Etienne Bourgois: “SERIOUS WORK IS BEGINNING NOW IN THE ARCTIC”

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5 July 2013

This is the first interview with Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions since the launch of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition.

- Naturally it’s too soon to talk about assessments, but how was the first month and a half for the expedition?

The whole team is very satisfied with this first stage of the expedition. The experience acquired during Tara Oceans 2009-2012 paid off because everything came together as planned, including some new protocols. The scientific equipment is working well as are the automatic and continuous sampling instruments, thanks to the involvement of the CNRS engineer Marc Picheral.

The choice of sampling stations by the team Tara and the laboratories on land (a total of 9 stations so far) has been optimal because the weather conditions were favorable. The weather has been very calm during these past weeks. We were able to do an important station at the centre of a plankton bloom*.

But make no mistake, serious work in the Arctic will be starting now.

- What are your concerns for the coming months?

The schedule is tight. Having been to the Arctic several times, I know that nothing is ever certain in the polar environment. Everything will depend on the weather and the state of the ice. What matters most to me is the safety of the men and women aboard Tara, and also the safety of the boat. But we have experts on board, including Russian scientist Sergey Pisarev who participated in the previous Tara Arctic expedition and will contribute his enormous expertise. The current captain, Samuel Audrain spent 9 months aboard Tara during the ice drift in 2007 – 2008. Samuel is an excellent sailor who has been on other polar expeditions. It’s very motivating for the team to have him as captain since he has held all the posts on Tara before taking command.

- What is the present state of the Arctic ice?

It’s exciting to follow the daily evolution of the ice on the site. What’s indicated on the maps is not necessarily the reality on the terrain, and it is not always easy to calibrate between the real situation and the maps received on board.

During Tara’s stopover in Murmansk (Russia) last week, they had record temperatures of 30° C. But the melting of Arctic sea ice is actually a week later than last year. All this can and will change very quickly. We can make bets but it is still too early.

What is also interesting this year is the IPCC’s publication of the first part of a new report just as we cross the Northwest Passage. This report will update the forecasts of melting ice and we will be there to observe it.

- What are your hopes for this expedition?

What we’re doing and will do scientifically in this part of the world is truly innovative and will contribute to the knowledge of the ocean at a crucial time! The Arctic is a direct indicator of climate change on our planet. It registers changes much more rapidly than elsewhere, and all of us are concerned – Arctic inhabitants as well as the world’s population.

- You signed a partnership with UNESCO last week. What meaning does this have?

This is the result of our work with the United Nations since the Rio+20 conference and with informal collaborations that we’ve carried on for some time with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. We are proud that Tara carries the UNESCO banner.

Education, science and culture are at the heart of our two institutions and for me, it’s a partnership that has real meaning.

- Tara Expeditions launched the Paris Appeal for the High Seas in April. Can you tell us something about it?

As an avid sailor, of course I cherish freedom. But freedom should not lead to excesses on the High Seas. We need to defend a status for the High Seas and this is the reason for the Paris Appeal. As citizens people can send messages to our leaders and change political choices. Signing this Appeal is a simple and easy gesture to try to save the ocean. Everyone is affected by the ocean, because the Earth is a single ecosystem.

These issues must be discussed at the UN by the end of 2014 and not be postponed indefinitely. We are currently mobilizing to bring together at the UN those countries that share our view.

Read and sign the Appeal on www.highseascall.org

* Area of ​​high concentration of planktonic microorganisms.