A new age of discovery

A new age of discovery

The large-scale expeditions Tara Arctic (2006-2008) and Tara Oceans (2009-2012) were received with great acclaim by the scientific community.

In the science world, data collection is only the tip of the iceberg. Before a scientific article can be written the data is subjected to a long period of analysis, comparison and supplementary research. Much time is required between starting the research and finally making the findings « official » by publishing them. According to Éric Karsenti, research director at the CNRS (France’s National Centre for Research) and at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), this can take several years even for projects with a limited data collection phase. However for such large-scale projects as the Tara expeditions « operations take place on a completely scale », he says.

Tara Oceans gradually unveiling the secrets of plankton

It has been four years since the launch of this last expedition, involving the CNRS, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission and the EMBL, and already eight scientific articles have been published. This gives an idea of the huge amount of knowledge that it will be possible to draw from Tara Oceans. One of these articles, for example, reveals the relationship between certain viruses and other planktonic organisms. Éric Karsenti is particularly pleased with this work: « It’s the first publication to show how data from the Tara can be employed to explain interactions between different organisms. One of the aspects we were really keen to understand was what interacts with what in the ocean. » These initial results are exciting and concern just one of the many fields of research covered by the Tara Oceans project. Moreover this particular study only focused on seventeen of the samples collected during the expedition. In all, Tara Oceans brought back some 28,000 samples, which provides an indication of the wealth of findings to come. Other publications released in recent months include the explanation of a new method for analysing bacterial diversity in samples and the description of a new species of coral discovered in the Gambier Islands (Pacific Ocean). There is still an enormous amount of data analysis to be done, which explains why such articles have so far been limited to a few highly-specific topics. The sequencing of all of the samples alone is expected to take two to three years. « We are currently working on a publication on global and local diversity in eukaryotes*, how they differ from one region to another » says Éric Karsenti. « Another study due to be published comprises a global catalogue of bacterial genes ».

For the time being though people will have to settle for the preliminary results. Thanks to the Tara Oceans expedition there are now thought to be over a million species of protists**, whereas previous estimates considered there to be around 100,000. Sequencing performed on protist samples from twenty-eight of the 153 sampling stations revealed that eight-five per cent of them had previously unknown DNA sequences. In addition to the studies carried out by the Tara Oceans project teams, a whole host of further research may be started in coming years. One such project called Oceanomics*** is already underway. This project consists of structuring the thousands of samples and data collected during the Tara Oceans expedition to understand the nature and functioning of world the wide planktonic biodiversity and eventually extract certain bioactive planktonic compounds that show promise for, for example, biofuels and pharmaceutical applications.

The first data sets will be made available online to the scientific community by the end of the year. Éric Karsenti says: « It is without doubt the most signif icant achievement of an expedition like this. It is similar to a library where researchers the world over will be able to work on the Tara Oceans samples, and who knows what might be the result. »

Tara Arctic improving understanding for better forecasting

The Tara Arctic Drift of 2006 to 2008 has already led to the publication of over two dozen scientific publications. A substantial quantity of information has already been analysed, according to Jean-Claude Gascard, research director at the CNRS who was in charge of the scientific programme for Tara Arctic and of the DAMOCLES research programme: « The data collected during the expedition will serve as a reference on an Arctic system undergoing profound transformation and I wouldn’t be surprised if people are still publishing works based on this data ten years from now. » The first major result to come out of Tara Arctic concerned the drift process itself and this has led to several publications. The expedition was originally planned to take a thousand days, as the Fram had done over a century before. However the Tara completed the drift in just 500 days, demonstrating the increase in Arctic ice drift speed. Following this initial major finding, several works were published on the interactions of the three Arctic system components: ice, atmosphere and ocean. « The Tara has helped to highlight the formation of ice crystals, called Frazil ice, which rise to the surface », explains Jean-Claude Gascard. « The existence of this phenomenon in Antarctica was already well known, but we managed to show that it is a major phenomenon in the formation of Arctic ice too ». As regards atmosphere, research conducted aboard the polar schooner has helped to achieve a better definition of the lower Arctic atmosphere which is in contact with the ice and which is essential to air-ice interactions. « We had very little information on these lower levels which are difficult to study with satellites and automatic stations » Gascard says. « Indeed, the advantage of Tara Arctic is having people on board to operate instruments that we don’t yet know how to automate ». Finally, several publications have investigated ice sheet movements through the application of seismological techniques. All of the findings from the data collected during the Tara Arctic Drift will help achieve a better understanding of the complex Arctic system, and thus improve forecasting models. These it systems simulate the behaviour of the atmosphere, oceans and ice to provide short-term scenarios, ice charts and weather forecasts, as well as more long-term simulations which are crucial to research on climate change. Within the next few years conclusions drawn from Tara Arctic, in addition to other research, will be integrated into the various digital models to improve forecasting capacity. We are therefore already on track towards the first concrete applications of research conducted aboard the Tara.

