It takes an extraordinary person to dedicate their life’s work to protecting something so vast that most of us can’t even comprehend the effect it has on our day-to-day lives, let alone the lives of future generations. But some people have it in their bones – a connection to the earth and everything on it.
Enric Sala is one of those people. Since he was a young child, he revelled in the adventures of the legendary French naval officer, explorer, writer and innovator, Jacques Cousteau.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a diver on his boat and to be a part of his incredible adventures,” Sala says down the phone line from his office at National Geographic's headquarters in Washington DC.
There is no doubt that he has now achieved that childhood dream. Decades later, armed with a passion and hunger for knowledge equal to Cousteau’s, Sala is a part of the great man’s legacy, having established himself as an explorer at National Geographic and as the founder of the Pristine Seas Project.
Sala first realised that the ocean would figure largely in his professional life when he was studying marine biology. Years later, he was swimming in a marine reserve off the Medes Islands in Spain and it truly clicked.
“I saw it. I saw what Jacques Cousteau would have seen – so many animals and such diverse marine life. So many fish, so many sharks, and other creatures everywhere. All of the animals that Cousteau showed us in the 1950s were right there in front of me. It was amazing! It is still very easy to see this kind of life now in the protected marine environments of the world – you can just snorkel and be there among it all.”
Pristine Seas is a monumental project aiming to inspire governments of the world to fully protect and create marine reserves in 20 new pristine locations worldwide. However, Sala is modest when it comes to the achievement of his goals.
“We don’t want to appear presumptuous – we want to be sensitive about this, so that we are welcomed by the governments of the world,” he says. “But achieving this ambitious goal will help protect the natural heritage of many of the world’s most pristine seas. Through National Geographic’s unique assets, we can build coalitions that will help create and sustain these pristine seas for generations to come.”
Overall, that means Sala’s Pristine Seas Project is aiming to work with partner NGOs and key leaders to support the global goal of protecting 10 percent of the ocean by 2020.
Since 2009, Sala has directed expeditions to 12 of the most unspoilt areas of the ocean. Merging exploration, scientific research, economic analysis and strategic communications, his project has inspired country leaders to protect a total area of more than 1.4 million square kilometres in Costa Rica, Chile, Gabon, Kiribati, and the United States.