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Pristine Seas

Pristine Seas works with local communities, governments and partners to help the ocean recover and restore biodiversity, protect carbon stocks and improve livelihoods.


Investee National Geographic Pristine Seas (PS), founded 2008
Location Washington, DC
Sector Environment
Funding start July 2021
Funding type Grant




Oceans are vital, providing humans with food and livelihoods (economic contribution of over USD 2.5 trillion), producing over 50% of our oxygen, circulating approximately 83% of the global carbon cycle, and absorbing over 90% of the heat from greenhouse gas emissions. Destructive fishing methods are 1) exhausting large fish species and disrupting the balance of the ecosystem, 2) destroying coral reefs, thus slowing the replenishment of nearby fisheries, and 3) causing remineralization of carbon stocks stored in the ocean bed into CO2, leading to increased carbon emissions. Global warming is exacerbating the impact of these destructive practices.

Scientists have determined that establishing zones protected from destructive fishing replenishes ocean life in the area protected and produces spillover ecological and economic benefits in neighboring areas and coastal communities through revitalized ocean life (leading to increased numbers of large, popular fish like tuna). However, only 7% of the oceans is currently under some form of protection. According to the Global Deal for Nature, a plan to save the biodiversity and abundance of life on earth, 30% of the oceans need to be protected by 2030 to prevent reaching a point of irreversible damage.


Founded in 2008, by Enric Sala, Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, Pristine Seas (PS) is a non-profit organization that works with governments and local communities to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), in which fishing is banned or strictly limited, allowing marine life to recover and replenish adjacent fisheries. PS focuses on MPAs, as they are a cost-effective way to provide ecological and economic benefits. Although they are not an implementer of MPAs, as this is the responsibility of national governments, PS does work with international partners to provide MPA enforcement tools, coupled with local partnerships to rally coastal community buy-in. Small-scale fishers in coastal communities constitute the population with the most to lose from the global overfishing crisis. The science shows that establishing highly protected marine reserves where fishing and other damaging activities are banned can help the ocean recover and restore biodiversity, protect carbon stocks and increase food supply.

PS uses a combination of science, exploration, media and policy strategy to achieve the establishment of MPAs. The steps include:

  • Selecting target marine areas in response to requests by governing authorities or through internal research in high impact areas.
  • Conducting three-to-six week-long expeditions aimed at collecting scientific data on the health of the local marine environment and producing media footage.
  • Conducting an economic evaluation upon completion of the expedition to determine the benefits of the potential MPA.
  • Developing advocacy campaigns in conjunction with local partner organizations to gather the support of decision makers in setting up the MPAs.
  • After reaching an agreement to set up the MPAs, governments take over implementation and management while PS provides legal, scientific and technological support.

Impact depth

Between the time of its founding in 2008 and 2021, PS conducted 31 expeditions and produced 252 scientific publications and 26 National Geographic documentaries. These, alongside advocacy efforts, resulted in the creation of 23 of the largest MPAs on earth, covering a total of 6.5km2, about 2% of the combined oceans. For context, only 2.7% of the oceans have been fully protected and 7% somewhat protected, underlining the outsize role PS has played already. The organization is working towards the “30x30” goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

PS has contributed to the sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems (SDG target 14.1) and has raised awareness and increased human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning (SDG target 13.3).

Indicator - Indirect impact 2020 2021
# of MPAs created 24 24
Mil KM2 of cumulative area protected 6 7



By investing in PS, we align with and contribute to Goals 13 (Climate action) and 14 (Life below water) of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.