04/08/2014 07:33 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2014

Ocean Health Check-Up Will Help Brazil Captain Its Own Course for More Productive Seas

Brazil, one of the world's fastest growing economies in the world. It's enjoying an influx of billions of investment dollars by international companies. The middle class is growing fast. It will also be thrust onto the world stage as is hosts the World Cup this June an event that will draw hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world to Brazil

With these events comes an enormous pressure on natural resources. We are all aware of the country's natural bounty on land -- the Amazon river and rainforest -- but you may not know that the lives of Brazilian people are also deeply entwined with ocean health.

Brazil has a whopping impact on our oceans.

  • 20 percent of the entire world's fresh water input from land to oceans comes from the Amazon River.
  • 10,000 humpback whales visit the coast to mate and give birth.
  • Abrolhos Brazil, home to brain coral, sea turtles and the endangered Atlantic Goliath Grouper is believed to have the highest biodiversity in the South Atlantic.

Brazilians enjoy the benefits of these coastal waters. About 7.7 million jobs and USD $213 billion come from tourism, much of which is driven by beautiful beaches and coastal cities. Five million people are involved in producing and marketing Brazilian seafood, which produces USD $2.7 billion in revenues per year. The per capita consumption of seafood is 8.9 kilograms (20 lbs.) each year and growing.

For the first time, the Brazilian government has a data-driven measurement tool to inform planning and management of their coastal waters. The new Brazil regional Ocean Health Index assessment shines a light on the health of the ocean along the coast of all 17 coastal states in Brazil. It assesses how well Brazil is maximizing benefits and resources from the ocean in a sustainable way.

With a score of 60 out of 100, Brazil has room to grow, to produce more, to enjoy more food, industry and beauty from the ocean in the future. The gap between the current score and 100 represents the ability to increase production while sustaining the resource.

Diving into the stats that make up the regional assessment is a bit like reading a soccer team's stats over time -- they reveal what's going on in terms that are helpful for future game plans. The Index is broken into categories called goals. As an example here are findings for two of the goals:

Seafood Provision: Average score for 17 Brazilian coastal states is 36 out of 100

This low score is due to over exploitation. Brazilian wild caught fisheries have shown no growth in harvests in recent years due to excessive fishing, largely by industrial fisheries. Several important coastal commercial fisheries are reported as fully exploited or over-exploited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The fast-growing aquaculture industry offers an opportunity to increase fish production. The low Index score of six out of 100 is due to underutilization and unsustainable practices. Brazil's Mariculture (fish farming in sea water) includes extensive farming of the whiteleg shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei), a practice that causes severe mangrove loss, coastal erosion, and pollution.

Sense of Place: Average score for 17 Brazilian coastal states is 48 out of 100

This goal is largely driven by the extent of marine protected areas along the coast. While Brazil has begun strong conservation programs, these efforts cover less than 0.4 percent of the country's territorial sea and exclusive economic zone and fall short of the country's 2010 commitment to reach 10 percent protection.

As this great country prepares to host one of the world's most celebrated sporting events, they have an opportunity to captain their own team towards a more productive ocean that will remain strong for years to come. The regional Ocean Health Index assessment provides the stats and data needed to assess priorities and plans for the future and can serve Brazil in its role as world leaders in industry, sports and natural resources.