What are Blue Parks?

Blue Park Awards developed and led by Marine Conservation Institute, are designed to catalyze strong protection for 30% of the ecosystems in each marine biogeographic region of the world’s oceans by 2030. It is a strategic, science-based way to safeguard marine ecosystems and recover the diversity and abundance of marine life for us and future generations.

We use a geographic framework to ensure that all marine regions are protected, from the tropical seas to the polar oceans and from coastlines to the deepest trenches. To protect and manage these critically important places, the  uses transparent and scientific criteria for effective conservation as well as a prestigious designation – Blue Park –  to help incentivize governments and decision makers to protect important ocean places. Well-managed areas that protect critical habitats for marine biological diversity will be eligible to earn  Platinum, Gold or Silver Blue Park Awards.

What are the current Blue Parks?

Sixteen Blue Parks around the world have earned our award for outstanding ocean protection.

These marine protected areas set a strong example for other ocean protection efforts to follow.

Why should I care?

Healthy oceans are essential to human survival and prosperity, but they are in deep trouble worldwide due to overfishing, climate change, pollution and habitat destruction. The best way to maintain the oceans’ biological diversity, abundance and resilience is to protect marine life in their ecosystems. A global system of strongly protected marine areas will help people regain the benefits of healthy oceans including abundant fresh seafood, recreational opportunities, a diversity of wildlife, high paying jobs and strong coastal economies.

Aren’t there other efforts underway to protect marine areas?

Almost 2% of the oceans are strongly protected in no-take marine reserves ― free from fishing and other damaging practices. One percent is not enough. To truly protect marine life, marine scientists recommend strongly protecting 30% of our oceans. In addition, most of the important and vulnerable ecosystems are not yet protected and others are vastly underrepresented. Blue Parks provides a roadmap for integrating existing efforts and complements these by conserving ecologically important areas and representative habitats within one system.

Designed to greatly expand the number and size of strong marine protected areas, this program is complementary to other conservation efforts to conserve important ocean places. We provide a comprehensive, global conservation framework focused on recovering populations and maintaining the oceans’ resilience to future threats.

What is the difference between a "Marine Protected Area" and a "No-take Marine Reserve"?

The definition of a marine protected area (MPA) is not uniform throughout the world, though, when MPAs are created, they tend to share the same objectives - to protect biodiversity, cultural heritage and promote sustainable fishing. Nevertheless, there is a complex assortment of MPA types with differing protection levels, permanence and purposes.

No-take marine reserves are a type of MPA that prohibit all extractive and damaging activities.  Most marine reserves are established with the goal of increasing the abundance and diversity of marine life inside the reserve. Scientific research shows that reserves consistently accomplish this goal, which can be a boon to not only the marine inhabitants but also to the human communities that surround reserves. In contrast to many MPAs that allow a number of human activities, marine reserves set a higher standard and provide a greater level of protection. Marine reserves are also often described as "no-take" marine protected areas. The vast majority of ocean area protected by no-take marine reserves exists in a few large regions, which tend to be far from coasts, and is therefore not necessarily representative of the oceans’ biodiversity.

What are the core elements of Blue Parks?

  1. SCIENCE-BASED: This is a partnership among marine biologists, conservationists and others to provide a scientifically credible designation for marine protected areas that integrates marine ecology principles such as biogeography, metapopulation connectivity and resilience.
  2. EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT: Through working with partners such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Blue Parks integrate management and monitoring effectiveness into its standards.
  3. COLLABORATION: This program provides a comprehensive, global conservation framework that serves as a roadmap for integrating existing efforts to conserve ecologically important areas and representative habitats within one system.
  4. RECOGNIZED EXCELLENCE: This system provides substantial public recognition in the form of a highly credible and meaningful conservation award – Blue Park status – that acknowledges the outstanding conservation work of communities and managers to protect an important marine area. 

What are the immediate threats to oceans?

In the oceans, as on land and in freshwater, humans are:

  • Overexploiting species, taking more than can be naturally replenished
  • Physically altering or destroying the ecosystems in which species live
  • Polluting habitats with toxic materials, excessive levels of nutrients and
  • Introducing alien species into places where they had never previously
    existed, wreaking havoc on native species
  • Altering the composition of the atmosphere, changing our climate, acidifying
    and deoxygenating our oceans

What else can you tell me about human dependence on the oceans?

Healthy oceans are essential to human survival and prosperity, they:

  • Provide half the global oxygen people breathe
  • Provide the main source of animal protein for more than 2.6 billion people
  • Currently absorb about a third of global, human-created CO2 emissions
  • Are home to numerous species, such as mangroves and corals that protect low-lying coastlines from storms and support coastal economies
  • Are the most promising source of new medicines to combat cancer, pain and bacterial diseases

Who came up with Blue Parks?

Dr. Elliott Norse, Marine Conservation Institute founder, is the main visionary behind Blue Parks. Marine Conservation Institute President Dr. Lance Morgan and Blue Parks Director Sarah Hameed have worked to turn his vision into a reality. Together, this dynamic team continues to lead Blue Parks. Biographies for Dr. Norse, Dr. Morgan and Dr. Hameed can be found on the People page.

What level of involvement does Marine Conservation Institute have in the Blue Park initiative?

Marine Conservation Institute developed and is leading this important endeavor. The organization is securing the funding and partnerships necessary to establish Blue Parks as synonymous with strong and effective marine protected areas. Partners, donors and many others are critical to the success of Blue Parks.

What kinds of qualifications does Marine Conservation Institute have to lead this effort?

Marine Conservation Institute has defined and shaped marine conservation since 1996. 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. In addition, the organization prioritizes collaborating with other scientists, ocean advocates, business people and government officials around the world.

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 helped to get President Clinton to issue his Executive Order on Marine Protected Areas in 2000 and played a key behind-the-scenes role in getting President George W. Bush to designate three huge no-take marine reserves in 2006 and 2009.

Marine Conservation Institute is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization with offices in Seattle, near San Francisco and in Washington D.C. For more information, please visit our official website.

What kind of partners do you work with?

Blue Parks is a partnership among scientists, ocean advocates, business people, the travel and tourism industry and government officials around the world. Learn more about our partners here.

I am interested in donating. What should I do?

You can donate to this important initiative here, or mail your contribution to our office at 4010 Stone Way North, Suite 210, Seattle WA 98103.


Paul Nicklen- Blue Parks Partner Photographer