Only about two percent of the ocean is currently protected. The rest is being disrupted by overfishing, pollution, climate change and species extinctions. We need to do something to change that.
About a decade ago, I left my job in academia and made a sea change of my own. I was tired of writing the obituary of the ocean and wanted to do more to help the few places left untapped. With the support of the National Geographic Society, I launched the Pristine Seas project, an initiative to find, survey, and help protect the last wild places in the ocean.
I now journey to some of the ocean’s most remote places with a team of fellow scientists. We document the health of marine ecosystems, and our hope is to inspire governments toward protection. Our goal is to help protect 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020. So far we have helped protect more than three million square kilometers of ocean, including a marine sanctuary in the Galápagos Islands, announced by the president of Ecuador in March.
Photography is an essential component of our expeditions because it tells the story of the ocean’s health. It allows us to share the richness of marine life with those who aren’t able to travel there, especially the leaders of these countries we’re hoping to inspire to action. We put these places on their radar and meet with them and show them the treasures they have in their backyards. It’s impossible to see these pristine places and not fall in love. These are the Yellowstones and the Serengetis of the seas.
Leading up to World Oceans Day on June 8, I want to celebrate the incredible diversity of our oceans with you. As part of my job as an explorer-in-residence at National Geographic, I’m lucky to see the ocean at its most unspoiled. I have explored next to polar bears, the Arctic seas of Russia’s Franz Josef Land and dived with whitetip reef sharks on our most recent expedition to the Revillagigedo Islands off the coast of Mexico. But some of the most striking wonders of our oceans can be small and close to home.
In this assignment, I want to you to share what pristine seas mean to you. The more we can get people to care about the ocean, the easier it will be to preserve it.
The assignment ends on May 23, 12PM ET. Help us protect some of the last truly wild places in the world. Donate and join the cause today!
Thank you for your contributions!
Back in May during the Pristine Seas assignment, editor Enric Sala did a Facebook live where he spoke about his editing processes and what images interested him. He walks you through how he curated this assignment and gives off some very helpful tips. View this video below.
The Pristine Seas story will be publishing this Wednesday, 9AM ET on World Oceans Day. We know it's been a long wait for this story, so thank you for your patience. In addition, selected photos from the story will be featured on the Pristine Seas website, National Geographic Snapchat Discover (only on mobile) and on the @NatGeoYourShot Instagram account on June 8. Follow us to see if you're featured!
For those of you who just can't get underwater out of your head we want you to show your love for the oceans and National Geographic by tagging your photos on Instagram with #NatGeoOceansDay. Editors will be looking at the photos and select photos will be featured on natgeo.com alongside National Geographic underwater photographers and experts Brian Skerry and David Doubilet. See our recent story and examples from the #NatGeoEarthDay campaign.
–Jeanne M. Modderman, Your Shot Photo Producer
Macro to Micro
I am having a hard time choosing the ones I like the most, because there are so many great photos! After looking at more than 6000 photos so far, I see three major ‘pristine seas’ themes, from “macro” to “micro” scales:
- A pristine environment with some wildlife in it, which gives a sense of place, a larger context. Wildlife is not the center of attention, but it makes us focus and reassures us that that place is wild.
- Animals within a defined landscape – in this case, wildlife is the center of attention, but we can see the physical context.
- Close ups of predator-prey interactions – this is the ultimate proof of ecosystem health: predators thrive because of abundant prey.
This is what your photos made me feel. Photography – and visual media – is all about feeling. Liking a photo or not is ultimately a subjective issue, but there are photos that everybody likes. Those photos trigger something on our brains, make us feel something beyond the physical representation of light on a screen or paper. What is it that make those photos so powerful? I urge you all to pick your favorite ones – besides your own – and study them. What is that you like about them? Then, go out and don’t try to copy them, but feel your own way to express that feeling that’d like to share with others.
With three more days to submit, I am allowing one more submission for the assignment. Many of you have asked for it and based on what I've seen so far, how could I say no to seeing more gorgeous photos of our oceans.
That Wild Feeling
Wow, you guys have been sending really nice photos. Some of you have mastered the art of landscape photography—with low light, sunsets, long exposures, and neutral-density filters—and there are also great animal portraits and close-ups. I’m “liking” photos that fit the pristine seas theme most closely. That does not mean I don’t still like others; there are many nice photos in this assignment so far.
I especially like the photos showing large animals in the context of their environments and interactions between predators and prey. When we dive in remote locations, we know immediately if the place is pristine, because large animals are abundant. An epic, majestic landscape without signs of humans also gives me that wild, pristine feeling. I’m getting that feeling from some of your great photos. Please keep them coming!
This week Enric speaks to editor Marie McGrory on the Weekly Wrap, an audio show that goes inside the minds of Nat Geo photographers and staff. Hear about his life’s mission to save the last wild places in the oceans and how he has accomplished that with the power of photography, plus some tips for this assignment!
The Difference Between Pretty and Pristine
Thank you to everyone for the big turnout for this assignment. There were some great contributions this first week. After having been through all of them, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with the community.
There were several questions about whether you could submit photos of freshwater bodies or photos of non-pristine marine issues. The assignment is clear: pristine seas. Rivers and lakes deserve attention, but we needed to narrow the assignment or we would have been inundated by a diversity of themes.
The scope is limited to one's vision of what's “pristine.” This is not a simple issue. Photos of pretty marine animals or waves are not what we're looking for. We look for a picture of what represents your personal baseline; what's “natural” for you. Humans degraded the marine environment even before we started diving and taking photos of it. Therefore, our baselines—our perceptions of what's natural—have shifted over time. My grandpa had a baseline very different from mine. For him it was normal to see fishermen bringing out large groupers in the Mediterranean, whereas I never saw groupers during my childhood. Groupers were not part of my natural world. What's your baseline?
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between “pretty” and “pristine.” A sunset in Santorini with a view of the caldera may be very pretty, but there’s nothing pristine in there. We welcome photos that give us a sense of a healthy ocean. However, a photo in an aquarium could be a good metaphor for what we have lost. But please refrain from sending doom-and-gloom photos. We know that we’re overfishing our oceans and polluting them at a massive scale, but we’d like this assignment to be inspirational. It’s about what a healthy ocean looks like and the future ocean you’d like to see.
The success of a photo for this assignment, in my opinion, depends on whether the photo makes me feel something. Does it make me feel good? Does it give me hope? Does it make me want to dive among large schools of fish or sharks? Everyone’s response is different, and appreciation for a particular photo is totally subjective. Then there are the technical issues. I saw some technically perfect photographs, but they did not inspire me; they were mostly decorative art—what you could consider gorgeous computer wallpaper. We’re asking you to go deeper than the pure aesthetics and submit images that convey what you’re feeling about the pristine ocean. One photo that is technically great may not convey much, but a photo capturing a unique moment in time does not need to be technically great to get the viewer’s attention. A combination of technique and message is perfection.
Thank you again for your work. I really enjoyed going through your submissions. I look forward to many more submissions during the next few weeks.