Change of destination: Tara will not go to Indonesia

An unusual circumstance: the schooner must change route. On board, the Captain downloads new nautical charts thanks to the satellite …

An unusual circumstance: the schooner must change route. On board, the Captain downloads new nautical charts thanks to the satellite connection. On land, the logistics team is modifying the dates and the port of entry for the next team of scientists to come aboard.  The reason for this last minute change? The Indonesian government has refused us permission to do sampling in its territorial waters. Explanation:

For months, the Tara Expeditions Foundation and its team have spent a huge amount of time and energy organizing this major chapter of contemporary exploration across the Pacific Ocean: Tracing a coherent  itinerary for sampling different species of corals. Inquiring about the safety of the crew on a route sometimes subject to piracy. Setting up adequate logistics to accommodate a rotation of 70 scientists and 6 crew members constantly. Contacting representatives of 30 countries to present the project. Requesting permission to collect samples. There’s no end to this list.

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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation.


Sometimes, despite all their efforts to organize & anticipate, the land-sea team must revise their plans. This is the case today, following the Indonesian government’s refusal to allow sampling. Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, reacted to the decision: “It’s really unfortunate, especially since the challenges facing the coral reefs of Indonesia are major. It’s highly regrettable that  Indonesia’s ambition, as host of the “Our Ocean 2018″ Conference, is not followed up with specific actions, such as participating in an unprecedented pan-Pacific research program like Tara Pacific”. After 14 years of expeditions, only 2% of solicited countries refused the schooner entry into their maritime territory.

So, Tara will not go to the Maluku archipelago as planned. The ability to adapt is undeniably one of the major strengths of the project. The schooner will still make a very brief stop in Indonesia to welcome its new scientific team — in  Sorong, a port city in eastern Indonesia. Then Tara will leave the country immediately, headed for Palau where she is expected. 6 archipelagos comprised of 300 islets and 26 islands, the Republic of Palau in Micronesia, will be a vast area of ​​exploration for the Taranauts. A stopover will be hosted by the President of Palau, one of the first heads-of-state to join Tara in giving a voice to the Ocean at the COP21   by signing the “Because the Ocean” declaration.


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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation
This change of  itinerary will first take the crew to some tiny, remote islands, very rarely studied: Hatohobei, Sonosol, Pulo Anna.

Sampling around Koror, the most populated island of Palau, will take place from  January 4 – 9, 2018. Another specific mission conducted by the team from Monaco will happen later, from January 11- 20. After exploring and sampling in the famous Coral Triangle, in the heart of these “small islands” (Micronesia), the schooner will make a final stop in the port of Koror, from January 20 – 22, 2018,  before heading for the Philippines.


Noëlie Pansiot


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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Tara exploring an unknown biodiversity in Papua New Guinea

Six researchers constitute the new scientific team aboard Tara on a leg called “Biodiversity and Interactions”. All hope to discover …

Six researchers constitute the new scientific team aboard Tara on a leg called “Biodiversity and Interactions”. All hope to discover new species during repeated underwater explorations in 4 major regions of Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea). Some of the scientists hope to reveal the secrets of chemical interactions between species; others would like to discover new molecules useful in human health. Whatever their specialty, they are already busy under water but also on board, in front of a lab bench or a gene sequencer.

Scientific director of this new leg and marine biologist at CRIOBE, Emilie Boissin has been on board for several weeks. She’s the only one remaining from the former team. Before the new scientific members even set foot on deck, Emilie described the purpose of this mission which is slightly different from other legs of Tara Pacific: « We are sailing in the Coral Triangle, extremely rich in marine biodiversity. Probably many of the species here are still unknown. We will inventory the little-studied groups such as hydrozoans, brittle stars and sponges. We’ll also try to genetically identify the coral species in the laboratory on board, because a simple morphological observation is often not enough. We hope to obtain genetic confirmations in real time, using a small DNA sequencing device called MinION ».


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Beautiful crinoids on a sponge - © Jonathan Lancelot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


At the introductory meeting that opened this new scientific chapter, Emilie pointed out the exploration zones on a map including Kimbe, Kapepa and Restorf Islands. Everyone then discussed the reasons for their presence on the schooner. Julie Poulain, engineer at the Genoscope and a “regular” aboard Tara, piqued the curiosity of Taranauts by unveiling the famous DNA sequencer: “Smaller than a smart phone!”