Yann Chavance

Read this article on Tara’s 10 years journal

* : Single-celled or multicellular organisms that are characterized by the presence
of a nucleus.
** : Unicellular organisms with nuclei that are the ancestors of all forms of life.
Certain types are photosynthetic, such as diatoms.
*** : The Oceanomics project – wOrld oCEAN biOresources, biotechnology,
and earth-systeM servICeS – won the French government’s ‘Investments

During Tara’s stay in Paris – meetings, debates and film projections on: the Ocean, Major Challenge for the Future

In recent years, Tara Expeditions has been invited to national and international policy meetings concerning the ocean, for example“Le Grenelle de la Mer” in France, or the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development organized by the UN.

Tara is currently participating in many forums and networks to promote solutions and marine policies needed to ensure a future for our blue planet. Aiming to bring   together as  many interested parties as possible, we are proposing a series of  debates, meetings, and film projections on these specific issues.


”Climate change, geopolitics and management of the Arctic high seas” - January 22 at 18:30

“The oceans to protect : carte blanche for the wind festival” With the wind festival, Sea Shepard, Sea Orbiter – January 30 at 18:30

“The potential of bio marine ressources in a sustainable sea economy”


- January 17 at 18:30
 “Mountains of Silence” (attended   by Daniel Buffard, president of the Mountains of Silence Association   and Catherine Chabaud) by  Luc Marescot. 52 minutes. 2005, A group of deaf people accompanied by sailors and mountain  climbers on a forty-day expedition, following in the footsteps of  legendary Sir Ernest Shackleton, legendary character in the conquest of the poles, who in 1914, saved his crew from death. Led by the sailor  Catherine Chabaud and mountain guide Paul Pellecuer, the group of deaf people set sail aboard Tara from the Falkland Islands  to South Georgia, then hike and ski from King Haakoon Bay on the west coast to Stromness on the east coast. Beyond courage and endurance, the film highlights an  intimate human adventure: non-deaf  people  entering the  world of the deaf by learning to communicate in sign language.

- January 24 at 18:30 “The last dream of Sir Peter Blake” by Frank Mazoyer 52 minutes. Sir Peter Blake, legendary sailor killed in the Amazon, dreamed of going to  the Arctic, the realm of the  polar bear, threatened by global warming. As a tribute to their captain, former teammates decided to accomplish  his last dream by embarking on the legendary polar schooner Tara for a unique expedition.

- February 2 at 18:30 “Man on Land” (attended by the director Ariane Michel). 95minutes. At the edge of a frozen sea, a boat approaches land. Strange human silhouettes appear. Ice, stones and animals of Greenland witness from their   unchanging world, the passage of scientists who have  come for a  summer to study them.


Free events.

Location: The main exhibition “Tara Expeditions: Discovery of a New World: the Ocean.” Right bank, Pont Alexandre III, Port des Champs Elysées.

