I. Introduction to the Global Ocean Refuge System

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 (MPAtlas.org). 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.

II. The Award Process

Any MPA that meets GLORES’ science-based standards qualifies for a Global Ocean Refuge award and inclusion in the Global Ocean Refuge System.

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 (www.globaloceanrefuge.org) 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.

III. The Award Criteria

Global Ocean Refuge standards rely on up-to-date science on the attributes of effective MPAs.

Answers to 6 key questions determine the GLORES status of a nominated site:

1.1 Does the site protect valuable marine biodiversity?

1.2 Is the site well managed and is there compliance with its regulations?

2.1 To what extent is the design and management of the site consistent with MPA effectiveness?

2.2 Does the site prohibit activities that degrade the marine environment?

3.1 What value does the site add to the GLORES network in terms of habitat representation and replication?

3.2 What value does the site add to the GLORES network in terms of ecological spatial connectivity?

A considerable body of scientific literature has focused on the attributes of protected areas that result in biodiversity conservation (e.g., Lester et al. 2009, Edgar et al. 2014, Costa et al. 2016). International agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, highlight the need for protected areas to be located in places important for biodiversity, effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and designed to support population connectivity and migration. Despite the interest in implementing effective MPAs, science has not typically informed the implementation of MPAs (Watson et al. 2016).

Global Ocean Refuge standards rely on up-to-date science on the attributes of effective MPAs. There are three parts to the GLORES evaluation. Sites must meet the criteria in Part 1 to qualify for inclusion in the Global Ocean Refuge System. The criteria in Part 2 determine the level of GLORES award that the site earns. The third part of the review process is an internal GLORES assessment of the conservation value the site adds to the GLORES network via ecosystem representation and ecosystem spatial connectivity. Once the Global Ocean Refuge System is established as a robust network of effective MPAs, Part 3 will allow GLORES to prioritize sites for awards.

III. The Award Criteria

1. Eligibility Criteria

1.1 Biodiversity Value

Must satisfy at least one

Includes area of high species richness or endemism within the context of the biogeographic region  
Includes demonstrated historic or predicted ecological refugia  
Includes rare, unique or representative ecosystems  
Includes area important for threatened species (including those identified by the IUCN Red List or national legislation), keystone species or foundational species. Important areas include migration pathways and breeding, nursery, feeding or assembly area.  


Qualifying Designations

Existing membership under one or more of the following designations prequalifies sites for the Biodiversity Value criterium.


Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar)


Important Bird Area (IBA)


Hope Spot


Specially Protected Area and Wildlife (SPAW) in the Wider Caribbean Region


Natura 2000 Special Protection Area (SPA) or Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


1.2 Effective Management & Compliance:

Must satisfy all

The MPA is designated by a legitimate and functional government representing the interests of civil society, and the MPA’s implementation meets the IUCN standards for recognizing indigenous peoples’ rights.  
The MPA is designated to enhance the biodiversity value of the site.  
The MPA designation is permanent or is effective for at least 25 years.  
A management plan, updated within the last 15 years, sets measurable conservation targets, identifies and prioritizes significant threats to biodiversity and addresses those threats with planned activities. The resources and capacity to implement the management plan are identified and secured.  
Regular monitoring of habitat and/or wildlife is conducted to measure progress with respect to conservation targets.
* A report of monitoring data is required at each GLORES audit after designation. Any negative biological trends identified through monitoring must be addressed in management plans. Progress toward identifying threats and addressing them must be documented.
The MPA garners high regulation compliance rate. Evidence of adequate resources and capacity (including budget and staff) for enforcement is required.  
Qualifying Designation: A site that has qualified for the IUCN Green List of Protected Areas 1 satisfies the Effective Management & Compliance criteria.  


Qualifying Designations

Existing membership under the following designation prequalifies sites for the Management & Compliance criterium.


IUCN Green List of Protected Areas

Additional Consideration: Community-based MPAs

If a community-based MPA is long-standing and appears to be durable and permanent, the GLORES Science Council may consider it eligible for a GLORES Award without government designation.