Bernard Banaigs, researcher at INSERM, immediately added some humor: « You’re lucky to have 2 chemists aboard Tara, Olivier and myself, 2 barbarians. We’ll first focus on the target species Millepora platyphylla by studying the competition that exists with other corals. Observations show that Millepora platyphylla protects itself quite well from competitors for space. We want to understand the influence of its neighbors on the defense molecules produced by this species. In the marine environment, an intense chemical warfare is going on at all times. To fight against competitors, predators or colonizers, Millepora releases a whole bunch of molecules to protect themselves, creating a chemical shield of sorts! We will try to understand if these defense molecules could be interesting for human health, plant protection or anti-fouling ».


Small green and pink ascidia attached to a sponge – © Jonathan Lancelot / Fondation Tara Expéditions
To date, only 10% of marine biodiversity has been catalogued of all species combined: 200,000 species out of a total estimated at 2,210,000*. By looking more closely at only the cnidarian group which includes corals, hydrozoans and jellyfish, 9,795 species have been catalogued, but no global estimate has been made for cnidarians. The oceans have not finished revealing their riches to contemporary explorers.

Emilie Boissin says the Taranauts will have to open their eyes and pay attention to each form of life — « since even what might look like a known species at first sight, may not be one ».

Noëlie Pansiot


*Brett R. Scheffers, et al. (2012), What we know and don’t know about Earth’s missing biodiversity, Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

© Jonathan Lancelot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Welcome back onboard correspondent, Noëlie Pansiot

After 39 hours traveling from Paris to Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, the popular expression “You have to earn it” …

After 39 hours traveling from Paris to Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, the popular expression “You have to earn it” makes sense. Samuel Audrain, incoming captain, Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, and Daniel Cron, deck officer, will no doubt agree. The 4 of us have just crossed the globe by plane to relay disembarking teammates. Here’s the story of my trip.

After a somewhat tumultuous departure on Friday at 18:30, the evening of a soccer match that made the north of Paris as congested as a Cairo crossroads in daytime, I boarded a flight from Paris to Dubai. After settling in on the first plane, a Airbus A380, I take the full measure of the journey that awaits me: 4 flights and nearly 15,000 km to go. I’m already thinking about the next 3 months of mission to discover the famous Coral Triangle, the epicenter of marine biodiversity on the planet. According to some scientists, it was here that everything may have started. Corals most likely spread to the rest of the planet from this place.

The list of potential topics to deal with in writing or video runs in my head. The first that comes to my mind is largely inspired by the number of single-use disposables on the plane. I think of the figures that will appear in a future article dedicated to plastic pollution. Even though I hold out my cup for a refill, the stewardesses systematically hand me a new cup, already full. And when, driven by my ecological instinct, I ask about recycling, they answer with a surprised look and a negative nod of the head.



Noëlie Pansiot, correspondante de bord, fera de nouveau partie de l’équipage jusqu’aux Philippines - © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Paris – Dubai – Brisbane – Port Moresby – Kimbe Bay. Three planes later and X plastic cups in the trash, I’m at the exit of the international airport of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. It’s humid and hot and I’m smiling as I walk towards the domestic terminal for a last flight. Direction Kimbe Bay, in the province of New Britain, located on the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago. This large bay is among the major sites of the Coral Triangle and counts 60% of the species present in the Indo-Pacific zone.

The 4th plane, operated by the only local airline, has only 36 seats. I sit next to a porthole thinking I’ll enjoy the view at takeoff. I scrutinize the interior of the old plane, which seems to have already exceeded its quota of flying hours. But sleepiness has the best of my worries.

An hour later, a hand on my shoulder wakes me gently from sleep. My neighbor explains: “We have to change aircraft. This one has a technical problem.” Our plane hasn’t moved a centimeter!

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Kimbe Bay, lieu de destination de notre correspondante de bord, Noëlie, qui embarque à bord de Tara pour 3 mois - © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


I gather my belongings and head for plane number 4b. Regina, 50 years old, sits down next to me and confesses, “I prayed to God to change planes. He answered me!” I thank her. To have come all this way and see nothing of the Papuan territory would have been rather disappointing. We continue talking and the charming teacher explains that we’re not very far from Hoskins airport: “When we fly over a large stretch of ​​oil palms, that means we’ve arrived.

