• Tara, a schooner for the planet

    • agnès b

H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco aboard Tara

Sunday, July 27, 2014.  Prince Albert II of Monaco came aboard the schooner for a visit, highlighting his Foundation’s support of Tara’s mission

On July 27, 2014, during Tara’s stopover in the Cyclades (Greece), Romain Troublé Secretary General of Tara Expeditions, and the crew of the schooner had the honor of welcoming aboard H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and his delegation for a few hours. One of the main partners of the Tara Mediterranean expedition, the Albert II of Monaco Foundation has been supporting Tara’s missions since 2006.

This visit allowed H.S.H. Prince Albert II to fully appreciate the implications of Tara’s scientific expeditions by seeing first-hand the work accomplished for years with our partner laboratories and institutes. H.S.H. Prince Albert declared, “I am extremely happy to be on board. I had seen the boat at dock without actually sailing on it, so this is a real satisfaction to share at least a few hours with Tara’s crew. I think that by having this opportunity to talk, we can now envisage other ideas and other adventures.”

H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco was able to discover the boat in the conditions of an expedition – the occasion for the Prince to highlight the interest of the Tara Mediterranean expedition: “This campaign – to study pollution by plastics – is also a way to alert our contemporaries and make them understand that the situation is serious. I think Tara is really an example. This is a great adventure, environmental and maritime of course, but above all, human.”

The visit of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco aboard Tara underlines the commitment of his Foundation to protect the oceans, and his support for the Tara Mediterranean mission. This expedition has a scientific component – to better understand the impacts of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem, and an educational component – to raise public awareness of the many issues related to the Mediterranean. This includes the promotion of efforts to develop Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

“This entire day spent aboard Tara with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and his Foundation’s team gave us the opportunity to support the launching of the Gyaros MPA, and strengthen ties with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. For over 7 years he has been supporting and encouraging Tara’s quest for knowledge,” says Romain Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions.

Also present on this day were the members of associations involved in a major program of conservation of the monk seal on the island of Gyaros. H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco considers vital the program – run by his Foundation and local partners – to preserve this endangered species.  “It was important to try to save one of the last monk seal habitats on the island of Gyaros and other surrounding islands,” he said. “We are very happy to be a partner in this program, via my Foundation. I think we will not only better protect the monk seal and its habitat, but also the fauna and flora of these extremely fragile ecosystems.” These conservation actions and scientific studies are accompanied by a determination to work with local partners. “Projects like these only work if everyone feels involved, when everyone meets around the same table,” explains Prince Albert. “We must be able to work with the local population, especially with the fishermen, to show that it’s in their interest too, in the long run, that monk seals and fishermen coexist.”


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VIDEO – Tara sails across the Corinth canal

July 23rd, 2014, Tara crossed over the Corinth canal, which separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland. This shortcut allowed us to reach the Cyclades without having to sail around the Peloponnese. The canal is more than six kilometres long, but only twenty metres large and is overhung by impressive 50 metres high cliffs. 

The Tara Méditerranée expedition is on its way to Mykonos!
©Y. Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Intersecting views

Lorraine Féline, filmmaker, and Carly Steinbrunn, photographer, are the two artists in residence on Tara since Cala Gonone, Sardinia. A few hours before disembarking, it’s time for an interview after three weeks aboard the schooner.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Lorraine Féline

I make films, I do drawings and performances that revolve around the concept of gesture, movement and choreography. I studied at the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg, as well as at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany. I film short performances with people in their workplace. In 2013, I made a film called “Mechanical Ballet,” shot in a London factory that makes ballet shoes.

Carly Steinbrunn

I am a photographer working in London and Paris. I first trained in scientific photography and then studied at the National School of Photography in Arles. My work focuses on the idea of discovery and innovation in photography. I did a series, “The Voyage of Discovery” which was exhibited at the festival of photography in Levallois. This series was also made into a book, for which I was nominated for the “First Book Award” in London.

What was your project on Tara?

LF:  My project was to make a film on board Tara. I wanted to observe the boat like the stage of a theater,  regard the movements, gestures, the activity of everyone aboard the boat. All these movements could intersect, take place at the same time, and this creates a kind of choreography. This is an independent project, an independent film that could be shown at a festival or art center.

