World’s oceans get a barely passing grade

We call our planet Earth, but we tend to forget that it is really mostly water. And what is the state of the world’s marine environments? A new Ocean Health Index gives the world an average score of 60 out of 100, based on the rankings of 171 countries. When I was in college, 60 was barely a passing grade. During a phone-in press conference today, some of the scientists who authored a paper on the index, published in Nature, said the good news is that there is room for improvement as countries work toward the “ideal” of 100.

The rankings are based on data related to cleanliness and biodiversity, coastal protection, carbon storage, and oceans as providers of food, livelihoods, tourism and recreation, artisanal fishing opportunities, a sense of place and natural products.

How do Latin American countries fare on the index? It’s a mixed bag. Suriname scores an above-average 69, nailing 100 for both coastal protection and carbon storage. Brazil also comes in slightly above average, at 62. Peru, with one of the world’s largest commercial fisheries, scores a dismal 44, ranking close to Haiti (44), Nicaragua (43) and El Salvador (45). Ecuador and Chile, just north and south of Peru, both score 60.

Not surprisingly, the countries with less human pressure on oceans scored higher, as did countries that rank higher on the United Nations’ Human Development Index and that have stronger institutions.

The authors say their goal is not to criticize, but to encourage countries to work toward the “ideal” of 100. The index, an explanation of the methods and data, an interactive map and some really nifty videos can be found on the Ocean Health Index Web site.

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