01 Apr 2014
Thriving Oceans for Every Country: Regional Assessments
years there has been a surge in global environmental awareness. Numerous consumer campaigns now focus on slowing rampant deforestation
in the Amazon, the Congo, and Indonesia. Every year we experience more frequent
heat waves, storms, and hurricanes, which remind us that global climate is
indeed changing. Celebrities and public figures have endorsed the conservation causes of elephants, tigers, rhinos, and
others forcing those issues into the spotlight. Instinctively, perhaps because we as humans are terrestrial
creatures, we focus our attention on what is happening on land.
Yet the ocean covers 72% of the planet and is integral to human well-being. It contains most of the world’s living space, much of its biodiversity, provides us with valuable goods and services (half the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean), regulates climate, and is part of the carbon cycle (sinks half of our carbon emissions). In recent years, the ocean has captured the world’s attention as evidence highlights the negative impacts of human activities on ocean health. Many government initiatives now emphasize the need for keeping oceans healthy.
efforts are hindered by the lack of comprehensive methods for measuring the
health of their oceans and coasts.
While many countries have indicators for monitoring individual ocean sectors (e.g.
fisheries, biodiversity, clean waters, etc.), there is no integrated mechanism
to analyze all these sectors’ information together. That is, managers cannot
effectively assess the cumulative impact of numerous activities on the ocean,
nor the effect a management action in a sector may have on other sectors and
ocean uses. To address this imperative need, the team at the Ocean Health Index
created an innovative framework for Regional Assessments, allowing
decision-makers to explore the variables influencing ocean health, within a
determined area, in an integrated manner.
Regional Assessments are Ocean Health Index studies conducted at smaller scales where most management actions and policies are executed, such as bays, marine protected areas, municipalities, states, and individual countries. The process of calculating Ocean Health Index scores at the regional level engages multiple stakeholders: research institutions, government agencies, policy groups, non-governmental organizations, and civil and private sectors. These groups use local data and priorities to create models and targets for 10 public goals used to assess ocean health, producing scores for each goal that can reflect local conditions better than analyses based on global data. By synthesizing multiple ocean indicators, stakeholders can assess management trade-offs as a result of modifying one or more ocean inputs.
information obtained through these regional studies is truly valuable. It enables
scientists, managers, policy makers, and the public to
track, and communicate the status of local marine ecosystems and to design
strategic management actions to improve overall ocean health. The process yields
in-depth information on multiple ocean health dimensions and illuminates knowledge
and data gaps, facilitating discussion and determination of local priorities
among various stakeholders.
If scores are calculated annually, regional assessments serve as a baseline of ocean health, against which decision-makers can understand the efficacy of management actions and policies in improving the overall status of ocean health.
this worldwide initiative, the Ocean Health Index’s scientific team created a
software and a series of guides. The Toolbox Application is an input-driven software that facilitates
Index calculations at any scale. The software can
be customized to meet a region’s
needs and be used to synthesize local data and analyze the spatial distribution
of ocean benefits across the study area. The Toolbox can also compare how
different management scenarios could affect the goals’ scores, aiding managers
and decision makers as they seek to identify the most cost-effective strategies
to manage ocean resources. In addition to the Toolbox, the team created four
which provide thorough information for every phase of the regional assessment
Thus far three
regional assessment case studies have been conducted - the first of which was
done for Brazil and published this month. Assessments for the U.S. West Coast
and Fiji will be published later this year. The governments of China, Colombia,
and Ecuador have already commissioned public agencies to develop Ocean Health
Indexes for their countries. Meanwhile, in Canada and Israel, research
institutions are leading the process of developing a regional Index.
The Ocean Health Index team continues to work with countries on every continent, multilateral organizations, and foundations to aid the adoption of the Index as a metric to guide policy, investment, and monitor impact on ocean health. Use of the Ocean Health Index, in concert with many ocean improvement initiatives being developed by the United Nations, European Union, and at national and sub-national levels, will play an important role in supporting decisions that promote a healthy ocean with long term benefits for people and the natural communities on which we depend.