LOS ANGELES, California — The world’s oceans have just gotten their annual report card and Mother Nature isn’t happy. With a near-failing grade of “D” that is actually higher than what most scientists expected, the oceans are struggling with multiple serious issues like pollution, climate change, lack of protections and overfishing.
This is the third annual report card for the oceans as part of yearly updates to the Ocean Health Index, which assesses marine conditions and the benefits they offer to people. Out of 100, the overall global score was a 67.
The evaluation of the oceans examined social, ecological, political and economic factors for each region. A perfect score of 100 does not equate to a “perfectly pristine ocean,” but instead indicates that oceanic conditions allow sustainable production of food and oxygen.
Never-before-included areas like the ocean regions that are beyond any national jurisdiction, commonly known as the high seas, were also measured in this year’s index. Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are the most famous of these unclaimed regions.
“This new assessment is the first fully global look at ocean health,” said Kevin Connor, a spokesman for Conservation International, an environmental group that organized the Ocean Health Index in cooperation with researchers from the New England Aquarium, University of California, Santa Barbara and the University of British Columbia, just to name a few.
One of the Ocean Health Index’s goals is to help countries make better, more informed policy decisions regarding the seas. From their individual regions’ scores, China, Colombia and Israel have all used that information and factored it into their programs for coastal management.
“The high seas do a lot of good for people,” said Steve Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index “They regulate climate, generate oxygen, provide food and contribute to a sense of place.”
Though the combined grade of all countries’ territorial waters came out to a “D” with a score of 67, it is an improvement compared to the last two years. In 2013, the average global score was 65, while in 2012 it was 60. Several countries have made marked improvements. The U.S. received a 72, up nine points from 2012. China saw a jump from 53 in 2012 to 65 this year.
According to Katona, conservation measures have been improving while new protected areas of the oceans have also contributed to the upward trend in scores.
Mostly undisturbed, Antarctica scored a 72. However, only a tiny part of its coastline is technically protected, and fishing pressures and climate change have negatively affected many of the animal species that inhabit the continent. Meanwhile, both the Arctic and the Northwest Pacific did very poorly, with respective scores of 54 and 53, mainly because of lack of protections and heavy overfishing.
“I think many people are surprised that the score is that good, because people hear all the bad news about overfishing, pollution, death of coral reefs, climate change and so on,” said Katona. “If you come home with a paper from school, your parents aren’t real happy if it’s a 67, but most people expected a score for the ocean that was worse.”
– Annie Jung
Sources: National Geographic, UPI, Tech Times