Outside my porthole, rows of palm trees have replaced a thick forest and we land safely. Paris is only an old memory. In a couple of hours the 2 masts of the schooner will stand before me, in a bay at the end of the world. I’ll find almost the same crew that I left a little over 4 months ago in Fiji. But before that, I’ll take a nap.


Noëlie Pansiot



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Do corals resist heat from volcanic activity?

Tuesday, November 14 at 15:30 local time Tara arrived a few kilometers from Kimbe, capital of the province of Western …

Tuesday, November 14 at 15:30 local time Tara arrived a few kilometers from Kimbe, capital of the province of Western New Britain. Along the northern coast of this island of Papua New Guinea, we completed the last few miles with no wind and the help of Tara’s engines.

Simon Rigal, Tara’s captain since Whangarei (New Zealand) will disembark here, handing over the helm to Samuel Audrain.

 Kimbe Bay — 110 km wide and 60km long — is considered the heart of the Coral Triangle. The scientific team, led by Rebecca Vega Thurber (from Oregon State University), has planned 3 new sampling sites.


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Islands on the way to Kimbe © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


A succession of volcanoes, some still activeislands like boats with hulls of lava rock above which flourishes lush, tropical vegetation. During the last hours of sailing, the landscape kept telling us we were getting closer to the equator and Indonesia. Anchored tonight in a sheltered spot, Tara is only about 5 degrees south of the line separating our blue planet into 2 hemispheres.

We are not here by chance: Kimbe Bay is a major site for biodiversity: it alone includes 60% of the coral species present in the Indo-Pacific area. This heart of the Coral Triangle is also the place of origin of all corals. According to Alfred Yohang Ko’ou, our Papuan scientific observer (soon to disembark) “This is the cradle, the first nest of all Pacific corals. Ocean currents did the rest by scattering the mother stock.”

A first scouting and sampling dive has already taken place at the entrance to Kimbe Bay. It confirmed the extraordinary biodiversity and health of coral polyps in these very warm waters, averaging around 30° C. Another question of particular interest to the researchers on board here: Why doesn’t the coral undergo bleaching in such warm waters? Will Kimbe Bay corals offer us new elements to better understand why these colonies are resistant to such temperatures, linked to intense surrounding volcanic activity?


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Papua New Guinea: the country of volcanos and corals © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


We are in a region with more than a hundred volcanoes visible from the boat. We’ve had the chance to sail safely by them, including the most destructive ones, Vulcan and Tavurvur, close to the new Rabaul. Fumaroles are still escaping from the Vulcan caldera, with the strong smell of sulfur. History reminds us that these partly dormant giants literally engulfed the old Rabaul in 1994  a Papuan Pompeii still buried under the now solidified lava.

Here coral lives in waters whose temperatures are influenced by a volcanic environment where thermal stresses combine. The upcoming dives in the context of the Tara Pacific expedition promise to be very exciting.


Vincent Hilaire


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A Customary Meeting on Yanaba Island

After leaving the acidification study site, the Taranauts penetrated further into Papuan territory, sailing northeast overnight to the Egum Atoll. …

After leaving the acidification study site, the Taranauts penetrated further into Papuan territory, sailing northeast overnight to the Egum Atoll. On the island of Yanaba, a formal meeting was organized amidst the traditional huts on stilts overlooking the lagoon. Such meetings, indispensable for continuing our sampling, remind us of the necessity of taking time to listen and talk to each other.


We arrived early this morning in the small, shallow pass of Egum Atoll. First mate Nicolas Bin was in the crow’s nest to signal the reef, no maps being available. We anchored near the village of Yanaba Island.


Skilled Sailors

A well-crafted canoe approached us, maneuvered with dexterity by the customary chief Andrew, a mature man with a lively expression. He invited us to meet his community at the end of their Sunday religious service, to explain our visit to the atoll.

Early in the afternoon a delegation of Taranauts composed of Loïc, Vincent, Joern, Cristoph, myself, and of course our Papou scientific observer Alfred Yohang Ko’ou, landed with the surf on the beach.


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At Yanaba Island, a traditional  pirogue with sails © Vincent Hilaire -  Tara Expeditions Foundation


The Waiting

We spent 2 hours in the shade of the tribal chief ‘s hut, waiting for community leaders to gather.

Children were observing us with mischievous looks. Already questions were being asked and trust began to develop.

Once the head of the council (different from the tribal chief), the magistrate and the school principal joined us, we could present the Tara Pacific expedition and explain why we had chosen to come to this particular island. An experienced speaker, calm and self-confident, Alfred did a great job of explaining the work we wanted to do here.

