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10/06/17

Tara anchors at Huon Atoll

With the Guilbert and Merit reefs, Huon is one of the 4 atolls that make up the Entrecasteaux nature reserve. …

With the Guilbert and Merit reefs, Huon is one of the 4 atolls that make up the Entrecasteaux nature reserve. This paradise of biodiversity, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2008, is a sanctuary for birds, green turtles, 2,300 species of fish and more than 350 different corals.

We are here on mission until October 13 with scientists from the Institute of Research and Development (IRD) in Noumea and the University of New Caledonia (UNC). They will investigate the guano of the thousands of birds present on these islets.

 

11 photo 20_crabe cotier_VH
A coastal crab on Huon Island, in the reefs of Entrecasteaux – © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

The Entrecasteaux reefs are flush with the surface and are located northwest of New Caledonia about 180 kilometers from Grande Terre. Uninhabited, they constitute the northern limit of the New Caledonian archipelago.
They were discovered on July 1st, 1792 by Antoine Bruny d’Entrecasteaux with two armed frigates sent by Louis XVI in search of the expedition led by La Pérouse.

Entrecasteaux could not find traces of La Pérouse and the expedition ended chaotically in Surabaya. The ships passed close to Vanikoro where survivors of the Boussole and Astrolabe shipwrecks were certainly still alive, but off Java’s coast on July 20th, 1793, Entrecasteaux succumbed to scurvy.

This trip was nonetheless a success because many unknown lands, including these reefs were discovered for France.

 

Coucher de soleil Huon_VH copie
For the crew of Tara, the days ends with a magnificent sunset over the Pacific – ©  Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

An anecdote: the name ‘Surprise Atoll’ comes from the fact that Entrecasteaux was amazed to discover an uncharted reef so close to the Grande Terre, thinking he had completely circled New Caledonia.

The other 3 Entrecasteaux reefs are named for expedition members: Jean-Michel Huon of Kermadec, commander of L’Esperance; the lieutenant of the Malo de la Motte du Portail; and the lieutenant du Mérite. The Guilbert reef is named after the hydrographer of the Jules Dumont d’Urville expedition in 1827.

The area was regularly frequented by whalers in the early 19th century. But continuous occupation took place only on the 3 islets of the Surprise Atoll between 1883 and 1928, for the exploitation of guano.

 

18 photo 29_noddi brun_VH
Entrecasteaux is a bird sanctuary, as we can see on Huon Atoll – © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

This exploitation has ceased, but today scientists are interested. After the bleaching in February 2016 that seriously impacted Grande Terre and the Entrecasteaux reefs, they are trying to understand why these atolls are affected differently.

During this last bleaching episode, 90% of the Entrecasteaux lagoon reefs were impacted between the surface and 5 meters. But exterior to the lagoon only about half were affected.

This brought up the hypothesis that guano might be an influence. Thanks to the mission on these reefs with Tara and her crew, the teams of the IRD and the UNC are hoping to finally unlock the secrets of Entrecasteaux coral resilience.

Since Tuesday, the teams have been working together to take coral samples, hunt reef fish and collect valuable droppings ashore to try and confirm the key role played by guano on coral communities underwater. The results of this research will certainly make history.

Vincent Hilaire

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© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation
09/29/17

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on …

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation
 

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© Tara Expedition Foundation
09/29/17

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on …

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation
 

© Video : On the Great Barrier Reef
09/29/17

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on …

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

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© Video : On the Great Barrier Reef
09/27/17

Nicolas de la Brosse, 5 years of commitment aboard Tara and a fresh start

After 5 years of commitment and loyal services, Nicolas de la Brosse, Tara’s chief officer, decided to take a new …

After 5 years of commitment and loyal services, Nicolas de la Brosse, Tara’s chief officer, decided to take a new direction. Nico disembarked in Noumea on September 22, after 3 major expeditions on the schooner. Native of Burgundy, Nico’s maritime career path has been rapid since he met Peter Blake, at 11.

 

VH: Nicolas, your history with the schooner began even before she was renamed Tara. How did you meet Peter Blake?

NDLB: “It’s a long story! I grew up in Dijon. At 11, I was selected, along with other youngsters, to cover stories aboard la Fleur de Lampaul, an old rigged barge, also described as the children’s oceanographic vessel. The idea was to raise public awareness on environmental issues through our eyes. In short, I was already passionate about sailing and adventure.

