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Photograph by Enric Sala

The words, decisions, and actions of our leaders play a powerful role in creating long-standing, impactful change. The National Geographic Planetary Leadership Award recognizes world leaders who have successfully established globally significant protected areas, such as national parks, wilderness areas, or marine reserves, that are fully shielded from exploitation. Only 12 percent of our planet’s land and 2 percent of its ocean are currently protected, while its critical natural systems are increasingly under attack due to the accelerating impact of human activity and development. The conservation of these areas is more important, and more pressing, than ever. Through this honor, we hope to inspire other leaders of today, and those in the future, to follow suit.

National Geographic has a long history of encouraging the preservation of natural areas—from the early days of the United States’ National Park System, to major support of Mike Fay’s MegaTransect project and his ultimate influence on the creation of 13 national parks in Gabon, to Pristine Seas’ work to help protect the last wild places in the ocean. The Planetary Leadership Award is an opportunity to recognize the world’s foremost leaders in critical efforts such as these.

2018 Awardee

Michele Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet is a world leader who implemented bold conservation initiatives. As president of Chile from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2018, she showed how true leadership can mean the difference between a planet in ascendance and one perpetually at risk. In 2017, inspired by the work of the National Geographic Pristine Seas project, she led her government to create three large marine parks—one around the Juan Fernández Archipelago, another in the area of Cape Horn, and a third around the Desventuradas Islands. No other country has protected such diverse marine environments, from subtropical islands to subantarctic waters. We are pleased to recognize her extraordinary legacy in environmental conservation—for Chile and for the world.