III. The Award Criteria

2. Award Status Criteria

Each GLORES eligible site will be evaluated in terms of its regulations and its design and management attributes. Note that a lower MPA Regulations score and a higher MPA Design and Management score are needed to earn a more prestigious GLORES award. GLORES Platinum, Gold and Silver awards require the following evaluation scores:


Award Status

2.1 Regulations

2.2 Design & Management

Platinum 1-3
MPA regulation score
Design & Management
attributes demonstrated
Gold 3-4
MPA regulation score
Design & Management
attributes demonstrated
Silver 4-5
MPA regulation score
Design & Management
attribute demonstrated

2.1 Regulations

Activities allowed in the MPA must be addressed by regulations in a management plan. Each regulatory zone of the MPA will be scored using the Regulation-Based Classification System for Marine Protected Areas (Costa et al. 2016), which relies on the number of fishing gear types allowed, a fishing gear impact score, bottom exploitation and aquaculture allowed, and anchoring and boating allowed. All zone scores are weighted according to their area and summed to generate an MPA score. Lower scores represent stronger levels of protection.

Additional Consideration: Other Activities

The MPA score serves as a guideline for the Science Council members in determining the award status of a site. Because the Regulation-Based Classification System for Marine Protected Areas is an estimate that sometimes conflates activities with very different impacts (e.g., salmon farming and oyster farming, SCUBA spearfishing and snorkel spearfishing) and excludes some damaging non-extractive recreational activities (e.g., snorkeling that results in high-impact coral reef trampling), the GLORES Science Council may decide a site’s award status differently than the site’s MPA score indicates.

Additional Consideration: Buffers

Buffer zones – zones of reduced human impact surrounding core no-take protected areas – enhance the conservation value of core no-take areas.

An MPA that includes a large (>100 km2) no-take zone (Zone regulation score 1-3) surrounded by a buffer zone with a score 3-5 may be considered for a GLORES Platinum Award.

Bottom Exploitation & Aquaculture Index

Aquaculture and bottom exploitation not allowed


Aquaculture OR bottom exploitation allowed, but not mining / oil platforms / sand extraction / detonations


Both aquaculture AND bottom exploitation allowed, or only bottom exploitation including mining / oil platforms / sand extraction / detonations


Anchoring & Boating Index

No anchoring allowed


Boating and/or anchoring allowed, but anchoring is fully regulated: restricted to particular areas or mooring buoys


Boating and/or anchoring allowed, and anchoring is partially regulated or unregulated


2.2 Site Design & Management

Effective MPAs have a combination of design and management attributes. Sites must have at least three of these attributes to be considered for a GLORES Platinum award, two to be considered for a GLORES Gold award and one to be considered for a GLORES Silver award.

Site Design & Management Attributes


100 km2
Explicitly designed as part of a network of MPAs to support population connectivity


Ecological or other protected area buffers surround protected ecosystem(s)


Protections in the site, comparable to the current protections, are ≥ 10 years old


There is a formal process to engage the local community in the implementation or ongoing management of the MPA.

III. The Award Criteria

3. GLORES Network Priorities

To ensure the representation of all ecosystems in all biogeographic regions, the replication of representative habitats, and the ability of GLORES to support marine population persistence and migration, the GLORES evaluation includes an assessment of each site’s contribution to the conservation value of the GLORES network. These geographic analyses will be conducted by GLORES staff members using information about the existing Global Ocean Refuge System. As the network of Global Ocean Refuges grows, GLORES staff will perform gap analyses to prioritize locations for new Global Ocean Refuges.

3.1 Replicate Ecosystem Representation

GLORES prioritizes sites protecting ecosystems that are under-represented within the relevant biogeographic region of the Global Ocean Refuge System (< 30% are located in Global Ocean Refuges), or are rare in the biogeographic region.

3.2 Ecological Spatial Connectivity

GLORES also prioritizes sites that improve ecological spatial connectivity among existing Global Ocean Refuges. Ecological spatial connectivity refers to the physical and biological processes connecting areas in the marine environment in ways that support wildlife and ecosystems (Carr et al, 2017). GLORES’ connectivity analyses are focused on population connectivity and migration; they rely on dispersal and migration estimates for key taxa as well as distances between Global Ocean Refuges with relevant habitats.

