National Geographic Pristine Seas

Safeguarding and restoring the ocean’s health and productivity


Without the ocean, human life on Earth would be impossible. It provides food, oxygen, climate regulation, and livelihoods for billions around the world. But increasing overexploitation and global warming are depleting ocean biodiversity and bringing the ocean to a tipping point, beyond which we may never recover. The loss of biodiversity—together with climate change—is the most urgent global crisis affecting our planet.

Ninety percent of fish stocks are exploited to their limits, overexploited, or have collapsed. Short-term economic interests, weak fisheries management and enforcement, and a lack of urgency to create new protected areas have all contributed to this crisis. Despite the multiple benefits of marine protected areas (MPAs), only 7 percent of the ocean enjoys some kind of protection.

This decade is humanity’s last best chance to prevent the collapse of our planetary life support system. The moment to act is now.

Our Solution

Our part of the solution to this global crisis is the establishment of marine protected areas—the equivalent of national parks in the sea—where fishing and other damaging activities are banned. They are a proven and cost-effective tool to ensure a healthy ocean and prevent catastrophe. By helping the ocean recover in MPAs, we can accomplish three things we desperately need to do: restore biodiversity, capture carbon, and increase our food supply.

Marine life recuperates spectacularly in MPAs, which turn degraded habitats into havens for biodiversity. Biodiversity restoration absorbs and locks in enormous amounts of carbon from the air and sea, thus helping to mitigate climate change. In addition, protecting ocean carbon stocks in the seafloor from bottom trawling would avoid carbon dioxide emissions that are larger than most countries’ annual emissions. MPAs also help replenish surrounding fisheries and attract marine tourism, increasing economic opportunities and food supplies for local communities.

Studies suggest that protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030 (30x30) is the minimum needed to prevent an irreversible loss of marine biodiversity. Thirty percent, together with more responsible fishing, would also be sufficient to enable fish stocks to recover and supply us with food long term. Since 2008, National Geographic Pristine Seas has helped create 23 of the largest MPAs worldwide, covering an area twice the size of India. We will work with local communities and governments to establish 40 new MPAs, and spearhead a worldwide network of partners to reach the critical threshold of 30 percent ocean protection by 2030.

What's Changed

The team made the following changes to its proposal since it was first submitted in August of 2019, informed by additional research, project development, and authentic engagement with communities of interest—defined as beneficiaries, those who might suffer harm, other funders, and competitors.

  • Harnessed the persuasive power and global reach of National Geographic and our partner The Walt Disney Company to change the face of ocean conservation by catalyzing a global movement of young people focused on ocean protection.
  • Created an educational plan to empower the next generation of ocean stewards and champions through both community and global education.
  • Engaged with a much wider range of partners: education; research and technology; marine management and enforcement; and sustainable finance–not only for technical assistance but also as true long-term collaborators. This partnership ecosystem has enhanced our reach and expanded our coalition.
  • Advanced new and additional innovative financing opportunities to support marine protected areas. 
  • Developed clearer scaling model for reaching the goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s ocean by 2030. 



About Our Team

The National Geographic Pristine Seas team is composed of scientists, explorers, economists, educators, filmmakers, communication strategists, operations specialists, and policy experts. Our team is an international combination of National Geographic staff and independent contractors, with members based in Washington D.C., California, Hawaii, Ecuador, Chile, Russia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Spain.

Team Leads

Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence
Vicki Phillips, Executive Vice President and Chief Education Officer, National Geographic Society
Kalee Kreider, Chief of Media and Public Affairs

Project Contact

Kirsten Weymouth, Senior Director, Communications, National Geographic Society, (703) 928-4995

More Information

National Geographic Pristine Seas' project website


Related Reading

Inside the ambitious push to protect a third of the world’s ocean
Kennedy Warne, National Geographic 

We Must Stop Harming Nature to Prevent the Next Deadly Disease
Enric Sala, National Geographic

Tiny Atlantic Island Takes Giant Leap Towards Protecting World’s Ocean
Karen McVeigh, The Guardian


Social Media

Twitter: @NG_PristineSeas,  @InsideNatGeo
Instagram: @NatGeoPristineSeas, @InsideNatGeo
Facebook: @InsideNatGeo
YouTube: National Geographic Society


Finalists Live Presentation

Scott Simon, Host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, Award-winning Journalist, and Author leads a conversation with National Geographic Pristine Seas and World Mosquito Program.