National Geographic celebrates ocean conservation in new documentary premiering this Sunday Jan. 15 at 7/6c

After a career in ocean conservation lasting more than 60 years, Dr. Sylvia Earle is taking her research to new heights in the latest documentary from National Geographic, Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures. The film follows Earle and her team, including renowned National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry and writer Max Kennedy, as they embark on a year-long journey to use the power of photography to advocate for the protection of vital underwater habitats and natural wonders. Sea of Hope premieres on Sunday, January 15, at 7:00 PM ET / 6:00 PM CT.

“Change is happening fast: We’re losing coral reefs, we’re losing fish in the ocean and ecosystems are unraveling,” Earle said. “The chemistry of the planet is being affected by what we’re putting into and taking out of the ocean. There should be some places that we leave alone, like national parks.”

Earle has been at the forefront of marine biology and ocean conservation for much of her career. She’s spent more than 7,000 hours underwater and has led more than 100 expeditions. She also founded the organization Mission Blue, which conducts ocean exploration with the goal of expanding the world’s marine protected areas from less than 4 percent now to 20 percent by 2020.

“Here, we take our life support system for granted,” Earle says in Sea of Hope. “We breathe air that is generated largely by the ocean… This is a place where we have to make peace with Earth, with the ocean, so that we can explore other places, so that we can have a long, enduring future right here on Earth. And a whole new era of exploration is just beginning.”

Throughout the documentary, Earle and her team travel across the United States exploring lakes, rivers and tropical areas such as the Hawaiian Islands and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The film details the way these ecosystems work to support underwater life, the various ways they are being threatened including pollution and climate change, and a behind-the-scenes look at underwater exploration and photography techniques.

The team began its expedition with the hope that these efforts would inspire the federal government to establish what they call “blue landmarks” across the country’s many bodies of water, and they have already begun to see success. The documentary culminates in President Barack Obama creating the world’s largest marine preserve in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

“Imagine what we can do if we get serious about clean energy, if we get serious about reducing carbon, if we get serious about making sure places like this survive,” Obama told National Geographic. “If we want to leave behind the same kind of incredible beauty that sustains not only our bodies but also our souls, we’ve got to work for it.”

Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures will air as a special night of programming dedicated to exploring President Obama’s legacy. The two-hour documentary Obama: The Price of Hope will premiere at 8/7c on January 15, immediately following the premiere of Sea of Hope.

In addition, the February 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine will feature a look back at the history of U.S. presidents protecting marine areas, beginning with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and continuing through to President Obama’s efforts. The issue will also feature Skerry’s photography of preserved marine spaces.

Learn more about Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures, and tune into the premiere of the one-hour documentary on National Geographic on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 7/6c. The February 2017 issue of National Geographic will be available online on Jan. 9 and on newsstands on Jan. 31.