In a study published this month by the open-access science journal PLOS ONE, the Ocean Health Index revealed the findings of its first regional assessment, which was conducted for Brazil. The assessment found the 3,660,995 sq. km. Brazilian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area larger than India, scored 60 out of 100 on the Index's scale.
The Index is broken into 10 measureable goals of ocean health, nationally Brazil scored the highest on the assessment in Carbon Storage (89), Coastal Protection (92) and Biodiversity (85), which are all dependent on health of marine habitats, were Natural Products (29), Tourism and Recreation (31), and Food Provisioning (36) received the lowest goal scores.
"For the first time, Brazil gathered in a single index the environmental, social, and economic goods and services provided by the ocean," said Cristiane Elfes, lead author and UC Santa Barbara researcher. "We hope to make the Ocean Health Index a program led by Brazilian institutions to monitor the status of the oceans in the long term."
Brazil was selected for the first assessment because of its long coastline, its high marine and coastal biodiversity and its and its 17 coastal states' reliance on the ocean. The study was conducted by researchers from UC Santa Barbara researchers from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and the Bren School for Environmental Science & Management, along with scientists from Conservation International (CI).
"Brazil needs to follow the example of countries that are carefully managing their oceans with spatial planning of multiple use marine areas to protect critical marine ecosystems," said Guilherme Dutra, Marine Program Director for Conservation International in Brazil. "Areas of utmost importance to Brazil, such as the region of Abrolhos, are being destroyed by overfishing, and constantly threatened by activities such as oil exploration or coastal shrimp production. The government needs to prioritize existing proposals for protected areas."
According to the study, the distribution of tourism benefits to more states can help improve the score for the Tourism and Recreation goal, as well as the coastal Livelihoods and Economy goal. However, this requires the development of adequate infrastructure to attract and serve visitors while avoiding unwanted social and environmental effects. The low score for the Natural Products goal indicates that the country is not sustainably harvesting its non-food ocean resources (e.g. fish oil, seaweed, sponges). To get closer to achieving the Food Provisioning goal, the study suggests that Brazil would need to improve the sustainability of its fisheries and develop sustainable aquaculture in most states.
"Brazil has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, much of which is connected to or dependent on the coasts and oceans," said Benjamin Halpern, professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and lead scientist for the Ocean Health Index. "This growth poses the opportunity to improve the health of the ocean, or to dramatically degrade it. The Index provides an assessment that includes jobs, revenues, coastal protection, and clean water, among many other measures, such that changes in overall ocean can be tracked and understood. Our results provide baseline scores for each Brazilian coastal state, and thus a means to identify where problems and opportunities exist and a framework for strategically evaluating potential management actions."
The Ocean Health Index assesses the health of the ocean in terms of the benefits and services it provides to people both now and in the future. Using a scale of 0-100, the Index produces scores for each of 10 goals. The Index goals are Food Provision, Artisanal Fishing Opportunities, Natural Products, Carbon Storage, Coastal Protection, Livelihoods & Economies, Tourism & Recreation, Sense of Place, Clean Waters, and Biodiversity. By assessing Brazil's 17 coastal states, the research team was able to incorporate more detailed data not available at the global scale and provide more specific information weighted based on the relevance and importance of each goal to Brazil.
The Ocean Health Index assessment was first published at a global scale with the first annual update issued in 2013. Because the Regional assessment of the Ocean Health Index uses local and regional data, it will not be comparable to other Regional Assessments. Comparison of country scores can be done using the Global Assessment of the Ocean Health Index.
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More information: Elfes CT, Longo C, Halpern BS, Hardy D, Scarborough C, et al. (2014) "A Regional-Scale Ocean Health Index for Brazil." PLoS ONE 9(4): e92589. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092589