log book - Tara Oceans and the marine reference point
Interview with Etienne Bourgois
He is co-director of Tara Oceans and Chairman of Tara Fund. After the departure of the expedition on 5 September from Lorient, it is an opportunity now for him to give an assessment of these first weeks.
- How did you feel about the departure of the expedition in early September?
This is the beginning of a new adventure for Tara. It was a very emotional time with so many people present. Once again, a lot of Lorient residents took the trouble both on land and at sea to accompany the boat. I wish to thank them all warmly, together with Norbert Métairie, Mayor of Lorient, for his hospitality and involvement.
We have also appreciated the visit and the support of Valérie Pécresse, the Minister of Research and Higher Education.
Today the challenge is huge for us because Tara Oceans’ scientific programme is very ambitious. It is up to us to meet expectations. It is the goal that Eric Karsenti and I have set into achieving.
- How is the beginning of the mission?
So far, the weather conditions have been very good. The team encountered some difficulties for sending data and communications, but overall everything went well. All the scientific instrumentation works. Om the average they make three oceanographic stations by leg, as expected.
And we shall take on board in Nice, a very important element: a 250 kg high technology rosette.
- Why so many harbour calls?
It is an opportunity for us to go and meet all of these countries. Beyond science, Tara is also a promotion of awareness tool. The environment is a global problem but not necessarily a priority in the countries we cross, seen the economic or political context.
- Do you accept the comparison with other scientific expeditions of the past centuries?
Of course! Under no circumstances do we want to overcome and erase history.
- What is it so special about this expedition?
Our international expedition is extraordinary in its length and its multidisciplinary approach. It must also be known that 5 years ago it could not have been possible. At that time the instruments that we took on board were larger, heavier and required more energy to handle. Tara is a legendary boat but also an all purpose boat at seas.
- Does Thalassa accompany you throughout the whole season?
Yes, last year, when we were busy preparing for Tara Oceans, Georges Pernoud came to see us. It is so rare to have this opportunity to highlight the extraordinary work of scientists at a peak time audience. We have that chance. Tara and scientists are among our stars!
- What are your priorities in the short and medium term?
These are the successful implementation of scientific research, the development of protocols, proper operation of equipment and men. Then, succeed in popularising these relatively complex scientific programmes and to explain successfully their importance with respect to the global climatic system. And, of course, get the results from this research. However, it should be understood that science time is not the same as ours.
And finally, least but not last, we must still complete years 2 and 3 of the expedition. I take this opportunity to thank once again the EDF DiversiTerre Foundation, the Veolia Environnement Foundation, the CNRS, the EMBL, the Brittany Region, the BIPE, and of course the agnès b. Fund, for their involvement in the mission, their know-how and competence.
- Everyone raises the question of crossing the Red Sea and the pirates...
Above all else, my one and only priority is the safety of the men and of the boat. We do not wish to make an event of it. We are studying all possibilities with carriers and government officials. I hope that soon we will find out a solution as the pressure mounts. But we must not forget that this area has a real scientific interest, it is one of the most acid areas of our planet.
- Changing the subject, Copenhagen will take place at the end of the year...
Yes, Copenhagen is paramount because it is post-Kyoto (the first international treaty for the battle against climatic change). The Kyoto treaty expires at the end of 2012. The new international agreement should cover the period 2013-2017. I hope that key decisions will be taken by French, European and other world politicians. I hope that the Tara Arctic expedition will have helped into raising awareness and that Tara Oceans will continue to do so. To this end, the scientific results of Tara Damocles will be presented in Brussels by Jean-Claude Gascard, just before Copenhagen.
- Will you participate on board in some legs during Tara Oceans?
Places onboard are on high demand. There remains that of the 15th man, reserved indistinctly for a scientist, an artist, a journalist, or an opinion leader. There are no more priority cabins on board; I lost my berth for this expedition... More seriously, I will try to reach Tara as soon as I can during harbour calls, particularly to see what the situation is with the crews. This will be the case in Barcelona and Nice, for example. Then, as soon as I can, I'll do one leg at sea. I look forward to see the on the spot work of the scientists.
- A note for Internet users...
I give them an appointment on the Tara site once a month to see what the situation is on the expedition and thanks to everyone for following us.