CS:  I am developing a project inspired by the journey taken by the French astronomer Jules Janssen to photograph the passage of Venus across the sun in 1874. For my project, developed in partnership with the French Society of Photography, I am particularly interested in old techniques developed at the time, and the problems of movement and recording of such an event. I am trying to make a kind of preliminary sketch book, partly on Tara.

What does it mean for you to be on Tara?

LF:  I discovered Tara from other artists who were on board, and then I was able to visit the schooner in Paris a year or two ago. It was then that my project really materialized. This resembled almost a type of dream, in the sense of everything related to the unknown, relative to the boat, navigation, the fact of traveling, of leaving. It’s an experience that is truly unique and rare.

CS:  I’ve always been fascinated by this boat, which really makes me think of a vessel, something between a boat and a submarine, like the Nautilus. This is a truly unique boat, so it was very important for me to be aboard. As an artist, Tara gives me inspiration. Photos can be taken everywhere – in the engine room or during scientific experiments. I didn’t think I’d be taking so many images. I feared at the outset that it would be more monotonous, less intense, but in fact, it was very varied.

Why is it important to have resident artists on Tara?

LF:  I find it very stimulating that artists can observe and contribute a view on the scientific activity of the boat and on the boat itself. I was wondering recently how the work done aboard Tara will be seen in a couple of years. I guess things will have evolved a lot, but what vision will people have of all of this? So, it is interesting to have the views of artists – it’s another way of archiving.

CS:  It’s really a good thing to mix artists and scientists. Contrary to what one might think, they are not so different from each other. Each person in his own way is trying to understand reality. It’s also an incredible opportunity for artists, who are neither scientists nor sailors, to  voyage on a boat like Tara. There are so few artists’ residencies like this – it’s really an amazing opportunity.

Interview by Yann Chavance

VIDEO – Tara meets Zakynthos turtles

Zakynthos National Marine Park is the most important spawning place for loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean, with more than 500 female turtles laying their eggs every summer on the different beaches located in the south of the Greek Island. Zakynthos also is an important tourist destination, which welcomes about 650,000 visitors per year. The Marine Park’s staff thus conceived a management plan that could allow to combine massive tourism with the preservation of this sensitive species.
©Y. Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Sazan : a Franco-Albanian Preservation Project

The island of Sazan can be seen from the quay where Tara is docked, at Vlora, Albania. Sazan is the center of a preservation project uniting French and Albanian environmental agencies. This collaboration was officially signed on the deck of the schooner during a 3-day stopover in Vlora.


During 10 years of expeditions on the high seas, Tara has been alternately a platform for scientific research, a place for seminars and policy discussions, and a vehicle for raising public awareness about the oceans. During our stopover in Vlora, Albania, for a few hours the schooner became a highly symbolic site for the official signing of an important contract, establishing a common conservation policy between the French and Albanian Coastal Protection Agencies. At the center of the agreement is Sazan, the largest island of Albania, facing the bay of Vlora.  It is essential to preserve this rich natural area in a country where political strife has long deterred ecological awareness.

In 2010, the coastline around the island was declared the  Karaburun/Sazan Marine Protected Area — Albania’s first and only MPA. This initiative prompted the French Coastal Protection Agency to begin a collaboration with their local counterparts on issues concerning the island. “We had already worked (until 2006) with the Albanian groups, including conservation policies on lagoons,” recalls Céline Damery, Policy Officer at the European and International Department for Coastal Protection, which manages the Albanian case. “We returned here in 2011, taking advantage of  the dynamic that came with the creation of the MPA to provide our institutional and technical assistance, and support them in the implementation of a policy for coastal management.”

In 2012 and 2013, the French Coastal Protection Agency launched its PIM initiative (“Petites Iles Méditerranéennes) which included studies of the biodiversity of Sazan. Surveys quickly revealed the natural wealth of the island, including some 300 species of flora, 40 bird species and 10 new insect species unknown until now in Albania This rich inventory, followed by an ecological evaluation, and an assessment of land-based pollution, resulted in a management plan for the island. Until now, Sazan has been only partially affected by the newly established MPA. “The waters surrounding the island are part of the MPA, but the land area is owned by the Defense Ministry, and presently has no protection status,” explains Céline Damery. “We want to work on this project, because it can be an exemplary site for Albania, with integrated management of land and sea.”

