National Geographic Society

Pristine Seas: Safeguarding and restoring the ocean’s health and productivity Highly Ranked

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Project Summary

Ocean life is a critical component of humanity’s life support system, generating half of the oxygen we breath, providing food for billions, and capturing much of our carbon pollution, among many other benefits. But we’re destroying its ability to provide for us because of overexploitation, and global warming. Yet only 5% of the ocean is currently protected. Fully protected marine reserves have been shown to restore ocean life and all the benefits it provides to people, including food, economic revenue (e.g., ecotourism and enhanced fishing), and human well-being. Working with local partners and governments, National Geographic Pristine Seas has helped to protect 21 areas covering 5.3 million km2 (over half the size of the U.S.) since 2008. We’ll scale up our change model to help double the ocean area that is presently fully protected, to protect biodiversity, improve food provision, carbon storage, and other key ecosystem services for people worldwide.

Problem Statement

The decline in ocean biodiversity and associated ecosystem services affects people worldwide, particularly in coastal communities. Today, 80% of fish stocks are exploited to their limits, overexploited, or have collapsed. Short-term economic interests, weak fisheries management institutions, government subsidies, lack of awareness of the benefits of protected areas, and artificial polarization of production vs. protection are responsible for the current crisis. In addition, the ocean is generally perceived as a recipient of the impacts of climate change, and not as part of the solution. Finally, climate change, oceans, and biodiversity tend to be siloed issues in international negotiations and national planning. While a dramatic reform of fisheries management and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would solve many of these problems, it would still be insufficient to halt the dramatic declines in ocean health that we are currently experiencing. We need fully protected areas as engines of replenishment of ocean life and undisturbed carbon sinks to help us avert climate catastrophe. We believe that the most powerful and cost-effective way to restore the health and productivity of the ocean, and the benefits it provides to people, is the creation of well-managed, fully protected Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that help restore ocean life, and improve local livelihoods and people’s wellbeing. MPAs have been shown to be a highly effective means of conserving biodiversity and managing fisheries, while also restoring and preserving overall ecosystem function, something essential to increase resilience against extreme events derived from climate change.

Solution Overview

We will work with local communities and governments to create marine reserves, using our unique combination of exploration, scientific and socio-economic research, and storytelling. These reserves have both local and global benefits. Local benefits include enhancement of local fishing, perpetuation of local cultures and lifestyles, development of ecotourism, coastal protection from storm waves, food security, and improved livelihoods. Global benefits include mitigation of climate change via ocean carbon storage, and protection of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. The effectiveness of our 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 over half the size of the United States. Most of these reserves have been successfully implemented. Well-managed marine reserves can have rapid and lasting effects, with significant increases in marine life within their boundaries and improvements in people’s livelihoods in only a few years. These effects are also lasting as reserves continue to self-restore over decades and compound interest grows from this natural capital set aside. In this second decade of Pristine Seas, we will scale up our model and conduct five expeditions per year. Additionally, we will increase our efforts to monitor the social, economic, and ecological effectiveness of our work. Lastly, leveraging National Geographic’s power to educate and inspire, we will develop and implement educational programs for the leaders of tomorrow and empower local young people to manage their own environment in a sustainable way moving forward.

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Project Funders

  • Blancpain 2011 - 2016
  • The Waitt Foundation 2009 - 2019
  • Lindblad Expeditions 2014 - 2019

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