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What it Takes to Become a Global Ocean Refuge

The Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) is designed to incentivize strong protection of life in the sea by providing recognition to marine protected areas (MPAs) that are effectively safeguarding marine wildlife according to science-based standards. But how do we identify the good MPAs?

A considerable body of scientific literature has focused on identifying protected area attributes that promote biodiversity conservation.[i] However, even though governments, stakeholders and managers are interested in implementing effective MPAs, they usually aren’t following the science.[ii] GLORES will fix that oversight by promoting and celebrating MPAs that meet science-based criteria – these MPAs will become Global Ocean Refuges.

To develop rigorous and transparent science-based criteria for evaluating MPAs, we reviewed the scientific literature, translated it into workable standards and consulted extensively with natural and social scientists. We hosted four international workshops – in Glasgow, Scotland; Sausalito, U.S.A.; and two in St. John’s, Canada – to develop the criteria, and they were vetted multiple times by the scientists that serve on GLORES’ international, cross-disciplinary Science Council.



The criteria by which Global Ocean Refuges are identified include many different attributes of an MPA. In the evaluations, we ask:

  • Is the MPA located in an area that’s important for various forms of life in the sea (Criterion 1.1)?
  • Is the MPA well-managed with adequate staffing and resources (Criterion 1.2)?
  • Does the MPA have strong regulations that exclude harmful activities like overfishing, dredging or mining (Criterion 2.1)?
  • Is the MPA large enough, old enough, designed well enough, and managed with enough local community input to effectively protect marine wildlife (Criterion 2.2)?
  • Does the MPA add an under-protected ecosystem to the Global Ocean Refuge System or improve connectivity among Global Ocean Refuges (Criteria 3.1 and 3.2)?

When the answers to these questions are “yes,” an MPA meets the standards of a Global Ocean Refuge. GLORES seeks to protect at least 30% of every marine ecosystem in each region of the global ocean in Global Ocean Refuges spaced to sustain connected populations of mobile species.

GLORES includes three award levels. Platinum Global Ocean Refuges are those that set the highest standards for MPAs and make the largest contributions to safeguarding marine biodiversity. They exclude fishing, are best-designed to safeguard marine wildlife and involve the local community in management decisions. Gold and Silver Global Ocean Refuges meet all the same requirements regarding biological significance, effective management and high compliance rates, but may allow limited sustainable fishing or possess fewer design attributes associated with the most effective MPAs. 

GLORES staff write evaluation reports for nominated Global Ocean Refuges that describe the MPA in relation to the criteria. These reviews are conducted in consultation with managers and staff of the protected area, and a public comment period gives everyone else the opportunity to weigh in on the process. The GLORES Science Council evaluates proposed Global Ocean Refuges using the science-based criteria and makes award decisions; Science Council members also regularly review and update the criteria as new research reveals important findings relevant to effective and durable MPAs. Sites that do not meet GLORES’ rigorous standards are offered feedback and the opportunity to consult with us and our growing network of technical partners on ways to strengthen the protected area’s effectiveness.



The evaluation process for the 2017 Global Ocean Refuge nominees is coming to a close–the inaugural Global Ocean Refuges will be announced at the 4th International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC4) in La Serena, Chile on September 5th. We will begin considering the nominees for the 2018 Global Ocean Refuge awards after this year’s winners are announced, so stay tuned to see GLORES grow!



[i] e.g., Claudet, J., et al. (2008) Marine reserves: size and age do matter. Ecology Letters 11: 481–489; Costa, B.H.E., et al. (2016) A regulation-based classification system for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Marine Policy 72: 192–198; Edgar, G.J., et al. (2014) Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features. Nature 506: 216–220; Gill, D. A., et al. (2017) Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally. Nature 543: 665-669; Lester, S. E., et al. 2009. Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 384: 33–46.

[ii] Watson, J. E. M., E. S. Darling, O. Venter, M. Maron, J. Walston, H. P. Possingham, N. Dudley, M. Hockings, M. Barnes, and T. M. Brooks. 2016. Bolder science needed now for protected areas. Conservation Biology 30: 243–248.