Pristine Seas Expedition


At Sea: September to October 2016

The Place

The unique island terrain of Niue—a raised coral atoll located in the South Pacific between Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga—offers bountiful opportunities to observe both marine and terrestrial biodiversity. A wide variety of geological features dots the island’s craggy coastline, including steep limestone cliffs, caves, and sharp, exposed coral formations.

Lying 120 nautical miles southeast of the main island is remote Beveridge Reef, a submerged atoll (visible only at low tide) that harbors a significant array of marine life. In its shallow lagoon, protected from the heaving seas, gray reef sharks, 80-pound groupers, moray eels, wrasses, and puffer fish swim above colorful corals in pristine condition.

The self-governing Niueans (in free association with New Zealand) have a long tradition of employing management practices to try to keep their waters in good condition. Their knowledge of the sea is critical to their livelihoods—and to the protection of the island’s marine ecosystem.

The Mission

The Pristine Seas team was invited by the government of Niue and Tofia Niue to help the island community survey and document its unique underwater environment in an effort to ensure the long-term sustainable use of its resources. In partnership with the Niuean government, Tofia Niue and Oceans 5, the Pristine Seas team conducted comprehensive surveys using a variety of observation and sampling techniques, including drop-camera deployments, scuba surveys, and seafloor sampling for micro-fossils.

Working alongside four Niuean scientists, they conducted 236 dives, made 11 deep-water camera deployments (to a maximum depth of 2,500 meters), and surveyed more than 300 fish species, 60 algae species, and 121 coral species.

While at Beveridge Reef, team members saw sharks on every dive—up to eighty gray reef sharks at a time—and heard the song of calving humpback whales, powerful enough to travel miles underwater. In a welcome surprise, footage from deep-water drop cameras granted the team the first ever sighting of Galápagos sharks at the reef.

"[Beveridge Reef] is a beautiful, powerful, and surprising place."
Paul Rose
Expedition Leader

The Result

In March 2017, the Pristine Seas team returned to Niue to present the team’s findings and a documentary from the expedition. Pristine Seas actively worked in partnership with the Government of Niue, Tofia Niue, and Oceans 5 to plan the conservation and sustainable use of the island and its natural treasures. In October 2017 at the Our Ocean Conference in Malta, the Government of Niue announced the creation of a large-scale marine protected area encompassing 40 percent, or 127,000 square kilometers, of the country’s waters. The protected area will include Niue and nearby Beveridge Reef, home to the highest density of grey reef sharks in the world.

The Highlights

An “outstandingly beautiful island” comes to life. Clutter, activity, and enthusiasm add up to a happy expedition boat. Whale song is the best diving music in the world, and you can listen too. Galápagos sharks make a surprise appearance—and so does the team’s lost drone. For one filmmaker, it’s the trip of a lifetime.

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