Measuring ocean health: What’s important to Canadians?

By Isabelle Côté, Simon Fraser University

How does one go about measuring something as complicated and difficult to describe as ocean health? One way is to evaluate how well the ocean fulfills different functions that people depend upon. This is what the Ocean Health Index (OHI) does. Developed by researchers in California, the OHI considers the current and probable future states of 10 types of ocean goods and services and distills this information into a single number, akin to a percent grade on a report card. The goods and services considered range from concrete benefits, such as food provision and livelihoods, to more subjective values, like biodiversity and the state of iconic species and places. In the last global iteration of the OHI in 2013, Canada scored 68%—1% lower than the previous year—and ranked 61st out of 221 countries in the world.

Creating “COHI”

The goal of our project is to “Canadianise” the OHI, in other words, create a “COHI.” We’re going about this in two ways.

First, we carefully evaluated the ten goods and services included in the global OHI, and the data that are used to measure them, to see how well they reflect the Canadian context. This led us, for example, to replace the “Artisanal Fishing Opportunities” service by an “Aboriginal Needs” service that takes into account the extent of sea ice in the North and the cost of fuel, both of which control Canadian Inuit access to fishing grounds.

Second, we used an online survey to help us measure which goods and services are really important to Canadians and which are less so. We polled thousands of Canadians across the country. The results are just in and we are analysing them now. This information will allow us to weigh the different goods and services in relation to their importance in the final calculation of our COHI.

Why is this important?

Canadians are the stewards of the longest national coastline in the world, and we have bountiful, but finite, resources within our marine territories. We feel that it’s important to convey how well we are caring for this heritage and what its future prospects are in a way that’s easily understandable by everyone. The COHI is a great way to do this.

A CHONE-funded research project by Isabelle Côté (Simon Fraser University), Philippe Archambault (Université du Québec à Rimouski) and Rémi Daigle (Dalhousie University).