Prince William's 'Visionary' Earthshot Prize Praised by American Finalist: 'We Need a Huge Deal of Optimism'

Explorer and conservationist Enric Sala says of Prince William's mission to reverse climate destruction through the Earthshot Prize: "We know our solution.... We just need to turbocharge it"

Prince William
Prince William. Photo: Erica Wilson Studio Silverback

Prince William has said that he wants to be able to "look his children in the eye" and tell them he did what he could to confront the planet's environmental challenges over the next decade — and on October 17, he is taking a big step on that journey when he announces the first set of Earthshot Prize winners.

One of the finalists is Pristine Seas, whose goal is to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030. Explorer and campaigner Enric Sala says winning the $1.4 million inaugural prize in the Revive Our Oceans category would enable them to "scale our work."

Pristine Seas works with local communities, indigenous peoples and governments around the world to create 24 of the largest marine reserves in the world. "These are areas where there is no fishing, no mining where marine life can thrive and they help regenerate the area around," he explains.

Enric Sala
Enric Sala. Michael Kovac/Getty Images

As protection is introduced, explains Sala, fish and other wildlife stocks bounce back incredibly successfully.

"In areas where there is no extraction of species or resources the abundance of fish increases 600% compared to unprotected areas nearby," the campaigner tells PEOPLE. "Also, there are many more fish, they grow larger, they produce a disproportionally larger number of eggs. And then all of that reproduction together with a spillover of fish helps to replenish the [immediate] areas."

Only about 8% of the world's oceans are in marine-protected areas, so protections need to be quadrupled to get to the magic target of 30%.

Earthshot, William's brainchild, is all about finding solutions to existential environmental challenges that fall under five categories: Protect and Restore Nature, Clean Our Air, Build a Waste-Free World, Fix Our Climate and Revive Our Oceans (Sala's category).

Sala calls the prince a "visionary" who is helping to inspire new ideas to tackle the most pressing issues. Earthshot is "a big push that is going to contribute to this optimism, this positive feedback loop, which is what we need now."

He adds, "It's brilliant at a time where people seem so many people seem defeatist. We have to fix this."

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Prince William</a> announces details of inaugural Earthshot Prize Awards
Prince William at Alexandra Palace. Kensington Palace

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"The food we eat, the clean water, the oxygen we breathe and we need a healthy planet," says Sala. "Without a healthy planet, human life on earth would be impossible."

He continues, "Earthshot is a brilliant idea. We need a huge deal of optimism and possibilism to fight those who are cynical and looking at short-term profit at the expense of destruction of our life support systems."

He adds, "People are very easily depressed and discouraged and showing that there are solutions. We know our solution, the work we've been doing, we know it works. We just need to turbocharge it."

Earthshot - How to Save our Planet
The jacket for the new Earthshot book. Hodder & Stoughton General Division

In the lead-up to the gala prize giving on October 17, an Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet limited series is air globally on discovery+. Then, all five episodes of the series will air on Discovery in the U.S. on October 16 beginning at 4 p.m. ET. The award ceremony will be streamed live on Discovery's Facebook page on October 17.

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