About 500 people live in autonomy on the 2 inhabited islands of the atoll. 120 children attend school here. There are no regular connections to the nearest “big” islands — only the native canoes with rigging made of all-natural materials. These islanders are excellent sailors. It takes them 2 days to reach Alotau, the capital of the province.

The council deliberated and after they negotiated fees, we were authorized to take coral samples from their waters. We then toured the very well-organized beachfront village, and visited the school where we distributed some supplies and Tara Junior magazines to the teachers.



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The meeting begins in the shade of the hut, with Tara’s crew at the center © Vincent Hilaire - Tara Expeditions Foundation


The visit of the village

Nearby, 2 huts in ruin — a medical clinic and a post office — have been closed for almost 10 years. Where is the state ???

So close and so isolated. No power. Here and there a solar panel and a battery. No radio transmitter, no satellite communication, no internet.

A 30-hp outboard engine (at present functioning only in reverse) was donated by the provincial government, but now sits alone in a locked shack. Here nothing is wasted, everything is transformed and re-used: plastic materials (buoys, cans, etc) brought by the sea are all used or recycled.

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Yanaba Island children next to Tara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


An Isolated Community

The last foreigners to visit this island were 2 Australian anthropologists who spent 2 months here more than a year ago. Passenger boats are extremely rare. Nevertheless, the inhabitants dare to hope that someday tourists will visit, and they’ll be able to create small businesses.

My feelings are mixed: I can’t help but think these people live in a tiny paradise. But the raw, infected wounds the young people show us, asking for medicine, remind me of the harsh reality.

As soon as authorization was given, Jon, Becky, Grace and the 2 Guillaumes set off on one of Tara’s zodiacs to locate a site for sampling. Tomorrow morning around 5:30 we’ll weigh anchor and move closer to the sampling area.


Simon Rigal, captain 


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© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

On Papua

After leaving Alotau at mid-day on November 1st, we navigated 80 kilometers to the northeast before reaching Normanby Island. At …

After leaving Alotau at mid-day on November 1st, we navigated 80 kilometers to the northeast before reaching Normanby Island. At nightfall we anchored close to the west coast of the island and the next morning went through the first of many rituals of this leg.


At 7:30 am local time as the sun rose over the rainforest, we launched one of the dinghies to go ashore and meet our hosts. Before leaving, smiling children and adolescents were already circling Tara in canoes.

In the dinghy, our improvised delegation was led by Simon Rigal, our captain, and Alfred Yohang Ko’ou. our Papuan scientific observer. We landed on Soba Island and were met by excited children and shy adults awaiting this first contact. We were led past 2 huts, one on the ground and the other on stilts, both constructed mainly with braided palm leaves.


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The place of our first custom, surrounded by the houses of this little community © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Sitting on the floor around a palm mat taken from the main hut and unfurled for us, the ritual began with the family gathered amidst dogs, chickens and a pig.

Alfred began by explaining in Papuan where we came from and what we were doing on board Tara, while showing on his blue T-shirt our voyage from France. Kanagola, the head of the community, listened attentively.

Then “Beckie” Vega Thurber, our current scientific leader, explained more precisely our scientific interest in this bay and what we would like to do there.

Kanogola listened very calmly without expressing any particular reaction and suddenly blurted out: “Ah, the bubbles!

Beckie explained that a mission had already taken place in 2013 to carry out research on these CO2 bubbles. Kanagola nodded confirmation. Beckie went on, “we’ve come to launch a new campaign on these carbon dioxide bubbles and their effects on the coral ecosystem. We will eventually compare these results with the older ones. The ocean is acidifying right now and at you have at the end of your beach an ideal laboratory.

Kanagola was reassured: “I give you permission to do what you have to do here. But if you go to the next bay, you will have to ask the other community for their agreement.

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Two generations of the community of Soba Island in this photograph © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Simon Rigal pulled out of his backpack some Tara Junior magazines in English and gave them to Kanagola, explaining with a touch of humor, “These are magazines for children, but as an adult I learned lots of things from them“. Kanagola thanked Simon with a smile while a new pile came out of the bag: notebooks and pens.

The ritual was coming to an end and we were honored to take some pictures of these people still living their traditional life, without electricity or water.


