Pristine Seas Expedition

Revillagigedo Islands

At Sea: March to April 2016
Country: Mexico

The Place

Some 540 kilometers south of Baja California lies the Revillagigedo archipelago, which consists of four islands of volcanic origin: Socorro, Clarion, San Benedicto, and Roca Partida. Known as the “Galápagos of Mexico,” this iconic dive destination contains one of the largest aggregations of sharks and manta rays in the world, as well as tuna, humpback whales, and five species of sea turtles.

Since 1994, the islands have been declared a Mexican biosphere reserve, but only six nautical miles around them are protected. The rest of the archipelago’s waters have been subject to industrial and sport fishing, mostly targeting large ocean predators.

The Mission

In March 2016, partnering with Mares Mexicanos, the Pristine Seas team conducted an expedition to explore the waters around the small reserve—including never before surveyed seamounts.

The team traveled to Socorro, San Benedicto, and Roca Partida to evaluate their fish biomass and improve understanding of how the entire ecosystem of the archipelago works. To fully explore the area, they descended to the depths in the DeepSee submersible, deployed remote drop and stereo pelagic cameras, made scuba diving transects, and operated drone cameras.

Using high-tech tools and conducting 140 scuba dives allowed the team to get a comprehensive look at the marine environment. While conducting their scientific surveys, they sampled shark populations, swam with San Benedicto’s famed giant manta rays, and observed unique sea fan gardens at a depth of over 80 meters.

"The life we observed at Revillagigedo was beyond our imaginations."
Enric Sala
Pristine Seas

The Result

In October 2017, at the Our Ocean Conference in Malta, the Mexican government announced its commitment to create a marine protected area around the islands. On November 24, 2017, Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree creating the Revillagigedo National Park, expanding the previous small marine reserve around the archipelago. At 148,000 square kilometers, it is now the largest fully protected marine reserve in North America. The Revillagigedo National Park protects the greatest concentration of tropical marine megafauna in North America, including silky sharks, hammerhead sharks, whale sharks, giant manta rays, tuna, and humpback whales, as well as rich deep-sea habitats.

News and Science

Get updates about our critical work to explore and protect our planet.

The National Geographic Society is proud to invest in a global community of intrepid Explorers working to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Make a tax-deductible gift to support the Society today, and your support will help fund the next generation of changemakers.