CI and Partners Launch the Ocean Health Index

© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock
© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock
Todd Christopher

The ocean is the world's greatest resource, providing natural services estimated at $21 trillion dollars a year. In a world of 7 billion people (and counting) it is the primary source of protein for 1 billion — and of livelihoods for 350 million more. Holding 97 percent of the planet's water, the ocean moderates our global climate, protects shorelines and supplies the oxygen in every other breath we take.

But the ocean's bounty is not limitless. Threats to the health of the world's oceans — climate change, acidification, overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution — have a tremendous impact on the many benefits people worldwide receive from them, and we no longer can take them for granted. When the oceans thrive, so do we.

Though our reliance on the oceans has never been greater, there hasn't been a systematic and coordinated way to monitor their ability to provide for people — until now.

With the publication of a new paper in the journal Nature, Conservation International (CI) and partners are launching the Ocean Health Index, a game-changing tool to assess the critical relationship between human populations and the oceans that sustain them.

"For the first time, we have a comprehensive measurement of what's happening in our oceans and a global platform from which to evaluate the implications of human action or inaction," said CI's Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist for Oceans Dr. Greg Stone, a co-author of the paper in Nature.

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This first-of-its-kind tool assesses the critical relationship between human populations and the oceans that sustain them.
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Recognizing the vital connection between ocean health and human well-being, Stone and more than 60 other experts have made contributions to the newly-launched Ocean Health Index. Founded by CI along with National Geographic Society and the New England Aquarium, the Ocean Health Index is the world's first comprehensive evaluation of the biological, physical, social and economic conditions of the coastal waters of the 171 countries with ocean shorelines. By generating an objective and accurate snapshot of the health of the oceans — locally, regionally and globally — and the key benefits people receive from them, the Ocean Health Index is designed to inform and encourage decisions that create a healthier ocean and a more sustainable human-ocean relationship.

"The Index provides a practical means to inform management decisions by government and business leaders through a robust and quantitative framework that uses the best available data for any particular place across ecological, social, economic, and political conditions," said Stone.

Central to the Ocean Health Index's assessment of the ocean-human system are 10 widely-held public goals — some people-centric, some nature-centric, all essential — for a healthy ocean:

  • Food Provision
  • Artisanal Fishing Opportunities
  • Natural Products
  • Carbon Storage
  • Coastal Protection
  • Sense of Place
  • Coastal Livelihoods and Economies
  • Tourism and Recreation
  • Clean Waters
  • Biodiversity

For each of these 10 goals, the global ocean is assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 100, as well as an overall score — which, at present, is 60. The index also evaluates ocean health by country, with individual goal scores assigned to every nation with a shoreline.

One distinguishing characteristic of the Ocean Health Index is that this portfolio of goals sets forth realistic and sustainable targets — ones that don't compare current conditions to a pristine, unattainable ocean, but which instead recognize the needs and impacts of a growing global population.

Drawing on data from a number of established indices — such as the Consumer Price Index, Global Competitive Index and Human Development index — the Ocean Health Index establishes an important baseline against which future change and progress toward healthier oceans can be measured.

Learn more at

Conservation International is a founding partner of the Ocean Health Index, along with the National Geographic Society and the New England Aquarium. Pacific Life is the founding presenting partner of the Index. CI board member William Wrigley and Heather Wrigley provided the founding grant for the Ocean Health Index.

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