Human Journey

You Can Have Your Fish and Eat Them Too

Ninety percent of the large predators in the ocean are gone and their populations have collapsed, and some scientific studies suggest that most fisheries worldwide will collapse before 2050.

The reason for this is that we have taken too many fish out of the sea, and we keep taking more before the remaining populations are able to reproduce. It’s like constantly withdrawing from a checking account without ever putting any money in. Guess what will happen to our fish – or our finances. Pretty soon, they’ll simply run out.

How to Fix It

But there are alternatives that have proven successful. One of them is to create no-take marine reserves, areas in the ocean set aside without fishing to allow marine life to recover. Watch the video where Mel, the “very weird” fish, will show you what marine reserves can do, and why we need many more.

Picture of marine reserves Mel fish video
Mel and his friends discover the myriad benefits of marine reserves.


Marine reserves are like savings accounts, with a principal we don’t touch, but which produce compound interest we can enjoy. Fish abundance increases spectacularly within these reserves – 450% on average in less than a decade. Now try to think of any financial stock with that performance.

In addition, because there are so many fish inside these reserves, some of them spread beyond the boundaries of the reserves, into areas where they can be caught by the local fishers. In places like Kenya or the Solomon Islands, fisher income has doubled in areas next to well-enforced marine reserves. Many reserves have also attracted flocks of tourists who want to see a healthy marine environment full of large fish, helping to create jobs in tourism that bring up to 40 times more income to the local communities than fishing.

Picture of biomass increase chart from Mel marine reserves video
Biomass tends to increase 450% in a marine reserve in less than a decade.


For both fish and fishermen then, marine reserves are a win-win, but presently less than 1% of the ocean is fully protected. Scientific studies suggest that we need at least 20% of the ocean protected in order to replenish the natural populations to a sustainable level for continued human use.

Please share Mel’s cartoon with your friends, family, colleagues, and strangers. Let’s give Mel a voice, so that more of us understand that we need those savings accounts in the ocean.

And remember, like in a bank account, the larger the principal, the larger the interest we can enjoy.

Help us name this video on marine reserves! E-mail your suggestions to mhines at ngs dot org.

For more on marine reserves, learn about the ocean miracle in the Gulf of California, see how marine reserves boost nearby fishing grounds. This is also available as an educational resource, here

Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.
  • Heather

    Great video! I have one question I was hoping you could help answer. I would imagine there are issues with the marine reserves bringing in tourists. Don’t similar establishments that draw snorkelers/divers have issues with human body oils, sunscreen etc? And wouldn’t that harm the ecosystem in the reserve as well? Thanks!

  • Enric Sala

    Good question, Heather. In most of the ocean, overfishing, pollution and climate change are the main threats to ocean life. Only a few places have too many tourists damaging the corals with direct contact or sunscreen. That type of human impact is negligible compared to the removal of massive amounts of sharks and other predators

  • Innocent

    I think strict laws should be put in place to check over fishing in our waters, and offenders must be prosecuted accordinly. That will help recover the declining species.

  • Kim

    amazing.. i’m sharing the video to everyone.. 🙂

  • Lisa Toth

    Excellent (albeit, disturbing) article! Thank you! I’ve shared it on my Facebook page.

  • RC

    Hi All, I am a PhD student working in fisheries science and ecology. Though I enjoyed very upbeat video I am concerned about the posting of such information on a well respected site such as NG. I full heartedly agree that commercial fishing has strong impacts on the marine environment, many of which can be highly detrimental to marine ecosystems (e.g. bottom trawling, many highly industrialized factory operations, fisheries exploiting long lived species etc.) However the science used in this article regarding the state of the world’s fisheries ( Worm et al. [Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science 2006;314:787–90.]) has not been well supported by fisheries science literature. I greatly caution the use of such limited, and poorly supported information in an article such as this one when other more respected literature is available. This video also paints marine reserves (MPAS) as a silver bullet for a number of fisheries management problems. Though they theoretically have the potential to have significant positive impacts on marine systems, conditions required to allow this to happen are very specific. In many cases, spill over effects notably ones that enhance fisheries operations are rare and therefore though such MPAs do have the potential to increase both biomass and biodiversity within the protected areas range, these benefits may not be seen outside of its bounds and the creation and implementation of policy governing the management of such areas is often a topic of high debate, with large impacts on local communties. I do apologize for the long comment, but wanted to raise the conversation the marine management and conservation is never clear cut and to give my opinion that this piece greatly simplifies the situation regarding the implementation, maintenance and success of MPAs. Thanks

