Environment

Meet the British explorer battling to save our seas

Paul Rose, an expedition leader on National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project, is working to protect the oceans. Thursday, 6 December

By Oli Reed

Paul Rose left school with a single qualification in metal work and a mind fuelled by dreams of adventure. He idolised marine explorer Jacques Cosuteau and learned to navigate with map and compass on a teenage geography field trip. After training as a diving and climbing instructor in early adulthood, he’d found his life’s calling.

“I realised scientific expeditions needed non-scientists as support,” he says. “Then by chance I met someone who worked for the British Antarctic Survey while walking down Denali (North America’s highest mountain) and he offered me a job.” Three decades later Rose is renowned as one of the world’s leading polar and undersea explorers, with a CV that includes groundbreaking work with NASA on the Mars Lander project, two stints as vice president of the Royal Geographical Society, and Her Majesty The Queen’s Polar Medal.

What he really loves to talk about, though, is his work as expedition leader on National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project. “It all started with the great man Enric Sala in 2008,” he says. ”Enric felt he was writing the ocean’s obituary while researching it, so launched Pristine Seas to explore and protect its last wild places. We’ve since become very good at it.”

Good is an understatement, with 26 expeditions completed and 19 large marine areas protected, covering more than 5 million square kilometres of ocean. In 2018 alone, Rose led successful expeditions to the Pacific island of Malpelo and the Azores archipelago in the mid-Atlantic. “Malpelo‘s waters have these huge upwellings that whoosh up constantly from the deep,” he says. “One minute you’re swimming with a school of hammerheads, the next minute barracudas. The biodiversity is amazing, but the habitat is threatened. We’ve worked hard to protect it and fill remaining gaps in the science.”

Next year looks even busier, with expeditions planned in Antarctica, the Pacific and the Russian Arctic. “We now know that as well as protecting specific areas, we need to protect the corridors that connect them,” says Rose. “The ocean is the world’s largest, most undiscovered ecosystem and once you go beneath the water, you witness the whole thing come alive. We’re learning all the time.”

Now read an extended interview with Paul Rose.