IV. The Scientific Basis for GLORES Criteria

The GLORES evaluation process is intended to identify MPAs that will strengthen the Global Ocean Refuge System and help safeguard marine life. It is based on the best available science and has been developed over several years with the help of many marine scientists working in academia, government agencies, and non-profit conservation organizations. To ensure the GLORES criteria continue to inform MPA implementation with the best available science, they will be updated regularly with the newest research. The following sections summarize the key scientific priciples of the Global Ocean Refuge criteria.

IV. The Scientific Basis for GLORES Criteria

1. Eligibility Criteria

1.1 Biodiversity Value

To make a significant contribution to protecting marine biodiversity, MPAs must protect biologically valuable places (Devillers et al. 2014). Many MPAs are currently located in places with sub-optimal biodiversity value because their protection involves fewer political hurdles, while highly biodiverse places or areas that support threatened or endangered species remain unprotected (Agardy et al. 2011, Devillers et al. 2014). The GLORES criteria for biodiversity value closely align with many other established criteria for MPA biodiversity value (Asaad et al. 2017), and, therefore, an MPA that has earned one of the qualifying designations (see II.1.1) has already demonstrated it meets one or more of the GLORES Biodiversity Value criteria. For areas where there is a lack of information on the biodiversity value as it relates to regional or global patterns, additional research may be necessary.

1.2 Effective Management & Compliance

Effective MPA management and compliance with regulations is key to protecting marine wildlife (Guidetti et al. 2008, McCook et al. 2010, Edgar et al. 2014, Giakoumi et al. 2017). MPAs can only become Global Ocean Refuges if they meet all of the criteria for effective management and compliance.

MPAs older than 10 years (Claudet et al. 2008, Edgar et al. 2014) or 15 years (Molloy et al. 2009) are more likely to have positive biological outcomes, and so MPA durability – associated with permanent or long-term designation by a legitimate government – is relevant to efficacy. The Global Ocean Refuge System aims to incentivize protections intended to be permanent that will result in long-term biodiversity conservation benefits.

There are a wide variety of purposes for which MPAs are implemented. To qualify for a GLORES award, an MPA must be actively managed for biodiversity enhancement. Evidence of active management for biodiversity enhancement includes an updated management plan, that includes measurable objectives, prioritized threats and management activities – employing a management plan has been associated with positive ecological outcomes in tropical MPAs (Hargreaves-Allen et al. 2017). Global Ocean Refuges must design and implement an ecological monitoring program that informs management planning (Day 2008) and must carry out planned enforcement activities. The capacity to carry out all management and enforcement activities is vital to the conservation performance of MPAs. Adequate staff capacity and budget is particularly important for MPA effectiveness (Gill et al. 2017).

Additional Consideration: Community-based MPAs

Community based MPAs can be effective at conserving marine biodiversity (Chirico et al. 2017) and may be sustained through long-term community commitments rather than government designation. Therefore, the GLORES Science Council may consider a durable community-based MPA eligible for a GLORES Award without government designation.

IV. The Scientific Basis for GLORES Criteria

2. Award Status Criteria

2.1 Regulations

To effectively safeguard marine biodiversity, an MPA must regulate activities that negatively impact the biodiversity values of the site. GLORES prioritizes fully protected no-take MPAs (Lubchenco and Grorud-Colvert 2015), as these MPAs result in the best biological and ecological outcomes (Lester and Halpern 2008, Edgar et al. 2014, Appolloni et al. 2017). GLORES Platinum awards are reserved for fully protected MPAs or those with a significant (> 100 km2) fully protected zone buffered by a zone allowing only very limited lower-impact extraction. However, 94% of all MPAs allow some fishing (Costello & Ballantine 2015), and GLORES acknowledges the contributions of partially protected marine areas with strong regulations for biodiversity conservation (Lester & Halpern 2008, Coll et al. 2011, Tyler et al. 2011, Sciberras et al. 2013, Campbell et al. 2017, Gill et al. 2017, Giakoumi et al. 2017), while recognizing that not all partially protected areas are effective at conserving targeted populations (e.g., Denny and Babcock 2003, Di Franco et al. 2009). The Global Ocean Refuge System includes additional award tiers for strongly protected areas (Lubchenco and Grorud-Colvert 2015) that meet GLORES’ science-based standards.

