How healthy is your ocean?

The category Cool Initiatives is a space where I like to briefly summarise and highlight projects and programmes in agriculture that work towards increasing food security and that I find cool. It’s important to say, cool for me means many things. From implementation of important theories, such as participative action research, to the use of novel tools to support old traditions, cool can mean different things but in each post I make sure I highlight why is the theme in question: “cool”.

In this week’s feedback video I asked professor Tim Lenton if ocean acidification was uneven since warmer oceans absorb less carbon dioxide than cooler oceans. I asked that because I’m from Colombia, a country very close to the equator with warm coasts on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and I was wondering how vulnerable is Colombian marine life.

Well, I found something very interesting! It’s called the Ocean Health Index and what I plan to do in this post is describe what it is in the most straightforward way possible and then discuss the score for Colombia.


Photo credit: Luke Shadbolt

The Ocean Health Index

The following description is based in its entirety on the article published in Nature by (Halpern et al., 2012).

What: The Ocean Health Index is a measurement based on 10 goals that represent a healthy ocean-human relationship. All the goals are equally weighted and each dimension has four main components:

  1. Present status: a goal’s current value (based on the most recent available data) compared to a reference point.
  2. Trend: the average percent change in the present status for the most recent 5 years of data.
  3. Pressures: the sum of the ecological and social pressures that negatively affect scores for a goal.
  4. Resilience: the sum of the ecological factors and social initiatives (policies, laws, etc.) that can positively affect scores for a goal by reducing or eliminating pressures.
Screenshot 2015-02-17 13.54.36

(Halpern et al., 2012) Click on the image to download the original paper published in Nature.

Why: Oceans are vital for human life but in order to guarantee sustainable management, the ocean must be assessed with numbers, through proper statistics.  Halpern et al. (2012, p. 616) identified a lack of integrated metrics that focused on the relationship between humans and the ocean so they sought to produce a “standardised, quantitative, transparent and scalable” measurement that could be used by scientists, policy makers, managers and the public for decision-making and effective communication.

When: The article was published in August 2012 and ever since has calculated the index annually. 2014 results are available here.

Who: The Ocean Health Index is a collaborative effort, mostly a bunch of nerdy scientists – my favourite kind of people.

Where: The index is calculated for every coastal country in the world. Yes, this means Colombia and that’s what we’ll talk about next. The global score based on 2014 data is 67/100 and is predicted to increase to 69/100.

Colombia’s score: 54/100

A Humpback whale in the Colombian Pacific Ocean. Photo credit: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

A Humpback whale in the Colombian Pacific Ocean. Photo credit: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

My dear country scored 54/100 based on 2014 data and ranked 198 globally. That’s upsetting, but even more is the prediction that it’ll likely keep dropping by 16%.

Screenshot 2015-02-17 13.42.20

Ocean Health Index for Colombia with 2014 data. Click on the image to use the tool and calculate the index for your own country.

Food provision had a low score of 23/100, which as a Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture masters student makes my degree seems even more relevant. This goal has two sub-goals: wild catch fisheries and mariculture. Wild catch fisheries refers to the amount of wild caught food that can be sustainably harvested and mariculture refers to the commercial production of farm-raised sea food in the ocean and along the coast.

Our lowest score was tourism and recreation 18/100 which is surprising since Colombians usually like to brag about how pretty our country is and why you should definitely come visit. The tourism goal is based on the number of international arrivals, length of stay and sustainability of tourism in coastal areas. International arrivals data is used as a proxy for coastal tourism which, in the authors own words “undervalue the goal in nations with significant domestic tourism.” like mine probably, because Colombians like to enjoy their country and explore it. However, these gaps in information should motivate Colombia and other countries to collect more data regularly since the lack of fresh information does not reflect recent accomplishments and policies.

Thank you very much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll see you next week to talk about diseases that threaten our food supply, thrilling!


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