Leaders or chimps?By Juan Mercado
Cebu Daily News
Meet the “Ocean Health Index”. Crafted by a team of 34 scientists in the US and Canada over the last two years, OHI is “a potential milestone for ocean management” in troubled years ahead, New York Times notes.
The scientific journal Nature posted OHI online mid-August. Since then, the index barged into world media. “Marine scientists, for the first time, worked out a systematic way of scoring how the world’s oceans, are coping with pressures of overfishing , pollution, etc., says Times of India…“(This) will change the way we think about oceans and how they affect our lives” wrote VOA’s Joe de Capua. “(It) will tell us if what can be done if anything goes wrong.”
Such scientific tools are critical for insular countries like the Philippines. Six out of 10 Filipinos reside along the coast. Sea food provides low-cost protein for a population that quintupled since 1940.
Of 117 territories OHI studied, the Philippines limped in at Slot 105. We performed poorly in seafood harvests, sustainability of methods to protection of indigenous species, Sen. Loren Legarda notes. We did well in access for local fishing communities to preservation of habitats that absorb carbon. “The challenge is to find a balance.”
Hit the replay button for 2010’s “State of the Ocean” study. We should respect oceans as “a life-giving miracle,” 27 scientist-authors from six countries wrote. “(Instead), we often use them as vast garbage dumps or as stores with shelves that never go empty…Conservative projections of how coral reefs respond to global warming must now be modified” ( Less than five percent of Philippine coral reefs remain in pristine condition.)
Recall also the Governors’ meeting on protection of the Visayan Sea last March. Only 10 kilograms of fish are available for every Filipino yearly — a steep drop from 28.5 kg in 2003, Viewpoint noted (PDI /March 3, 2012) More than 800,000 tons of galunggong, tulingan and mackerel are now imported.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources proposed a ban in 10 of 13 fishing grounds due to destructive fishing…Or look at the Sulu Sea and Tubbataha Reef. “Malthusian overfishing” ravaged them, reports an earlier Swedish Academy of Science study. “For many fisheries, their status may be summed up as ‘IUU’ or” Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated. Angel Alcala of Silliman University wrote.
Squirting cyanide into reefs to stun fish “originated in the Philippines and Taiwan in the 1960s,” the UN Environment Programme recalls. By the mid-1980s, “more than 80 percent of fish harvested, destined for the aquarium trade, were collected using cyanide.” Misuse of cyanide spread to Asean countries, then leapfrogged to Maldives in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and Seychelles. Cyanide decimated marine populations and wrecked vital reefs.
The irony is patent. We’re smack in the middle of the “Coral Triangle”— 5.7 million square kilometers of tropical seas which is the world’s center for marine diversity.
OSI is a new system developed to continually monitor health of the world’s oceans. “You can’t manage something, like ocean health without actually having a tool to measure it,” said Ben Halpern at University of California Conservation International, National Geographic Society, New England Aquarium, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis backed design and development of OHI..
The three dozen scientists — among them, ecologists, oceanographers and economists — grappled with old and new issues. Current assessments of ocean health focus predominantly on environment. But ocean health means different things to different people. How do you measure, for instance, carbon storage among ocean benefits? Tourism is an important industry worldwide. But there is almost no data on coastal tourism.
At decision time, 10 components were selected for OHI. These index include traditional benchmarks like food provision and clean waters. Newer yardsticks, like “carbon storage” and “sense of place,” were factored in. Thus OHI indicators describe ocean health according to how people benefit from and affect marine ecosystems.
“We have something to compare ocean health to next year, in five years, and in 20 years,” explains Karen McLeod Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea. “We have a benchmark against which we can assess and document progress and, where necessary, point out and hopefully reverse declines.”
“Don’t equate the OHI scores with school grades,” Dr. Halpern cautions. “The world’s oceans did receive an overall score of 60. But they don’t get an F for health. The score means there’s lots of room for improvement. But 60 also means there are some good things going on.”
More than 30 percent of coastal countries received a score less than 50. Fewer than 5 percent scored higher than 70. Country scores range from 36 to 86 with Jarvis Island. This is an uninhabited Pacific island, Germany and the Seychelles are in the top five. West African countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast produced the lowest scores. The US scored above average at 63 — with room to improve.
OHI confirms that food provision and coastal tourism could be substantially improved, noted Jameal Samhouri of Northwest Fisheries Science Center Both scored below 25 out of 100. This single composite score for the health of the global ocean has tremendous potential for raising awareness.
The Index is a vital tool Filipino leaders can usefully deploy. Failure to do so will invite comparison to handing a Stradivarius violin to a chimp.