, four points below the global average.

“The score of 30 out of 100 for food provision indicates that food security is at risk, particularly for those parts of the world that depend upon seafood as a critical source of high quality protein,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In this case, improvement is not just recommended it is imperative. Seafood is an important part of a healthy diet for everyone, but it’s the primary source of nutrition for a large portion of the world’s population.

(See National Geographic's sustainable seafood guide.)