If we take the surface of all of Spain and multiply it by 10, we leave the protected spaces that Enric Sala has managed to create in the last decade: five million square kilometres. That’s 357 times the famous Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania, or 555 times that of Yellowstone, in the United States. And everything, in exactly 10 years.
Probably, if this is the way things are, he is from Girona, Doctor in Marine Biology from the University of Marseille, a former professor at the Scripps Institution for Oceanography at the University of California at La Jolla, and a former researcher at the Spanish National Research Council. (CSIC), will reject the idea. And he will argue that it is a team effort, in the shadow of an organization that says “it is very loved all over the world”: National Geographic.
But the facts are what they are. Sala, which this year celebrates 50 years (very well taken), went to National Geographic in January 2008 to propose the Pristine SeasProject ( Pristine Seas ), which pursues the creation of 24 protected areas in as many places of the ocean that have hardly been affected by human activity. «I told them that I wanted to work with National Geographic to protect the purest places, with a triple strategy. On the one hand, expeditions; on the other, scientific research; and, finally, with media products, such as documentaries, that would inspire the political leaders of those countries to protect those spaces “, he says, sitting on a sofa in the institution’s headquarters, under a picture of what the rib looks like of a whale but it is actually a map of the northern island of the New Zembla archipelago, in the Russian Arctic. To date, the initiative has created and expanded 18 national parks, from the Arctic to Patagonia
“I already had a relationship with National Geographic because I had been given funding for an expedition that I had made to the Line Islands [a series of reefs that stretch over 2,400 kilometres in the equatorial Pacific] in 2005, and then they made Emergent Explorer, “he explains. In July 2008 the project was launched. Since then, Sala – the only Spaniard of the 12 Resident Scouts that National Geographic has – has directed it.
WITHOUT THE SEA, THE EARTH WOULD BECOME VENUS. THE SEA GIVES US MORE THAN HALF THE OXYGEN WE BREATHE
His arrival at National Geographic is a Damascus Road in which the scientist became a conservationist. After 10 years in La Jolla studying the impact that man causes at sea through fishing and climate change, he had a moment of change. «One day I realized that what I was doing was rewriting, with increasing scientific precision, the obituary of marine life. I found it very frustrating, so I decided to leave the academic world to dedicate myself to full-time conservation, “he explains. He left California and returned to his native Costa Brava, with a research post at the CSIC. “Suddenly, I went from having a laboratory, students, a doctorate program, etc., at the University of California, in a very, very competitive environment, to have space to think,” he says, like someone who relates a liberation. And then he decided to apply what he had learned as a scientist to this his second professional career as a conservationist.
Sala had already seen – “with my own eyes” – how, in spaces where fishing is prohibited, marine life dramatically recovers, which, in addition, benefits the local economy, because catches increase in the vicinity of protected areas, and generate other economic activities.
Only the National Park of the Medas Islands, in the north of Girona, produces 12 million euros a year in tourism, says the resident explorer of National Geographic, a much higher figure than it would produce if the area were open to fishing exploitation. And that was how “I decided that I was going to dedicate myself to protecting the wildest places before it was too late”.
We are in 2018, and we know more about the surface of Mars – not to mention the surface of the Moon than of the surface of the seabed. Although Sala does not want to enter into controversies and shielded himself in an “I am also a total supporter of space exploration” gives the impression that this contrast in the interest of scientists, governments, and companies enervates him.
“People who want to go to Mars can already think about taking the sea with them,” he says. ” If we kill the sea, we kill life on Earth. Without the sea, the Earth would become Venus. The sea gives us more than half the oxygen we breathe, much more than all forests and terrestrial plants. Regulates the weather It has absorbed 90% of the extra heat that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution and between 25% and 30% of the CO2 that we put into the atmosphere. If you are breathing oxygen, you have to thank the sea, “he laments, before concluding with a very direct example: ” If there were no sea, the temperature in Madrid would be 36 degrees Celsius higher “. And, nevertheless, the sea is like a kind of mine from which everything is extracted and from a garbage dump to which everything that is not used is thrown away. Or, as Sala says, “from him we get everything we want and we throw everything we do not want”.
ONE DAY I REALIZED THAT WHAT I WAS DOING WAS REWRITING THE OBITUARY OF MARINE LIFE
So the problem faced by this biologist was both simple and immense: How to protect the oceans, that 70% of the Earth that we pay less attention to than Mars?
The answer came from his own experience: taking out the child we carry inside. The boy from Girona who cried on Saturday, March 15, 1980, when he learned that the person he still calls by his first name, Felix, had died in a plane crash in Alaska. The disappearance of Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente was not the only time he shed tears for the death of a conservationist. In June 1997, at the age of 29, when he had been in La Jolla for three months, he cried again after learning of the death of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
The sea and its conservation is not only science. “It is taking out the child we have inside,” explains Sala, who states that all his task of what he calls “ecological diplomacy” is based on appealing to that adventurous kid with whom we all continue to dream.
The best example, he recalls, is that of Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba, the president of Gabon since 2009. “We let him run an underwater robot for a while and, after the experience, to see thousands of fish, he looked at us and said: ‘This has been a signal. You have to protect this site
Source: El Mundo