LIVING LAB
5:19 pm
Mon September 3, 2012

Ocean Health Index: What's in a Number?

Imagine this: your spouse (best friend, sibling) has just been in a bad car accident. You rush to the hospital and pounce on the doctor.

“How’s he doing, doc?”

“Well, I’d rate him at about 60%.”

If the doctor stopped here, you’d probably be frustrated. I know I’d be pulling my hair out. That one number leaves a lot to be desired. But imagine the conversation continued this way.

“He’s lost a lot of blood and his blood pressure is unstable (cardiovascular system at 28%), but he’s breathing easily on his own (respiratory system at 95%). He has a concussion but no indications of traumatic brain injury (brain function at 67%). He’s suffered three major fractures, widespread bruising, and two torn ligaments (musculoskeletal system at 49%)."

With the details to support it, that 60% figure puts the situation into perspective and provides a framework for evaluating future progress.

As Scott Doney of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution explained to me, that’s the primary goal of a new Ocean Health Index released a few weeks ago. Like our imaginary patient, the global ocean rated a 60 out of 100. While that’s technically 60%, Scott says he doesn’t like to say it that way because it sounds too much like a grade – a “D,” to be specific – and he shies away from the implication that the ocean is in failing health. There’s plenty of work to be done, and the data and indices compiled in the making of the singular, capital-letter Ocean Health Index are important benchmarks for use in getting it done.

Letting the public know where things stand and what needs improvement was also a major goal of the Ocean Health Index project. There are a few sites with great interactive features that let you explore the results for yourself.

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