To assess the strength of an MPA’s regulations, the GLORES evaluation employs a classification system based on the number of fishing gears allowed, their ecological impact, the types of bottom exploitation and aquaculture allowed and the regulations relating to recreational boating (Costa et al. 2016). For MPAs with multiple zones, the evaluation uses a weighted average of the individual zone scores (weighted by the proportion of zone area to total MPA area). The scores produced by this simple classification system strongly correlate with scores produced by a classification system employing a rigorous assessment of all MPA regulations (Costa et al. 2016).

Additional Consideration: Other Activities

GLORES Science Council members may consider allowed activities and regulated activities that are not well-represented by the regulations-based MPA classification system in determining the award status of a site. Of particular concern may be sites in which non-consumptive activities have a large impact on the protected ecosystem (Thurston et al. 2012), such as coral reef trampling by tourists (Williamson et al. 2016).

Additional Consideration: Buffers

BUFFER ZONES – areas with some fishing restrictions surrounding no-take zones – do not necessarily contribute positively to the conservation value of an MPA (Claudet et al. 2008, Di Franco et al. 2009). However, a strongly regulated zone – one that would earn a GLORES award on its own – buffering a very large no-take zone (> 100 km2) may be considered for a GLORES Platinum award, given that strictly regulated buffer zones can be effective (Coll et al. 2011).

2.2 Site Design & Management

MPA design and management play an important role in MPA effectiveness (e.g., Claudet et al. 2008, Le Quesne 2009, Gaines et al. 2010, McCook et al. 2010, Edgar et al. 2014,). Design and management attributes that are significantly associated with positive biological and ecological outcomes should be standard practice in MPA implementation. To this end, GLORES prioritizes MPAs that meet or exceed these standards.


Small no-take MPAs can have positive conservation effects (e.g., Giakoumi et al. 2017), however larger MPAs are better because they support larger population sizes (Gaines et al. 2010), they are more likely to protected self-persistent populations sustained by the local retention of larvae (Botsford et al. 2003), and they are more likely to contain fully functional ecosystems (McLeod et al. 2009). Larger MPAs have stronger positive impacts on biological communities (Claudet et al. 2008, Friedlander et al. 2017), particularly when those MPAs exhibit two or more other attributes of effective MPAs – effective management, longevity, isolation and no-take restrictions (Edgar et al. 2014). Using individual-based models to evaluate effectiveness of different sizes of no-take MPAs in coral reef ecosystems, Krueck et al. (2017) determined that an MPA needed to be at least 2-10 km wide to achieve partial protection of fished species and 100 km wide to achieve full protection of nearly all the species they modeled. Claudet et al. (2008) and Edgar et al. (2014) defined large MPAs as > 100 km2 in their analyses of MPA effectiveness. We will use this minimum size for consideration of Global Ocean Refuge status until a more nuanced assessment of the relationship between size and conservation effectiveness across a variety of ecosystems is published.

An effective alternative to large MPAs is networks of smaller MPAs spaced closely enough to support population connectivity for species with longer dispersal distances (Gaines et al. 2010, McCook et al. 2010, Grorud-Colvert et al. 2014, Carr et al. 2017) and sized large enough to support the local retention of species with shorter dispersal distances (Carr et al. 2017).


Ecosystems entirely enclosed within protected area boundaries and isolated by deep water, sand or other ecological barriers provide more conservation benefits (Edgar et al. 2014). We will also consider ecological barriers in adjacent protected areas (e.g., terrestrial protected areas).


Older MPAs – those over 10 years old (Claudet et al. 2008, Edgar et al. 2014) or 15 years old (Molloy et al. 2009) – confer greater biodiversity benefits than younger MPAs (Friedlander et al. 2017). An MPA younger than 10 years old that earns Global Ocean Refuge status may be eligible to earn a higher award status in a subsequent 5-year audit after maintaining Global Ocean Refuge standards for 10 years.

