Assessing the Health of the U.S. West Coast with a Regional-Scale Application of the Ocean Health Index
Management of marine ecosystems increasingly demands comprehensive and quantitative assessments of ocean health, but lacks a tool to do so. We applied the recently developed Ocean Health Index to assess ocean health in the relatively data-rich US west coast region. The overall region scored 71 out of 100, with sub-regions scoring from 65 (Washington) to 74 (Oregon). Highest scoring goals included tourism and recreation (99) and clean waters (87), while the lowest scoring goals were sense of place (48) and artisanal fishing opportunities (57). Surprisingly, even in this well-studied area data limitations precluded robust assessments of past trends in overall ocean health. Nonetheless, retrospective calculation of current status showed that many goals have declined, by up to 20%. In contrast, near-term future scores were on average 6% greater than current status across all goals and sub-regions. Application of hypothetical but realistic management scenarios illustrate how the Index can be used to predict and understand the tradeoffs among goals and consequences for overall ocean health. We illustrate and discuss how this index can be used to vet underlying assumptions and decisions with local stakeholders and decision-makers so that scores reflect regional knowledge, priorities and values. We also highlight the importance of ongoing and future monitoring that will provide robust data relevant to ocean health assessment.