Print options

August 23, 2012

Oceans Get a Health Check

by Joe DeCapua

A new system has been developed to assess the health of the world’s oceans. Scientists say it will change the way we think about oceans and how they affect our lives. It’s called the Ocean Health Index and it’s going to tell us if anything’s wrong with the oceans and what can be done about it.



“The Ocean Health Index is the first global, totally scientific and transparent measure of ocean health that we’ve ever had. It’s meant to guide policymakers and the public to the underlying importance that oceans are the life support systems of the Earth and that we’d better take care of them if we are to survive on this planet,” said Greg Stone, executive vice-president and chief ocean scientist for Conservation International and vice-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Oceans.

Stone spoke to VOA from the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, where 16 island nation leaders are meeting to find a common agenda for caring for the ocean. He described oceans as the world’s most important resource.

Liberian fishing boat. (Conservation International)
​​

“You can’t manage anything that you can’t measure. So like any good portfolio investments, if you want to make sure you’re prospering and you’re taking care of your investments – and believe me, the health of our planet is no greater investment that there could be – you need a metric in order to measure it and see that we have a sustainable relationship with this resource on an ongoing basis,” he said.

The Ocean Health Index, Stone said, will help end a lot of ignorance and confusion.

“You may have heard from one source or another that, oh, hey, the oceans are in trouble and you say – why are they in trouble? And then somebody says, well, the coral reefs are dying. And then the next day someone will tell you that the tuna fish are all gone or the haddock are all gone or the halibut are all gone. And you say, OK, I hear that. And then someone else will say the oceans are turning acidic, which they are. It’s been a very confusing landscape of information,” he said.

Whether you live along a U.S. coastline or in the middle of Africa, Stone said, you should care about what happens to the oceans.

“Most of the oxygen that you breathe comes from the ocean. The oceans are the primary climate adaptation system. They absorb carbon. Hey, listen, if you want to know what the Earth would be like without an ocean you’ve got plenty of examples in our solar system. All those hot, dusty, dry, cold inhospitable places are basically that way because they do not have a liquid ocean to provide all these benefits, including food. One out of four people on the planet get their daily source of protein from the ocean,” he said.

The Ocean Health Index is made up of about 200 separate indicators. Once a year scientists will use it to announce whether the oceans passed their physical.