"Diving in the southern Line Islands is like getting in a time machine and traveling back to the reefs of the past, when sharks—and not humans—were the top predators."—Enric Sala, explorer-in-residence and Pristine Seas director

Photograph by Enric Sala

Picture of the sharks in the southern Line Islands

Southern Line Islands

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During the spring of 2009, Enric Sala and a team of scientists returned to the central Pacific—this time to the southern Line Islands, a province of the Republic of Kiribati located some 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) south of Hawaii. These are among the most remote and isolated atolls on Earth. They are rarely visited. No person calls them home.

The team spent six weeks visiting Flint, Vostok, Millennium, Starbuck, and Malden islands. They observed and documented water quality, fish populations, predator populations, and the health and diversity of the coral reef itself—the heart of the tropical marine ecosystem. Renowned terrestrial ecologist and conservationist Mike Fay conducted above-water transects on the islands.

The expedition was the first comprehensive study of its kind. Researchers hope to use the data to establish a baseline model for healthy coral reefs, to quantify the effects of human activity on these ecosystems, and to devise a blueprint for the conservation of already degraded reefs.

At the Our Ocean conference hosted by the U.S. State Department in June 2014, Kiribati President Anote Tong announced the protection of this pristine area and closed the region to commercial fishing. Learn more about the announcement from National Geographic News.

In National Geographic magazine: A World Apart: The Southern Line Islands

Read the Complete Southern Line Islands Blog Archive

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