Unesco Green Citizens

Pristine Seas Protection Project

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Project begin: 01/07/2009

Ocean life has a critical role in supporting all life on Earth. That is why Enric Sala founded National Geographic Pristine Seas, and together with partners and local communities have inspired the protection of 22 places in the ocean covering a total area of more than 5.8 million square kilometers — nearly half the area of the United States. Pristine Seas seeks to explore, document and inspire the protection of the last wild places in the ocean.

The project team works with partners, local communities and governments to help create marine reserves, using their unique combination of exploration, research and storytelling. These reserves have both local and global benefits. Local benefits include enhancing the sustainability of local fishing, perpetuating local cultures and lifestyles, developing ecotourism opportunities, enhancing coastal protection from storm surge, increasing food security, and improving livelihoods. Global benefits include mitigation of climate change via ocean carbon storage, as well as protection of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

Pristine Seas is working to help achieve a global goal of protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030, thereby bolstering marine biodiversity and improving food provision, while safeguarding the ability of the ocean to help mitigate climate change through carbon storage.


Leading organisation: National Geographic Society
Covered Countries: United States of America
Theme: Biodiversity, Indigenous and Local Knowledge, Oceans
Sub-themes: Climate change, Coastal resource management, Environment, Food and food security, Natural resource management, Natural resource management, Ocean education, Protecting marine ecosystems
Selection: 2020
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Initial problem

Ocean life is critical to supporting all life on Earth — particularly humanity; generating half of the oxygen we breathe, providing food for billions, capturing a significant amount of our carbon pollution, along with many other benefits. But overexploitation and global warming are destroying the ocean’s ability to provide these critical natural resources and services and only 7% of the ocean is currently protected.

The positive impacts that the project has made

Pristine Seas has helped to inspire the protection of 22 places in the ocean covering a total area of more than 5.8 million square kilometres — nearly half the area of the United States.

– Total sq km protected: 5,833,835 square kilometres
– Total sq miles protected: 2,252,456 square miles

The effectiveness of their model has been tested and proven: in the last decade, Pristine Seas has helped to create 21 of the largest marine reserves in the world, covering a total area that is more than half the size of the United States. Well-managed marine reserves can have both rapid and long-lasting effects. The research has shown that there are significant increases in marine life within the boundaries of protected areas and improvements in people’s livelihoods nearby in only a few years. As areas within these reserves continue to self-restore over decades, their initial benefits are compounded, growing and restoring ocean health over the long-term.

The impacted areas and population

Pristine Seas expeditions have contributed to increased understanding of the ocean and in many cases the protection of important marine reserves. Indeed, oceans are the main impacted areas by this project, which has managed to create a marine reserve covering an area that is more than half of the size of the United States. 

The project has led to the protection of marine reserves in the following countries:
US, Kiribati, Costa Rica, Chile, UK, Gabon, Russia, New Caledonia, Mozambique, Palau, French Polynesia, Seychelles, Canada, Denmark, Portugal, Ecuador, France, Mexico, Niue, Argentina, Colombia, Antarctica (CCAMLR)

The obstacles and challenges

Major obstacles to global expansion of MPAs are (1) the conflict between protection and extraction, where extraction typically displaces other ocean uses; and (2) the lack of sustainable models to develop resilient MPAs and local communities. With Pristine Seas resources, we’ve calculated the amount of biodiversity, food provisions and carbon storage that protection means for an area and give this data to their partners and community members. By working with community members who use the MPA, such as fishing people, they can advocate for an MPA that creates future fish abundance, tourism revenue and community health.



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