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Sharks, including whitetip reef sharks, circle coral in the new Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve. (Photograph by Enric Sala, National Geographic)

Pacific Treasure: Pitcairn Islands

“The clearest visibility ever measured in the Pacific Ocean” is how marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala describes the waters around the British-governed Pitcairn Islands.

Sala traveled there with other scientists as part of the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project. “The remote archipelago, east of Australia, was hypnotic, teeming with schools of thousands of fish—red snappers, parrotfish, rudderfish—in an ocean from a thousand years ago,” he says.

“We observed extraordinary things, from a pristine reef with blue corals that looked like giant roses to…species never reported before for the Pitcairn Islands. Also remarkable was the abundance of sharks, which signals a healthy ecosystem. Never having seen a human or heard a motor, they were very curious.”

Thanks in part to Sala’s expedition, along with the Pitcairn Islands and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the British government in March 2015 established the world’s largest contiguous marine reserve, encompassing some 322,000 square miles.

Sala’s account of the expedition appears in the new National Geographic book Pristine Seas: Journeys to the Ocean’s Last Wild Places.