Interview : Romain Troublé about Tara Mediterranean expedition


5 May 2014

Romain Troublé: “The Tara Mediterranean expedition will be rich in scientific research, and rich in encounters with the public and local associations.”

On the occasion of the schooner’s first stopover – in Port-Cros (France) – Romain Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions, discusses the objectives of our current mission: a 16,000 km circumnavigation of the Mediterranean Sea.

For her tenth expedition, Tara is sailing in the Mediterranean, a place dear to the French. What is the goal of this expedition?

The challenge is to continue the research on plastic that we started in 2011, during the Tara Oceans expedition. The current expedition will be devoted to issues of plastics pollution in the Mediterranean. For the Tara team, the coming months will also be an opportunity to educate the public – to explain where the plastic comes from, and how it winds up in the sea.

Why address this issue ?

For quite some time, scientists involved in our expeditions have observed the presence of plastics in oceans all over the world. Plastic is everywhere! The schooner traversed the famous Pacific gyre so often in the news: the so-called “plastic continent.” We thought it would be interesting to devote an expedition to this important subject. We want to contribute to scientific research efforts – in the western basin, as well as in the little-studied eastern basin.

The problem of plastic pollution affects everyone. All countries bordering the Mediterranean are concerned, and all have an impact. Plastic found along the coasts of France is not necessarily French plastic. The Mediterranean Sea is a real mix of currents: plastics originating in Morocco arrive on the French coast, French plastics are found in Italy, and so on.

Research conducted by scientists aboard Tara will focus on the interaction of plastic with our food chain, and especially with the first link in that chain – plankton. For 4 years, scientists working with Tara have been studying plankton. We will continue to focus on plankton and its interaction with plastic.

In what ways is this expedition innovative ?

The problem of plastic affects everyone on a daily basis. Plastic is what we throw in the trash bin every day – waste products of what we consume. It represents our relationship to consumer society.

This year, Tara will be close to home. The boat will be sailing around our very own Mediterranean Sea where many of us swam when we were kids.

Because the Mediterranean is a closed sea, it provides an especially important example. In the coming years, if we can manage human impact on the Mediterranean, we will be able to better manage the global ocean. The Mediterranean is under strong anthropogenic pressures: increasing population, maritime traffic, tourism, fishing…

This expedition will allow us to draw attention to serious issues, such as the importance of sanitation systems, and educating people about sorting and recycling waste.

It’s often said that the Mediterranean Sea is dying; yet some scientists say it’s never been so productive, that many large predators and cetaceans are still present. The Tara Mediterranean expedition is our way of contributing knowledge towards a better understanding of the current state of this sea.

Tara is not only about science, but also about education, and increasing public awareness.

People are showing a real interest in the subject. They wish to learn more about the consequences of pollution: Does plastic enter the food chain, and end up on our plates? Do the molecules from plastics have an impact on the reproduction of marine organisms? Are there other impacts?

Tara’s many stopovers will provide an opportunity to invite people aboard to discuss this question: Why do plastic bags that are scattered inadvertently in nature, wind up their journey at sea?

We want to show that action is possible. Yes, the sea is dirty, but we must stop adding plastic to the mess. This is an achievable goal and it ‘s not utopic.  We speak of feasible actions: educate people, develop appropriate equipment, support research to invent truly biodegradable plastics (not bio-based or bio-fragmentable), but plastics that can be digested by plankton, bacteria or enzymes. Certain companies are beginning to address these issues and have good ideas. They should be encouraged — to offset the influence of petrochemical companies and their lobbies.

The last word

This expedition will be very dense, taking into account the pace of scientific research at sea, but also the many stopovers. Tara is now known and recognized by the public. People are eager to come aboard and explore the boat at ports-of-call. We believe this is a great project, rich in scientific research, rich in encounters with the public, associations, and volunteers who offer their time and energy to manage marine areas – people who are committed to sharing their passion for a cause: the Mediterranean and the sea in general.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot