Assessing global marine biodiversity status within a coupled socio-ecological perspective

How sustainable is our use of the ocean ecosystems?  That’s one question the ongoing project the ‘Ocean Health Index’ is trying to answer.  It’s an ambitious project, seeing to figure out just how well we are conserving marine biodiversity and ecosytems, and if our use of the resources the oceans provide is sustainable.

In a recent paper by Dr Elizabeth Selig and colleagues, the Ocean Health Index has been broadened to take into account social and ecological pressures that reduce biodiversity – including looking at the social and governance factors that might improve the situation.

The first bit of news from this paper isn’t great.  Overall the future for marine biodiversity isn’t as great as we might hope, but some countries are doing better at looking after marine biodiversity and habitats than others.  Well…looking at other research, that’s not really a surprise.  What is interesting however is that countries that scored well for their species didn’t necessarily do well on looking after marine habitats.

On the good news side, some countries like Canada, Australia, and Russia seemed to have improved the condition of the marine habitat within their EEZ (economic exclusive zone) since the 1980s.

It seems that having a high ‘Human Development Index’ score – a composite statistic of life expectancy, educational attainment, and incomes – does not necessarily correlate between any biodiversity score.  Interestingly though, there was a relationship between the ‘Human Development Index’ score and social/ecological resilience, suggesting that many less developed countries don’t have the effective governance measures needed  to maintain biodiversity.  This is a huge problem because effective governance is regarded as an essential tool for effective conservation of biodiversity and sustainable resource use.

The paper is open access so if you fancy having a look though yourself at what they found, and how they calculated various bits and pieces (including a good helping of supplementary information) you can find it here http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0060284

Image:   Oyster culture in Belon, France, taken in 2003.  Credit Peter Gugerell/Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5)

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