National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala launched the Pristine Seas initiative in 2008 to catalyze the protection of the ocean’s last wild places. In the years since, the project has carried out dozens of expeditions to research and explore the ocean, contributing to the creation of more than 20 marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world.

This map layer includes two types of features: sites of Pristine Seas expeditions that have received MPA designations (represented by polygons—a GIS term for a shape used to show area); and sites of Pristine Seas expeditions that do not, or do not yet, have MPA status (represented by points).

Explore this layer by panning around the map and zooming in to particular oceans or regions for a closer look. To challenge yourself, see if you can find Ascension Island. Hint: it’s in the Atlantic Ocean! Then, use the scale at the bottom of MapMaker to calculate an estimated area for the MPA.

The actual area of Ascension’s MPA is about 440,000 square kilometers. Does that sound like a lot or a little? If you’re less familiar with this part of the world, you can improve your understanding by comparing its area to the areas of places you know better. The U.S. state of California, for example, is 423,970 square kilometers, and the United Kingdom is 243,610 square kilometers. So, Ascension’s MPA is slightly larger than California and nearly twice as large as the United Kingdom!

The ocean is vast, and much of it remains unprotected. That is why Pristine Seas, through exploration, research, and partnerships, continues to support the creation of MPAs.

Try the Layer

Atlantic Ocean

one of Earth's four oceans, separating Europe and Africa from North and South America.


to act upon or influence.


journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.


person who studies unknown areas.


any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.


body of land surrounded by water.


symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

map layer

part of a map representing specific features of a place.

marine protected area (MPA)

area of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity.


large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.


geometric figure having three or more straight sides. In GIS, a closed shape on a map defined by a connected sequence of x, y coordinate pairs.


any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.


scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.


living in nature, not tame.