In November 1996, after returning from this year of expedition, we presented our reports to the International Festival of Adventure in my home town, Dijon. That’s where I met Peter Blake, sponsor of the festival. My idol. For me, he was a living god. I watched his exploits on VHS tapes (laughs).

 

cohesion dequipe_une des grandes richesses de tara sont les rencontres humaines et la cohesion d_equipage© Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

I handed him a letter I had written in English. Peter took the letter, and after reading it, told me that we would stay in touch.

The following year, in 1997, Peter invited me to spend 3 weeks in the Mediterranean Sea on his family’s schooner, Archangel. Despite his success, Peter, this 2-meter high colossus, was easily accessible, straightforward and humble. After this cruise, he really took me under his wing. I’d become a member of his family”.

 

VH: What happened next, given Peter’s tragic death aboard the Seamaster?

NDLB: “Once I returned to Dijon, I went back to high school. I was still in contact with Peter. At 15, in 1999, I had the opportunity to embark on a boat transfer as a sailor and crew member from Panama to Polynesia. We took advantage of this trip to stop on our way back in New Zealand.

Peter welcomed me into his home – he was then preparing the America’s Cup. But he was already speaking about his reconversion after this competition. In Auckland, I met again with Sarah Jane and James, the 2 children of Peter and Pippa – his wife and my second mom.

Once Peter completed and won the Cup, he purchased Antarctica from Jean-Louis Etienne. After a period in dry dock, the schooner, renamed Seamaster, left for 5 years of expedition around the world.

 

photo14_Nico sur la proue de Tara_Vincent Hilaire© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions
As for me, I needed to pass my bachelor’s degree and finish my studies. Peter had already told me: “No worries, you’ll join us afterward”. The tragedy happened on the Amazon River 6 months before I rejoined Blake Expeditions. My idol disappeared brutally. For me, it was very hard to take.

When Etienne Bourgois bought the schooner in 2003, Pippa introduced us. I had passed my bachelor’s degree in 2002 and was in my 2nd year of DEUG in marine biology in Brest. I didn’t know yet that I wasn’t made to be a researcher, but my desire to sail was still there. It was the first time I set foot on Tara’s deck, in Camaret”.

 

VH: What was your first mission aboard Tara?

NDLB: “I embarked as a crew member to go to Greenland in 2004, with Céline Ferrier as captain. It gave me the opportunity to take a pause in my studies, but I didn’t give up. Later, I completed my bachelor degree in biology in Australia and a master of science in New Zealand, between 2008 and 2011.

In Auckland, my roommate was Sarah-Jane, Pippa’s and Peter’s daughter. I also worked from time to time in the maintenance shipyards of the America’s Cup. Then I came back to France with the desire to become a professional sailor. I contacted Romain Troublé, who was Tara Expeditions’ secretary general at the time.

 

ours polaire tara polar circle_Se retrouver face a ces animaux et avoir la chance de les observer dans leur element a ete une des experiences des plus fortes de tara polar circle
© Nicolas de la Brosse / Fondation Tara Expéditions

VH: You were about to begin your second mission aboard Tara. What was its destination?

NDLB: Tara Oceans was continuing with the Polar Circle expedition. I joined the team in Paris in October 2012 where Tara was currently in port. I then participated in the schooner’s preparation and this new expedition in the Arctic Ocean. One thing followed another. I completed a Master 500 gross tonnage certificate then, after the Arctic circumnavigation, I participated in Tara Mediterranean in 2014 and Tara Pacific in 2016-17. This already represents 5 years of my life! (smiles).

 

VH: What is your new direction today? Does leaving Tara mean turning an important page in a sailor’s life?

NDLB: “I’ve lived a super rich, very intense period with Tara. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many interesting people, on board and ashore. The human component is very important during these expeditions. With Tara, we have access to privileged situations. These are exceptional journeys. For instance, during the Arctic circumnavigation, we sailed surrounded by ice. This may not be the case in a few years due to global warming. I’ll also treasure my memories of the Tuvalu Islands and Kiribati.

 

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0043.JPG© Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Besides this rich experience and passion, these projects are always very absorbing and now I want to have more time for myself and my personal life – to take a step back and stand on my own two feet.

I plan on working as a skipper on private sailboats, or for the charter market. Moreover, I could no longer evolve aboard Tara. I would have had to pass other diplomas to become a captain.

