To certify something means to confirm that it meets a particular set of criteria. In the field of marine conservation, the existing certification programs tend to focus on sustainability. The Marine Stewardship Council, for example, certifies that particular fisheries meet the council’s criteria for sustainable harvests. The Blue Flag program (, another example, certifies that beaches and marinas meet the program’s strict criteria for water quality, environmental education, and other services.

In the MPA field to this point, certification programs have been very limited, both in number and focus. The UNESCO World Heritage Programme effectively certifies whether certain sites meet its criteria for outstanding universal value. It is a very exclusive program, intended to represent only the most exemplary sites: the vast majority of MPAs will never meet the program’s criteria, and that is partly the point.

But two new programs promise to open the door to what could be a new age of wide-scale certification in the MPA world. Designed to provide an incentive for stronger MPA management worldwide, the programs are taking two distinct approaches:

  • The Green List, developed by IUCN and partners, will assess whether an MPA’s management is effectively meeting its conservation goals. In short, the program is assessing management effectiveness. Sites that meet the criteria will be added to a list of approved MPAs – the Green List.
  • The Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES), developed by the Marine Conservation Institute (a US-based NGO), will convene a coalition of partners to build scientific criteria for “strongly protected marine areas”, then assess whether an MPA meets those criteria. In essence, GLORES is assessing conservation rigor. Sites that meet the criteria, judged on a sliding scale, will earn a ranking depending on their rigor.

At IMPAC3, where both programs were described and discussed, several questions arose. What will these programs entail work-wise for site-level managers? What are the benefits to being listed? What are the costs of not being listed? MPA News discusses these programs with their lead developers below.

Green List: certifying management effectiveness

The idea for the IUCN Green List of Well-Managed Protected Areas (its full name) has been around for a while, says James Hardcastle of IUCN. “Back in 1982, Sir Peter Scott, one of the original founders of IUCN, wrote about the possibility of matching IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species with a Green List that could reward conservation endeavors,” says Hardcastle. “Today there is a growing realization that to encourage success we need to recognize and promote achievement. We need to highlight the positive results of conservation efforts. And we need to provide encouragement even as we face the threat, exploitation and loss inherent in the biodiversity crisis and our rapidly changing world.”

IUCN began surveying the potential demand for such a certification program back in 2010, and announced its intent to create the Green List at the 2012 World Conservation Congress ( Over the past 12 months it has begun a pilot phase involving several partner countries (Kenya, Colombia, South Korea, France, and Italy, among others), with each country exploring the idea in the context of its own protected area system. The French experience, for example, has focused on using the Green List to standardize management effectiveness evaluation across the nation’s multiple protected area systems (see the box below, “Using the Green List to standardize management evaluations….”). IUCN intends to launch the Green List and its criteria formally at the IUCN World Parks Congress in November 2014.

Feedback from the pilots has already been invaluable, says Hardcastle. “We have been firmly reminded that the Green List will only be successful in so far as it is credible, independently verified, and internationally recognized,” he says. “It should be linked to a clear mandate, which we have effectively addressed through links to the CBD Strategic Plan and Aichi Target 11 and through an IUCN Resolution from our World Conservation Congress in 2012. However, it must also be simple in design, cost-effective in application, and voluntary and motivational in its implementation.” He notes that more than 500 individuals worldwide from across conservation, development, government, and business sectors have provided input so far on the Green List’s development.

One question that has arisen in the pilots is whether listed sites could be de-listed if their management weakens for some reason. This would be similar to the system the World Heritage Programme has, which allows for de-listing of persistently troubled sites. “To maintain credibility, we need triggers in place to review listing status,” says Hardcastle. “However, we do not want to demotivate protected areas, or to require a costly and time-consuming review process. At present we are considering two such triggers. First there would be a time-bound, 5-year review of the status of the protected area. Second, using a specific public comment portal or social media platform, we would allow issues to be raised by stakeholders, which, if deemed serious, could trigger a review process by IUCN.”

Any system involving MPA management effectiveness evaluation can place a burden on the site manager, who must gather data and answer a sometimes-lengthy series of assessment questions. Hardcastle is wary of creating a system that will further stress managers already maxed out by their normal daily responsibilities. “No one is forced to apply – the Green List is a voluntary process,” he says. “For a protected area manager, the process will be light, and a ‘pre-selection’ phase will limit nominations to those with the evidence and qualities to be successfully put forward for potential listing. That being said, one of the Green List values is equity, so we are studying an option for a fund to help protected areas and agencies with fewer resources and time to be able still to participate.”

