Marine Conservation Institute, recognizing the need for more and better ocean protection, is leading a major initiative to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.  The Global Ocean Refuge System is an innovative strategy to incentivize decision makers to establish protected areas that safeguard marine life and promote opportunities for sustainable tourism.  In 2017, we awarded our first Global Ocean Refuges: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary, and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. We continue working to secure partners and investors to help make GLORES a success.  We invite you to join us on our journey to secure lasting conservation for our oceans. 

To download a PDF of the Global Ocean Refuge System strategic business plan, please click here.

The Challenge

Healthy oceans are essential to human survival and prosperity.
Unfortunately, oceans are in deep trouble worldwide due to
overfishing, climate change, industrialization, pollution and habitat
destruction. These problems are rapidly getting worse, and
our oceans are now in a state of crisis.

The best way to maintain our oceans’ biological diversity, abundance and resilience is by protecting marine life and their ecosystems in marine reserves — areas that have the strictest and strongest level of protection. Marine scientists agree that 30% of the oceans need to be strongly protected. Currently, less than 1% of the ocean is safeguarded in this manner. Many of the most important and vulnerable marine ecosystems are not yet protected, and others are vastly under protected and underrepresented. Only governments and international governmental organizations have the power to designate marine reserves, but so far they are not acting quickly enough to safeguard critical habitats. This slow progress can be attributed to many factors, but chief among them is the fact that there are no strong incentives to counteract short-term, self-interested exploitation of the seas.

A Global Network of Effective Marine Protected Areas

The Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) aims to safeguard marine biodiversity by assembling a strategic network of effective marine protected areas (MPAs) that includes replicate representation of all marine habitats in each biogeographic region and supports marine population persistence.

To make this vision a reality, GLORES must improve the quality of MPAs and accelerate the implementation of MPAs. Despite the implementation of more than 15,000 MPAs around the world, only 1.6% of the ocean is strongly protected ( These efforts are not keeping pace with the growing threats to marine life.

only 2% of the ocean is strongly protected

GLORES will incentivize the implementation of more effective MPAs by awarding those that meet science-based standards for effectiveness. Governments will welcome GLORES awards because they will attract tourists, local support, and investors and bring a sense of pride to political leaders, managers, and communities. The strategic framework that GLORES creates will support MPA efforts around the world, complementing the advocacy of conservation groups working to implement MPAs and international agreements for MPA coverage targets.

Any MPA that meets GLORES’ science-based standards qualifies for a Global Ocean Refuge award and inclusion in the Global Ocean Refuge System. Becoming a Global Ocean Refuge is a four-step process. First, sites are nominated through an online nomination platform that elicits information and documentation needed to evaluate the site. Second, GLORES staff members complete a report evaluating the site based on GLORES’ science-based criteria. During this step, GLORES staff reach out to site managers to introduce GLORES and invite their contributions to the evaluation report. The evaluation report includes recommendations to improve the efficacy of the site with respect to safeguarding and recovering marine biodiversity. Evaluation reports are published on the GLORES website ( for 30 days, during which time interested parties are encouraged to submit additional documentation or evidence to correct or refine the report. Third, the evaluation report and all public comments are forwarded to GLORES Science Council members with expertise in the site’s region and habitat types. Science Council members will determine the site’s award status.

Sites earning a Global Ocean Refuge award are publicly recognized and promoted by GLORES Alliance partners. All Global Ocean Refuges are subject to a review audit every five years. An earlier audit may be triggered when significant changes to a site are brought to the attention of GLORES staff.

Designed to greatly expand the number and size of areas free from over-exploitation, the Global Ocean Refuge System is complementary to other conservation efforts to protect ocean places. The core elements of GLORES are outlined below to provide a comprehensive overview of this strategy.

First, GLORES is a partnership among marine biologists, conservationists and others to provide a scientifically credible designation for marine protected areas that integrates marine ecology principles such as biogeography, metapopulation connectivity and resilience. GLORES:

  • Integrates global biogeography and anticipated climate impacts into a system for protecting the diversity of all marine life;
  • Prioritizes ecologically important areas;
  • Provides criteria for design, management, monitoring and enforcement; and,
  • Promotes effective protected areas, enhancing credibility and access to financial support.

Second, GLORES provides a comprehensive, global conservation framework. Many organizations and agencies are creating marine protected areas one at a time, focusing on the objectives of an individual site, but not necessarily on recovering populations or maintaining the oceans’ resilience to future threats. GLORES advances and connects these efforts by providing a roadmap for integrating existing efforts and conserving ecologically important areas and representative habitats within one system.

Third, working with partners, such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, GLORES integrates management and monitoring effectiveness into its standards. Lastly, and very significantly, GLORES provides a substantial incentive for marine protection by publicly recognizing the outstanding conservation work of communities and managers to establish Global Ocean Refuges. From the smallest community conservation zone to the largest reserve, all protected areas can be nominated for Global Ocean Refuge status. The nominated areas will undergo a critical evaluation to determine if they meet GLORES strict standards. The award provides prestige, which will draw tourists and visitors. The recognition can be used to leverage funding for Global Ocean Refuges. GLORES also provides a benchmark that both private and governmental funders can use for their investments.