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Message from World Parks Congress: “Act Now to Strongly Protect Our Oceans”

I recently participated in the IUCN’s World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.  The meeting was attended by park rangers, managers, government officials, conservationists and others from around the world that work to make sure protected areas – on the land and in the sea – are effectively addressing conservation.  It was a vibrant and dynamic meeting.  This meeting happens once a decade and is a chance for us to assess our progress in protecting the planet and recommit ourselves to maintaining a healthy environment for people and the millions of species with which we share this planet.

Marine Conservation Institute focuses on identifying and protecting important marine areas to help maintain the Earth in a habitable condition for us and future generations.  Our organization, and our colleagues, are concerned that we are running out of time to protect our oceans.  The world needs to accelerate ocean protection by focusing on establishing not just more areas, but much more effective areas. While the recent trend to protect large areas has greatly expanded global coverage in the last decade (map below), we are still far short of the goal of 20-30% of the ocean strictly protected that is being called for by marine scientists.


mpa map

Map of the very large marine protected areas.


As tracked on our website, existing protected areas now cover about 2.1% of the global ocean, and only 0.83% of it is strongly protected in marine reserves (no-take areas).  Our recent analysis G20 SeaStates 2014 shows that the majority of the largest economies of the world – the G20 – protect less than 1% of their waters in strongly protected, no-take reserves.  Additionally the high seas – areas beyond national jurisdiction – are still relatively unprotected in comparison with waters under countries’ jurisdiction.  An abysmal 0.25% of the high seas are protected, and conservation groups are working together through the High Seas Alliance to develop an agreement on how to best implement protected areas there.

Fortunately, a growing number of other areas have been proposed or are relatively close to being designation by a number of countries (Figure below).  If current promises for marine protected areas are kept by these countries, just over 5% of the ocean will soon be protected.  You can follow MPA campaigns online to learn more.

UPDATE: Current versions of this graphic can be found here.

mpa project

Existing marine protected areas and reserves, and the percentage of global ocean that could be protected if proposed new areas are implemented.


While these increases in ocean protection are something to celebrate, 5% simply isn’t enough to achieve effective conservation. The ocean needs our help and an effective solution to the chronic shortage of protection for marine ecosystems.

The Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES, pronounced glôr-ees) is a strategic, science-based and cost-effective system to safeguard life in the sea. To recover and maintain the diversity and abundance of marine life, Marine Conservation Institute initiated the Global Ocean Refuge System to catalyze strong protection for at least 20% of the ecosystems in each marine biogeographic region, enough to avert mass extinction. The result will be a vast network of “Global Ocean Refuges,” strongly protected marine areas that will serve as safe havens for the world’s diversity of marine life.

An effective global system of strongly protected areas will maintain and recover marine life so people can regain the benefits of healthy oceans, fresh seafood, jobs, recreational opportunities and major tax revenues to governments.

As we head into a new year, we need to build on the momentum of 2014.  More and more nations are recognizing their critical dependence and self-interest in protecting and recovering healthy oceans.  The time to act is now.  Not three months from now, not a month from now, but now.  Please help us on this critical initiative by becoming a GLORES donor or partner now.   More information can be found on our GLORES website.