Vincent Hilaire

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Tara in Papua New Guinea

This Monday, October 30th at 9.30am local time, Tara and her crew of 12 people arrived in Alotau, capital of …

This Monday, October 30th at 9.30am local time, Tara and her crew of 12 people arrived in Alotau, capital of one of the 20 island provinces.
In a well-protected cove on the north coast of the deep Milne Bay, Alotau has a population of just over 15,000, while the country as a whole numbers almost 6.5 million Papuans.
We will leave Alotau on November 1st for 3 initial sites, one of which will be devoted exclusively to the study of water acidification and its effects on coral.

“I am pleasantly surprised by the Solomon Islands”, confided Simon Rigal, our captain, as we left Gizo – the capital of the western province – and this archipelago. Ahead of us were more than 2 days of navigation and 750 kilometers without wind, and with engines.
Like Simon, as Gizo slowly receded, I felt a twinge in my heart leaving this small, peaceful, farming town.
The few minutes spent in the morning walking the main street and the market, all these colors amidst so many smiles, the boats stranded on the sand in front of the stalls, all that I already missed. An atmosphere that I love, full of life, simple and without makeup.


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 The market of Gizo, in the Solomon Islands © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


To chase away the melancholy as we passed the last Solomon Islands, Mother Nature concocted one of those magical moments which she alone can cast. First, a school of 5 dolphins played at Tara’s bow, directly in front of my cameras.

Then, through a magnificent cumulus formation, the sun was preparing a magnificent sunset, a falling curtain worthy of one of the greatest live show acts. It was like my experience when leaving Noumea at the moment the star was transformed at the horizon into a balloon of fire.

The navigation between the Solomon Islands and Papua, sometimes on a glassy sea and overwhelming heat, was interspersed by the quarter watches and the routine launching of oceanographic instruments.


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Tonight, while I was on watch with the chief engineer, Loïc Caudan, we were treated in these last miles to an extraordinary sky, studded with thousands upon thousands of stars. At the break of dawn, at the entrance to Milne Bay, which in 1942 was the scene of the first Japanese defeat in the Pacific, we discovered a new country, mountainous and green.

The highlight of the show was soon coming. On the quay where Tara was now moored, an improvised welcome committee came to watch this curious schooner, with all those blue T-shirts bobbing about on deck: “Tara, Tara, is that the name of the boat? Where do you come from? France? Where is that? ”


                                   Vincent Hilaire


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The Solomon Islands: in the eye of the climatic cyclone?

From Honiara (the capital) until Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea), we are welcoming on board a Solomon Islands observer: Joe …

From Honiara (the capital) until Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea), we are welcoming on board a Solomon Islands observer: Joe Frazer Piduru.
This smiling 43-year-old man born in the province of Choiseul, one of the big islands of the archipelago, is a professional sailor. With a Class 4 Captain’s Certificate from the Honiara Merchant Marine School, Joe works for the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration (SIMSA), the equivalent of Maritime Affairs in France.


Tara is anchored a few hundred meters from a palm tree forest nearly overlooking the beach. Rising from some tree tops are swirls of smoke. A tribe lives there. Further out on the water, men in dugouts are fishing.
As the new scientific team prepares its first dive here, 40 nautical miles northwest of Honiara, the newcomer with his rectangular black sunglasses is observing the loading of the zodiac 16R. This is one of the Tara Pacific expedition rituals orchestrated by the sailors using the crane.

This Solomon-Papua leg is just beginning and I take this opportunity to interview Joe.


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Joe Frazer Piduru starting his shift © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Several hundred islands make up the Solomon Archipelago. Which one do you come from?

“I was born in the province of Choiseul, like my parents. Our tribe has an island along the coast of Choiseul called Zenoa – our traditional territory. We’ve managed to have it classified as a marine protected area since 2010 and we are now waiting to benefit from a conservation program.”


Why did you take these steps to protect your island?

“We want to protect Zenoa and all the species that live there, but also the reefs. We are doing this for the future, so that there is a future. In recent years, we have seen the disappearance of many fish species and we don’t know why. Maybe it’s climate change or overfishing or overexploitation of our forest resources, or maybe all 3?


Every day we discover more consequences of overfishing and climate change in the world. But how does overexploitation of forests affect the sea, the reefs for example?

