About the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES)

Overview Documents

Fact Sheet
Frequently Asked Questions


The fate of humankind could hinge on our capacity to recover life in our world’s largest life support system ― the oceans.  To ensure our future, we need a robust solution that will allow oceans and the life within them to flourish despite existing and future threats.  Using the latest science, powerful new technologies and novel ways of influencing governance, the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES, pronounced glôr-ees) will facilitate enduring ocean stewardship on a global scale.  The world needs an effective global system of strongly protected areas to recover marine life so people regain the benefits of healthy oceans including fresh seafood, clean beaches, abundant well-paid jobs and major tax revenues to governments. GLORES can make this happen.

The Problem

Living oceans are essential to human survival and prosperity, but are in deep trouble worldwide.[i] The growing human population is demanding more while reducing the oceans’ capacity to sustain us.  We now risk mass extinction and severe reductions in crucial ecosystem services.[ii]  Global institutions recognize the issue and the World Bank states that “without action to turn around the declining health of the oceans, the consequences for economies, communities and ecosystems will be irreversible.”[iv]  At the urging of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governments and international governmental organizations have strategically secured essential food crops in facilities such as the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard.  But the vast majority of marine species cannot yet be maintained outside their habitats; the only way to conserve them is in their habitats.  Humankind needs a comprehensive, science-based and cost-effective system to safeguard life in the sea.

Protecting marine life in their ecosystems is the best way to maintain biological diversity, abundance and resilience.  There are now thousands of marine protected areas, totaling 3% of the oceans,[v]  but weak protection offers little or no conservation benefit[vi].  Only strongly protected areas demonstrably increase diversity and abundance of marine life.[vii]  Most existing marine protected areas are “paper parks” offering little protection.  Moreover, geographic coverage is very uneven, and in many regions, key ecosystems have no protection.

Only 1% of the entire ocean is strongly protected – free from fishing and other extractive uses[viii] – and this is just 1/20th-1/30th the area marine biologists are urging the world to protect.  Strong, effective protected areas are being created too slowly (Figure 1) to avert profound changes in global systems and ocean ecosystems, jeopardizing great numbers of humans.  So far, governments, international governmental organizations and NGOs have not been doing an adequate job of protecting marine life.  The world needs a much more effective, faster solution that aligns the interests of the public and private sectors, now and in the future.

Projected Global MPA Coverage

Figure 1. Projections of global marine protected area coverage. Current rates are too slow to avert drastic changes to global systems (modified from Wood et al. 2008 and Toonen et al. 2013 [ix]).

Our Solution: The Global Ocean Refuge System

To recover the diversity and abundance of marine life, Marine Conservation Institute is initiating the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES), a strategic, science-based way to safeguard marine ecosystems on a global scale.  GLORES is designed to catalyze strong protection for at least 20% of the ecosystems in each marine biogeographic region, enough to avert mass extinction.  Global Ocean Refuges will serve as safe havens for the world’s diversity of marine life.

GLORES expands existing efforts by 1) using a scientifically sound biogeographic framework for protecting ecosystems; 2) establishing clear, transparent criteria for the best locations, strong protection, effective management and credible enforcement to save species and their habitats from preventable harm; 3) fostering improved cooperation among non-profit and for-profit organizations to achieve GLORES goals; and 4) incentivizing competition among countries and international governmental organizations for the prestige and economic benefits of earning Global Ocean Refuge status for the best existing and new marine protected areas.

While GLORES seems to be a major shift in marine conservation, it actually builds on what the marine conservation community has learned since its origin in the 1970s.  GLORES will not replace existing efforts to protect individual places; GLORES will facilitate their success, thereby advancing the system-change in ocean protection that humankind needs.

How GLORES Will Work

In a time of increasing demand for fish, oil and minerals, scattered, small victories are unlikely to recover the diversity and abundance of marine life.  Worldwide system-change is needed and requires vision, knowledge and energy from a wide range of civil society.  GLORES will transform marine conservation by:

  1. Using a scientifically sound biogeographic framework for protecting ecosystems.

    Within large areas of the oceans, similar oceanographic conditions favor similar species.  When specific areas are hit by transient oil spills, warming or acidified water, species surviving elsewhere within the same regions can recolonize impacted areas.  Interconnected networks of strongly protected marine areas in each biogeographic region will safeguard many species against extinction by reducing losses during, and allowing recovery after, harmful events.  Marine Conservation Institute and GLORES partners will work with distinguished international marine scientists to create a global marine biogeographic map to use as the GLORES geographic framework.  This framework will ensure GLORES is focused on the most important areas for protecting the diversity of marine species.

  2. Establishing clear, transparent criteria for the best locations, strong protection, effective management and credible enforcement.

    Today’s marine protected areas are a quasi-random collection of places, many of them in less than ideal locations, too small, and/or too weakly protected, managed and enforced.  As a result they do not provide the resilience that a strategic, scientific-based system could.   Establishing strong, consistent standards for location, size, legal protection, management adequacy and effective enforcement will maximize the chance that life in marine protected areas can survive increasing stresses in decades to come.  GLORES partners will work with leading marine experts to develop what will become the de facto standards for the world’s most effective marine protected areas, and there will be three levels: Gold, Silver and Bronze Global Ocean Refuges.