Ultimately, he says, the Green List is the “tip of an iceberg” of investment, support, and capacity development for protected areas. “On its own, without those things, the Green List would be meaningless as a label,” he says. “The aim is to help countries and protected area managers demonstrate success and quality.”

GLORES: certifying conservation rigor

The idea behind the Global Ocean Refuge System is to develop a science-based, strategic way to safeguard marine ecosystems on a global scale. GLORES – pronounced “glories” – will help clarify two aspects of MPAs: what levels of protection are needed to meet global marine conservation needs, and how well existing sites are protected ( The program will develop and manage objective criteria that incentivize and accelerate the creation of strongly protected marine areas. The program was announced at IMPAC3.

The GLORES criteria are still in development. Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI), says his organization is gathering leading natural scientists, social scientists, MPA managers, conservationists and other experts to establish scientifically rigorous criteria. That will happen in 2014. Then existing and proposed MPAs will receive one of three different grades: gold, silver, or bronze – or no status if they do not meet a minimum standard. [Editor’s note: Marine Conservation Institute was instrumental in the designation of multiple large MPAs in the Pacific, including what is now Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.]

Considering the program is aimed at encouraging conservation rigor, fully protected (no-take) sites might be expected to have a better chance at securing gold status than sites that allow some forms of fishing. But Morgan says it may not be as simple as that. “The type and degree of extractive activity will need to be a significant part of defining the status of a site within the GLORES scheme, and many scientific studies report that no-take marine reserves show the greatest benefit for recovering marine life,” he says. “However, a site might not need to be 100% no-take to reach the highest level of GLORES status. Other criteria might be location, size, ecological connectivity, a management plan that addresses the key impacts to biodiversity and people, monitoring, surveillance and enforcement capacity, funding levels, and permanence of protection.”

The possibility of de-listing, says Morgan, will be a likely component. “There will be a need for auditing GLORES sites as this program matures, and the ability to demonstrate management effectiveness should be a key criterion,” he says. “Setting the bar high enough to promote lasting conservation is the first step, and demonstrating management effectiveness an important follow-on step. Sites that fail to show that they are meeting their conservation objectives will face the possibility of being de-listed.”

Ultimately, the impact of GLORES will come down to the defined criteria. What does it mean for an MPA to be strongly protected? That is a central question for the entire MPA field, but one without a consensus answer – at least to this point. “The criteria are central to GLORES and deserve careful consideration,” says Morgan. “They will be vetted and tested with selected MPAs before being rolled out. We are seeking funding to develop these criteria now.”

For more information:

James Hardcastle, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. Email:

Lance Morgan, Marine Conservation Institute, Seattle, US. Email:

BOX: Using the Green List to standardize management evaluations across multiple protected area systems

France is one of the countries that has partnered with IUCN to test the Green List concept. The nation views the Green List as an efficiency tool for its array of protected area systems. France has more than 15 protection systems for biodiversity – from marine national parks to Natura 2000 sites to World Heritage sites and more. Many of these have their own unique effectiveness evaluation scheme, including criteria, objectives, review periods, etc.

If the Green List criteria are applicable and credible across the nation’s array of protected area systems, they could vastly simplify and coordinate France’s assessments, says Thierry Lefebvre of IUCN France. “Existing assessment systems developed by some protected area networks are adapted to their contexts, but they are very difficult to harmonize,” he says. “The Green List is based on very detailed standards – more complete than any management effectiveness methodology we have in France. The Green List integrates the analysis of natural values, management, governance, and conservation results. Over the long term, we hope that it could help incentivize the development of a national doctrine and framework based on its standards of quality.”

Some protected area systems in France may find it easier to meet the Green List standards initially, says Lefebvre. France’s national and regional natural reserves, national parks, and biological reserves already have management plans, clear governance systems, and high natural values – making them relatively good candidates for listing. Care should be taken, he says, that the Green List doesn’t become something that is achievable only by sites in the largest, best-organized, and best-funded public agencies. “Risks of devaluation have been stressed by members of our national reference group and also protected areas managers through a survey,” he says. “They are worried about the consequences of not being listed, particularly on public reputation and related funding opportunities. These risks are being taken into account in our program of work as we aim to engage a diversity of networks into the initiative and suggest mechanisms for sharing experiences.”

For more information:

Thierry Lefebvre, IUCN, Paris, France. Email: