Tag Archives: ocean health

Ocean Health Index — An Interesting Concept

The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday: New ocean index scores world 60 out of 100.   Earlier in the week the New York Times ran a similar and better article titled Introducing the Ocean Health Index.  The USA gets a score of 63.    Slightly above the world average of 60.  Here is a diagram of the world score

I understand the notion that we need to have a way to measure the health of oceans, but this approach is so subjective.  30 scientists got together and came up with the ratings.   How do you measure sense of place?  How do you come up with scores by country?  I see SWAG everywhere.

I can understand a rating for Singapore or a Pacific Island Nation, but how do you come up with one number for all of the USA?   Singapore is a tiny place adjacent to the Ocean, and most Pacific Islands are going to only have a few variables.  The USA is going to include lots of places that are highly developed like the California coast and the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s also going to include all the coastline of Alaska and Hawaii.  And the USA gets a 63, whatever that means.

As I read the NY Times story, I wondered what they really were measuring…if a region can raise their score by adjusting what they consider to be important.

The index also allows individual countries to weight conservation values to reflect their beliefs on how the ocean should be best used. If a country thinks the best way to treat to the ocean is to preserve it, it can weight conservation factors more heavily in its score. If a country thinks the best use for the ocean is to extract resources from it, it can weight those factors more heavily.

Weighted for preservation, the global ocean score would be 67; weighted for high-resource extraction, the score would be 57.

We now have a new way to measure the oceans, a strange, wonderful, adjustable subjective measurement distilled down to a specific number.  It feels like a Metacritic movie review to me.

So much of environmental science is this subjective touchy feely combination of physical science and sociology.    Each country gets a number.   Ok.  But what does a 63 for the USA really mean?  A number for Poland probably makes sense, but any country with lots of coastline is going to present problems.   Brazil, Russia, Canada, and Chile are going to be difficult to calculate in a meaningful way.   The USA is a particular problem….when all that varied data gets averaged together… the answer must be pretty close to useless.

I really don’t get it.  I would prefer to know how different parts of the USA rate relative to each other.  How does the Gulf of Mexico off Florida differ from the area off Louisiana?  Louisiana is full of Oil Industry development, Florida bans it.

If I knew how those two areas differed in the study, I’d have had a better chance of understanding what the study actually valued.   I could come to an independent opinion of the study.  I would have preferred more regional data that concentrated on a measurement that was more purely scientific and less ……whatever this mix of ecology and sociology is called.

I’m a bit of a science snob.  I prefer physical sciences with real mathematics as a basis.  Social science is too much about trying to measure things that are difficult to accurately measure.   The number is an interesting concept….but in the case of the USA, it really doesn’t say much.