Ocean health scoring system shows oceans in trouble

Top ocean experts are revealing some troubling news about the health of the ocean. Over three years more than 60 scientists developed a new way to gauge the overall health of the ocean known as the Ocean Health Index. The first scores are in and they show the delicate balance between people and sea may be in danger.

"A healthy ocean is one that is sustainably delivering the things that people want from the oceans," said Ben Halpern, lead scientist for the Ocean Health Index. "And that means that you have to think about all the different things that people get from an ocean, like food, recreation, aesthetic value. It means that you're doing that in a way that's sustainable."

For the first time the new measurement gauges the overall health of the sea based on ten different benefits it provides - everything from fisheries and coastal protection, to clean waters, biodiversity, and recreation, as well as livelihoods.

On a scale of 1-to-100 the global Ocean Health Index Score for 2012 is 60. The U.S. was a bit above average with a national Ocean Health Index score of 63.

If a score of 100 is an optimized ocean - delivering all that we need from it, while getting the care that it needs from us - then this year's score suggests that the ocean and man are out of balance and the relationship is not sustainable.

Ocean Health Index leaders point to the world's fisheries as an example. Commercial fisheries scored just 25 out of 100 on the Ocean Health Index - dragging the overall number dangerously downward. Overfishing, mismanagement, and the destruction of habitats are to blame.

"Just in the last 40 years, about 90 percent of the big fish have been consumed," said oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Without changes to the way fisheries are managed, man could fish out the entire ocean.

"Ocean resources are incredibly important to people on the planet, providing about 20% of the protein from the sea, and yet we are squandering their opportunity to provide more support for human well-being by overfishing and mismanaging," said Steve Gaines of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Experts say individuals can do their part to bring the Ocean Health Index scores up by purchasing certified seafood with labels that ensure the fish was sustainably harvested.

"There's a tremendous prize to be gained from doing it right. There's another ten or more million metric tons of fish that could be caught. All told there could be a financial benefit of something like $50 billion," said Steve Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index. "We worry about tipping points. And what we never know is where the tipping point is. How close can we get and still stay on the good side of the line. Can we know what is enough without knowing what is more than enough?"

To learn more about how to find sustainably fished seafood and other factors impacting the health of the ocean, you can visit