Since the beginning of this year, French and Albanian agencies have been working to establish a Protected Land Area. This collaboration became official with the signature of the convention aboard Tara, in the presence of cameras and local politicians. “This is a new stage in cooperation with the Albanian authorities in terms of exchange of know-how and sharing experience on issues of coastal management,” exclaimed the French project manager. The whole Tara team was proud to host this signature. It was also an opportunity to highlight this kind of local initiative so that our scientific mission in the Mediterranean becomes a relay for the positive actions we encounter along our route.


Yann Chavance


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Sardinian stopover

Eight days after leaving Antibes, Tara anchored this Saturday, July 5th in view of the small town of Cala Gonone, Sardinia. A few days’ stopover during which plankton and Tara Oceans will be honored.

Despite the many changes to adapt our program, and especially the sampling, to weather conditions, we arrived on schedule near this small Sardinian town — a hamlet with less than 2,000 inhabitants perched on a rugged coastline with turquoise waters and riddled with caves. Everyone on board was eager to get their feet on land or their head under water, but this stopover will not be a vacation for us.

Just after our arrival, some crew members went into town for a press conference, and returned  with a dozen journalists who visited the schooner. Just after they left, the coming-and-going of the dinghy started all over again, bringing newcomers with their luggage onto the deck, while other crew members at the end of their voyage were packing up. All this as usual in the middle of a busy work schedule.

Sunday’s program began with a conference in Italian about plankton and Tara’s expeditions, followed by a workshop on scientific research in the region, including discussions about the establishment of a biological station and a marine protected area. Afterwards a reception took place at the aquarium of Cala Gonone, a partner of this expedition in the Mediterranean.

In addition to this program, our stopover in Sardinia will be the occasion for an important Oceanomics seminar — the mammoth project aimed at exploiting the data and samples collected during the Tara Oceans and Tara Oceans Polar Circle expeditions. For 5 days, researchers involved in this worldwide project will meet in Cala Gonone to discuss their initial results.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Oceanomics scientists will conclude the seminar with 2 days of sampling off Sardinia’s coast. It will be an opportunity to train certain researchers in sampling protocols and better understand where the data comes from that they’ve been analyzing for over a year. So ends this sunny stopover at sea, before departure Wednesday for Albania, with a brief stop at the small island of Ustica.

Yann Chavance

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From Corsica to Sardinia

For the last couple of days, the program of this Antibes-Cala Gonone leg is a matter of adaptability. Our route is being set on a daily basis and sometimes even changes by the hour because of complicated weather conditions.

On Saturday, June 28, two days after departing from Antibes, the sampling plan foreseen by Gaby Gorsky, scientific director of the expedition, had so far been followed without a hitch. We had spent the night as planned at anchor off the island of Elba, when the latest weather data made us change our plans: a strong west wind had risen around Corsica, where we had planned to take numerous samples along the west coast. Instead, on Sunday we turned back to the east coast (towards Bastia) to spend the night at anchor. The precaution was not in vain for even though protected from the wind by the Corsican mountains, Tara was tossed all night by winds up to 45 knots under a lightning-lit sky.

The next morning, while preparing to raise anchor, a last BMS (Special Meteorological Bulletin) again changed our plans. A strong gale was forecast that would churn up the surface and prevent our sampling in the area. A decision was taken quickly to stay put for one more day, and take advantage of these few hours on board without sampling.This will let us recuperate from the fatigue of the last few days, and have a little more time to take care of  the boat,” explains Samuel Audrain, the captain. It’s also an opportunity for the sailors to go ashore to buy small parts for repairing the desalinator, the fridge and the boat’s electrical system.

This day at anchor was also a godsend from a scientific point of view. “We took stock of the last few days and carried out some maintenance on the equipment,” detailed Stéphanie Petit, the scientist in charge of the leg. “For my part, I updated all of the sampling data and solved a problem with the liquid nitrogen. The time certainly wasn’t wasted”. This forced pause was also an opportunity to email Gaby Gorsky, scientific director of the expedition, to confer on the rest of the program. After considering a possible return towards Elba Island, it was decided to sample further off-shore. But that evening, having raised anchor and sailed away from the coast, the first sampling yielded almost nothing: limited plankton and virtually no plastic.

