The ocean plays a critical role in supporting human well-being, from providing food, livelihoods and recreational opportunities to regulating the global climate. Sustainable management aimed at maintaining the flow of a broad range of benefits from the ocean requires a comprehensive and quantitative method to measure and monitor the health of coupled human–ocean systems. We created an index comprising ten diverse public goals for a healthy coupled human–ocean system and calculated the index for every coastal country. Globally, the overall index score was 60 out of 100 (range 36–86), with developed countries generally performing better than developing countries, but with notable exceptions. Only 5% of countries scored higher than 70, whereas 32% scored lower than 50. The index provides a powerful tool to raise public awareness, direct resource management, improve policy and prioritize scientific research.

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B. Wrigley and H. Wrigley provided the founding grant. Additional financial and in-kind support was provided by the Pacific Life Foundation, Thomas W. Haas Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Oak Foundation, Akiko Shiraki Dynner Fund for Ocean Exploration and Conservation, Darden Restaurants Inc. Foundation, Conservation International, New England Aquarium, National Geographic, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, which supported the Ecosystem Health Working Group as part of the Science of Ecosystem-Based Management project funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. We would like to thank L. Bergen, J. Bort, B. Bronson, C. Costello, N. Crone, A. Dickson, J. Francis, A. Ghermandi, R. Haskell, L. Kaufman, K. Law, L. Madin, P. Nuñes, D. Obura, L. Onofri, J. Packard, R. Portela, N. Rao, J. Regetz, S. Running, K. Selkoe, L. Speer, B. Spitzer, P. Stevick, H. Tallis, H. Tausig, S. Troeng and D. Zeyen for helpful discussions and logistical support during development of the index. Individual authors also acknowledge additional support from NSF, NASA, NOAA, Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions and the Jaffe Family Foundation. K.K., D.P., U.R.S. and D.Z. thank the Sea Around Us Project, with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Data reported in this paper are tabulated in the Supplementary Information and archived at http://ohi.nceas.ucsb.edu/data. Results can be explored and visualized at http://oceanhealthindex.org.

Author information


  1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State St Suite 300, Santa Barbara, California 93101, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
    • , Catherine Longo
    • , Darren Hardy
    • , Jennifer O’Leary
    • , Marla Ranelletti
    •  & Courtney Scarborough
  2. Center for Marine Assessment and Planning, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Benjamin S. Halpern
  3. COMPASS, Oregon State University, Department of Zoology, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-2914, USA

    • Karen L. McLeod
  4. Conservation Biology Division, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2725 Montlake Boulevard East, Seattle, Washington 98112, USA

    • Jameal F. Samhouri
  5. Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22202, USA

    • Steven K. Katona
    • , Andrew A. Rosenberg
    • , Elizabeth R. Selig
    • , Leah Bunce Karrer
    •  & Gregory S. Stone
  6. Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Colombia V6T 1Z4, Canada

    • Kristin Kleisner
    • , Daniel Pauly
    • , U. Rashid Sumaila
    •  & Dirk Zeller
  7. Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Sarah E. Lester
  8. Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Sarah E. Lester
    • , Steven D. Gaines
    •  & Kelsey I. Jacobsen
  9. Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA

    • Benjamin D. Best
  10. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York 10024, USA

    • Daniel R. Brumbaugh
  11. Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA

    • F. Stuart Chapin
  12. Center for Ocean Solutions and Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, Monterey, California 93940, USA

    • Larry B. Crowder
  13. College of Marine Science, University of South Florida, St Petersburg, Florida 33705, USA

    • Kendra L. Daly
  14. Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • Scott C. Doney
  15. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

    • Cristiane Elfes
  16. IUCN Global Species Programme/Conservation International, Biodiversity Assessment Unit, 2011 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22202, USA

    • Cristiane Elfes
  17. Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02453, USA

    • Michael J. Fogarty
  18. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology & Center for Environmental Studies, Box 1943, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA

    • Heather M. Leslie
  19. COMPASS, University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Elizabeth Neeley
  20. Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 1994 Buford Avenue, St Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA

    • Stephen Polasky
  21. New England Aquarium, Central Wharf, Boston, Massachusetts 02110, USA

    • Bud Ris
  22. Department of Geography, Rutgers University, 54 Joyce Kilmer Drive, Piscataway, New Jersey 08854, USA

    • Kevin St Martin


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B.S.H., C.L., K.L.M., J.F.S., S.K.K., S.E.L., A.A.R., D.R.B., F.S.C., L.B.C., K.L.D., S.C.D., M.J.F., S.D.G., L.B.K., H.M.L., S.P., K.S.M., B.R. and G.S.S. conceived and planned the study. B.S.H., C.L., D.H., S.E.L., J.O., M.R., C.S., E.R.S., B.D.B., C.E., K.I.J., D.P., U.R.S. and D.Z. aided with data collection and database development. B.S.H., C.L., D.H., K.L.M., J.F.S., S.K.K., K.K., S.E.L., A.A.R., C.S., E.R.S., F.S.C., K.L.D., S.C.D., C.E., M.J.F., S.D.G., L.B.K., H.M.L., U.R.S. and D.Z. helped with data interpretation. B.S.H., C.L., D.H., K.L.M., J.F.S., S.K.K., K.K., S.E.L., J.O., M.R., A.A.R., C.S., E.R.S., B.D.B., D.R.B., S.C.D., M.J.F., S.D.G. and S.P. developed index and goal-specific models. B.S.H., C.L., D.H., A.A.R., S.C.D. and M.J.F. conducted analyses. B.S.H., C.L., K.L.M., J.F.S., B.D.B. and E.N. developed the figures. B.S.H. drafted the initial manuscript and provided overall project management. All authors edited the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Benjamin S. Halpern.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Tables 1-33, Supplementary Figures 1-9 and Supplementary References. The Supplementary Methods provide detailed descriptions of the general framework for calculating the index, goal-specific methodologies, and details about each data layer used. The Supplementary Results present sensitivity analyses on each of the key parameters in the index model. Supplementary Tables 1-33 give comprehensive information on data used and complete results for each country for each goal and sub-goal, and for certain sensitivity analyses. Supplementary Figures 1-9 include visualizations of how the index is calculated maps for sub-goal results, and a variety of outputs from correlation and sensitivity analyses. This file was replaced 23 January 2013.

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