Trinidad and Tobago is tied in 26th position with eight other countries in an international evaluation of the state of adjacent oceans in 171 states and territories. The ranking is reflected in the recently-launched Ocean Health Index (OHI), which is a collaborative effort involving scientists, official agencies and international NGOs, including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of the USA, the Sea Around Us project, Conservation International, National Geographic, and the New England Aquarium. The methodology employed by the OHI involves an evaluation of the condition of marine ecosystems in the delivery of what are described as the “ten human goals” of food provision, artisanal fishing opportunities, natural products, carbon storage, coastal protection, coastal livelihoods and economies, tourism and recreation, a “sense of place”, clean waters and biodiversity.
Each “human goal” is given a score, based on a given reference point, and a country’s overall average is used as the benchmark to determine its international standing.
The head of one local environmental NGO thinks the exercise might be useful but is sceptical about the scoring for T&T in some areas, a development expert in the food sector says he’s “wary,” while a marine scientist attached to the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) is proposing greater use of estimates of the economic value of the country’s marine ecosystem services. Kyle De Lima, co-founder of Trini Eco Warriors, believes the criteria for measuring at least four of the goals “have sorely missed the mark when aiming to give the casual onlooker a generally accepted view of reality in Trinidad and Tobago.” He points to issues related to relatively high scores for natural products, carbon storage, coastal protection and clean waters. “I think the Ocean Health Index is a great concept,” De Lima told Sunday Guardian, “(though) once different or additional data sampling criteria are allowed by the organisation then it would begin to represent more accurately what the real situation is for Trinidad and Tobago and, I suspect, for a large number of other nations around the world too.” Development expert Steve Maximay said he is “always wary of these scientific assessments that lead to a ranking.” He said he had “great difficulty in rationalising an unweighted addition of individual scores; some of which seem counter-intuitive.” He said, for example, “a low score for tourism ought to be a good ecological sign which might explain the high biodiversity score (in the OHI).”