With the waves, and the sea swept by wind for 24 hours, the surface seemed deserted. “Even when we don’t collect anything, it’s interesting,” says Stephanie. “This allows us to better understand the factors influencing plastic distribution.” We had to wait several hours and go a few miles further out to sea, towing the net late into the night, to get samples loaded with plastic particles. But this Tuesday, weather reports again announced disturbances coming our way. It’s still difficult to know where we will be sampling in the days to come. Right now only one thing is certain: we’ll be at Cala Gonone, Sardinia on Saturday, without knowing what route we’ll take to get there.


Yann Chavance


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From land to sea

Since our departure from Antibes last Thursday, the rhythm aboard Tara has changed. The newly embarked and the “old hands” are now enjoying life at sea, far from the hectic pace of stopovers.

During our short week in Antibes  (as at each new stopover) the schooner was filled with Taranautes passing through: a relay of embarking and debarking crew, some members of the Tara team based in Paris, scientists setting up the last sampling protocols, and technicians installing new navigation equipment and solving satellite communication problems. The deck and the main dining room were almost never empty during those 6 days in Antibes. The hectic atmosphere was punctuated by the regular passage of groups visiting the boat. There were public tours, as well as groups from schools and recreation centers. The indefatigable sailors took turns recounting the boat’s history and the reasons for our mission in the Mediterranean.

On land the days are very carefully organized, evidenced by a complete schedule set up in the main dining area. School visits, meal times, visits from officials and expedition partners, a public lecture — everything is detailed in a precise schedule contrasting with the flexibility required at sea, where the weather often dictates our agenda.Waves subsiding? The scientific team takes the opportunity to sample plastic with the Manta net, so mealtime is delayed.  Even if sampling stations are carefully planned on land, once at sea nature forces us to make some adjustments.

The change of pace at sea also brings a calmer atmosphere promoting exchanges between people. A few days ago we were constantly seeing new faces, but now we’re only 11 onboard, living together 24 hours per day. Between 2 samplings with the net, or during meals, everyone now has the time to get acquainted with their companions on this voyage. Even though there are some Tara old-timers aboard, like Captain Samuel Audrain, deck officer François Aurat, and the cook Marion Lauters, for many this expedition in the Mediterranean is a first.

The first mate for the beginning of the expedition, Aloys Le Claquin, is a confirmed sailor from Brittany. Having spent 15 years crewing in sailboat  races, he is acquiring new experience on Tara’s deck. The same goes for Rodolphe Gaudin, who bears the heavy responsibility for the machines. As for the scientists, Thomas Leeuw is on his second expedition. This American researcher, specializing in the color of water, will complement plastic sampling conducted by Stéphanie Petit, a researcher in microbial ecology in Villefranche-sur-mer. She will be assisted by Juliette Maury, a young biology student doing an internship aboard Tara. Having embarked once during the previous (Tara Oceans) expedition, Noé Sardet is on board this time to shoot video sequences for a documentary about plankton. Last but not least, American artist Spencer Lowell has brought his various cameras on deck to capture on film everything that happens. Our life together at sea is gradually taking form, and everyone will have a few days to get to know each other better before our next stopover at Cala Gonone in Sardinia, where we’re scheduled to arrive on July 5th.


Yann Chavance


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Tara is in Monaco

On June 20th, on the occasion of Tara’s stopover in Monaco, Tara Expeditions founder Etienne Bourgois, Secretary General, Romain Troublé and the team aboard the schooner had the honour of meeting His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco.
The Albert II foundation, which supports Tara since 2006, represents who one of Tara Méditerranée’s main partners.
On the same day the city of Monaco hosted the inauguration of the new Monaco Yacht Club. Tara’s crew, who are holding the club banner on the picture, had the pleasure to attend the ceremony. 
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“I grew up as a scientist with Tara”