Subway lines 1 and 13, Champs-Elysées/Clémenceau / RER line C, Invalides / Bus lines: 72, 83 and 93

Exhibition information on French website: taraparis2012.blogspot.fr

Contact for meetings/debates and reservations: André Abreu, andre@taraexpeditions.org

Contact for film projections: Myriam Thomas, event@taraexpeditions.org

Press Contact: Eloïse Fontaine, eloise@taraexpeditions.org

Scientific program of Tara Oceans

Plankton (viruses, bacteria, protists and small metazoans such as copepods, jellies and fish larvae) is ubiquitous in oceans, from polar to equatorial seas, from deep sea to surface layers, and from coastal to open oceans.

Having a detailed knowledge of this oceanic life system is essential for the following reasons:

·  Plankton biodiversity provides the base of the oceanic food web

·  Plankton is key to the survival of larger fish, sea mammals and billions of humans
·  Photosynthetic plankton produced the oxygen that allowed the emergence of mammals on earth

·  Photosynthetic plankton produce about 50% of the oxygen we breathe each day

·  It is also the major biological carbon trap of our planet

·  Planktonic organisms, in particular photosynthetic ones, play a key role in climate regulation by determining the concentrations of greenhouse gases and cloud-forming molecules in the atmosphere

·  Terrestrial life forms evolved from these organisms and some of them may teach us why we have a bilateral symmetry, how our eyes and brain evolved, and much more

·  Biomolecules from plankton have largely untapped biomedical potential

And yet … we know almost nothing about these ecosystems …

The impacts of plankton on life on earth are so broad that they are highly important for global human security.
Therefore, both from an ecological and evolutionary point of view, it is absolutely essential to get a better knowledge of plankton ecosystems, to know what their communities look like, and how the various organisms interact with each other and their physico-chemical environment. 

Characterizing functional diversity and complexity of organisms and species distributions will also allow assessment of how this relates to robustness of the whole ecosystem, or to shifts from one state to the next, and the nature of discontinuities between states.

Such knowledge will help to better understand the quantitative role played by plankton ecosystems in planetary CO2 and O2 recycling and will also lead to a better understanding of planktonic species evolution.

What makes the TARA OCEANS project absolutely unique in the field of ocean biology is that the scientific consortium that has structured the sampling strategy is the same that is organizing the sample and data analysis in an integrated way. This is an interdisciplinary project that gathers all the expertise required to carry out both the oceanographic sampling and on-land analysis.

Although the expedition itself will last about 3 years (from September 2009 until the end of 2012), the actual TARA OCEANS project may extend over 10-20 years of research.

The samples and data gathered aboard TARA during the expedition have three broad objectives:

·  To collect samples in order to quantify plankton communities, covering the complete spectra from viruses to larvae, correlated with environmental parameters in view of establishing a quantitative description of pelagic ecosystem states in most ocean basins of the world

·  To collect data on poorly explored coral reef ecosystems

·  To collect a range of exotic benthic species related to well studied experimental organisms that can be considered living fossils, to better understand our origins.

The samples and data will be analyzed on land and organized in a coherent database that is being developed while the expedition is ongoing.

The worldwide significance of the data will emerge from molecular biology and microscopic imaging correlated with oceanographic data analyses, followed by the building of models making use of modern computer simulation and bioinformatics tools that are currently in use in the laboratories of the consortium members.

The expected output of this work is the following:

·  A time zero low resolution map of ecosystem structures and biogeography of organisms ranging from viruses to fish larvae

·  The discovery of a large number of new organisms in each size class
·  A good estimation of oceanic biodiversity and of its geographical distribution for small organisms

·  The development of new dynamic models estimating the worldwide distribution of planktonic organisms in terms of total mass and species complexity

·  Potential predictive models of the evolution of such distributions with changing climate
·  Fundamental new discoveries concerning the early evolution of organisms that led to the emergence of terrestrial organisms

·  New data about the diversity of coral reef species, the state of poorly sampled coral reefs, and potential causes of bleaching events.

Beyond the sheer value of such information in terms of basic knowledge, the project will generate an invaluable source of data to improve global warming models and predictions about the spatial distribution of larger organism populations in the oceans such as commercial fish species. 

Check the temperature and salinity in live 

Consortium’s website


It will take a lot of work during and after the expedition to interpret and understand the information contained in the collected data.

