Lack of Major Decline in Oceans Shouldn’t be Mistaken as Sign of Good Health, Experts Warn


garbage-beachThe 2016 Ocean Health Index (OHI) defines a healthy ocean as one that can deliver a wide range of sustainable benefits to citizens of the world in the present and in the future based on 10 distinct goals. This year’s score came in at 71, which matches the scores for 2013 through 2015. Despite the unchanged score, scientists are warning that the condition of the oceans shouldn’t be mistaken as a sign of good health.

“The results are mixed,” said Ben Halpern, OHI chief scientist. He explained the situation using the example of a patient at the doctor’s office. Though there may be a lack of negative results, he said, the results of this year’s OHI are equivalent of a doctor telling their patient that there’s no sign of terminal illness, but a major lifestyle change needs to occur to prevent that future.

In that vein, researchers are warning people not to take this year’s OHI score as good news. Still, scientists are encouraged by the existence of such a test. The OHI was established in 2012 and is the result of a partnership between UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and the nonprofit environmental organization Conservation International.

Halpern said that the most exciting part of having a test like the OHI is the ability to see how and why the scores change every year. He explained that it’s provided an opportunity for scientists to better understand the causes and results of such changes.

Despite the unchanged OHI score for 2016, it’s estimated that between 15% and 40% of dumped plastic finds a resting place in the ocean, which has more than a few people concerned. In fact, Laysan albatrosses are in danger as a result of the sheer amount of plastic in the ocean.

The Laysan albatross is classified as a vulnerable species, meaning that unless the circumstances surrounding their survival improve, they will likely become endangered. One of the leading threats to their survival is plastic and other garbage that’s being dumped into the ocean; according to Matt Brown from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the plastic pieces often look like food to these birds.

If you were to cut open the stomach of a Laysan albatross, its contents would likely be largely plastic. Approximately 99% of the plastic dumped into the ocean is unaccounted for, which means more and more is likely making its way into these birds’ diets.

People around the world are beginning to open their eyes to the ocean’s plight, as well as think up new, creative ways to raise awareness. One group of activists from Oregon has started The Washed Ashore Project to do just that.

The Washed Ashore Project was started in 2010 when founder Angela Haseltine Pozzi noticed excessive amounts of plastic and other waste on Oregon’s shores. Now, the group collects that waste and uses it to create beautiful marine sculptures. The sculptures are both beautiful art and a way to raise awareness to the sheer amount of plastic populating the world’s waterways.

A grand gesture like that of The Washed Ashore Project isn’t possible for many people, but there are simple changes everyone can make to help avoid further ocean pollution. Investing in reusable shopping bags and water bottles is encouraged. After all, it’s the responsibility of every individual to ensure a healthy planet for the future.

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