Ocean health in Africa

A comprehensive assessment of the state of the world’s oceans, the Ocean Health Index (OHI), published annually by US-based National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)and global non-profit Conservation International, found Seychelles to top the rankings in Africa. The Island- nation was followed in second spot on the continent by Morocco and in third place by Egypt.

The OHI diagnosis saw Seychelles scoring 77.2 out of a total 100 points, followed by Morocco with a score of 72.3 and Egypt 69.5. At the other end of the spectrum were seven African nations who scored less than 50 and stood at the bottom of the global index. Among those ranked lowest in ocean health were Guinea (49.6), Guinea-Bissau (48.5), Somalia (48.2), Sierra Leone (47.5), Democratic Republic of Congo (47.1), Libya (42.4) and Ivory Coast (41.3).

The assessment, which placed Seychelles at 33 position globally out of the 220 nations and territories studied by NCEAS, provides decision makers with data and knowledge they can use to implement effective actions for improved sustainable ocean management. Morocco stood in 62nd and Egypt in 83rd position globally.

The 37 jurisdictions assessed in Africa scored an average of 60.2 compared to the average global score of 70. Clearly, there is a need for more to be done to improve the overall management and health of oceans on the continent and beyond, to sustainably maximize the economic, cultural and environment benefits they deliver to people.

Conducted since 2012, the OHI scientifically assesses ocean health by analyzing various sets of data to reveal the current and projected future states of their respective ocean resources and how optimally and sustainably the nations manage the benefits provided by their oceans such as food, recreation, tourism.

A total of 10 elements are assessed to arrive at a country’s overall ocean health score, including food provision, biodiversity, coastal livelihoods and economies, tourism and recreation, artisanal fishing opportunities, clean waters, carbon storage among others.

Globally, the average OHI scores have remained relatively stable around 70 out of 100 and countries around the world are continuing to make commitments towards a sustainable ocean future. The highest scoring in 2018, at 80 or above, were island nations, such as Aruba in the Caribbean and New Caledonia in the south Pacific, or uninhabited islands.

Germany was the only one of these 17 high scorers with a population exceeding one million people. The nations with the highest scores in Africa were ranked position 33, 62 and 83 respectively in the global rankings.

Additionally, the 2018 OHI indicated that 14 out of 36 coastal countries in Africa experienced marginal improvements in ocean health when measured against the first assessment conducted in 2012, while the rest of the nations recorded declines.

Angola recorded the highest improvement, with its score rising 11 percent from 53.1 in 2012 to 59.3 in 2018 followed by Egypt which rose by 5.4 percent from 65.9 to 69.5. Significant declines in ocean health scores were noted in Eritrea which fell by 26 percent (68.6 to 50.6) and Equatorial Guinea which dropped by 16 percent (66.6 to 55.7) over the same period. Incidentally, the 2018 score for Seychelles (77.2) though the highest in Africa, is an almost a 5 percent decline from the 81.2 recorded by OHI in 2012.

“By providing an annual comprehensive database baseline for global ocean health, OHI offers all coastal countries, at any level of capacity, a starting place for assessing the status of their marine resources and environments,” said Dr. Eva Schemmel, Science Advisor for Conservation International’s Centre for Oceans.

Dr. Schemmel indicated that independent assessments of ocean health in Kenya and Tanzania have been conducted using the OHI tool by non-profit research organization Cordio East Africa, on behalf of Conservation International, though it focused on only 2 of the 10 OHI indicators identified as priority for the two nations.