Tara is also a large family, to which I’ll always belong, even if I leave. This happens at sea where we live together and experience great cohesion through exceptional situations and moments. These are inextricable bonds.

 

Interview by Vincent Hilaire

 

 

 

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© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions
09/26/17

Tara in Noumea

From the Chesterfield archipelago it took us a little more than 3 days of sailing into the wind to reach …

From the Chesterfield archipelago it took us a little more than 3 days of sailing into the wind to reach Noumea. We arrived on “Le Caillou” under a slightly cloudy sky. The stopover at Port Moselle lasted a week before we set out for some new sampling sites in the Caledonian lagoon. Registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, this lagoon is the longest in the world.

 

14 photo 23_preparation amarrage Tara Noumea_Vincent Hilaire 2
Preparation of the mooring of Tara in Noumea – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Still under the enchantment of those peaceful but active days spent in the Chesterfield Islands, the 15 Taranauts were called to order when, after crossing the southern pass, we hit rough seas again. As announced by the grib (weather forecast maps), a period of difficult navigation began using Tara’s 2 motors, no sails, heading directly into a steady southeast wind.

For the entire crew, life at sea immediately resumed a fairly monotonous (and for some people, even unpleasant) pace, punctuated by meals, night shifts, specific jobs, daily chores and routines. Except for Morgane Ratin and Guillaume Bourdin, who redoubled their energy on the rear deck, doing 3 plankton sampling stations on the way to Noumea.

 

5 photo 5_paysages lagon NC_Vincent HilaireLandscapes of the lagoon of New Caledonia – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

At dusk 72 hours later, after following a very mountainous coastline barely visible in the thick mist, we came to the entrance of the Caledonian lagoon – a liberation! Once we passed the immense barrier reef, the rolling and pitching ceased. An hour and a half later, advancing into the darkness, Simon Rigal found a quiet refuge for Tara, which meant a real night of sleep for everybody (finally)! Anchored here we were surrounded by only a few far-flung lights – a gentle and gradual return to civilization.
The next day, getting closer to our goal, we found a new spot to anchor in the lagoon, this time about 15 kilometers from Noumea. A second restful night.

“It looks a little like the Canary Islands”, said deck officer Francois Aurat, who will remain on board until the Solomon Islands. Seen from the boat, this very mountainous landscape, interspersed with bays, sparsely dotted with pinewoods, looks as if its vegetation was burnt by the sun.

 

10 photo 20_Port de Noumea_Vincent HilaireNoumea’s harbour before entering the marina of Port Moselle – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Then the first buildings appeared on the horizon: Noumea, formerly called Port-de-France, is a city of 180,000 inhabitants (counting the suburbs) – the largest French-speaking city in the entire Pacific Ocean. Tara docked in Port Moselle. As at every stopover, it was time for conferences, and visits of school kids and general public.

 

Thank you all for your welcome, your support, and many interesting exchanges. We’re heading for the Caledonian lagoons to do coral sampling, but we’ll come back to Noumea soon.

 

Vincent Hilaire

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© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions
09/18/17

Chesterfield Islands: an intact jewel of biodiversity

Tara’s mission to the Chesterfield Islands is ending. Before arriving in Nouméa and the Caledonian lagoon by September 20th, we …

Tara’s mission to the Chesterfield Islands is ending. Before arriving in Nouméa and the Caledonian lagoon by September 20th, we are enjoying these last privileged moments far from any civilization to take stock of the exceptional biodiversity of this French archipelago. Three sites have been explored by the Tara Pacific team and the first report is extremely positive.

 

Either on land or below the surface of these crystalline waters, Christian Voolstra (KAUST), our scientific coordinator and his entire team, are unanimous: “We are in an exceptional sanctuary. We did not see any signs of on-going or past bleaching events. This coral ecosystem is as healthy as from its first day. This is extremely rare and may be the first time I’ve seen it. The Chesterfield Islands are a source of hope for the future. We are still at the same latitude as the reefs of the Great Barrier or New Caledonia which are themselves damaged. We’re looking forward to understanding why this ecosystem is doing so well.”

 

8 photo 2_tortue Chester crepuscule_Francois AuratA green turtle in the Chesterfield lagoon at dusk. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Mission accomplished

Our diving biologists have not yet recovered from their efforts to bring back all the samples needed to characterize this new island. All the planned dives were carried out, including biodiversity sampling, but the coring proved very complicated. The drill bit remained blocked for several hours in the coral and after 5 dives, it was finally recovered, not without difficulty.

