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Better Oceans, Better World: Inspiring Conservation Through Pristine Seas

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. This blog entry spotlights some of the exciting work our grantees are doing with support from the LEX-NG Fund.

Our oceans are in trouble.

From overfishing to marine pollution to mass species extinction, humans are consuming our ocean resources at a calamitous rate. As technology booms and the population grows, we’re leaving an ever-increasing trail of ecological impacts across the globe.

Our oceans cover 70% of the planet and are the foundation for all life on earth. They support opportunities for humans such as employment, recreation, and tourism, not to mention important sources of food for much of the world’s human and wildlife populations. Although the health of our oceans is threatened due to human activities, it’s not too late to change course.

The LEX-NG Fund has boldly pledged to donate $500,000 each year for five years (2014-2018) to National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project, and has successfully met the commitment thus far. Everywhere National Geographic Orion and National Geographic Explorer sail—the High Arctic, Europe, Canada, South America, Antarctica, and beyond—the LEX-NG Fund, thanks to charitable donations from its guests and other partners, supports Pristine Seas.

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To restore marine ecosystems, scientists need to study them first. Pristine Seas explores marine habitats all over the world in order to better understand how best to protect them. © Enric Sala / National Geographic

The mission of Pristine Seas is to find, explore, and protect our world’s last marine wildernesses: the few remaining places in the ocean largely untouched by human activities. It takes a multifaceted approach to conservation, including conducting scientific research, creating media such as films and photography to spread awareness, and engaging government leaders in dialogue about the importance of marine protections.

Pristine Seas is the brainchild of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala. As a boy growing up near the Mediterranean Sea, he witnessed firsthand the negative changes to its marine environment. He wanted to make a difference. The idea began as one boy’s dream for cleaner local waters and grew into an international effort to protect the world’s oceans.

An expert marine ecologist and accomplished photographer, Dr. Sala has led marine expeditions to some of the earth’s most remote places and has over 100 scientific publications to his name. His work isn’t done when he surfaces, however. He reports scientific findings to government leaders, inspiring them to create legally protected marine reserves.

A seahorse hangs onto red algae on the shallow bottoms of Fernandina Island.
Pristine Seas aims to conserve areas of the ocean with unique biodiversity, such as the Galápagos Islands, by inspiring governments to create fully protected marine reserves. © Enric Sala / National Geographic

Most recently, following a Pristine Seas expedition to the Galápagos Islands in December 2015, the government of Ecuador announced on March 21, 2016 the creation of a marine sanctuary within the existing Galápagos Marine Reserve (GMR). This sanctuary, which encompasses the two northernmost islands of Wolf and Darwin, steps up protections in nearly a third of the GMR.

The cool thing about this particular area? It contains the largest biomass of sharks on the planet. That’s a lot of sharks in one place. With this new marine sanctuary, an epic number of fish and sharks, including reef sharks and migratory hammerheads, will be free from fishermen’s nets and other extraction activities.

Currently, the Pristine Seas team is conducting an expedition to the Revillagigedo Archipelago off the southwest coast of Mexico. The islands, which have been called “little Galápagos,” possess a high number of endemic marine and terrestrial species—creatures you can’t find anywhere else on earth. Will this be the next ocean wilderness to receive protection? Let’s hope so!

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Humans may be the problem when it comes to the health of our oceans, but the hopeful thing is that we’re also the solution. © Andy Mann / National Geographic

Thanks to the work of Dr. Sala and the Pristine Seas team, and with support from partners like the LEX-NG Fund, over 3 million kilometers of ocean territory have been protected—nearly 2% of our astonishingly immense ocean: an impressive start! The goal of Pristine Seas is to help fully protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, so there’s still work left to do.

Although humans are the problem when it comes to the health of our oceans, the hopeful thing is that we’re also the solution. Together, we can make a difference by supporting initiatives like Pristine Seas. You too can get on board with ocean conservation…because if we don’t take a stand to protect our oceans, who will?

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If you would like to learn more about Pristine Seas, or other projects supported by the LEX-NG Fund worldwide, please contact the Fund by email. To contribute to the LEX-NG Fund, click here.