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New Ocean Health Index Accounts for Benefits to People

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Scientists have developed a new comprehensive index designed to assess humanity’s benefit from healthy oceans. The Ocean Health Index, developed by collaborators from nearly 20 institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, was used to evaluate the ecological, social, economic, and political conditions for every coastal country in the world. The findings, published in the journalNature, show that the global ocean overall scores 60 out of 100 on the Index. Individual country scores range widely, from 36 to 86. The highest-scoring locations included both densely populated, highly developed nations such as Germany (73), as well as uninhabited islands, such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific (86).

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A global map of index scores per country, ranging from 0 to 100.

©Ben Halpern et al


The Index, the development of which was led by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and Conservation International, is the first broad, quantitative assessment that includes people as part of the ocean ecosystem. It scientifically compares and combines key elements from all dimensions of the ocean’s health so that decision-makers can promote an increasingly beneficial future for all ocean life, including humans.

Daniel Brumbaugh, a senior conservation scientist at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, participated in the study as an expert on marine socio-ecological systems.

"Although there will always be a role for national parks and other protected areas that conserve parts of nature where the human footprint is smaller, conservation also requires that we address how people are part of their ecosystems," he said. "The Index helps quantify both how people impact their coasts and oceans, but also how the health of these ecosystems affects human well-being. People interact with these vast ecosystems in numerous ways, and we are therefore inextricable parts of these socio-ecological systems. Diverse benefits to us from healthy oceans also means that we will be the principal beneficiaries from improved coastal and ocean conservation."

The study pulled together data on the current status and likely future condition of 10 “shared goals” for oceans. They are: food provision, artisanal fishing opportunities, natural products, carbon storage, coastal protection, sense of place, coastal livelihoods and economies, tourism and recreation, clean waters, and biodiversity.

The Index emphasizes sustainability, penalizing practices that benefit people today at the expense of the ocean’s ability to deliver those benefits in the future. By re-envisioning ocean health as a portfolio of benefits, the Ocean Health Index highlights the many different ways in which a place can be healthy.

For more details about this study, read the official press release: http://www.amnh.org/about-us/press-center/study-highlights-many-paths-to-ocean-health

To view and explore results and learn more about ocean health, go to http://oceanhealthindex.org

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