Our History

When marine ecologist Dr. Elliott Norse began working in marine conservation in 1978, policy makers assumed that oceans were mostly “in good shape.” By 1990, leading marine scientists knew that the oceans were far more threatened than previously thought. This led Elliott to publish Global Marine Biological Diversity in 1993, the world’s most-cited book on marine conservation. To get more scientists applying their understanding to marine conservation decision-making, he founded Marine Conservation Biology Institute in 1996 (which became Marine Conservation Institute in 2011).

Celebrating the Career of Our Founder Dr. Elliott Norse Upon His Retirement

To launch the new scientific discipline of marine conservation, we held the world’s first two scientific symposia on this topic in 1997 and 2001. We began bringing scientists together in workshops to examine major threats to living oceans and ways to reduce those threats. In 2005, we brought this information together in the first textbook in this space: Marine Conservation Biology.

At the same time, we wanted policy makers to hear the experts’ concerns, so in 1998 we issued Troubled Waters: A Call for Action, signed by 1,605 scientists. They declared that the world’s oceans are imperiled and urged nations to act now. This unprecedented statement of concern made news around the world. That year, our scientific paper comparing bottom trawling to forest clear-cutting started the global movement to limit trawling. It is the world’s most-cited paper on trawling.

Our organization’s focus has been bridging the gap between scientists who understand marine ecosystems and policy makers who determine their fate. In 2000, at our urging, President Clinton called for a national system of marine protected areas. And in 2006 and 2009, we persuaded President Bush to establish three colossal marine protected areas in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

The result of our and others’ efforts, the designation of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, was a game-changing moment for marine conservation. It marked the first time a vast area of the ocean was strongly protected from fishing – the most significant impact humans have on ocean ecosystems. This major increase in momentum led to additional large designations of highly protected marine areas in recent years.

After seeing marine conservation biology become a vibrant science worldwide, in 2011 we turned our full attention to winning protection for the oceans’ best places. As before, we embraced this new focus with passion, commitment and determination.

To lead this new direction, Dr. Lance Morgan, a respected marine biologist who joined the organization in 2000, was appointed president in 2012. Under his leadership, the organization has envisioned, and is moving forward with, a major new initiative: Blue Parks. Announced in 2013, Blue Parks (then called the Global Ocean Refuge System) is designed to catalyze strong protection for at least 30% of the ecosystems in each marine biogeographic region of the world’s oceans by 2030, enough to avert mass extinction. As always, we will call upon our decades of experience in marine science and policy work as we lead this collaborative, worldwide effort. The Blue Park Award, our focus for the coming years, will help solve the significant global challenge of saving marine life, for us and future generations.