Looking on a map, Pristine Seas is the only project in the United States that’s part of a global Green Citizens Initiative by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
But its reach is global. Pristine Seas, funded by the nonprofit National Geographic Society, works with communities and governments around the world to inspire the creation of reserves.
“Marine reserves are our best tool for bringing back ocean life—by protecting an area, nature can regenerate itself,” says Dan Meyers, director of public affairs for National Geographic Pristine Seas.
Since 2008, Pristine Seas has worked with communities and governments to conduct 30 expeditions around the world and inspire the creation of 23 marine reserves, totaling more than twice the size of India, Meyers notes.
“Along the way, we’ve explored extraordinary areas, documented new species, contributed to scientific research and built strong community relations around the world,” he says.
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The initiative is spotlighting “actors of change” leading projects in biodiversity, oceans, hydrology, education for sustainable development, and Indigenous and local knowledge. A website allows people to discover projects on a map and add their support.
Meyers explains that Pristine Seas is sometimes invited into a country to provide scientific evidence and compelling media to build the case for a protected area. “Other times, communities invite us in to support their proposal.”
“We were invited by the Tristanian community to conduct an expedition to explore their waters, document the health of their marine ecosystem and create a film that told their story,” Meyers says.
“Over the last few years, the Tristanians have used the information we collected on expedition to inform their decision—to create the largest marine reserve ever established in the Atlantic ocean.” The reserve is 10 times the size of Ireland.
Pristine Seas is gearing up for another decade of expeditions and believes it can double what it’s already accomplished. “Fingers crossed that travel restrictions diminish as we bring the COVID-19 crisis under control,” Meyers adds.
As described on UNESCO’s Green Citizens site, Pristine Seas has a global goal of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030, which not only sounds catchy but would help with another crisis.
“A combination of global warming and overexploitation—like fishing—are depleting ocean life and threatening the well-being of humanity at large,” Meyers says.
“One of the best ways to protect ocean life and support biodiversity is through the creation of marine protected areas—areas where no exploitation is allowed and ocean life can thrive. Scientific studies suggest that to protect the ocean and allow it to restore itself, we must protect at least 30%.”
Project needs for Pristine Seas include financial partners and monitoring, according to UNESCO.
Meyers notes that the marine reserves project is funded by the National Geographic Society, individual donors and private philanthropies.
“To increase our scale and double our impact over the next decade, we need partners who can help to establish and effectively manage marine reserves in the long term.
“This means partners who are experts in MPA (marine protected area) management, enforcement, sustainable financing that can ensure that all MPAs have the support they need.”
In addition to financial support, Pristine Seas needs voices, Meyers says. He encourages people to be involved and communities to propose new marine protected areas.
“As Pristine Seas, we don’t have an ‘official’ citizen science program but community members are the eyes and ears on the water. Wherever we go, we work with local partners to establish strong community relations and that directly impacts how we approach our research and filmmaking.”
Speaking of films, check out the video below. National Geographic Pristine Seas was named as finalist earlier this year in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition for a $100 million grant. A decision is expected in early 2021.