Engaging Government Leaders on Ocean Health

Stingrays near the Galápagos Islands, an important habitat for marine life in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

Stingrays near the Galápagos Islands, an important habitat for marine life in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. (© CI/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Since CI and partners launched the Ocean Health Index in August, the media has already generated over 340 unique news stories in 26 countries, reaching an estimated 120 million people. As this first round of media coverage slowly subsides, the next phase of our work begins — engaging government leaders in using the Ocean Health Index to prioritize their work and track national progress toward healthy oceans.

Over the last week, my colleagues and I met with top-level government officials in Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador to present and discuss the Ocean Health Index methodology and how it could be applied at the national level. Their interest has been nothing short of outstanding.

The Ocean Health Index is a comprehensive tool that measures the ocean’s overall condition — one that treats people and nature as integrated parts of a healthy system. Thanks to the collaboration of 65 ocean experts and the consolidation of ecological, economic and social data, the Index has given every coastal country on Earth a score based on 10 benefits people receive from their ocean areas.

The global Ocean Health Index analysis is useful for comparisons between countries, but the best way to guide national decision-making is for countries to use the Ocean Health Index model and calculate scores for each of the 10 goals using the best available in-country information, as such data can be more recent, more detailed and more accurate than data available at the global level. This is exactly how we see the Ocean Health Index being most useful.

Sebastian Troeng presenting about the Ocean Health Index at the First Conference on Marine Conscience in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Sebastian Troeng presenting about the Ocean Health Index at the First Conference on Marine Conscience in Guayaquil, Ecuador. (© CI/photo by Tina Lee)

Last week in Costa Rica, the new vice minister of Water and Oceans highlighted the need for regional collaboration among countries in the Eastern Tropical Pacific to jointly improve ocean health. Colombia’s minister of environment and sustainable development — together with the director of the Presidential Agency for International Collaboration and another 20 or so department heads from five ministries — engaged in a two-hour discussion about the finer details that determined Colombia’s score and actions the ministries can take to improve it. They agreed on the need to develop a national Ocean Health Index score drawing on locally available data and making a distinction between the country’s Pacific and Caribbean ocean areas.

In Ecuador, participants in the first Ecuadorian Conference on Marine Conscience listened intently to a formal presentation on the Ocean Health Index and provided insightful comments and questions about how to best apply the method in Ecuador. The conference was organized by Ecuador’s recently established Technical Secretariat for Oceans, responsible for coordinating activities among 65 central and local government agencies in Ecuador with mandates for coasts and oceans. Its leadership has also expressed interest in exploring application of the Ocean Health Index to national waters.

In both Colombia and Ecuador, print, radio, and television continue to initiate constructive discourse on the Ocean Health Index scores and methods, and linking them to the local context such as national level discussions about the merits of different types of fishing, considering their contributions and impacts on ocean health.

The countries making up the Eastern Tropical Pacific are showing tremendous leadership by creating mechanisms and agencies responsible for coordinated ocean policy and action. The new Technical Secretariat for Oceans in Ecuador, the Vice Ministry of Water and Oceans in Costa Rica and Colombia’s Ocean Commission have all been established to make sure marine areas are not managed in isolation but rather in a coherent way that allows countries to sustainably benefit from oceans and their use. CI’s committed field teams in these countries are ready to advise and support these governments as they strive to make these goals a reality.

Most importantly, the Ocean Health Index is generating engaging discussions about how to best manage oceans. The launch of the Ocean Health Index has catalyzed conversations that our societies have long needed, and in doing so is already changing the world and the 70% of it that is blue.

Sebastian Troeng

Sebastian Troeng

Sebastian Troeng is the senior vice president of CI’s Global Marine division. The Ocean Health Index is a partnership between Conservation International, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at University of California at Santa Barbara, National Geographic Society, New England Aquarium and the Sea Around Us project at University of British Columbia.

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