Tara generation

©

1 March 2010

Tara has a mission: Sensitizing youngsters to the environmental concerns of our century, and explaining to them what exactly it is that Tara’s scientific team is doing and striving to achieve in the marine environment. Throughout the expedition, all in all, 150 classes will have paid a visit to Tara.

“Excuse me madam, how many days of food can you stock in the boat?” “Do you drink unsalted sea water?”, “What will you do if pirates attack you?”… On Tara’s deck, between winches and inflatable life boats, 12 year old students from the sophomore class of the French international high school Georges Pompidou in Dubai are staring at us with wide open eyes.
Here and there, small digital cameras are busy capturing everything they can, “to feed our website”, explains Jean Paul Berger, their natural science teacher. This is the second visit we’ve had this morning, after a group of students from the Massignon High School in Abu Dhabi.
 
This time though, the visit is a bit different: Instead of Tara coming to the students, it was their teacher who came to Tara, whose journey he’d been following over the internet, and thus anticipated her arrival. ” I printed out every possible document, just to make sure I’d have every paper the administrations could require, and that was well before the ship even left, no one even knew about it yet”, he proudly explains. Children, trying to see all they can despite the lack of space, are sneaking into every little nook and cranny : on the lower deck and its wet lab, in the wheelhouse where the captain is steering the ship, in the hold in the middle of the deck, storeroom, cabins… “It’s very cluttered, there’s not enough space” says 12 year old Raya, surprised.
 
Showing true pedagogical skills, Defne Arslan, a doctoral biology student newly embarked onboard Tara, explains that “plankton are the second lung of our planet”. Daniel Cron, second mechanic, tells another group what purpose serve the pennons, flags and pennants decorating the stays of the ship. The rosette and our techniques to fill Niskin bottles with water sampled at various depths arouse curiosity and many questions: “What if this little technological marvel were to fall in the water and sink?”, inquires another student? Mathilde Ménard explains that all necessary precautions are taken, but that it would be a disaster for our current research, which essentially revolves around this 300,000 euros device.

Raya’s eyes light up when Defne explains that Tara’s investigations have already led to the discovery of plankton species which had remained unsuspected until then: “Discovering new species is fascinating, I thought we were already familiar with all living beings”. That’s not even the case on land, let alone underwater. This is the field Tara chose to try and make science leap forward; so that future generations, the generation of students climbing on board with us today, will maintain and carry on the conservation work which needs to be done.

Jérôme Bastion