The Canary Returns from the Coal Mine – ITW Romain Troublé

© N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

12 September 2015

Three years after her last visit to London, the French research schooner Tara was back in town as part of a mission to give the Ocean a voice. Following her most recent expedition in Greenland, Tara visited Stockholm and is now in London to share the team’s findings with school children, politicians, and the general public. The stopovers are part of an outreach program in view of the  Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP21) to be held in Paris in December. 

Having worked on issues concerning the oceans for the last few years, I was keen to learn more about Tara, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the boat when it was docked on my doorstep. Tara Expeditions’ secretary general Romain Troublé told me about the organisation’s unique approach and what they hope to achieve in Paris.

Viewing Tara from the footbridge at South Quay in the heart of London’s financial district, it’s immediately clear this is a special boat. The aluminum-hulled schooner is built for extreme conditions. In the last 10 years, this ‘canary in the coal mine’ of the world’s oceans has traversed the globe, covering 300,000 kilometres, producing groundbreaking science and reporting back on the health of our planet’s most vital and under-appreciated resource. For Romain Troublé, the ocean has the power to bind humanity together and provide a common goal as we wrestle with how best to create a healthy and sustainable planet for future generations, because “we are all linked by this body of water across the globe.”

For him, the health of human beings is intrinsically linked to the health of the oceans, and rather than something to be ashamed of, our self-interest could in fact help to save them: “The Ocean gives us a lot of services, on a daily basis. So, we’re not just fighting for the Ocean, we’re fighting for ourselves. Caring about the Ocean is not just caring about fishes, or sea urchins, or corals – it’s about caring for ourselves.”

Romain Troublé is an affable but focused man, a longtime sailor and biologist who appears to love all of the sea’s myriad faces. On the surface, his goal is simple: “to give the Ocean a voice.” His mission is born of a lifetime watching his beloved Ocean remain largely absent at high-level climate meetings. “If you look at the planet you would believe that the size of the Ocean would put this player in every talk at the UN level; but that isn’t the case today. For 21 years, since we’ve been talking about the climate and CO2 emissions, this is not the case.”

Indeed, most people would be surprised to learn that an area covering 75% of the planet’s surface could be ignored for so long. Romain Troublé is only half joking when he answers his own question, “Why?” “Because, there aren’t any voters in the Ocean.” But he goes on to discuss the familiar collective delusion that has characterised so much environmental abuse over the centuries: “People believed that it was so big, so huge, so deep, that it could cope with anything we put inside, and any development we make on the land will have no effect on the ocean. But what we’ve seen over the last 10 years is that we have a really big impact on the Ocean.”

But it is here that Romain Troublé’s vision of the Ocean as unifier and Tara’s unique approach offer some hope. Tara will continue to travel the world’s oceans, gathering vital scientific data, inspiring beautiful artwork and building a compelling narrative around the importance of this resource; but it is on her return from sea that the true value of her work is apparent. When I visited, the boat was bustling with groups of school children, as enraptured by the photos of plankton as by the boat itself. And it is through this vital outreach – to school children, politicians and the public – that the real impact of Tara’s scientific research is realised. Romain Troublé says “we need storytelling and also we need to touch people who don’t care about the planet. We need to speak to kids, because they’re the ones who will deal with our planet in the future. They’re going to be in charge in 20 or 30 years from now. We need to inspire them with a long-term vision of the Ocean, and our planet.”

This is the vision that Romain Troublé and Tara will take to the COP21 in Paris as they push to get for the Ocean the recognition it so clearly deserves at the world’s most important meeting on climate change.

Interview by Josh Stride

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