From a purely scientific point of view, this approach should allow us to establish how ecosystems of “small” organisms in the world’s oceans are structured. We will learn which viruses, bacteria, protists and small metazoan organisms live together in given marine environments. Since the ocean is an open system, one could think that all organisms are everywhere. Obviously this is not the case because when a given organism migrates into an unfavorable environment, it dies.

Our approach should tell us a lot about the mechanisms of evolution. In particular, the classical idea of survival of the fittest could be examined. For instance, how viruses and their hosts co-evolve under different physico-chemical pressure is unknown. The Tara Oceans expedition will provide a unique opportunity to better understand such questions.

We clearly need complex modeling, based on bioinformatics analyses of DNA and RNA sequences obtained from organisms collected during the voyage, combined to morphological analyses of these same organisms. We will also study populations and communities dynamics in relation to their physico-chemical environments. Thus, we will learn much about how ecosystems change and adapt in response to climate change. Since they are at the base of the oceanic food chain, we may be able to predict how marine ecosystems will affect the climate by producing more or less oxygen and absorbing more or less CO2.


Given the proposed sequencing effort, this study will provide the most complete census of oceanic protists ever undertaken. Protists constitute the largest biodiversity gap in eukaryotes. Protists are also known – especially from the fossil record – to react rapidly to global climate change. Many populations of marine protists have extreme turnover rates and build complex nano- and micro- (in)organic skeletal structures which generate some of the largest fluxes of biological material on earth. Their impact on global geochemical cycles and climate is extremely important. Very little is known about the way protists will react to increasing levels of CO2. We will investigate how changes in protist communities and biodiversity will affect primary productivity and carbon flux.

For the first time, these basic questions will be addressed at the level of the entire protistan community, establishing solid foundations for future research in this underexplored field critical for predicting the co-evolution of climate and biota. Furthermore, the hundreds of thousands of marine protists still to be discovered represent a phenomenal repertoire of unknown genes, metabolic pathways, and nanomaterial. Protists have large genomes often much larger than the human genome. This genetic biodiversity predates and exceeds the relatively smaller gene repertoire of plants and animals. Recent sequencing of oceanic metagenomes has revealed a huge unsuspected diversity of microbial species and genes of prokaryotes and viruses. Eukaryotes have not yet been included in these analyses despite their closer relationship to us.

But the most important out come for the future is that this will open the possibility to build models integrating the evolution of pelagic ecosystems with environmental changes.

Eric Karsenti


The Tara Oceans Expedition left the Lorient on September 5, 2009, after a year of intense technical and scientific preparation by the scientific consortium OCEANS and the Tara Expedition team. 
Tara Oceans, which began 9 months ago, aims to study marine plankton ecosystems (key elements of the biosphere governing our planet’s equilibrium), from viruses to fish larvae, including certain coral ecosystems which have undergone little or no previous examination. To achieve this goal, the ship is now undertaking a circumnavigation of the 2 hemispheres.

The selection of this study is based on the following reasons:

1- Marine microorganisms have not been sufficiently studied, and are important markers of the state of the oceans and the climate. They are also at the base of the food chain and could be the source of innovative medicine.

2- The study will contribute to the census of biodiversity and key-species biogeography in structuring the present plankton ecosystem. The objective is to establish a time-zero reference point for future biodiversity studies in view of climate and environmental changes now taking place.

3- The composition of numerous plankton and coral ecosystems is not well known. Without a geographic inventory, which needs to be compiled in the shortest possible time span, it is difficult to establish a global vision of their modification and evolution. 

4- Studies up to now have always been ‘parceled’ (i.e. certain species are studied in specific areas, often disconnected from physico-chemical parameters, and never encompassing the totality of organisms in a given biotope, from viruses to fish larvae of all oceans).

5- Worldwide studies which correlate environmental parameters with the composition of living organisms in a water column are rare. 

We would like to propose a new way of doing oceanography, one which is systemic and integrative, and which allows precise modeling of the ecosystems and their evolution. 

