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Pristine Seas facing major setback as Trump Administration reviews world’s largest marine preserves, Enric Sala warns

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is concerned that the recently announced U.S. Department of the Interior review of Papahanaumokuakea and four other marine monuments may be the first major setback for Pristine Seas, a National Geographic project launched in 2008 to explore and help save the last wild places in the ocean. Pristine Seas has helped create...

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala is concerned that the recently announced U.S. Department of the Interior review of Papahanaumokuakea and four other marine monuments may be the first major setback for Pristine Seas, a National Geographic project launched in 2008 to explore and help save the last wild places in the ocean. Pristine Seas has helped create 13 marine reserves covering some 4.4 million square kilometers. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument was created by President George W. Bush and greatly expanded by President Obama last year, making it, at 1.5 million square kilometers (about 500,000 square miles), the largest protected part of the ocean in the world.

President Barack Obama at Turtle Beach on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial within Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

“In the last eight years with Pristine Seas we’ve been involved with the creation of 13 of the largest marine reserves in the world and more are coming,” Sala, the leader of the Pristine Seas program, told an audience at the National Geographic Society Explorers Festival in Washington, D.C. today. “We thought that these were done. But now we are experiencing the potential first major setback, which is that the Department of Interior has a review of the marine national monuments, the largest marine reserves in the U.S. and in the world, places of extraordinary richness in biodiversity, and they want to open them up to tuna and shark fishing.”

A view of Midway Atoll from Air Force One. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The Pristine Seas team was trying to figure out how to counteract the threat to the marine reserves, Sala said. “Rational arguments were used to create these reserves under Presidents Bush and Obama. The conflicts that the fishing industry argued against the establishment of these reserves, and now for opening them up for fishing, had been counteracted by real data and facts, so we know that rationally we have won. We can use data, science and economics to show it will be a mistake [to open the reserves to fishing].”

“This is a true land grab, a few companies trying to exploit something that belongs to all Americans and humanity.”

Sala said the team was trying to figure out how to use the emotional side and how to activate as many people as possible with a big call to action. “This is a true land grab, a few companies trying to exploit something that belongs to all Americans and humanity. So that’s our first big setback and we’re still working on it, but we’re very worried about it.”

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A school of convict tangs, or manini, swim above the corals in the waters around Midway Atoll. Credit: Dan Clark/USFWS

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Watch a recording of the discussions at the Explorers Festival (June 15)

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David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn