Eric Sala (Spain)

Eric Sala (Spain)

Significant Career Achievement and/or Industry contribution.

Enric Sala is a former university professor who saw himself writing the obituary of ocean life, and quit academia to become a full-time conservationist as a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Sala’s present goals are to help protect critical marine ecosystems worldwide, and to develop new business models for marine conservation. He also produces documentary films and other media to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy environment, and to inspire country leaders to protect more of the natural world.

Early life and education

Sala grew up near the Costa Brava in Catalonia, Spain, where he developed a lifelong passion for the ocean. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Barcelona in 1991 and a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Aix-Marseille, France in 1996. Sala then moved to the United States to become a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Sala was a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California (2000–2007) and a researcher at Spain's National Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) (2007–2008). At Scripps, Sala helped create the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, an innovative multidisciplinary program to train future leaders in marine conservation. In 2006, Enric moved back to Spain to hold the first position on marine conservation ecology at the Spanish National Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

One day, Sala was hit with a stark realization: “What I was doing was simply writing the obituary of the ocean," he says. "I was describing how ocean life was dying with more and more precision, but not offering a cure. I felt like the doctor who was telling the patient how she was going to die, but not offering a solution."

Following this realization, Sala read a National Geographic Magazine article about Mike Fay, a National Geographic Explorer who trekked across central Africa and convinced the president of Gabon to create 13 national parks. Sala was inspired—this sort of project was exactly what he wanted to do in the ocean. Shortly thereafter, Sala decided to approach National Geographic with a plan. “I went to National Geographic and proposed a project combining exploration, research, and media to inspire governments to make marine reserves–national parks in the sea." 

In 2008 Sala was named a National Geographic fellow and began to develop the Pristine Seas initiative. In 2011, he and James Cameron were both named National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

Since 2008, Sala has led National Geographic Pristine Seas. Pristine Seas is a project to explore, document and protect the last wild places in the ocean. Using a combination of expeditions, science, media and policy analysis, the Pristine Seas team has helped to inspire the protection of 22 marine protected areas covering more than 5.7 million square kilometers of ocean. Pristine Seas is a small team of less than thirty people based in Washington, DC and other sites around the world. The team has conducted 31 expeditions, published more than 90 scientific papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and produced 28 documentary films.


Sala's research not only shows the human impacts in the ocean, but it also shows how marine ecosystems can recover, and develops practical solutions to improve the health of our oceans. His scientific publications are widely recognized and used for conservation efforts. Pristine Seas’ research results include the discovery of an inverted biomass pyramid in pristine coral reefs, new species of fish and invertebrates, previously unknown populations of deep-sea animals, the deepest plant ever found in the ocean, descriptions of some of the healthiest ocean ecosystems, and a description of the ecological and economic benefits of no-take marine reserves. In 2018, Sala published a study revealing that without government subsidies, more than half of fishing activity on the high seas would be unprofitable.

We use Cookies on this website to improve functionality and performance, to analyse traffic to the website and to enable social media features. To learn more, please see our Cookie Notice for details