During our stopover in Villefranche-sur-Mer, the sailors left the boat and were invited to visit the Observatoire Océanologique. The research station was created in 1884 in a former prison for galley slaves of the kings of Sardinia – a charming place organized around a lovely courtyard. The buildings of the prison and the old forge are a maze of laboratories, offices, aquariums, animal tanks, and a library. Part of the space serves as a storehouse for Niskin bottles (well known to Taranautes), sea kayaks and diving equipment, opening onto the jetty just a few meters beyond. During the visit, by chance the crew encountered several scientists who had voyaged aboard Tara. Among them, Jean-Baptiste Romagnan, an engineer specialized in studying and analyzing plankton using imaging tools. He is still working on the analysis of data from Tara Oceans (2009-2012) – a major scientific adventure he participated in twice. He talked to us about the data collected during the mission.

 When did you join the Tara Oceans expedition, and for what mission?

The first time was for my thesis, in October 2009, between Naples and Malta. The second time was in the fall of 2011, between Ascension Island and Rio. During my first voyage, we were still finalizing the protocols. I was in charge of collecting zooplankton in nets, and worked on the deck alongside the engineer Sarah Searson. In the fall of 2011, I again participated in sampling with nets and deployment of instruments with the deck engineer.

During that mission, a great quantity of data were collected. How are they being treated?

 We collected thousands of samples – tubes containing plankton – during the Tara Oceans expedition and also Tara Oceans Polar Circle (2013), and we will continue collecting in the coming months in the Mediterranean. When these tubes are brought into the lab, we extract information in several ways: some scientists do the genetics, others analyze the samples using imaging tools. This is what I’ve been doing with the samples from Tara Oceans, with the help of many students, for almost 5 years using the Zooscan, a plankton scanner.* We have processed approximately 75% of the data collected. The procedure is always the same: we remove the formalin, take a portion of the sample and place it on the Zooscan to obtain images – small thumbnails of each object – from the big scanned picture. These images are analyzed, and from measurements on the thumbnails we do “automatic learning” – in other words, we ask the computer to identify the plankton, before confirming the identifications ourselves. This used to be done using a dissecting microscope, but it took time and required a lot of expertise. At present, we have developed tools that allow us to go faster and analyze a large number of samples.

A group of samples represents how much archived data?

Billions! The Zooscan is a tool that was developed to meet several needs. The first is to generate data from oceanographic campaigns soon after collection, because in the past it would take several years to analyze plankton data like ours. The second is a need for storage: samples in tubes are not eternal, they can be damaged or subject to accidents. Digital archiving allows us to store our data in several places for optimal conservation. The third need responds to scientific issues such as measuring biomass, biovolume, size and size spectrum. In fact with the pictures, we can automatically measure each organism and obtain accurate and consistent measurements. From these measurements, we derive information on the functioning of ecosystems. Plankton can be seen through the “lens of biodiversity,” or through the “lens of structure size” to answer different questions: How many of them are there, why, where are they, etc.

 What would you say about the global scale of the Tara Oceans expedition?

This was an exceptional expedition, as was Tara Oceans Polar Circle. They were expeditions of a new type that had not been done for decades, even centuries. They can be classed among the great naturalist expeditions like those of Darwin or the Challenger. The original idea was to sample all the living plankton, only plankton, but all the organisms – from viruses and bacteria to the largest species of gelatinous plankton. The goal was to develop a sampling of all the biodiversity and complexity of plankton, in order to establish a “photographic” inventory of plankton biodiversity on a global scale. Expeditions like these generate decades of research work. Analyses are currently underway here in Villefranche, and also at the Station Biologique in Roscoff, as well as in other partner laboratories.

How was your experience aboard Tara?

My times on board were awesome! Tara is a relatively small boat compared to usual oceanographic research ships. The implementation of such a complex and comprehensive sampling system aboard the schooner is a remarkable feat. It’s a different approach to oceanography, and very intense. Finally, we work as a group, interacting with Tara Oceans consortium partners. We meet several times a year and it’s really interesting to do the science together. This community is very endearing. And personally, I grew up as a scientist with Tara. It’s been a formative project for me, and I’ll continue to work on the data.

*Invented in 2003 by Gaby Gorsky, Philippe Grosjean and Marc Picheral at the Observatoire Océanologique of Villefranche-sur-Mer.


Interviewed by Noëlie Pansiot.


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