How the Rio Olympics Helps Countries Win GLORES
As I write, the media are directing the world’s eyes to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, using people’s love for sports to increase nations’ prestige. People hear individuals’ stories—the stories about “the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat”—which motivates millions, even billions of people to feel engaged, then captivated, elated or crushed, depending on whether our favorite people (especially ones from our countries) win a medal. That’s the measure of success: medaling.
And for more than four years, Marine Conservation Institute President Lance Morgan and I have wondered “Why do countries put on their best faces for the Olympics?” It is our nature then to wonder “How can we use insights from the Olympics to protect life in the oceans, which are facing mass extinction much sooner than the world realizes?”
Individuals want to win medals. Countries want their teams to win medals. Companies that sponsor medalists want accolades that lead to higher stock prices. Cities want medalists to increase their visibility, hence land development, jobs and tax revenues. Advertisers (of course) and promoters and trainers and gyms love medalists too. There are a lot of people with a strong stake in having medalists in international competition.
So what does that have to do with marine protected areas?
Our answer: Progress in marine protected areas has been much too slow. In the last half-century, the world has managed to declare protection for less than 3% of the oceans’ area. But the truth is even less impressive. In 2014, in the co-preeminent journal Nature, a group of marine scientists led by Australia’s Graham Edgar point out that most “marine protected areas” aren’t protected enough. Indeed, these scientists show that strong, lasting protection of good ocean places is needed to conserve fishes (and, we should add, other marine life). This paper confirms what leading marine scientists around the world have been finding and telling the world for decades.
So how can marine conservationists get governments (within their Exclusive Economic Zones) and international governmental organizations (which have authority mostly outside nations’ jurisdictions, that is, on the high seas) to compete for the prestige and economic benefits of having the world’s best marine protected areas?
Marine Conservation Institute and our friends want to assemble and institutionalize the panel of leading experts who get to judge whether particular marine protected areas deserve to win Bronze or Silver or even Gold Global Ocean Refuge status. We will base these awards on criteria for 3 levels of Global Ocean Refuges that are so scientifically sound, clear and visible that their prestige will move governments and international governmental organizations to “go for the Gold.”
By doing so, governments would dramatically speed progress toward preventing mass extinction in the sea (our world’s largest life support system), a very cost-effective way to avert a quickly approaching, globally very unpleasant possibility.
When these governing bodies are very visibly rewarded for doing a very good thing, all sorts of individuals, governments and companies will benefit. Of course, we would strive to get lots of looks on the latest social media.
What we’ve concluded after thinking about this for decades is that it would be very useful for carefully selected marine experts to regularly and very visibly reward the best people and governments with something they care about, so when they medal, the world also wins.
That’s what the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) is all about.
Elliott Norse, Founder, Marine Conservation Institute
Featured Image courtesy of Pixabay