 

An exemplary biodiversity

During the dives many species of corals were observed with all colors and shapes. As for fauna: tuna, skipjack, groupers, triggerfish, parrot fish, manini or surgeonfish and blackhead reef sharks were sighted and also amongst these predators, 3-meter long silver-tipped sharks.

 

photo 16_variete oiseaux ile longue ChestefieldLarge variety of seabirds on Long Island in the Chesterfields. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

On land, we observed seabirds such as gannets, terns, wedge-tailed shearwaters* and the magnificent frigate with a red crop. For all these species, the young had just hatched and were already struggling to survive. On the beach of Long Island, we were able to approach green turtles in their full reproductive period, including 30 adult specimens.

 

A French jewel

The Chesterfield Islands (reserve of the Coral Sea Marine Park) are a jewel which France must really cherish and take care of! They already have the value of a sanctuary in this region of the Pacific, especially since ocean temperatures are continuing to rise. Regarding the excellent health of Chesterfields, the biologist Claudia Pogoreutz (KAUST) puts forward a hypothesis: “The causes are perhaps in the birds and the odor of their guano** that can be smelled well before disembarking on these islands.”

 

In any case, the 15 Taranauts on board will not forget the short week spent in this archipelago that the Anthropocene*** seems to have spared, apart from some plastic macro-waste.

 

Vincent Hilaire

 

* resident breeder in this Pacific region

** seabird droppings

***era of Earth’s history when human activities started to have a significant overall impact on the terrestrial ecosystem.

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© Francois Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions
09/13/17

Anchored in the turquoise waters of Chesterfield Islands

On Monday, September 11 at 8:30 local, Tara’s motors were turned off. Sailing the 500 nautical miles (more than 900 …

On Monday, September 11 at 8:30 local, Tara’s motors were turned off. Sailing the 500 nautical miles (more than 900 km) from the Great Barrier Reef had been very challenging: On this easterly route, we were constantly heading into the wind. Once the schooner was well anchored in the sandy bottom (to a depth of 10 meters!), the team of scientists was already equipped and didn’t waste a moment before jumping into the water. In this uninhabited French archipelago located 550 kilometers north-west of New Caledonia, 3 spots must be explored by Friday.

The view of Reynard Island at daybreak was a pleasure and a relief, bringing hope of a little calm. For the last 4 days none of us had really slept a full night, not counting the night watch. “That looks like Clipperton”, said deck-officer Francois Aurat, whose birthday we just celebrated. A cloud of birds — gannets, and frigates — was flying over this green clump rising from the Pacific Ocean. The anemometer showed the wind was still strong, at 20 knots (37 km/h).

 

4- photo 22_Arrivee l'ile Reynard_Vincent Hilaire copieDiscovery of Reynard Island, in the Chesterfield Islands lagoon. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Difficult mooring

We made a first attempt to anchor near this island, but our cautious captain Simon Rigal kept Tara’s 2 engines at a standstill. The reef around the island didn’t protect us sufficiently: the schooner rolled from side to side, preventing us from launching the diving boats.

So, the anchor was raised and we headed further south to another part of the immense Chesterfield reef. This archipelago — 120 km long by 70 km wide — is composed of 11 islands separated by numerous barriers of coral.

 

From the Coral Sea to Chesterfield

This group of islands owes its name to the ship of an English captain, Matthew Boyd, who explored the Coral Sea in the 1790s, and nearly sank here on June 2, 1793. Afterwards, ships sailing in the region were primarily whalers. The archipelago became French on June 15, 1878, when it was taken over by Lieutenant Louis Adolphe Guyon. At this time, the primary goal was exploiting the abundant guano. Then the islands were apparently abandoned, until Captain Arzur in the French warship Dumont d’Urville explored the Chesterfield reefs and erected a plaque here in 1939.

 

6- photo 6_lever de soleil Ile Reynard_Vincent Hilaire copieSunrise on Reynard Island. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Practically unknown French islands

The Chesterfield reefs are now part of New Caledonia, and since 2014, are included in the Marine Park of the Coral Sea, the largest French Marine Protected Area.

