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The Ocean Health Index

Can the health of our global ocean be summed up in one number? How can we begin to prioritize both the threats our oceans face and the necessary remedial measures?

Founded by Conservation International, the National Geographic Society, and The New England Aquarium, the Ocean Health Index is an innovative approach to measure the health of our oceans annually, or whenever new data is available. Made up of 10 broad policy goals, ranging from water cleanliness to seafood provisions, the Index acts as a holistic measurement that encapsulates human values and the benefits reaped by the ocean.  The overall goal of this common metric is to not only reveal the benefits received, but the tradeoffs among benefits and the impact of human activities on the persistence of ecosystem service/benefit delivery. Acting as a measuring stick, this Index aims to help policy makers and raise awareness of the threats facing our oceans. The higher the score, the more optimal the oceanic conditions and management are; the lower the score, the less optimal and a greater need for change. 

The development of the Index was a difficult task, since some scientists claim we know more about outer space than we do our oceans. Limitations in available data, along with differing definitions of the word “health”, were hurdles that had to be overcome.

The first iteration of the Ocean Health Index was released in August 2012. The analysis was a collaborative effort made possible through contributions from more than 65 scientists/ocean experts. According to the analysis, the overall global ocean health score is 60 out of a sustainable state scored at 100, indicating that the human-ocean relationship is out of balance and unsustainable. Country-specific and goal-specific scores are also available.

Here at the Surfrider Foundation, we see the development of the Ocean Health Index as not only fostering communication and awareness, but also promoting positive, sustainable change in ocean stewardship.