Pristine Seas

What We’ve Accomplished

Picture of seabirds

Photograph by Manu San Felix

Since its launch in 2008, Pristine Seas has worked with key partners to help protect more than 3 million square kilometers of the ocean.

Cocos Island

An expedition in September 2009 documented the largest shark biomass in the Pacific and discovered rich and diverse deep-sea communities with abundant fish around submerged mountains. It led to Costa Rica's protection of the 3,861 square miles of ocean adjacent to the existing Cocos Island National Park.

Desventuradas Islands


A February-March 2013 expedition to these islands off the Chilean coast documented and filmed one of the last pristine marine environments left in South America. Here, the team discovered the largest fish biomass ever seen in the Pacific waters of South America. In October 2015, the Chilean government announced the creation of the no-take Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park — the largest marine reserve in the Americas. The park encompasses 297,000 square kilometers of ocean around the Desventuradas Islands.

Franz Josef Land

In July-August 2013, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala led a Pristine Seas expedition to Franz Josef Land in collaboration with Russkaya Arktika National Park, the Russian Geographical Society, and National Geographic. An international group of scientists and filmmakers assessed how pristine the ocean-land ecosystem is and compared its current state with historical scientific baselines and photographs obtained by explorers in the late 1800s. The expedition team found near pristine terrestrial and underwater environments with abundant large predators, and captured the first, deep-sea video of the rare Greenland shark. In August 2016, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced the expansion of the Russian Arctic National Park by 74,000 square kilometers to include the Franz Josef Land archipelago. This expansion creates not only the largest protected area in Russia, but also the largest marine reserve in the Arctic, at a total of 88,000 square kilometers.


Gabon Marine Protected Area Network

An expedition in October 2012 revealed untouched deep reefs with exuberant soft coral forests teeming with large fishes such as groupers. These reefs are even more remarkable because they have formed on working undersea oil rigs. Protecting these waters will continue Gabon’s record of conservation, begun in 2002 with the naming of 11 percent of the country’s land as national parks. On November 12, 2014, President Ali Bongo Ondimba expanded his father's conservation legacy by creating a network of marine parks covering 23 percent of Gabon's territorial waters, creating a first-of-its-kind network of marine protected areas in the region and closing these areas to commercial fishing.

The area will cover 18,000 square miles (over 46,000 square kilometers) of ocean and will protect some of Gabon's outstanding marine life: 20 species of whales and dolphins—including humpback whales and Atlantic humpback dolphins—and four species of marine turtles, the world's largest breeding leatherback turtle population and the Atlantic Ocean's largest breeding olive ridley turtle population among them.

Galápagos Island

A hotspot of biodiversity both on land and at sea, the iconic Galápagos Islands contain many species found nowhere else on Earth. In December 2015, the Pristine Seas team carried out an expedition to the Galápagos, using scuba and rebreather diving, manned submersible, 360-degree imaging, satellite tracking of sharks, and National Geographic drop cameras to survey and document the waters around the islands, which contain the world’s highest abundance of sharks. Three months later, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa, announced the creation of the marine sanctuary and 21 conservation areas scattered through the volcanic archipelago, protecting over 47,000 square kilometers, or about one third of the water around the Galápagos Islands, which Ecuador administers. The new sanctuary alone encompasses 40,000 square kilometers and extends around the northern Galápagos islands of Darwin and Wolf.

Northern Line Islands

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

A series of expeditions between 2005 and 2007 explored a rare ecosystem virtually unaffected by humans, including Kingman Reef, which is home to proportionally more top predators than any other area studied in the world. These expeditions provided the scientific support for President George W. Bush to proclaim a group of seven atolls as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. In September 2014, the Obama Administration announced the expansion of the monument, creating the largest marine reserve in the world by expanding the existing monument. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is now nearly 490,000 square miles, about three times the size of California and six times larger than its previous size. The newly expanded monument is also larger than the sum total of all U.S. national parks on land, which add up to a combined 132,000 square miles. Commercial fishing, dumping, and mining will be prohibited in the reserve, but recreational fishing will be allowed with permits, and boaters may visit the area.


In September 2014 Enric Sala and the Pristine Seas expedition team returned to the South Pacific for a scientific expedition to investigate the underwater ecosystems of Palau. Our resulting scientific assessments show that MPAs help maintain the rich marine biodiversity for which Palau is known. Total fish biomass was two times larger in MPAs than in nearby unprotected areas, and biomass of top predators was five times higher. In October 2015, President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., announced the creation of Palau’s National Marine Santuary, protecting 80 percent of the island nation’s waters — the largest percentage of marine territory of any nation in the world. The new marine sanctuary protects 500,000 square kilometers of Palau's waters, helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of marine resources, improve local fisheries, and support increased diving tourism revenues.

Pitcairn Island

Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve

A Pristine Seas expedition in March 2012 discovered rare shark and other little-known fish species in an intact deep-sea ecosystem with an abundance and diversity of marine life rarely documented by scientists. In March 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron's government announced the creation of the world’s largest contiguous ocean reserve, setting aside 322,000 square miles (830,000 square kilometers) around the remote Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific for special protection. The new reserve is more than three times larger than the landmass of the United Kingdom—larger than the state of California—and is home to a stunning array of sharks, fish, corals, and other marine life.

Salas y Gómez

Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park

Pristine Seas expeditions in February 2010 and February 2011 discovered live corals in excellent condition and documented new shark and lobster populations. Scientists also documented intact ecosystems on deep-sea mountains. The expeditions led directly to the Chilean government’s decision to create Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park, which covers more than 57,000 square miles.

Southern Line Islands

Southern Line Islands Marine Reserve, Kiribati

An expedition in April-May 2009 completed the first ever study of the most pristine coral reefs in the Pacific. These coral reefs are completely intact and provide an important benchmark for scientists to measure the degradation occurring elsewhere. On June 17, 2014, President Tong of Kiribati announced the creation of a no-take marine reserve extending 12 nautical miles around the five southern Line Islands (Flint, Vostok, Millennium, Malden, and Starbuck). The total size of the reserve is approximately 3,000 square miles. This new reserve was created in addition to Kiribati's Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which covers more than 154,000 square miles.

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