The Chesterfield lagoon covers an area of about 3,500 km2. A barrier of coral encircles the lagoon, interrupted by wide passes, except on the east side. Most of the lagoon is exposed to trade winds and ocean swells from the southeast. Average water depth is 51 m.
P2250982© François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Isolated and totally uninhabited, the Chesterfield Islands are renowned for offering exceptional underwater biodiversity. Throughout the year, many green turtles come here to lay their eggs. Sharks are as numerous here as outside the barrier reef, and the waters can be several hundred meters deep.

Since this morning, Tara Pacific’s scientific team has continued its mission, sampling coral in these rich, turquoise waters.

 

Vincent Hilaire

© Nicolas de la Brosse - Fondation Tara Expéditions
09/01/17

Video: Heron Island, Whales Paradise

Heron Island and the entire Southern Great Barrier Reef are prime breeding grounds for humpback whales. During our stay in …

Heron Island and the entire Southern Great Barrier Reef are prime breeding grounds for humpback whales.

During our stay in the marine protected area of Capricornia Cays National Park, we were able to meet mothers and their calves a few months ago.

Moments of infinite poetry captured by two of the sailors on board, François Aurat and Nicolas de la Brosse.

© Fondation Tara Expéditions
 

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© François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions
08/31/17

Tara at Heron Island

On Wednesday, August 30 at 7am local time, Tara arrived at Heron Island. This green island surrounded by shades of …

On Wednesday, August 30 at 7am local time, Tara arrived at Heron Island. This green island surrounded by shades of blue, 2 hours off the Australian east coast, appears to be a paradise on earth. A hundred people live permanently on this islet of barely 16 hectares. Among them, a dozen work at the Heron Island Research Station*. For the Taranauts, Heron Island marks the restart of the study on reef ecosystems, with sampling of corals, fish, sea water and air. The Tara Pacific expedition, has just entered its second year and will continue to collect massive amounts of data.

 

3-photo 1_arrivee Heron_ Francois AuratTara arrives at Heron Island (photographed with a drone). © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Day was just breaking and the team on Tara’s deck was already busy. Simon Rigal, our captain, and Jonathan Lancelot on his quarter watch, were there. François Aurat was preparing his drone, unaware that a few minutes later, he would take amazing footage of a humpback whale and her calf.

The low-angled sun was diffusing a soft orange light. Heron Island was slowly appearing on the horizon, an oasis in the middle of nowhere.

 

1-photo 9_sur la route d'Heron_ Vincent HilaireSunset on the way to Heron Island. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Keeping an eye on the schooner’s progression over the last miles, Simon was already thinking about the best anchoring place to allow our scientific divers to be as close as possible to Tara during their underwater work.

That’s when François, who had taken refuge in the wet lab** to operate his drone in the shade, called out: “Look, Vincent, look!”. On the screen, a whale and her calf were basking in the pass between Heron Island and Wistari Reef, slapping every now and then the calm water surface with their caudal fins. A gentle wake-up for this probably recent tandem. Heron Island is known to be a nursery appreciated by these marine mammals, who come here to give birth.

 

6-photo 6_arrivee Heron_ baleines_Francois AuratA humpback whale and her calf in the channel between Heron Island and Wistari Reef. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

With Tara at anchor and sails lowered, there was no respite on deck. Supervised by Jonathan Lancelot, divemaster, our scientific divers, Christian Voolstra (KAUST), Claudia Pogoreutz (KAUST), Benjamin C.C. Hume (KAUST) and Ryan McMinds (Oregon State University) prepared their diving gear for the first exploration around the reef.

This afternoon, the 4 scientists are in the water to sample biodiversity at 2 different depths, looking for characteristic species.

A little further away, Jonathan Lancelot is coring a Porites. Just like trees record changes in their growth environment, these massive corals record in their skeleton, variations in sea water properties through time. Therefore, they enable us to study and understand how climate changes impact coastal and marine ecosystems.

 

13-photo 44_experiences corail centre de recherche_Vincent HilaireThe first coral samples from this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Heron Island exhibits exceptional biodiversity with 900 species of fish and about 72% of the coral species present across the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike half of the Australian barrier reef, strongly affected by the third episode of global coral bleaching that just ended, Heron Island seems to have withstood this situation according to the scientists from the research station. The corals here have remained healthy so far.

 

Vincent Hilaire

 

* University of Queensland

** a sheltered structure on deck for sea water analysis

© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expéditions Fondation

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