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oceanconservationscience.org

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A SALVE

FOR THE SEAS

THE OCEAN HEALTH INDEX WAS COMMISSIONED TO GIVE A

COMPREHENSIVE VIEW OF HOW WE CAN IMPROVE OUR WATERS

BOTH GLOBALLY AND AT HOME ON THE EAST END.

BY JON BOWERMASTER

Orient Point

Lighthouse stands

amid the Hamptons

clean beaches.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SYLVANA REGA/GETTY IMAGES. OPPOSITE PAGE: PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH HOYT/CONSERVATION

INTERNATIONAL (SALT MARSHES, MEGONIGAL); BURT JONES AND MAVINE SHIMLOCK (SCUBA)

98 HAMPTONS-MAGAZINE.COM


Drs. Mark

Erdmann and

Gerald Allen

inspect ocean life.

Long Island may represent the perfect

dichotomy in the way man has

treated the ocean. While the pounding

surf and stunning horizon line

give the impression of a wild,

untamed resource, just beneath the

ocean’s surface all is not right. From Stonington

to Montauk, fishing fleets are at ever-greater

risk, the temperature of the Sound is warming,

red algae blooms are becoming commonplace,

lobsters vanish, and disaster relief is proposed by

Scientist Dr. Patrick

government agencies almost annually over one Megonigal brings up

problem or another.

some mangrove

mud to demonstrate

During the past century man has put serious carbon storage.

stress on the ocean we are so dependent on. We

have carelessly overfished it, polluted it, dumped carbon dioxide into it, and

heated it up. Perhaps the fact that it covers more than 70 percent of the planet

has allowed us to think the ocean has an infinite ability to absorb toxic

runoff, billions of pieces of plastic, 24 million tons of carbon dioxide a year,

and still somehow miraculously heal itself, all the while providing us with

valuable resources ranging from food to medicine.

Dr. Ellen Pikitch, a professor of marine biology at Stony Brook University

and executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science,

blames much of the problem on an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude people

have long had toward the ocean and pollution. “It is a challenge to

engage people who live away from a coast in the need to protect and restore

the ocean,” she explains. “The ocean is critical to us all in so many ways.

“We need to do a better job

of educating the public

about the consequences to

their families and

communities of ocean

health.”—DR. ELLEN PIKITCH

Salt marshes in

Duxbury,

Massachusetts.

HAMPTONS-MAGAZINE.COM 99


Men fish off

the coast of

Indonesia.

An unhealthy ocean will lead to a poorer economy, lower food availability,

and a less healthy populace. We need to do a better job of educating the

public about the consequences of ocean health to their families and communities

no matter where they reside.”

However, Pikitch argues that all ocean-related problems are local.

“Pollution and fisheries are both of great immediate concern to Long Island,

and the two are somewhat interrelated,” she says. “Lack of adequate waste

treatment, and run-off of fertilizers and other chemicals are major causes. In

addition, overfishing has left our coastal areas depleted of hard clams,

oysters, and other species, and in the past, high shellfish abundance kept

nutrient levels in check. As a consequence, we have seen an increase in the

number and duration of harmful algal blooms such as brown tides and red

tides. These blooms are not only unsightly, but also impair growth and

reproduction of marine life and occasionally result in fish kills.”

science, conservation, and business combined forces to come up with a way

to encourage cleaning up some of the worst of the ocean’s problems. The

solution is a study of each of the 171 “Exclusive Economic Zones” (EEZs)

“We are in an era where humans

dominate the ocean and we are the

first to admit we are measuring a

troubled system.”—DR. GREG STONE

A clown fish in Verde

Island Passage,

Batangas, Philippines.

These red tides are of greatest concern as they can impair human health

and even cause fatalities. “These dangerous red tides have occurred

repeatedly in recent years, and large areas have been closed to shellfishing

to forestall human health consequences,” says Pikitch. “Clearly, this is a

case where there is a direct relationship between our own health and that of

our waters. Also, these are serious problems, but they are problems that can be

solved on a local and regional scale with the right kinds of efforts. There are

some efforts in place, but these need to be scaled up and complemented by

other efforts that will reduce inflow of waste into our waters.”

To try and stem the tide of ocean abuse, some of the greatest minds in

100 HAMPTONS-MAGAZINE.COM


A hammerhead

shark in the

Galapagos Islands

off Ecuador.

