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In a year of bleak headlines, here are our favorite newsworthy highlights to rekindle your hope for the ocean in 2021

No doubt about it: this has been a year of exhausting news. From the ongoing global pandemic to nerve-wracking threats to marine protections both globally (such as the Chinese fishing fleet amassed just outside the Galapagos Islands) and domestically (watching the current administration roll back safeguards in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument).But despite challenges, Marine Conservation Institute has been busily at work safeguarding marine wildlife this year, from growing our global network of fully and highly protected Blue Parks to producing a series of dazzling videos about the underwater volcanoes of the coast of California. So, how about some good news for a change? Here are some of our favorite headlines from 2020.

Northern Channel Islands team receives a Blue Park award in Santa Barbara from Dr. Lance Morgan and Dr. Sarah Hameed.
  1. Celebrating a Blue Park close to home

In January 2020, Marine Conservation Institute presented a Blue Park Award to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and the National Park Service at a ceremony at the Santa Barbara Zoo. The award recognized the collaborative efforts of state and federal managers in meeting the highest science-based standards for protection and management of the northern Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The northern Channel Islands MPAs, a network of 13 MPAs covering 318 square miles, shelter some of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Dr. Lance Morgan, President of Marine Conservation Institute, said “we hope that Blue Park recognition of the northern Channel Islands MPAs provides a shining example of regional marine conservation efforts and encourages others to protect our oceans for generations to come.”

  • A striking video series transports us to the underwater world of seamounts

As part of our campaign to raise awareness of California’s Seamounts, we released ten short seamount videos, narrated by Peter Coyote. Each explores a different aspect of the seamounts with gorgeous underwater footage. It’s hard to get excited about a place you’ve never seen and very likely will never get to; and it’s hard to advocate for a place you’re not excited about. That’s why we produced these fascinating videos—each of which highlights an extraordinary different facet of these deep-sea oases.

  • New and improved interactive Marine Protection Atlas

Marine Conservation Institute went on a decade long quest to answer two seemingly simple questions: “How much of the ocean is protected by marine protected areas? And how effective is that protection?” The culmination of this work is our Marine Protection Atlas, the most comprehensive MPA database in the world. This year we overhauled our existing MPAtlas and released a new version, which now allows partner organizations from around the world to share MPA quality assessments to a common web-based data entry platform. This collaborative new design makes MPAtlas methods and data widely accessible and transparent. The new website also allows users to fine-tune their explorations by country, by region, and by level of classification—giving visitors access to local maps of their nearest coast or glimpses into their favorite dive site on the other side of the globe!

  • Scientists sign on to support marine protection goals

Nearly 200 scientists from around the world have signed our letter to support strong protection of 30% of the ocean by 2030. Scientific evidence suggests that to secure a healthy, productive, and resilient marine environment, at least 30% of the world’s ocean must be safeguarded in a network of well managed Marine Protected Areas that all meet the IUCN’s rigorous standards. It’s not too late to join us in signing!

  • Seamountaineers pledge to defend vulnerable seamounts

We launched our California Seamount campaign in May, hoping to share the wonder and fragility of these underwater volcanoes.  Since then, several hundred supporters have signed our Seamountaineer Pledge, agreeing to support conservation of these unique places. Seamounts are at the frontier of biological discovery, but they’re also at the frontier of deep-sea mining and fishing expansion. We invite our community to learn more about these strange and stunning ecosystems, and to take our Seamountaineer Pledge if you haven’t yet done so, joining us in our commitment to protect these vital places from mining as well as fishing, ship traffic, and oil and natural gas extraction.

  • Our scientists reveal new tools at international ocean conference

Good ideas spread when members of the scientific community get together at conferences. In August, Marine Conservation Institute’s team of scientists attended (virtually, that is) the 6th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC6). They played a very busy role co-hosting a two-day workshop, organizing a symposium viewed by over 100 people and giving three talks about our ongoing work to accelerate ocean protection. They shared the latest information on the MPA Guide classification system (a collaborative project that has been in the works for years, intended to standardize and support the use of common terms when describing marine protected areas, or MPAs) and they revealed  the new features and improvements on the Marine Protection Atlas that will create a more useful and accurate account of global marine protection. It was an incredibly productive, engaging, and informative two-week event, and we are grateful for the opportunity to share our work with other passionate marine biologists and conservationists.

  • Our newest Blue Park!

In early December, we were thrilled to announce that Abrohlos Marine National Park is our newest Blue Park, bringing the total number of Blue Parks in our network up to 17. The Abrolhos Bank boasts the highest marine biodiversity in the South Atlantic Ocean, including the largest South Atlantic breeding population of humpback whales. The park is home to at least 20 species of coral, including 6 species that are endemic to Brazil. Its unique “chapeirão” reefs feature enormous mushroom-shaped pinnacles, which can grow to be over 7 stories tall and as wide across as three football fields!

  • Blue Sparks on track to become tomorrow’s Blue Parks

Blue Parks are the most highly and fully protected marine protected areas in the world—exemplary refuges that meet scientific standards for measurable conservation outcomes. In our push to achieve 30% protection of the ocean of by 2030, Marine Conservation Institute is dedicated to partnering with NGOs, leaders and governments to help them create effective marine protected areas that can someday meet Blue Park Award standards. These promising MPAs are Blue Sparks—tomorrow’s Blue Parks. This year, we added six extraordinary MPAs to our Blue Sparks network, bringing the global total to 23 areas working towards or meeting this highest of conservation standards.

  • Ocean luminaries brighten our year-end gala

Ocean lovers from around the world joined us for our Virtual Ocean Gala where we celebrated our newest Blue Park. Our signature “Blue Sparkle” cocktail—whipped up by celebrity chef Duskie Estes in a pre-event mixology lesson—made the evening sparkle as we heard from nature photographer and documentary filmmaker, Ian Shive, Native Hawaiian Elder, Sol Kaho’ohalahala, our president, Dr. Lance Morgan, acclaimed photographer Cristina Mittermeier of Only.One, Abrolhos Marine National Park manager Fernando P. M. Repinaldo Filho, “Her Deepness” Dr. Sylvia Earle, and our charismatic host Marshall Behling.  Enormous thanks to all of these special guests, and to our generous sponsors: Navis, Sand Cloud, Chantecaille, Black Pig Meat Co. and Happy Little Whales. Watch a recording of the gala here if you missed it!

  • We survived to fight another day for our ocean!

In any other year this would hardly seem noteworthy, but this was not a normal year. We are heartened by the kindness and generosity shown by our many supporters. So many of us suffered losses and faced unprecedented challenges, and yet we end 2020 with growing hopes for a better tomorrow. You inspired us to work even harder for our ocean and we look forward to building momentum in the coming year to protect and conserve marine life. You can take our Kind Quiz and explore the many ways we can partner together based on your unique “Kind profile”.

Thanks to our supporters, partners, and fellow ocean lovers for helping us sprinkle some good news throughout this heavy year. We look ahead to the year to come—with a new, more earth-friendly administration on the horizon—with hope for even better headlines in 2021!