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

Human Journey


Meet the Author
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.