  • Gary

    Great video but I am also disturbed at putting this on a respected website such as NG. The facts first, are simply incorrect. The comment about fish disappearing by 2050 and 90% of predators already gone comes from a UBC study that was funded by an environmental lobby group – if you check, you will find that the author actually admitted later that the figures were wrong. If you check the official UN figures ( you will see the real picture. I suggest posting this on a lobby group’s website where it belongs

  • Enric Sala

    The fisheries of the world are not doing well, because of overexploitation and bad management. There are very few examples of fisheries that are in good shape or recovering. Most fisheries scientists agree about that (see the last reports by FAO and the EU). In contrast, we have evidence of hundreds of reserves restoring marine life. What better proof for the impacts of fishing than witnessing the rebounding of fishes in a place where they are not killed? Marine reserves are just one tool in the toolkit and they are not intended to replace fisheries management, but they have proven to be effective for the fish and the local communities around them.

  • Arie

    If you are anything at all like me, you where a ainlngg jacket to handle your doing some fishing products. Should you choose just about any strolling on your ainlngg trip, the handle box simply doesn’t make the grade.

  • weierd guy

    I totally agree

  • Jan

    Maybe, have a female fish named “Marine” (Maureen) in ur next video, who can be the spokesperson for Marine Reserves?

  • aldo mema

    excellent I will translate this article in italian and share it on facebook!

  • rayray


  • mady

    i like milkshakes!!!! 🙂

  • mady

    i like mel !! 🙂

  • Declan

    The message is simple wether the facts are 100 percent accurate or not common sense would tell us that marine life is under extreme pressure the world over,and also common sense would rule that Resting or Marine Reserves are big help in allowing recuperation in allocated areas and the demand for fish and their food such as Krill which being harvested now is a recipe for disaster.

  • Mike

    This is an interesting issue. I favour marine reserves, as at least they are better than nothing, given that the marine environment is over-taxed. Whatever the science, logic and observation indicates the marine environment is globally on a downward track.
    One thing that concerns me is that when my grandson (now aged 4 years) is ready to follow me as a keen diver, there will be very little for him to see and enjoy. Potentially, he’ll only be able to see in a marine farm the wonders we currently enjoy seeing in the ocean. Diving and enjoying the marine world has been the great pleasure in life for me – I hate to think of what could happen if what I see as the greed of fishing industry continues.
    Establishing marine reserves is getting traction, especailly in our part of the globe. I note Australia is making a mark by creating some huge marine reserves on their eastern coast. There is currently also a major international issue about protecting the Ross Sea. The earliest marine reserve in NZ was established in the 1970s, so it’s now accepted by most as the norm here, but we don’t have enough of our coastline covered yet. Maybe a future government will address that, rather than out present lot. We have quite a strong green lobby here, and hopefully that influence will come through before it’s too late.
    However, I am interested in RC’s stance. The future is about balancing use of the marine environment and conserving it for the future. Please expand on your reference to “the more respected literature” concerning marine reserves – I am interested to read that literature. Also, can you confirm that your PhD research is independant of any industry influence. Thanks

  • Robb Stanway

    I have seen at least a couple of comments concerning the inappropriateness of NG publishing this type of Marine Reserve information on their website. Why is it inappropriate? Is it because the Reserves serve no purpose or because the quoted statistics are wrong? Are the world’s fisheries really doing that well? I think not. National Geographic has always supported nature and natural systems while it has explored them and photographed them to bring those images to us in its wonderful magazines and presentations.

