Helping Our Glorious Ocean

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Our survival depends on our vast living ocean. As rampant overfishing, climate change, and degradation threaten its well-being, communities around the world are embracing ocean stewardship. To channel their energy toward placing important ecosystems under the best care, we created the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES, pronounced “glories”) award program. With GLORES, the marine protected areas helping our ocean will win. And so will the planet.

Article by Matt Coomer

marbled grouper underwaterA marbled grouper in the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. Edited here, original photo by Santiago Estrada courtesy of Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia.

Strange as it may sound, marine protected areas (MPAs) that protect the ocean are rare. Despite big MPA announcements at conferences, actual progress is far short of what we need. According to the Atlas of Marine Protection (, just 3.6% of the sea is actively protected and only 1.8% has strong safeguards against human extraction. Governments and local stakeholders often have great intentions for their MPAs, but they can also miss what research says about best practices. GLORES uses rigorous, science-based criteria to help bridge the gaps between MPA intention and implementation. Its awards create a guide for real success in the field.

world map

Simplified Global MPA coverage as of August 28, 2017. Unfortunately, each site’s protection quality can vary a great deal. Map courtesy of MPAtlas.

Anyone can nominate MPAs for a GLORES award. Once a protected area is under consideration, the GLORES Science Council, a volunteer group of international marine scientists, consider its biodiversity value and management. They dive deep into each nominee’s design, considering everything from its size to local stakeholder engagement. Finally, they look at the MPA’s place within GLORES to ensure the initiative includes diverse marine ecosystems around the world. According to Science Council Member Dr. Leslie Cornick, this process can create a positive movement, “The GLORES initiative is incredibly innovative in its approach, and it has the potential to create significant strides in protecting critical marine habitat and biodiversity.” GLORES recently awarded three MPAs at the 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC4).

IMPAC4 was a busy, exciting time for marine conservation. Government representatives, conservationists, and practitioners came together to share their projects and new MPA commitments. With a huge audience, we awarded three outstanding marine protected areas GLORES Platinum status: the U.S.’ Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Colombia’s Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, and the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. In her moving acceptance speech, Tubbataha Manager Angelique M. Songco shared that, “There is no greater encouragement and motivation to do better than to be recognized by peers and fellow practitioners.” These inaugural Global Ocean Refuges are truly examples of marine protection done right.

GLORES awards

Marine Conservation Institute President Dr. Lance Morgan, GLORES Director Dr. Sarah Hameed, and Board Chair Dr. David Johns with Global Ocean Refuge managers at the IMPAC4 awards.

Platinum Global Ocean Refuge awards are reserved for the world’s best MPAs, ones that take bold steps to protect ecosystems. Each award-winner saves marine life through smart design, strong management, and dedicated enforcement efforts. Fishing restrictions and the Colombian Navy’s monitoring keep Malpelo’s renowned shark aggregations safe. A large limited-use buffer zone and collaborative management protect Papahānaumokuākea’s near-pristine inner reefs. A dedicated ranger team guards Tubbataha’s incredible corals while sensible ecotourism supports local development. These Global Ocean Refuges are already inspiring other MPAs to aim higher with their conservation goals. 

More marine protected areas are getting involved with GLORES and our team plans to award thirty MPAs by 2020. Every nominee will get tips to help them improve, whether they win or not. In this way, GLORES directly benefits MPA staff planning for the future, coastal communities growing their blue economy, governments designing new MPAs, and many others. Do you know a strong MPA that deserves recognition? Nominate it for a GLORES award and help us promote the project! With your support, we can spread effective ocean stewardship around the world, for us and future generations.

To help the Global Ocean Refuge System, please visit:


For more information on the Global Ocean Refuges, visit their official websites at:

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

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