To advance the knowledge of these major problems and attain the objectives we have set, the international and interdisciplinary consortium “OCEANS” was established. This consortium comprises a hundred scientists, among whom are 20 coordinators who have all of the complementary expertise ranging from physico-chemical oceanography to plankton biology, and including genomics, microbiology, modeling, ecology and bioinformatics. 

What is unique about this expedition:

1- The project’s goal is the SAME for all of the involved scientists and it can only be accomplished by the WHOLE consortium.

2- The scientists set up a common project in record time, based on the use of the sailboat Tara for a period of 3 years.

3- The techniques and technologies employed are very recent. In other words, this expedition could not have been conceived even 5 years ago.

4- The boat has been modified and equipped specifically to realize the goals, which the scientists have made.

5- These are the same scientists who coordinate the sampling and data acquisition at sea, and analyze the data on land.

6- The combination of large-scale data from different perspectives (genetic and imaging) will define a new information repository and create new fields of research.

It should be stressed that Tara Oceans is an expedition which is not in competition but is complementary to the research carried out by the large oceanographic institutes. 
It is the fruit of a public and private collaboration. 

What can be summed up after 9 months of expedition?

1- All of the conceived protocols have been implemented and validated since leaving port: from onboard physico-chemical data to their analysis on land. This validation was accomplished after only 2 months of the expedition. 

2- Instrumentation on board is being successfully used by NASA to calibrate satellite data from the American space agency.

3- Planktonic ecosystem related sampling has been achieved at 56 different sites throughout the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. (These covered a large variety of ecosystems: anoxic, more-or-less-rich in nutritive salts, coastal areas, offshore, and especial physical structures like the gyre at Cyprus)

4- The experiment employing gliders (underwater robots) to study a gyre south of Cyprus was a big success.

5- Tara’s shallow draught allows closer positioning to coral reefs. 28 dives were made at the coral site near Djibouti. (This site had not been studied for 18 years.) 17 dives at Saint Brandon (at a coral atoll never sampled before in the Indian Ocean north of Maurice Island). 20 more dives are planned on the coral reef at Mayotte where Tara is presently located. 


Even if it is too early to speak of real, complete scientific results, one can already say that the expedition is a success:

1- The plankton samples acquired by a variety of sampling systems are rarely employed during multi-disciplinary campaigns and the physico-chemical and bio-optical data (some obtained from new instruments) are of very high quality and exploitable. It is a methodological feat to achieve so much sampling and analysis on Tara.

2- The quantification, using automated microscopes, of organisms from viruses to fish larvae has already begun and has been completed for certain sampling locations.

3- A large number of bacterial viruses has been discovered.

4- Different protist communities, associated with diverse physico-chemical conditions, have already been identified. 

5- Substantial molecular sequencing of organisms ranging in size from a couple of microns to a millimetre has commenced at Genoscope and is functioning. The first estimations show that one can effectively characterize global biodiversity from the sampled stations using this new method. Comparing the newly acquired sequences with those already present in the global databases confirms that we only “know” a very small fraction. The functional analyses of these genes show that more than 90% are not known. 

6- Sampling of the coral reefs was a total success and the analysis of the samples has just begun.

7- A “missing link” in metazoan evolution, a species of Amphioxus with eyes and a primitive brain was discovered.

The creation of a scientific network extending beyond the 3 years expedition is also equally vital. We have established scientific links with institutes, laboratories and scientists in all of the stopover countries. The local specialists are part of the scientific community who are analyzing the oceanic and biological data.This data will be available to the whole scientific community.


The expedition continues… in the lab!

All for one and one for all! That famous motto could well apply to the researchers involved in the Tara Oceans Expedition. Every one a specialist in their field, the researchers analyse the data and the samples in a common endeavour to understand how marine ecosystems work. And in one sense the expedition is already a success because it has brought together experts from different fields around a very special scientific adventure.

