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Photo by Thierry Meier

The ocean covers 70% of the Earth's surface, is home to 80% of life on the planet, generates 50% of the oxygen humans need, and absorbs 25% of the carbon dioxide we produce. This vast and diverse biosphere is critical to battling climate change and sustaining life on Earth, so keeping it healthy is of vital importance. Tools such as the Ocean Health Index (OHI), which turns 10 this year, can help.


A bridge from science to policy...

The OHI is designed to channel scientific information into marine policy. It does so by measuring the performance of 10 environmental, economic, and social goals — such as biodiversity, coastal livelihoods, and sense of place — on a quantitative scale of increasing health from 0 to 100. Together, these scores deliver a snapshot of global ocean health, suggesting where countries have made progress and where there is a need for improvement.

Policymakers and other stakeholders can then use this information to manage marine and coastal ecosystems sustainably.

"The purpose of the OHI is to contribute to keeping the ocean healthy as a source of life for the planet in general, with the understanding that this means oxygen, ecological balance, food security and livelihoods -- mainly for coastal populations -- not only now, but also in the future," said Miguel Maldonado Cáceres, the binational coordinator of the Coastal Fisheries Initiative in Latin America (CFI-LA).

"Its importance lies in its holistic nature and in its ecosystem approach," added Mr Maldonado Cáceres. "It brings together the experience of scientists, sociologists, economists and other specialists to assess what people do in coastal marine areas, how their activities affect those ecosystems, and also what they expect to receive from those ecosystems."

CFI-LA is led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ecuador and Peru, where a case study using the OHI was carried out in Sechura Bay by the Peruvian ministries of the environment and of production and the regional governments of Tumbes and Piura with technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Conservation International (CI) and the Ecuadorian company BIÓTICA, with financing from the 

Global Environment Facility (GEF).

As a result of that OHI assessment, Peru is one of 14 UN Member States who submitted a concept paper to the UN Ocean Conference, where the findings of the CFI-LA case study in Sechura Bay will be used to generate key questions during the interactive dialogue sessions. support of transformational change


"The OHI is a tool: if you don't take advantage of the results, it doesn't work," said Xavier Chalen, the Director of the Marine and Conservation Programme at Conservation International (CI) Ecuador, which is one of the CFI-LA implementing agencies.

"If we think of the ocean as the key to sustaining life on this planet, not only for animals but also for human beings — then it is clear that we need to measure its health to know how badly off it is and how to take action to improve its condition," Mr Chalen explained.

More than 65 scientists, economists and environmental managers worked together to develop the OHI. Starting in 2012, this tool has been used to obtain scores for 221 coastal countries and territorial jurisdictions around the world, but more needs to be done, according to Mr Chalen.

"The best-case scenario is that more and more governments will use the OHI, which is a free and open-source tool, to conduct assessments on a regular basis and use its recommendations to guide their policymaking," he commented.

He argued that in order for the OHI to be used more widely to bring about meaningful change in the way societies use the ocean, universities need to include it in their academic curricula in order to turn out greater numbers of scientists with the capacity to conduct an assessment.

"The ocean is the key to fighting climate change, "Mr Chalen concluded. "Science such as the OHI is for the present, and also for the future."

He was echoed by FAO CFI Coordinator Nathanael Hishamunda.

"This year's UN Ocean Conference focuses on science-based innovations to save our oceans," he commented. "Tools such as the OHI, which has been implemented successfully by CFI Latin America, can help propel the global effort to transform our food systems and ensure an equitable and sustainable future for all -- including the almost 500 million people who depend at least partially on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods."



About the CFI

Funded by the GEF, the CFI is a global partnership made up of FAO, CI, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the UNDP, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Bank, governments, and fisher and fish worker organizations.

Together, they strive to achieve sustainable coastal fisheries in six countries across three regions: Indonesia (Asia), Ecuador and Peru (Latin America) and Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, and Senegal (West Africa).



Originally published at