“The first disruptions come from the very important increase in maritime traffic. Many cargo ships coming from Malaysia load the wood here, very often near the coast without a particular port structure. They also want to avoid paying port taxes so they destroy the bottom with their anchors. Logging generates very large quantities of sludge carried down the slopes and washed away by the rivers before they empty into the sea. This causes massive pollution and destroys the ecosystem. This sludge is loaded with oil and hydrocarbons of all kinds. Exploitation of gold from the mines also leads to the dumping of toxic chemicals into our coastal waters.

The problem is that all the islands of our archipelago have this type of exploitation. Our forests have been exploited for 40 years, trees that absorb CO2 and release oxygen have been cut down, and the sea around us has been polluted.”


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Carcasses of boats after the cyclone PAM passed in 2015, near the port of Honaria © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation 


“We want to stop this horror. The problem with logging is corruption. In the local ministries, everyone is ready to sign a business license for bribes. The government has managed to classify less than 10 tree species in 40 years. If we don’t protect our forests more effectively, we’ll destroy them, and along with them we’ll destroy our lagoons, our reefs and all their biodiversity. I am sure that this deforestation has consequences for our climate here.”


What changes have you noticed in recent years in your climate? There was cyclone Pam in 2015.

: “From our elders we inherited a knowledge of our local climates, but now it doesn’t work anymore. Today it is beautiful and tomorrow there may be a cyclone. We are affected by climate change and our climate is no longer stable like before.
Cyclone Pam mainly affected Vanuatu and the eastern part of the archipelago, the province of Temotu. Here we suffered less.
But fortunately now, 2 years later, everything is back in order after the arrival of supply vessels. The only thing that improved after the tragedy is that we now have mobile phones to warn people. We have weather stations in the 9 provinces, but they’re not all working.


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Joe Frazer Piduru, observer of the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation
Another consequence of climate change is that we are beginning to see islands disappear. The first disappeared in 1999, in the Russel Islands archipelago because of rising waters and violent tropical storms.
Our situation is very bad and we are trapped in a black box. When I was little, I looked underwater and everything was ok. I swam in the middle of fish and I played in crystal clear waters. But nobody taught us to protect our forests, fish and corals. This must change and we must change.”


Vincent Hilaire



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In the wake of Bougainville and La Boudeuse

Bougainville. The explorer’s name echoes in our heads while Tara is clocking up nautical miles. Throughout the Tara Pacific expedition, …

Bougainville. The explorer’s name echoes in our heads while Tara is clocking up nautical miles. Throughout the Tara Pacific expedition, except in the Strait of Magellan, we are following the sailing routes of La Boudeuse and L’Étoile, thanks to the discoveries made and maps drawn up during Bougainville’s incredible adventure, more than 2 centuries ago, long before GPS was invented!


In 1768, during his major exploration journey in the Pacific Ocean, the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville discovered the largest reef in the world. When we say that the greatest discoveries are sometimes made by chance, this adventure story is a perfect example.


Louis Antoine de Bougainville


In December 1766, Bougainville departed from Brest aboard La Boudeuse. Accompanied by naturalists, a cartographer and an astronomer, his role as Captain was to add to knowledge and increase French presence in this part of the world.

In Rio de Janeiro, he received the support of another French vessel, L’Étoile, which under his command, acted as a cargo ship. After a laborious crossing of the Strait of Magellan, winds and the Humboldt current pushing the vessels northwards, Bougainville finally entered the Pacific Ocean.

In Rio de Janeiro, he received the support of another French vessel, L’Étoile, which under his command, acted as a cargo ship. After a laborious crossing of the Strait of Magellan, winds and the Humboldt current pushing the vessels northwards, Bougainville finally entered the Pacific Ocean.

It took him and his 400 men, weakened by scurvy, more than a year of navigation to finally sight the first islands – the immense Tuamotu Archipelago – in February 1768. He baptized it “the dangerous archipelago” because of the many coral atolls that made the progress of the 2 ships very perilous.




The expedition reached Tahiti on April 6, 1768. Unfortunately for Bougainville, Tahiti had already been discovered in the previous year by an English navigator, Samuel Wallis.

As soon as La Boudeuse and L’Étoile anchored, a charming problem arose. “In spite of all our precautions,” he wrote, “a young woman nonchalantly dropped the loincloth covering her and appeared for all to see, like Venus in front of the Phrygian shepherd. She had a heavenly shape. Sailors and soldiers were eagerly reaching for the hatch and the capstan has never been operated with such zeal. We actually succeeded in restraining these bewitched men”. Bougainville later wondered: “How do we make 400 French young sailors who haven’t seen a woman in 6 months remain at their work stations in front of such a sight?”

