Enric Sala: Ocean Advocate

In this post, reprinted from the pages of the February 2011 National Geographic magazine, get a first-person view of life in the field from Explorer-in-Residence, Enric Sala.

MISSION To restore the oceans’ health and protect pristine areas

As a child, I learned to snorkel before I knew how to swim. My first clear memory is of seeing a red starfish one summer off Spain’s Costa Brava. My family’s experience with fish was mostly on the stove—they ran a restaurant. But I watched the documentaries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and dreamed of being a diver on his Calypso.

I assumed as a child that big fish belonged only to exotic, tropical seas. I didn’t see them in the Mediterranean I knew. But years later, in that same sea’s Medes Islands Marine Reserve, I finally saw all the fish I’d never seen before: sea bream, corvina, grouper. I saw all that had been lost to overfishing and pollution and realized that the whole Mediterranean must once have been like this.

That is when I decided to work on creating marine reserves. These protected areas benefit fish and people. After many years sea life can recover to levels similar to those in pristine areas. Fishermen gain too. At one Kenya fishery their incomes have doubled because of marine reserves.

In recent years I’ve helped inspire leaders to create marine protected areas off Chile, Costa Rica, Belize, and the United states. But more needs to be done to restore ocean health: We need to better manage our unsustainable fisheries, improve aquaculture, and enforce marine-pollution laws.

My happiest moments are under- water, especially in places with large predators. If there are predators, it means there is more of everything, and I know the waters are healthy. —Enric Sala

To learn more about about Enric’s adventures, follow him on Twitter @Enric_Sala or check his photos, videos and radio interviews on his NG Explorers Bio Page.