Even if you’ve never seen the ocean, never squiggled your toes into warm beach sand, the ocean has still played a major role in your life. Oceans provide food, jobs and are an absolutely essential part of the hydrological cycle that gives us fresh water to drink. Unfortunately, we’ve taken our oceans for granted, and now scientists say it may soon start flunking out of the ecosystem.
A new ocean health index published recently in the journal Nature gives the world ocean an overall score of 60 on a scale of 0 to 100. That’s a single point away from a big fat ‘F’ in every class I’ve ever attended. When taken individually, only 5 percent of the world’s nations scored higher than 70, whereas 32 percent scored lower than 50.
Dozens of scientists collaborated to create an index comprising ten diverse public goals for a healthy coupled human–ocean system and calculated the index for every coastal country. The ten measures — which assess features such as food provision, carbon storage, tourism value and biodiversity — were chosen to reflect both the needs of humans and ecosystem sustainability. Among the world’s 133 countries with ocean coastlines, scores ranged from 36 to 86; the United States scored slightly above average at 63.
“Previous ecosystem assessments focused on ways humans have damaged nature, such as by polluting waterways or driving species to the brink of extinction,” reports the L.A. Times. “For this index, researchers decided to award points for the ways that oceans could sustainably benefit people, even though such benefits might come at the expense of another goal.”
Experts say this index is similar to vital signs that a doctor might evaluate if you were rushed to the emergency room. Breathing, heart beat and pulse allow doctors to establish a baseline of your condition, and determine further action for stabilizing your condition. Evaluating the ocean’s “vital signs” allow countries to determine the best course of action for conservation efforts and the impact of ocean-based industries.
The index score for the United States suggests, according to the Nature study, that the country could improve its ocean health by supporting tourism businesses that are environmentally friendly; encouraging sustainable fishing practices; and investing in aquaculture to provide jobs and economic benefits to coastal communities.
The researchers said they plan to recalculate the global score annually.
Image via Thinkstock