Editor’s Note
September 2014
In Search of Pristine Seas

It was 2004, and Enric Sala, then an associate professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, felt as if he was “writing the obituary of the ocean.” Sala spent his days documenting the decline of overfished, polluted seas, trying to understand why coral reefs were dying and large predators were disappearing. “I felt like a doctor who was providing a description of how the patient was going to die, in excruciating detail, but not providing a solution,” he says.

Photo: Octavio Aburto
Enric Sala dives with a green turtle during a Pristine Seas expedition off Cocos Island, Costa Rica.

It was frustrating—and unacceptable. So Sala founded the Pristine Seas project to explore and protect the planet’s last wild marine sites.

Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, has headed ten expeditions, ranging from Franz Josef Land in the Russian Arctic (featured in our August issue) to the waters off New Caledonia in the South Pacific. In Pristine Seas’ five-year existence, a total area about the size of Montana—some 150,000 square miles—has been protected.

Now Kiribati’s government has declared a 12-nautical-mile fishing exclusion zone around each of the southern Line Islands, five tiny specks of land about 2,000 miles south of Hawaii. On the surface these uninhabited islands appear ordinary. Beneath, photographer Brian Skerry documents in this issue, is an underwater paradise. “It looks like a coral reef of a thousand years ago,” Sala says.

The work of Pristine Seas continues. Sala expects several more areas to be named as sanctuaries, and in June President Obama announced plans to create the world’s largest ocean preserve, in the central Pacific. Perhaps author Rachel Carson best explained the urgency that informs the mission of saving our seas: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for ... destruction.”

Susan Goldberg, Editor in Chief

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