After an exquisite stay among “noble savages” according to his accepted expression, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville resumed his voyage heading west, and discovered the New Hebrides Condominium (now the nation of Vanuatu).

From there he continued further west, trying to find Terra Australis which, on his nautical chart, was located northeast, towards New Guinea. Provisions ran out once again and Bougainville observed: “Spoiled meat was in great quantity, but it was becoming infected. Instead, we preferred to eat rats we could capture”. He nonetheless continued his journey.



In the spring of 1768, the 2 vessels reached the eastern waters of Australia where reefs prevented them from approaching the coast.

Bougainville had just discovered the Great Barrier Reef: “Lookouts saw new shoals from atop the masts.” he wrote, “We couldn’t see where they ended.”

After careful consideration, Bougainville set a northward course and decided not to seek a passage among all these pitfalls.

The first European to explore the Great Barrier Reef was the British captain, James Cook. He discovered the reef when his vessel ran aground on it on June 11, 1770.

Bougainville then visited the western part of the Solomon Islands and discovered a new island on June 30, 1768, on his way to Papua. To this day, the island bears his name.


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The most difficult part of the trip was the return journey along the coast of New Guinea. The sailors were plagued by hunger and scurvy. The expedition then joined the Moluccas and busier sea routes before sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.

On his return to France, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville resumed his military career, participated in the American War of Independence, then was appointed wing commander in 1779. During the Age of Enlightenment, the account of this journey, published in 1771, fed philosophical controversies and particularly inspired Diderot.

Famous, covered with honors and supported by Napoleon, Bougainville devoted the rest of his life to scientific studies and research projects.

He died at the age of 82 in 1811, and was buried in the Pantheon in Paris.

Vincent Hilaire


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Honiara, Solomon Islands kingdom

On Wednesday, August 18 at 2pm local time, Tara arrived in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. It …

On Wednesday, August 18 at 2pm local time, Tara arrived in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. It took us only 4 days of peaceful downwind sailing to reach this archipelago.

We’ll remain docked in Honiara for 2 days before exploring 3 coral sites on the surrounding reefs. A new scientific team led by Dr Rebecca Vega Thurber, biologist at Oregon State University (USA), will board the schooner tomorrow to carry out this task until Papua New Guinea.


Scents of softwood, wet ground and fresh flowers such as mimosa. A fragrance yet unknown. I was on night shift with Julie l’Hérault, Tara’s chief officer, when she smelled these first scent signals emanating from the Solomon Islands

There were patches of clear sky, revealing beautiful constellations, including Orion. Water temperature was still 28°C and it was impossible to sleep in the cabins without turning the small fans on.


4 photo 8_arrivee Tara Honiara_VH
Between sky and sea, Tara arrives at Honiara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation 

At the first streaks of dawn, the southern part of Guadalcanal, the main island of the Solomon Archipelago, revealed a lush forest cover. Now we saw the source of these nocturnal fragrances. Dominating the thick stretch of vegetation was a mountain range formed by volcanic activity. Some summits were surrounded by small clouds.

All morning we sailed along a significant portion of the 160-kilometer coastline, showing more or less the same landscapes. On the surface of these blue waters with shades of turquoise, probably caused by runoff water, small dolphins were chasing schools of tuna, marine birds flying over them. Honiara, located in a recess, emerged little by little.

Before our eyes, the appearance of the coast quickly changed: cargo ships were docked waiting for wood shipments, barges loaded with logs moored alongside them. Ashore, sawmills were lined up one after another, reaping the benefits of an obviously intense logging operation.


7 photo 15_Favelas autour du centre ville_VH

Simple dwellings near the city center © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


After rounding a last point, the city of Honiara (84,520 inhabitants) appeared deep in the bay, partly sheltered from south-easterly trade winds.

The real shock occurred while docking, even though we were somewhat prepared for it. On quays parallel to ours, rusty ferry boats packed with inhabitants from other Solomon Islands were preparing to depart. A little further away, children were carrying loads of supplies on their back to another smaller ferry. Just outside the cargo port, hundreds of half-naked people were wandering among a few pickup trucks.

Between New Caledonia and here, it felt like we were no longer on the same planet. The Solomon Islands are the poorest nation in the Pacific region, and from the very moment you dock in Honiara, you witness this economic distress.

                                                                                                         Vincent Hilaire

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© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

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