Ocean Health Index assesses West Coast of US – Coastal protection and carbon storage diminished

Loss of Dunes, Salt Marshes and Seagrasses Leaves West Coast More Vulnerable to Erosion and Reduces Natural Carbon Storage

Scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and Conservation International conducted the first regional assessment by the Ocean Health Index on United States Waters. This regional assessment studied 5 regions on the west coast of America: Southern, Central & Northern California, Oregon State and Washington State. Results from this study were published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

The Ocean Health Index assesses ocean conditions in terms of how well the coastal waters deliver a range of benefits to people both now and in the future. The Ocean Health Index scores 10 goals such as food provision, coastal protection, biodiversity, and clean waters from 0 to 100.  A score of ‘100’ represents a specific target for each goal that is determined to be both attainable and sustainable. The overall score for the west coast was 71 out of 100.

“A score of 71 tells us that, as a whole, the west coast is doing a lot of things well in terms of the human impact and the benefits we derive from the ocean,” said the study’s principal investigator, Ben Halpern, professor at Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and NCEAS associateThe U.S. west coast, as whole, scored the highest in the categories of Tourism & Recreation (99); Marine Livelihoods and Economies (87); and Clean Water (87). 

“There is, however room for improvement on several of the goals. The goal scores on the coastal and regional level for carbon storage and coastal protection are driven by the loss of key natural habitats and leave us vulnerable to serious problems in the future,” says Halpren. The average scores for carbon storage – which assess the ability of coastal vegetation to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store (sequester) it for long periods of time – and coastal protection – which assesses the ability of salt marshes, seagrasses, and sand dunes to protect coastlines against flooding and erosion – were 59 and 58 respectively.

These low scores can be attributed to human activity such as urban development which includes: diking, filling, draining, pad building for oil exploration, road building, draining for mosquito control or livestock grazing, contamination, introduction of exotic species, sea level rise and excessive level of nutrient run-off from land. Scientists project all of these activities result in habitat loss which lowers biodiversity and benefits for human well-being.

Taken together, the scores and measures derived from the Ocean Health Index can help policy makers make informed decisions and draft policies that best benefit ocean life and the people who call this region of the county home. 

Assessing the Health of the U.S. West Coast with a Regional-Scale Application of the Ocean Health Index
Benjamin S. Halpern, Catherine Longo, Courtney Scarborough, Darren Hardy, Benjamin D. Best, Scott C. Doney, Steven K. Katona, Karen L. McLeod, Andrew A. Rosenberg, and Jameal F. Samhouri. June 2014. PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098995


News Release

UCSB The Current Story

More information about Ocean Health Index research methods and publications


The Ocean Health Index was developed with the contributions of more than 65 ocean experts including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project. The founding partners of the Index are Conservation International, National Geographic, and The New England Aquarium. The Founding Presenting Sponsor of the Ocean Health Index is the Pacific Life Foundation. The founding grant was provided by Beau and Heather Wrigley.





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Posted on June 18, 2014