The Stream

How sustainable is our use of ocean resources?

The 2013 Ocean Health Index was just released (http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/).  This index assesses ten different aspects of humanity’s relationship with the ocean environment across a range of ecosystems services and scores them with respect to what they consider to be attainable goals that are “more sustainable than the current conditions.”  Even with the bar set at this fairly low level (in that “more sustainable” is not the same thing as “sustainable”), the results are not pretty.  For example, the score for harvesting food sustainably is a paltry 33 out of 100.  In a future where more people will come to depend on more food from the world’s oceans, the unsustainability of our current harvesting practices highlights the vital importance for us to do better.

Yet the critical question is not just what should be done to improve the sustainability of harvesting practices.  A series of interviews by leading fisheries scientists (http://vimeo.com/47318459) makes clear the importance of changing people’s perceptions of oceans as a free-for-all open market.  Steve Gaines of the University of California, Santa Barabara, says it best: People need to put more of a sense of ownership into the oceans.  With a sense of ownership comes, as a general rule, a sense of responsibility, for the present and the future.

The question is really how to this can be achieved.  How can people — individually and collectively — be led to feel that managing ocean resources sustainably matters?

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