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New Research Highlights the Need for Better and More Rigorous Scientific Criteria for Marine Protected Areas

Seattle, WA (February 12, 2014) — Marine Conservation Institute today highlighted important new research by Graham J. Edgar et al, featured this week in the preeminent journal Nature, demonstrating that strong protection and management are critical factors to marine protected area effectiveness. One of the key components of the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES, pronounced glôr-ees), a new initiative recently announced by Marine Conservation Institute, is establishing clear, consistent criteria for the best locations, strong protection, effective management and credible enforcement for marine protected areas. The U.S.-based nonprofit organization is now assembling a scientific advisory team and carefully evaluating what makes marine protected areas effective in different ecosystems.

The research by Edgar and colleagues highlights five features key to the success of marine protected areas, including protection levels, enforcement of those protections, age (how long it had been protected), size and isolation (for example, a remote island or a patch of reef surrounded by large sandy areas). Their research showed that these factors in combination contribute to positive outcomes, but that alone or even with three of them together they are not enough.

“More emphasis is needed on better marine protected area design, durable management and compliance to ensure that marine protected areas achieve their desired conservation value,” said Professor Edgar. “It is a complex undertaking, but one that needs to happen.”

There are currently no clear, widely-accepted standards for governments and other entities to determine how effective a protected area is at safeguarding marine life. Designating a place as a marine protected area, national park, marine reserve or marine sanctuary does not guarantee any baseline level of protection. In fact, most existing marine protected areas are “paper parks” offering little or no protection for marine life. In addition, many of the most important and vulnerable ecosystems are not yet protected and others are vastly underrepresented.

“When done right, marine protected areas are the most cost-effective tool for maintaining the oceans’ biological diversity, abundance and resilience. Our Global Ocean Refuge System initiative provides a rigorous scientific framework for the design and management of marine protected areas,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, president of Marine Conservation Institute. “Oceans are incredibly important to the prosperity and survival of humankind, and none of us should risk sloppy, unscientific criteria for something of this magnitude.”

More About the Global Ocean Refuge System

GLORES is a strategic, science-based way to safeguard marine ecosystems on a global scale and is designed to catalyze strong protection for at least 20% of the ecosystems in each marine biogeographic region by 2030. It will introduce a new designation – Global Ocean Refuge – with clear standards for existing and new protected areas to earn Gold, Silver or Bronze Global Ocean Refuge status. By establishing consistent criteria for determining the most important locations and protection levels needed to save species and their habitats from harm, GLORES will provide standards that the world can use to evaluate the effectiveness of marine protected areas.  Learn more about GLORES at

Marine Conservation Institute recognizes the critical need for effective standards for ocean areas. Founded and run by veteran marine biologists, Marine Conservation Institute is dedicated to securing permanent, strong protection for the ocean’s most important places. Its science team specializes in identifying the most important ocean ecosystems that need protection, while its policy experts work to secure lasting, strong protection for those areas. The organization has a strong track record of collaborating with other scientists, ocean advocates, businesspeople and government officials around the world.

About Marine Conservation Institute

Marine Conservation Institute is a team of highly-experienced marine scientists and environmental-policy advocates dedicated to saving ocean life for us and future generations.  The organization’s goal is to help the world create an urgently-needed worldwide system of strongly protected areas—the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES)—a strategic, cost-effective way to ensure the future diversity and abundance of marine life.  Founded in 1996, Marine Conservation Institute is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization with offices in Seattle, near San Francisco and in Washington DC.


Edgar, G. J., R. D. Stuart-Smith, T. J.Willis, S. Kininmonth, S. C. Baker, S. Banks, N. S. Barrett, M. A. Becerro, A. T. F. Bernard, J. Berkhout, C. D. Buxton, S. J. Campbell, A. T. Cooper, M. Davey, S. C. Edgar, G. Försterra, D. E. Galván, A. J. Irigoyen, D. J. Kushner, R. Moura, P. E. Parnell, N. T. Shears, G. Soler, E. M. A. Strain & Russell J. Thomson. (2014). Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features. Nature doi:10.1038/nature13022.

Gaby Adam
By the Sea Communications
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