Getting to Know Enric Sala

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Interview with Enric Sala about filming Shark Island which premieres tonight April 19 at 9P et/pt on Nat Geo Wild.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A diver in the Calypso, dive around the world and discover all those underwater wonders.

Who are your heroes?
Many, but a key figure in my childhood was Jacques Cousteau.

Why did you decide to become a marine ecologist?
In high school I decided that I wanted a career that was going to allow me to spend a lot of time at sea, diving, studying and trying to protect nature.

What was the most striking creature you saw within the water surrounding Cocos Island? Why?
The hammerhead shark. It’s a powerful animal with an amazing feature on its head, and very sensitive to electric/magnetic fields. They also form schools of up to 200 sharks. A mysterious animal.

What was the oddest/strangest creature you saw and why?
The frogfish. It has a human quality about it, with leg-like fins and an absent look.

Can you explain why the predator/prey relationship in Cocos is unique and why is that significant?
The biomass (total weight) of the top predators is as large as the biomass of their prey. This is unusual yet natural. This is the way the oceans were like before we over fished them.

Why do predators outnumber the prey in this area?
Simply because there has been no serious fishing there in 30 years.

What threats is this area vulnerable to?
Currently, illegal fishing inside the Cocos Island National Park is the major threat.

Why is it important to protect the wildlife of Cocos?
Because it is one of the last healthy places left in the ocean. We need baselines like Cocos to show us what the ocean was like, what we have lost, and help us decide what we want for the future.

What can the average person in the United States do to help?
Eat more vegetables! And if you eat fish, eat lower in the food chain: that is, don’t eat large predators such as groupers, swordfish, or sharks. It’s not only good for the environment, it’s also good for your health.

What discoveries did you make during your month-long research trip?
We found one of the largest biomasses of fishes in the world, explored for the first time the deep seamounts south of Cocos, and confirmed that sharks migrate between protected hotspots in the Eastern Pacific.

National Geographic’s Ocean Now is an exploration, research, and conservation project that aims to find, survey, and help protect the last healthy, undisturbed places in the ocean.