Community engagement

A formal process of community consultation in the implementation and management of an MPA is associated with higher levels of compliance with MPA regulations (Pollnac et al. 2010) and MPA effectiveness (Batista and Cabral 2016).

IV. The Scientific Basis for GLORES Criteria

3. GLORES Network Priorities

The conservation value of an MPA depends, in part, on its spatial relationship to other MPAs (McCook et al. 2009, McLeod et al. 2009, Gaines et al. 2010, Batista and Cabral 2016). GLORES evaluation criteria incorporate a geographic framework with an assessment of habitat representation and ecological connectivity to effectively protect biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, with a goal of 30% protection for each habitat type within each biogeographic region. Assessing the network value of a site is different from the other parts of the evaluation because it depends on an analysis of the existing protections for the ecosystems within the site’s biogeographic region.

A biogeographic region is a large area defined by biotic distributions. The GLORES strategic approach to building both a network and a portfolio of robust protected areas employs the coastal biogeographic regions defined by Spalding et al. (2007). Marine Conservation Institute is also working with partners to develop a more comprehensive three-dimensional ecoregional framework for the global ocean (Sayre et al. 2017).

3.1 Replicate Ecosystem Representation

Global Ocean Refuges must represent examples of all the marine habitat types in each biogeographic region of the ocean to protect the vast diversity of marine life (Spalding et al. 2008, McCook et al. 2009, McLeod et al. 2009), because within each region, places with comparable physical and chemical conditions tend to host similar species assemblages. GLORES aims to include replicate sites of each habitat type within a biogeographic region to protect against unforeseen ecological disasters and guard against biodiversity loss (Gaines et al. 2010). GLORES’ goal is to include enough sites to achieve the conservation target of at least 30% of each habitat type within each biogeographic region, and up to 100% of particularly rare and threatened habitat types (O’Leary et al. 2016). As the Global Ocean Refuge System grows, GLORES staff will perform gap analyses to identify priority habitat types within each biogeographic region to target in new MPAs.

3.2 Ecological Spatial Connectivity

GLORES aims to assemble a network of Global Ocean Refuges that support marine population connectivity and migration. Avoiding extinction requires either a population’s continuous presence in a habitat or the ability to recolonize after local extinction. Population persistence in the ocean often depends on network persistence among demographically connected populations (Botsford et al. 2001, Hastings and Botsford 2006, McCook et al. 2009, McCook et al. 2010). Networks of MPAs add resilience for protected populations that are demographically connected (Moffitt et al. 2011) and for ecosystems that are ecologically connected (Carr et al. 2017). MPA networks can also provide opportunities for adaptive migration in response to climate stressors (Hole et al. 2011), and conserving sources of recolonizers is important when pulse stressors (e.g., acute coral bleaching events, storms or upwelled low-oxygen waters) cause local extinctions (Gaines et al. 2003). Therefore, protecting enough cumulative area and enough dispersed replicates of ecosystems that could be connected via larval, sub-adult or adult movement is an effective means of building portfolio resilience into GLORES (McCook et al. 2009, Grorud-Colvert et al. 2014, Carr et al. 2017).

V. Acknowledgements

The Global Ocean Refuge System relies on the contributions of many diverse partners. The GLORES Award Criteria, in particular, depend on the contributions of many scientists and MPA experts from across disciplines and sectors. These criteria were developed based on the scientific literature and on expert opinion elicited in four focused workshops hosted by Marine Conservation Institute over three years. Additionally, GLORES Science Council members reviewed and vetted these criteria. Marine Conservation Institute is very grateful for these important contributions to GLORES.


1 Nicklen, Paul. Polar bear. 2016. Photograph.
2 Platko, Joe. 2016. Photograph.
3 Platko, Joe. Apo Turtle. 2016. Photograph.
4 Platko, Joe. Hawaii Reef Scene. 2014. Photograph.
5 Bauder, Clinton. Mono Lobo Wall: Monterey Scenics. 2016. Photograph.
6 Nicklen, Paul. Seal. 2016. Photograph.

Cover & Document Design

Chathurika Thenuwara

Web Design

Russell Moffitt

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