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The 2022 Blue Park Awards at the UN Ocean Conference

Global leaders along with over 2,000 individuals from civil society met together in Lisbon, Portugal last week to create a path forward to revitalize our ocean. The UN Ocean Conference addressed a long list of priorities, including increasing the coverage of marine protected areas. And while the plenary sessions were busy with leaders talking about their plans, Marine Conservation Institute met with our colleagues that are already leading the way and protecting the blue heart of our planet. I am very pleased to share with you the excitement, pride and gratitude celebrated by the 2022 Blue Park Awards. Blue Parks are marine protected areas done right, where local communities and managers work together on nature protection and sustainable practices, informed by the best science to ensure both human and ecosystem health and to safeguard marine biodiversity for future generations. They are “guide stars” for what MPAs should be.

Three marine protected areas (MPAs) earned the prestigious award for outstanding marine wildlife conservation. Apo Reef Natural Park (The Philippines), Raja Ampat Islands Marine Conservation Area (Indonesia), and Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park (Colombia) join a growing network of 24 awarded Blue Parks around the world that have met the highest science-based standards for conservation effectiveness.

2022 Blue Park Award Event Participants (L to R: Lance Morgan, Victor Manoppo, Brigitta Gunawan,
Orlando Molano, Krystal Villanada, Arthur Tuda, and Celia Anna Feria

These individuals all share tremendous pride in their communities:

“Winning this [Blue Park] Award would not have been possible without the inspiration of Raja Ampat people. Our diligent work to look after Raja Ampat has been rooted in the wisdom of Raja Ampat’s people. Ocean has been their life and has shaped their consciousness about the importance of its sustainability. They have been our partners to strengthen the management of Raja Ampat.”
– Victor Manoppo, Indonesian Director General of Marine Spatial Planning, accepting a Blue Park Award on behalf of Raja Ampat Islands Marine Conservation Area

Coral Garden Reflections. Indonesia A diversity of hard corals thriving on a shallow reef, reflected in a calm surface of the sea. Misool, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. Ceram Sea. Tropical West Pacific Ocean.

“This recognition is for the archipelago communities, leading protectors and defenders of the ecosystem. Also for our rangers, who work in strengthening the effective management of this protected marine area of Colombia,”

– Orlando Molano, director Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, accepting a Blue Park Award on behalf of Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park

Old Providence McBean Lagoon National Park

“This [Blue Park] Award, the outcome of decades of dedication and commitment, is the impetus we need to encourage us to continue working to conserve and protect our oceans, for now, for tomorrow, for always. On behalf of the sharks, and the coral reefs, and the entire ecosystem of Apo Reef, we thank you as well for this award, which assures greater commitment to maintain their home.”
– Hon. Celia Anna Feria, Philippine Ambassador to Portugal, accepting a Blue Park Award on behalf of Apo Reef Natural Park

©Jan Bastida, Apo Reef Natural Park

The Awards were presented in front of a packed event on the last day of the Ocean Conference. Marine Conservation Institute co-hosted this event, which received a UN Ocean Decade endorsement, with the Government of Ecuador (home to 2019 Blue Park, Galápagos Marine Reserve), the Charles Darwin Foundation, UN Environment Programme, and The Natural Conservancy. In the panel discussion following the Blue Park Awards, Lance Morgan, president, shared Marine Conservation Institute’s strategic approach to helping governments and communities achieve effective ocean conservation through science-based guidance, incentives, measurement, and reporting.

As one participant at our event in Lisbon observed, “This is the most important event at this UN Ocean Conference because as we strive to meet 30×30 targets, we have to remember the importance of improving the management of MPAs globally. This event should be on the big stage.” The promise of Blue Parks is immense – effective MPAs are a key component to securing a thriving ocean and a healthy planet. With the addition of the 2022 Blue Parks, the entire Blue Park system now covers an ocean area almost the size of Mexico or the US state of Alaska (1,834,171 sq. km) spread across the waters of 20 countries. The challenge now is to scale up high quality MPA coverage to reach at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030.

For more than a decade, Marine Conservation Institute has been the lead independent watchdog tracking global MPA progress. Our Marine Protection Atlas gives a transparent accounting of marine conservation efforts around the world, revealing that less than 3% of the ocean is effectively protected. We were highlighted by Mongabay News as they reported on the promise of the UNOC. And finally Blue Parks were singled out as the right way to do marine protected areas by scientists urging more transparency by governments in achieving conservation.

Blue Parks are incentivizing governments and communities to protect our ocean and provide a clear science- and outcome-based blueprint for success. The people behind the newly awarded Blue Parks are true ocean heroes, doing the hard work to protect nature. Please join in celebrating their efforts and sharing their success stories. And know that any donation to Marine Conservation Institute, big or small, supports the Blue Parks of tomorrow.

The time is now – we need to ramp up an ocean protection revolution increasing effective protection by an order of magnitude. Marine protected areas are a nature-based solution to revitalize biodiversity, address climate change, soak up carbon dioxide, protect coastal communities while providing millions with needed nutrition. It is up to all of us, working together to ensure that we meet the current challenge.