    It is very appropriate that it continue to do the same thing here on its website as well. It’s almost like the people who continue to deny the existence of global warming because some scientists have admitted fudging their figures. Tell that to the people in the U.S.A. who have just suffered through one of the worst droughts in the south mid-west’s history or the people along the east coast who continue to clean up after Hurricane Sandy’s passing.


    I love to fish.And I notice the fish are getting smaller and smaller. People keep anything and thats not right.So I agree that something should be done. Maybe more size restriction.

  • kaushik katyayann


  • Sydney

    I loved the video! 😀 The sound effects and voices were awesome; entertaining to a kid. 🙂

  • deepanker pandey

    this time is not to blame each other…it’s time to aware and go vegetarian like me,if men will not eat fish then the hunting fish ratio will also rapidly decrease, over fishing is only due to our long tongue,,,,,,only solution is that is go veg……go green..preserve ocean creatures…….

  • Angela

    Hi Great educational video!

    I am an animator and want to get involved in creating animation about sustainability to help educate everyone on such important matters as marine reserves. Is there someone I can contact at National Geographic? Thanks!

  • Derp

    … I had no idea that fish had mercury in them, won’t the mercury in farm raised fish be bad for you and your health, won’t it create cancer ???

  • Liam A

    However, a drawback from creating fishing reserves in locations which are traditional fishing communities leads to an immediate drop-off in the fishing economy. Often times, these marine reserves are so big, as to make the travel, which is entailed when boating to areas outside said reserves, outweigh the profit gained from fishing. As an example, fishing communities on the west coast of Scotland are currently fighting legislation to creative marine reserves in their waters (often surrounding the port towns), because it means added costs of gas. Scottish fisheries of the west coast have suffered numerous blows over the years from overfishing – often from EU vessels from France and Spain, who would come into Scottish territorial waters to fish when they had over-fished their own areas. Creating marine reserves in these areas would signal a death knell for many local, traditional families.

  • Name

    This video is educative and funny and entertaining 4 kids…like me who gets bored alot

  • Name

    this is a great video

  • Name

    hey im vegetarian!!!!

  • Name


  • Nesha Ichida

    This is the cutest NatGeo video ever.. I think i might recommend this to the kindergarten or primary school teachers at my school so they can show it to the younger generations.. good job national geography team,you guys never cease to amaze me!!

  • Pictsean

    This is the most best video ever it is dope

  • Pictsean

    This is the most best video ever it is excellent.

  • Mira bella Luz

    If you found a Unicorn, would you create a Pegasus or allow them to search for Atlantis?is is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…

  • Salim Sultan

    Judicious use of natural resources is the way forward

  • Ernie

    This was so informative, it made me cry (‘:

  • marcela

    wow this little video is cool and i helped me a lot and i got an A+ on my report yay lol

  • isaac

    stupid fish + lol=funny

  • Liam A

    good vid

  • Sir Japanese

    Staying in Asia is an astounding experience in numerous ways. Especially so if you speak the language. Though it’s advised to stick to popular cities.

  • AnonyMous3

    hmmm yes great video it will take some time for some lot of fish to swim out thiugh

  • ParamoreFreak2468

    Mel is funny!!

  • Micheal isaac

    I love the earth

  • 111222333

    Very very cute fishie fish

  • wtf

    hi peeps this is a cool fish it lookes like my friend the squid

  • emilia

    i cant watch it im at school it is blocked

  • sage neve

    i feel bad for you emillina i cant watch it either

  • CJ

    I think some people are taking it a little to far. its just a video.

  • cindy

    I love milk shakes to yaaaaaaaaaaaa. and done

  • taylor

    i like what they are talking about on this here page on global warming.

  • Spencer Ruediger

    There is no such thing as overfishing. i fish and we barely get crap. Overfishing is not really there.

  • ananya

    very nie

  • Fraser and Blaize

    Funny fish! Loved the cartoon and the great messgae. Nice to have the snapper carnival twist… Not all fish are nice

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