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In 2018 National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala led a Pristine Seas diving expedition at Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The expedition’s research laid the scientific groundwork for setting aside a protected marine park there.
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This explorer helps protect millions of square miles of ocean

With his Pristine Seas project, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala contributes to the creation of marine parks and reserves.

This story appears in the July 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Enric Sala has made it his mission to save wildlife and habitat. In the past 10 years alone, thanks to his efforts and partnerships with governments around the world, an area half the size of Canada has been protected from all manner of human exploitation.

The reserves that marine ecologist Sala has helped establish aren’t on land but in the oceans. His Pristine Seas project, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, has been instrumental in getting more than two million square miles set aside—keeping untouched wild areas healthy and giving depleted ones a chance to recover.

Sala’s article this month recounts how Pristine Seas lent support to the creation of a protected marine park at the tip of Argentina. It’s next to waters that Chile designated as a park, and Sala believes it’s the largest contiguous transboundary protected ocean area in the world. Yet it’s not nearly enough. “Five percent of the ocean is protected,” he told me during a recent visit. “Science says half the ocean must be protected to make a real difference.”

Of all the reserves he’s worked on, I asked Sala, which one does he like the best? “That’s like asking which of your sons or daughters you love the most,” he complained. But, he conceded, “there is one place: the Southern Line Islands, the most pristine archipelago in the Pacific. There, in 2016, we saw the greatest El Niño year ever, and half the corals bleached and died.”

His team’s going back this year to see if the area has recovered. If it has, he says, “it will give us hope”—an essential commodity as Sala and his collaborators press on to protect more ocean life.

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