Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer who is working to save the last wild places in the ocean. A marine ecologist who grew up on the coast of Spain, he was on a path to academia when he read an article about Mike Fay and his ambitious Megatransect project and decided to join the front lines like Fay.
Today, the two men often collaborate to preserve habitats for species, Sala conducting surveys under the water while Fay works above ground. These underwater areas sometimes measure up to 800,000 kilometers — the size of Texas and California combined — and are home to everything from microbes to sharks.
So far, Sala has worked in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and he is going to the Russian Arctic this year. He says, “My goal is to help protect all of these pristine places — marine reserves and parks where fishing is prohibited. I have decided to start with the lowest-hanging fruit — the territories that belong to countries as opposed to international waters.” These include such countries as the U.S., the Pacific Remote Islands, Costa Rica, Chile and the Pitcairn Islands.
The biggest challenge for Sala is to convince leaders of these countries to create large marine reserves: “We have been very fortunate to have a lot of success so far. It is not easy for them to do it because of the scale we are trying to work with. We are asking them to make very bold decisions and assert strong leadership, but not all political leaders are such leaders, and it is hard sometimes to get them to see the long-term benefits of these actions.”
As for the future of the oceans he says, “I am optimistic that we will create some more of these very large reserves, but with climate change and the effect that has on the oceans it is very problematic. Hopefully with these initiatives, we are buying time as we deal with climate change.”