Press Release

As the world copes with coral bleaching, new documentary “Super Reefs” offers a message of hope for reef resilience

This Earth Day at 10PM EDT / 9PM CDT the National Geographic Channel will premiere the latest film from Pristine Seas following coral recovery in the southern Line Islands of Kiribati after a devastating bleaching event.

As the world grapples with the sobering announcement of the fourth recorded global coral bleaching event, a new National Geographic Pristine Seas documentary “Super Reefs” sheds light on the power of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to safeguard biodiversity and encourage coral reef recovery after the impacts of devastating and ever-more-frequent warming events.

Directed and produced by Pristine Seas — National Geographic's flagship ocean conservation project — “Super Reefs” follows a group of marine scientists on a 2021 return trip to the southern Line Islands of Kiribati in the central Pacific — following a catastrophic coral bleaching event from six years earlier that devastated 50% of the reef population.

The team’s best hope was to see signs of recovery in the remote reef that was once described by Explorer in Residence and Founder of Pristine Seas, Enric Sala, as ‘one of the most pristine and untouched reefs’ of his career.

Rather than small improvements in the bleached coral, the team instead found the most spectacular recovery of coral reefs ever witnessed — thanks to the safeguards put in place to protect the threatened marine area.

Had we seen some initial coral growth, I think we would have been happy,” said Sala. “But what we found exceeded our expectations. There are as many corals now as there were before the warming event. Based on all the data we have, I think we have a pretty good answer of why the corals in the line islands are so resilient — it is because of the protection. The fact that there is no fishing there, has allowed the fish to reach abundances that are off the charts, so they keep the reef clean allowing the corals to come back.”

In 2014, at the Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C., then-President of Kiribati Anote Tong announced a ban on commercial fishing in a 12-nautical-mile area around the southern Line Islands to begin in 2015 — just months ahead of what would be the start of a catastrophic mass coral bleaching event. In 2018, with the help of Pristine Seas’ scientific reports from their earlier expeditions, the Government of Kiribati made the ban permanent as part of the establishment of the Southern Line Islands Marine Protected Area (SLIMPA). This no-take marine reserve currently protects 8,000 km² of waters surrounding Malden, Starbuck, Vostok, Flint, and Millenium islands covering miles of coral reef and ensuring the continued protection of one of the most pristine marine ecosystems in the world against extractive activities.

With these considerable protections implemented before the bleaching event and later made permanent by the creation of SLIMPA, fish populations were fully protected and able to flourish. These grazing fish, like parrotfish, eat algae that collects on the dead coral, leading to an increased ability for the reef to bounce back just a few short years after the disaster.

“The current mass bleaching event and increased human-driven pressures on ocean ecosystems including bottom trawling, rising sea temperatures, and overfishing serve as a timely call to community leaders, policymakers, and individuals to protect our ocean,” said Pristine Seas Senior Director of Pacific Policy, Kevin Chand. “Kiribati’s work to protect these islands, and the incredible recovery of their reefs, is an important example of leadership in the effort to conserve marine life.”

“Super Reefs” premieres on Earth Day, April 22 at 10 p.m./9 p.m. central on the National Geographic Channel in the United States and will launch to audiences worldwide on Video on Demand / Hulu Tuesday, April 23.

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About Pristine Seas

Pristine Seas works with Indigenous and local communities, governments, and other partners to help protect vital places in the ocean using a unique combination of research, community engagement, policy work, and strategic communications and media. Since 2008, our program has conducted 43 expeditions around the world and helped establish 27 marine reserves, spanning more than 6.6 million square kilometers of ocean.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.