Etienne Bourgois and Eric Karsenti have decided to modify the route of the Tara Oceans Expedition’s third year.


13 April 2011

The schooner Tara departed from Lorient on September 5, 2009 and has already travelled 40,000 nautical miles, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, through the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

This decision was made by the expedition’s two co-directors because of the present crisis taking place in Japan. Originally Tara was supposed to spend four and a half months in Asia, in particular in the Sea of Japan and surrounding regions. Tokyo was even considered a vital stopover.

At present there is an on-site risk, even if it is difficult to evaluate precisely right now. But for Tara, the decision had to be made rapidly since official requests to sample in territorial waters must be submitted one year in advance.

On a global scale, it appears very difficult to evaluate the environmental consequences of this unprecedented catastrophe. It is possible that the dispersion of radioactive products will have an important impact in the Pacific Ocean.

This decision occurs in an economic context that has become less favourable.

Consequently, Etienne Bourgois (President of Tara Foundation) and Eric Karsenti (Research Director at CNRS, and Senior Scientist at EMBL), in agreement with scientific coordinators of the expedition, have decided to modify the Tara Oceans route.

In the coming months, Tara will continue her voyage towards Papeete as planned, sailing to the Galapagos, the Gambier Island coral reefs, and the Marquesas Islands. After Tahiti, the boat will head for Hawaii, traversing the North Pacific “plastic continent”, and will stop over in San Diego (California). She will then pass through the Panama Canal at Christmas and cross the Atlantic, with a planned arrival at Lorient in March 2012. This means an additional 20,000 miles for the schooner, and another 100 scientific stations planned in the program.

The on-land analysis of the first 100 stations began a year ago. The scientific consortium is starting to get results and many articles are being prepared for publication. The Oceans consortium will naturally continue to analyse data and samples as they arrive at the laboratories.
Tara Oceans has now entered its second phase: harvesting the results of a colossal world sampling.

When Tara returns to Lorient in March 2012, tens of thousands of microorganisms and extensive coral samples will have been collected and analyzed successfully in all the world’s oceans since September 2009. This global sampling will enable a better understanding of the structure of oceanic ecosystems, the evolution of organisms within these ecosystems, and their capacity to adapt to major environmental changes. Our global sampling will be a reference point for future generations.

The upcoming agenda for Tara Oceans:

On June 28, Tara Oceans scientists will present the expedition’s annual scientific report to the press.

And in just one year –  March, 2012 –  rendez-vous with Tara in Lorient!

An Interview with Etienne Bourgois, Director of Tara Oceans and President of Tara Expeditions.                          

You have just made an important decision. How was this decision taken?

Tara has already covered about 40,000 miles. The scientists have done a hundred excellent sampling stations, and it’s not over!

However, Japan has just suffered a major catastrophe. The nuclear situation is not under control. We must therefore modify our itinerary, which included a stopover in Tokyo next year.

Not many people know this, but authorizations to take samples in the seas of countries we visit are requested about a year in advance and are very difficult to obtain. This is especially true in this part of Asia.

But getting back to Japan, we don’t know how the situation will evolve in the coming months.
agnès b as well as our patron foundations Veolia, EDF, Albert II de Monaco and World Courier would be very happy to see Tara navigate in this region of the world. agnès b is very well-established there, and 1500 employees were awaiting the boat — a sign of hope for the future.
Unfortunately, the potential impact of the Japanese catastrophe on the business activity of our main sponsor is important, and a significant decline in local revenue is foreseen.
When a storm is forecast, one adjusts the sails. As good sailors, we have decided to prepare ourselves for this difficult period, but I remain confident.

This decision to modify the route was made in agreement with scientists of Tara Oceans, and our partners whose support is extremely important. Finally, Tara will return only 6 months earlier than planned from what we thought would be a 3-year mission.

The new route chosen by the scientists still represents major interests, including the little-studied Papeete-Hawaii transect, and the “plastic continent” in the Pacific. Samplings in the Gulf of Mexico will be made, and we will also stay longer in the United States.

Of course we will keep the same technical resources and manpower on board and on land until our return to Lorient.

What are the projects for 2012?

First, the boat will return  to Lorient in March of 2012. And then the rest of the year will be very full: There will be an enormous workload for scientists in the laboratories, and we will also have our outreach mission to fulfill. We have a project for a documentary film covering the entire expedition; exhibitions, educational activities with students, etc. And we are already contemplating future expeditions for Tara.

But to return to the present, I want to warmly thank all the people involved in this project — the laboratories, institutions, partners, crew members and scientists who are empowering the boat and this avant-garde program. Their work is magnificent. It will continue for another year on board, and for many years to come, after Tara returns to port. This adventure has only just begun.