Blancpain has been the Founding Supporter of National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Expeditions (PSE) project and the first organization to contribute to it. Led by Dr. Enric Sala, NGS Explorer-in-Residence, the PSE team held a series of expeditions to the precious few, remaining truly unspoiled, wild ocean areas on earth. The team conducted ground-breaking scientific research, developing original economic analysis and conservation models, and producing compelling films and media – with the ultimate goal of inspiring country leaders to save these areas before it is too late.
Protecting these areas preserves them as important baselines in the understanding of the true magnitude of human impacts on ocean life, as well as the evaluation of the efficiency of management and conservation action, and represents an important step toward improving the condition of the ocean to be inherited by future generations. However, conservation efforts are very often rejected by local populations and country authorities, who fear a loss in revenues from the banning of fishing and other limiting regulations.
Blancpain's unwavering five-year support (2011-2016) helped the program become one of the world’s leading ocean conservation initiatives. During this period, PSE undertook fourteen expeditions to study a variety of marine ecosystems, from shallow coral reefs to deep seamounts, from the Russian Arctic to the South Pacific’s Coral Sea through tropical archipelagos and temperate seas harboring underwater forests of giant kelp.
During and following each expedition, the PSE team worked with local communities and used original economic arguments and stunning imagery to show that diving tourism attracted by thriving biodiversity in protected areas, as well as dramatically increased fishing catches around marine reserves actually boost economic activity. This win-win approach combined with the positive message that it is not too late to act - the message that if protected the ocean can recover – has proved very efficient. As a result of this positive approach, eleven out of the fourteen expeditions led to the creation of
a large marine protected areas (MPAs) and helped safeguard more than four million square kilometers of the ocean.
In March 2015, the British Government announced the creation of the world’s largest contiguous ocean reserve, setting aside 834,334 square kilometers around the remote Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific for special protection. The new reserve is nearly three and a half times bigger than the landmass of the United Kingdom—larger than the state of California—and is home to a stunning array of sharks, fishes, corals, and other marine life. A five-week Pristine Seas expedition to the island group in March 2012 helped establish a scientific case for the reserve.
In February 2013, the Pristine Seas, conducted an expedition in collaboration with Oceana to the Desventuradas, which includes the islands of San Félix and San Ambrosio. With a team of all-star scientists and the use of cutting-edge technology, the expedition was the first to explore what was considered one of the last potentially pristine marine environments in South America. In October 2015, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile announced the creation of a new marine park, a fully protected no-take zone where no fishing and other extractive activities would be allowed, which encompasses a surface area of 297,518 square kilometers.
Franz Josef Land
Following a 2013 Pristine Seas expedition, the Russian Government announced in 2016 the expansion of the Russian Arctic National Park by 74,000 square kilometers to include the Franz Josef Land archipelago. This expansion not only created the largest protected area in Russia, but also the largest marine reserve in the Arctic. Franz Josef Land, an archipelago of 192 islands, is home to some of Russia’s most pristine ecosystems and threatened species, including walruses, bowhead whales, polar bears and narwhals.
Over the course of the Pristine Seas expedition to Clipperton Atoll, the team shot hundreds of hours of underwater and topside footage for a documentary film. Their scientific findings supported the creation of a 1,611 square kilometers marine reserve, announced at the September 2016 Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C., that encompasses Clipperton’s territorial waters.
The president of Palau signed legislation in October 2015 designating a reserve that is about 500,000 square kilometers in size. This makes it one of the largest fully protected marine areas in the world. According to Dr. Enric Sala who led a Pristine Seas expedition to Palau in 2014, the country "is one of the places with the highest marine biodiversity on the planet". The country's waters are home to over 1,300 species of fish, about 700 species of hard and soft corals, and marine lakes that host hordes of non-stinging jellyfish.
The 740,000 square kilometers Rapa Nui marine park is roughly the size of the Chilean mainland and protects at least 142 endemic marine species, including 27 threatened with extinction. An astonishing 77% of the Pacific Ocean’s fish abundance occurs here and recent expeditions discovered several new species previously unknown to science. Apex predators found in the conservation zone include scalloped hammerhead sharks, minke, humpback and blue whales, and four species of sea turtle.
During the 2012 Pristine Seas expedition to Gabon, the team presented their findings to President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose father had established Gabon’s national park system. After the expedition, they continued helping the government to establish the marine protected areas, update fishing laws, and renegotiate international fishing licenses.
On November 12, 2014, Bongo committed to creating the Gabon Marine Protected Area Network, intended to cover 26 percent of Gabon’s waters. The first of its kind in the region, the more than 46,000-square-kilometer network will protect, among other marine creatures, 20 species of whales and dolphins and four species of marine turtles.
Pacific Remote Islands
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) was established in January 2009. It was expanded to its current size in 2014 with the help of the Pristine Seas Expeditions team and Blancpain's support. PRIMNM consists of Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands, Kingman Reef, Palmyra and Johnston Atolls, and Wake Island which lie to the south and west of Hawaii. The Monument area consists of approximately 1,269,980 square kilometers, encompassing seven islands and atolls in the central Pacific Ocean.