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Measuring the health of the ocean, how is that done?

Serena Zunino from OGS. ©Serena Zunino

In the 42nd podcast episode, our guest, Serena Zunino from OGS in Italy, discusses how we measure the health of the ocean. She explains that measuring the health of the ocean means assessing its status and how it deviates from the condition of a healthy ecosystem. A healthy ocean is one where its structure is maintained, ecosystem functions work properly, and the system is stable, resilient, and sustainable. The health of the ocean is crucial to human health and wellbeing as it provides many important ecosystem services. Serena also emphasises the importance of adopting an ecosystem-based approach that recognizes humans as integral components of the ecosystem. She emphasises that the ocean has been subject to increased pressures over the last few decades, such as loss of biodiversity, overexploitation of fish stocks, pollution, and climate change, which have threatened its health. Therefore, it is essential to develop effective tools to monitor the status and health of the ocean to prevent further damage and ensure its sustainability for future generations.

The Ocean Health Index is an effective tool to evaluate the marine environment, the OHI is an assessment framework that evaluates the ocean's health based on sustainable provisioning of benefits and services such as food provision, carbon storage, water cleanliness, and biodiversity. The progress toward each goal is assessed against the optimal and sustainable level that can be achieved, with different reference points considered for each goal. The index has been calculated every year since 2012, using nearly 80 different global data sets spanning ecological, social, economic, and governance measures.

AtlantECO is working on the implementation of the Ocean Health Index, aiming to add new details of data at higher resolution, both spatially and temporally, and new kinds of data, such as those linked to plastic pollution or genetic information that has the potential to enlighten ecosystem functions yet to be discovered. New indicators are being developed to produce improved estimates of ecosystem status and trends of some services that the Atlantic Ocean provides. The focus is on assessing the status of ecosystem structure, function, health, and services at the whole Atlantic scale as well as some regional case studies, incorporating high data resolution. The assessment aims to predict the capacity of ecosystems to provide services sustainably in the future, considering future projections of climate change and socioeconomic pathways.

The results of the analysis using the Ocean Health Index are needed to provide scientific advice on the status and trends of different policy scenarios, guide management decisions, and raise awareness of the threats facing the ocean. The communicative power of the Ocean Health Index must be used to increase awareness among stakeholders and promote the sustainable use of marine ecosystems.

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