Blue Parks

Marine Conservation Institute
Published: 11 April 2023
Last edited: 11 April 2023
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When designed well and managed effectively, marine protected areas (MPAs) are effective conservation tools that can revitalize ecosystems and build their resistance and resilience to climate impacts. However, most MPAs are not set up to succeed. The science indicates that we need to effectively protect at least 30% of global ocean in order to safeguard biodiversity, and the United Nations has adopted this target. While the coverage target is critical to success, we need to dramatically accelerate MPA quality as well.


Marine Conservation Institute launched the Blue Parks initiative to incentivize science-informed standards for MPA effectiveness. The Blue Park Award Criteria inform the MPA efforts of communities, managers, and decision-makers. The Awards accelerate high-quality MPA coverage. Our team supports progress toward the standard in our Blue Spark collaborations with local ocean advocates. Through incentive, scientific guidance, and collaboration, Blue Parks improves MPA quality globally.


Central America
East Europe
East and South Africa
North America
South America
Southeast Asia
West and South Europe
Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Coral reef
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Salt marsh
Seamount / Ocean ridge
Coastal and marine spatial management
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Disaster risk reduction
Food security
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Indigenous people
Local actors
Poaching and environmental crime
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Standards/ certification
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Storm surges
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of access to long-term funding
Physical resource extraction
Lack of food security
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Sustainable development goals
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas


Global Ocean | Seychelles, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Costa Rica, Colombia, Italy, France, Portugal, Bahamas, Indonesia, Philippines, Tanzania, Ecuador, Australia, Brazil, United States, Mexico, Croatia, UK, Panama, Kenya, Chile, Argentina, Mozambique, Canada


A healthy ocean is essential to human survival and prosperity, but human activities have put the ocean in peril. We must take immediate and effective action to restore overfished populations, recover damaged ecosystems, and safeguard marine biodiversity, for us and for future generations.


MPAs revitalize ocean ecosystems. Science indicates that we need to protect at least 30% of the ocean effectively conserved to maintain a healthy ocean, and the United Nations has followed this recommendation, committing to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.


MPAs cover about 8% of the ocean. However, only 3% of the ocean is in MPAs with strong enough regulations to safeguard marine wildlife ( With no official criteria to hold governments accountable to creating effective MPAs, the vast majority of MPA coverage is ineffective. Blue Parks provides a measure for MPA effectiveness and incentivizes it, so that we can improve the quality of marine protection as we scale-up the quantity.


Blue Parks benefits the global community by accelerating successful marine conservation. Ocean degredation harms disadvantaged coastal communities most intensely. Effective MPAs provide food security and climate change mitigation to coastal communities.

How do the building blocks interact?

These three building blocks are deeply connected to one another. Collaboration underpins both the scientific expertise that guides Blue Parks and the incentive that Blue Parks employs to improve MPA quality.


The Blue Parks initiative is co-created with an international collection of leading marine conservation scientists -- the Science Council. Collaboration is at the core of this body of international experts who graciously volunteer their time and expertise to ensure that Blue Parks is setting a valuable science-based standard for conservation effectiveness.


The Blue Park Award incentive, which relies on brand development, marketing and communications, and a cash prize, requires partnerships. As a small science-based NGO, Marine Conservation Institute works with aligned partners and advocates to assemble the needed financial and communications capacity to effectively grow the impact of the initiative and improve MPA quality. We remain eager to continue growing the global network of Blue Parks partners.


Blue Parks is building a global network to improve marine conservation outcomes. As of 2023, there are 27 awarded Blue Parks in 22 countries covering 2,744,687 km2 of ocean. The Award garners local support and pride, funding leverage, and opportunities to boost eco-tourism. Blue Park Awards are heralded in national and regional news outlets, and twice, sitting presidents have Tweeted about the Blue Park Awards earned by their countries’ MPAs.


Ten Blue Sparks collaborations approaching the Blue Park standard represent 4 additional countries and another 2.7M km2 of ocean area. Blue Spark collaborators include local NGOs and scientists as well as national governments and government agencies. To achieve the protection we need, however, we need to engage more Blue Sparks. This year we are launching a small grants program for Blue Sparks to help accelerate their progress.


The initiative supports communities and improves lives around the globe by incentivizing and guiding efforts that revitalize ocean ecosystems and recover the benefits they provide, including food security, climate change mitigation, non-extractive economic potential, and inspiration. As of 2023, Blue Parks are producing these benefits in 22 countries around the globe across 6 of 7 ocean basins.


Marine Conservation Institute

Following the science amassed over the past three decades, we knew that marine protected areas (MPAs) were the most effective way to safeguard life in the sea. Tracking MPAs through our Marine Protection Atlas (, we also knew that international MPA targets were accelerating MPA coverage, but that the vast majority were not set up for success – a massive quality issue stood in the way of successful conservation, despite international action and increased quantity. We wrote reports and papers about this quality issue, but pointing out all the bad MPAs did not produce better ones. We needed a new strategy.


Noting that leaders appreciate the limelight and accolades of announcing new MPAs, we endeavored to create similar positive feedback for implementing effective MPAs. Blue Parks strategically aligns decision-makers’ interests with effective conservation and identifies an MPA standard that will effectively safeguard marine biodiversity and revitalize ocean ecosystems.

Contributed by

Sarah.Hameed_42750's picture

Sarah Hameed Marine Conservation Institute

Other contributors

Blue Park Science Council