At the Marine Biological Station of Roscoff one of the expedition’s scientific coordinators, Colomban de Vargas, can barely conceal his enthusiasm: “Nobody has ever seen the ocean like that”. The ocean? Colomban means, of course, the protista that live in it. Relatives of the plants and the animals, protista are composed of one single cell similar to our own cells. However these are “multi-tasking”cells because just one is required for nourishing, reproducing and defending the organism. Researchers from Roscoff have developed an automatic process to highlight the key parts of the protista. It has to be an automatic process because of the sheer volume of matter to be studied.

Blue highlights the DNA of the nucleus, red the chlorophyll and green the cell wall. The resulting photos are extraordinary. One looks like a Mexican sombrero, another a flying saucer, yet another a green alien with spiky hair! “It’s a feast for the eyes,” says Sébastien Colin, the researcher responsible for developing the technique as part of a research contract with the company Veolia. Without the Tara Oceans Expedition, these “extraterrestrial” images would never have been seen.

Without the Tara Oceans Expedition, Sébastien would never have been able to pass these planktonic protista under Rainer Pepperkok’s confocal laser scanning microscope at the imaging department of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. These ultra-modern microscopes are usually used to look into the cells of land animals rather than the cornucopia of protista collected by the Tara. Even the German engineers were flabbergasted by the images produced by the microscope. “This is the first time these high-speed imaging techniques, which were developed to look at biomedical meterial, have been used in an oceanographical context. Generalizing their use in the field of ecology would allow us to make huge advances!” says Colomban.

Not only great to look at, these images are particularly useful for visualizing new species and their internal structures. If the trend is confirmed by forthcoming results, more than 85% of the DNA sequences found in the protista samples will be new to science. Their identification requires the cooperation of numerous experts.

These new names and enthralling images will be associated with genetic sequences and researchers around the world can hardly contain their impatience. Francesca Benzoni, coordinator of the coral reefs team, says, “Today, research requires an integrated approach involving molecular techniques, imagery, biology and taxonomy. It is a veritable multi-disciplinary effort. And that’s the Tara spirit!”

At the Genoscope (Evry, France) scientists are working hard, and have learnt a lot too. Indeed, before the Tara Oceans Expedition this French sequencing laboratory was more familiar with decoding single genomes, such as those of humans, animals, plants or the bacteria that inhabit our intestines, than this melting pot of bacteria, viruses,
protista and other organisms collected from a natural environment as complex as the ocean!

The aim of the project is not to detail the genome of every individual organism but to study the population of genes found in each sample. It’s a real challenge! Especially as the Tara Oceans Expedition “is one of the largest meta-genomonic projects in the world,” to quote Patrick Wincker, project leader at the Genoscope. The machines have been calibrated and the method has been peer-reviewed, so full-scale sequencing operations can now start. Patrick estimates that sequencing the samples will take three years.

Hiro Ogata and Pascal Hingamp, two giant virus experts based in Marseilles, were the first to study the genetic data. They were excited by what they saw. “Viruses could play a central role in creating links between parasites and in symbiosis. These links have often been crucial to the evolutionary process and could explain life-creating phases. Chloroplasts and mitochondrions are ancient examples of symbiosis,” says Pascal.

Researcher Jeroen Raes hopes the genetic sequences will reveal the general rules that govern the composition of plankton systems. Based in Brussels, Jeroen intends to adapt a statistical method he developed for studying microbes found in our intestines. His method showed that, despite the great diversity in human populations, just three
main types of bacterial ecosystem inhabit our intestines. Could the oceans be just as simple? At least one thing is sure: we haven’t heard the last of the Tara Oceans Expedition!

Gaëlle Lahoreau


The Genoscope opens its doors: Plankton DNA and RNA are decoded in this laboratory which makes an essential contribution to Tara Oceans Expedition.

Twenty-five machines are quietly purring in the warm light of the Indian summer. Lab assistants are bustling around a cardboard box which is giving off a fog of cold vapour. They slowly extract some frozen, transparent packages… This is the start of a normal working day at the Genoscope, France’s centre for genome sequencing in the town of Evry situated about thirty kilometres from Paris.