A scientist group

meets in Bali for a

intergovernmental

ocean workshop.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY STERLING ZUMBRUNN/CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL (HAMMERHEAD); SARAH HOYT/CONSERVATION

INTERNATIONAL (GROUP). OPPOSITE PAGE: PHOTOGRAPHY BY STERLING ZUMBRUNN/CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

surrounding countries with ocean coastlines. That

data was collected worldwide and analyzed using 10

different criteria from Coastal Protection to

Biodiversity to Tourism and Recreation; each country

was then given an overall grade—between one

and 100—that rates how it is measuring up. By assigning

what are essentially grades is to give countries,

regions, and industries incentive to clean up existing

problems and invest in ocean protection.

CHAMPIONING

CHANGE

Be part of “generation

now” and act locally in

the Hamptons.

Support the Sound: The

Shinnecock Bay Restoration

Program aims to restore the

bay’s water quality and fisheries.

Visit shinnecockbay.org.

The initial Ocean Health Index, announced this

past August, is the creation of Conservation

International, the National Geographic

Society, New England Aquarium, and the National

Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

Starting in 2008, more than 60 scientists traveled the

globe evaluating ecological, social, economic, and

political factors for every coastal country and adding

up the results. The highest score was given to isolated

Jarvis Island in the South Pacific (which received an

86); the lowest went to the African nation of Sierra

Leone (36). The US scored 63, tying it for 26th on the

list, between Pitcairn and the Ukraine. The average

score was 60, or as Dr. Greg Stone, Conservation

International’s Chief Scientist for Oceans and one of

the originators of the Index, put it, a “D.”

It wasn’t just remote islands that scored well.

Germany ranked fourth, with a score of 73, suggesting

its marine region is well protected. While the US

scored well in coastal protection, it didn’t do so well in food supply, clean

water, and tourism.

The group that dreamed up the Index hopes it will become the lead

indicator used by policy-makers and conservationists around the world as

they try and assess what’s wrong with their respective seascapes and learn

how to fix them. Dr. Ben Halpern, a marine biologist at the University of

California, Santa Barbara, oversaw the project and wrote the peerreviewed

paper introducing it in Nature. He says the response to the

research has already been “remarkably positive and excited.”

“You can’t manage something like ocean health without actually having

a tool to measure it,” says Halpern. “It’s not a panacea that’s going to solve

all problems, but it will definitely help in the process of trying to fix things.”

While admitting he was “surprised” by the average score of 60, Halpern

Rescue our wildlife: Riverhead

Foundation for Marine Research

and Preservation rescues and

rehabilitates dolphins, seals, sea

turtles, and other critically

endan gered species. Visit

riverheadfoundation.org.

Guard our beaches and bays:

The Nature Conservancy helps

protect Long Island’s wetlands,

beaches, and underwater

habitats. Visit nature.org.

Clean water on the North Fork:

One mission of the Group for

the East End is to preserve the

area’s waterways as well as

drinking water. Visit

groupfortheeastend.org.

said the reaction from some corners of the world has

been swift: Marine biologists with the Colombian

government (ranked 94th) immediately invited a team

from Conservation International to advise it on how it

can improve its score.

As to the impact of the index, Pikitch is optimistic. “I

think it’s a bit early to know what impact the Ocean

Health Index will have on stimulating the improvement

of coastlines among nations,” she says. “Perhaps some of

the earliest ‘adopters’ will be nations that view themselves

as competing with one another over ocean health

considerations. For example, tourists might make

destination choices based on the cleanliness of the

waters, the availability of local, fresh seafood, and other

components of the OHI. Nations will undoubtedly want

to know how they stack up against their competitors and

what they can do to improve their score.”

Stone agrees that now is the perfect time to be releasing this seemingly

straightforward rating mechanism. “I’ve never seen a moment as open,

with so much opportunity as this for the oceans in my life. Even within the

last several months the tempo has picked up, with [film director] James

Cameron going to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the deepest point on

Earth) and new marine protected areas being announced with regularity.”

He is hopeful that the index will prove to be a missing link between talk

and action, although he admits measuring direct change to come from it

will not be easy. “One thing to be clear on: We are not trying to compare

the health of the ocean today to a time when it was pristine, thousands of

years ago,” Stone says. “That’s history. We are in an era where humans

dominate the ocean, and we are the first to admit we are measuring a troubled

system.” oceanhealthindex.org H

HAMPTONS-MAGAZINE.COM 101

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