  3. Fostering improved cooperation among nonprofit and for-profit organizations to achieve GLORES goals.

    Marine advocacy NGOs compete for attention and funding, so most operate independently rather than collaboratively.  Important contributions have been made, but by working together they can markedly increase system level change that will advance protection of marine life.  GLORES will incentivize its NGO partners to cooperate by offering them recognition and/or resources to pursue their own models for getting governments and international governmental organizations to create strong marine protected areas.  By benefitting from partners’ different strengths, GLORES will change the dynamic in marine conservation and be a win for ocean advocates, ocean users, oceans and humankind.  GLORES will not replace existing efforts to protect individual marine areas or species; building on them, it will use advances in science and technology to create a new global conservation framework.

  4. Incentivizing competition among countries and international governmental organizations for the prestige and economic benefits of earning Global Ocean Refuge status.

    Governments and international governmental organizations usually act out of self-interest, often allowing harm to the sea because they don’t have enough incentive to conserve.  But NGOs such as the US Green Building Council (which awards highly coveted LEED certification), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Academy Awards) and the International Olympic Committee (Gold, Silver, Bronze medals) show that that individuals and governments will devote substantial resources to gain the prestige and economic benefits of having “the best” in the eyes of the world.  GLORES partners will carefully analyze why relevant NGO-driven incentives work or don’t work.  The GLORES committee will regularly award Gold, Silver, and Bronze Global Ocean Refuge status to the best individual MPAs, and implement a communication strategy to gain annual media coverage of these very competitive, prestigious awards.  GLORES will work to promote these award winning MPAs to the travel and tourism industry, major international lending institutions and donors to economically incentivize governments and international governmental organizations to designate protected areas worthy of Global Ocean Refuge status.

Clearly, protecting 20% of each biogeographic region has opportunity costs for fisheries in the short term, but these areas ultimately benefit fisheries so much that National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala calls the strongest marine protected areas (no-take marine reserves) “fish banks.”[x]  Within a few years of establishing reserves, fishing outside their boundaries often improves.

There are some threats to oceans (e.g., climate change and acidification) that are so powerful that protected areas cannot stop their advance.  But it is important to know that: 1) even these unwelcome changes will happen in predictable spatial patterns, and 2) places with diverse, abundant life will provide refuge and make the world far more resilient to climate change and acidification.

By using innovations from marine and social science to incentivize conservation behaviors, GLORES will lead countries to improve and create new, strongly protected marine areas where they are most-needed, to help humankind survive and prosper.

Why Marine Conservation Institute?

Marine Conservation Institute developed GLORES and will lead the first phases of its startup and implementation. Founded and run by veteran marine biologists, Marine Conservation Institute is dedicated to securing permanent, strong protection for the ocean’s most important places.  Its science team specializes in identifying the most important ocean ecosystems that need protection, while its policy experts work to secure lasting, strong protection for those areas.  The organization has a strong track record of collaborating with other scientists, ocean advocates, businesspeople and government officials around the world to create solutions that protect essential ocean areas and benefit humankind.

Since 1996, Marine Conservation Institute has defined and shaped marine conservation.  The organization’s founder, Dr. Elliott Norse, wrote the most-cited book on marine conservation, held the world’s first scientific symposium on marine conservation and assembled the first college textbook on the science of marine conservation.  Marine Conservation Institute’s highly cited scientific papers have catalyzed major worldwide restrictions of bottom trawling in deep-sea coral ecosystems.  The organization also persuaded President George W. Bush to strongly protect three colossal places in the tropical Pacific: Papahānaumokuākea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and what became Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments.  These successes set off a worldwide movement to protect much larger areas of the sea.

Marine Conservation Institute is poised to lead this important endeavor, and recognizes that it cannot do this alone. Partners, funders, and many others are critical to GLORES success.

The world needs to act without delay.  Now is the time for GLORES.

Photo by John Weller

Photo by John Weller


Literature Cited

[ii] Barnosky, DA, N Matzke, S Tomiya, GOU Wogan, B Swartz, TB Quental, C Marshall, JL McGuire, EL Lindsey, KC Maguire, B Mersey and EA Ferrer (2011): Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471: 51-57

[iv] Global Partnership for Oceans (2013).  Indispensable Ocean

[v] World Database of Protected Areas http://www.wdpa.org/

[vii] Lester, SE and BS Halpern (2008).  Biological responses in marine no-take reserves versus partially protected areasMarine Ecology Progress Series 367: 49-56

[viii] Marine Protected Areas Atlas www.MPAtlas.org

[ix] Toonen, RJ, TA Wilhelm, SM Maxwell, D Wagner, BW Bowen, CRC Sheppard, SM Taei, T Teroroko, R Moffitt, CF Gaymer, L Morgan, N Lewis, ALS Sheppard, J Parks, AM Friedlander, The Big Ocean Think Tank (2013). One size does not fit all: The emerging frontier in large-scale marine conservation. Marine Pollution Bulletin 77: 7–10.

[x] Waghorn, G (2012).  Can we eat our fish and protect them too?  Forbes 2/21/12