Costa Rica scores so-so in first Ocean Health Index

Costa Rica has earned a barely passing score in the first Ocean Health Index that was released Wednesday.

The country’s composite score was 61, and that put it in 38th place. Countries ranged from 86 for uninhabited Jarvis Island in the Pacific to 36 for Sierra Leone in 171th place.

Canada was ninth with 70 points. The United States also finished higher than Costa Rica in 26th place with 63 points.

The index is an ambitious effort by academics and environmentalists to establish a benchmark for oceans. The country composite total came from 10 individual ratings in such categories as clean water and coastal protection.

The Ocean Health Index includes all waters of a country’s territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles offshore and the exclusive economic zone that extends out 200 nautical miles.

Scientists from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us, Conservation International, the National Geographic Society and the New England Aquarium collaborated with ocean experts from universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to develop this landmark approach and digital platform, according to a summary provided by the index.

“The index is a tool to be actively used by policy makers and business,” said Steve Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index. “The Ocean Health Index Web site is unique because it is a portal to the index. It’s a direct route to the methodology, goal scores and the components within those scores for every country with a shoreline.” He was quoted in a news release.

The highest-scoring locations included both densely populated and highly developed nations such as Germany, as well as uninhabited islands, said the summary. West African countries scored the lowest on the Ocean Health Index, and these countries also rank low on the Human Development Index, suggesting a relationship between good governance, strong economies and a healthy coastline, it said.

Costa Rica was not the highest rated Latin country. Brazil was in 35th place with a score of 62. Costa Rica with 61 points clustered with a number of countries. They are the Australian Southern Ocean Territories, New Caledonia, British Indian Ocean Territories, Mauritania, Georgia, Namibia, the U.S. Caribbean Territories, French Guiana, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh and Egypt.

Guatemala and Ecuador were in 51st place with a score of 60. México was 79th, Cuba and Colombia were 94th. Panamá was 129th and Nicaragua was 157th. The full list is HERE!

Globally the world scored 60 out of 100.

Determining whether a score of 60 is better or worse than one would expect is less about analysis and more about perspective. “Is the score far from perfect with ample room for improvement, or more than half way to perfect with plenty of reason to applaud success? I think it’s both,” said lead author Ben Halpern, an ecologist at University of California at Santa Barbara. “What the index does is help us separate our gut feelings about good and bad from the measurement of what’s happening.” He was quoted in a university release.

The Index emphasizes sustainability, penalizing practices that benefit people today at the expense
of the ocean’s ability to deliver those benefits in the future. “Sustainability tends to be issue-specific, focused on sustainable agriculture, fisheries, or tourism, for example,” said Karen McLeod, one of the lead authors who is affiliated with COMPASS, a team of science-based communication professionals. She was quoted in the same release. “The index challenges us to consider what sustainability looks like across all of our many uses of the ocean, simultaneously. It may not make our choices any easier, but it greatly improves our understanding of the available options and their potential consequences.”

Costa Rica scored high in coastal protection with an 89 and with an 87 on local fishing opportunities. The country scored lower on water quality with a 68 and lower with a 46 on carbon storage, which was defined as the area of coastal plant habitat coverage relative that around 1980.

Curiously Costa Rica took a real hit by getting an 18 in recreation and tourism. This goal evaluates the attraction of priced and un-priced coastal and marine activities by measuring the number and length of international tourist visits, and sustainability as indicated by tourist density, said a summary of the index.

The central government has declared carbon neutrality as a national goal, and Costa Rica is known for its tourism.

Each of the individual scores reflect current conditions and an estimate of conditions five years in the future, said the index summary.

The journal Nature published the index Wednesday.

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