It is to here, in a large building with the sign of Genoscope, that the schooner Tara sends her samples of marine micro-organisms every six weeks. Tireless in their work, the researchers attempt to decode the DNA and RNA of all this unknown genetic material which may one day revolutionize the world of science, medicine and industry.

The Genoscope has certainly come a long way since 1997 when it was set up to take part in the major international project to sequence the human genome. By 2003 the team had completed its work on the eighty-seven million “letters”of human chromosome 14.
 The work of “sequencing” entails dissecting each chromosome into millions of little bits to determine the order in which its basic molecules (represented by the letters A, T, G, C) are connected, and then reassembling them in the right order.

Since then, the team working at the Genoscope has been involved in all the major sequencing programmes. “We set ourselves the task of inventorying the microbial flora of sol, river water and the digestive tract,” explains Jean Weissenbach, recipient of a CNRS gold medal and director of the sequencing centre.

Today the Genoscope is working on another huge project, thanks to Tara Oceans Expedition. The first samples arrived a year ago, in the autumn of 2009, and the first sequences were completed by the spring of 2010. In practice, a sample comprises a test tube of unicellular (and maybe some multicellular) organisms held on a filter steeped in a liquid designed to preserve their DNA and RNA. Sampling was carried out at two depths and for each of these the organisms were sorted into five groups depending on their size. Since then, in the space of a year, over 100 sampling operations have been carried out which means that the freezers at the Genoscope are home to no less than 1,000 samples! And that figure does not include the samples which will be sent to Evry in the coming two years… in all 2,000 more test tubes!

“For the moment, we have only carried out a pilot study on one sampling operation,” says Olivier Jaillon, researcher at the Genoscope. “However in 2011 we will be increasing the scope of our involvement. It’ll be a major challenge for us to achieve every stage of the operation because the journey from the ship to the sequencer is full of risks. Another major challenge will be the bioinformatics of the project because sequencing produces enormous quantities of data. There is no way that we can sift manually through this mass of DNA and RNA “letters”, which is why we use computers. Special software has been designed to decode this mysterious sequence and recognize certain elements of the chain, such as proteins. The volume of data to be studied will increase significantly from 2011 onward. “We will soon be generating in just one day the same amount of data that the world’s data banks recorded in the whole of last year!” exclaims Olivier.

“If we want to carry out an in-depth study, we’re going to have to choose a few sampling operations which are representative of the whole,” warns Jean Weissenbach. “We will then be in a position to compare that data with other known material, identify the proteins which have already been recorded and discover new ones. What we’re really doing is inventorying the micro-organisms which inhabit the marine environment and their biological purpose. We have to ask ourselves, what are these species capable of? What do they do and what effect do they have on their environment?

But as yet we have no idea as to what we will be able to extract from all this material,” concludes Jean. In the meantime a large number of samples collected by Tara team will have to wait their turn to be studied; but there is no hurry, safe in the Genoscope’s freezers the samples will stay fresh for years. And before then some new technology may be available to scrutinize in record time the organisms they contain, some of which may well have disappeared from the oceans in the interim…

Sylvie Rouat, journalist for the French magazine Sciences et Avenir

Some useful words:

Genetics: the branch of science which deals with heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics in living organisms.

Genome: all the genetic material of a living organism.

DNA–Deoxyribonucleic acid: molecule upon which hereditary genetic information is carried.

RNA–Ribonucleic acid: nucleic acid which serves a similar purpose to DNA. Messenger RNA is a single-strand molecule which serves as a vector between DNA and ribosomes. Ribosomes bind and transfer mRNA to synthesize proteins. Proteins are one of the most important of all molecules and are present in all types of living organisms and viruses. They ensure the cell can carry out its basic functions (structure, purpose).



From November 3, 2012 to February 3, 2013, the schooner Tara will be in Paris at the Port des Champs Elysées, on the right bank, Pont Alexandre III.
On the quay, an exhibit open to the public – TARA EXPEDITIONS, DISCOVERY OF A NEW WORLD: THE OCEAN will trace for the first time the different missions of Tara Expeditions. The exhibit will include the results of her Arctic expedition, put into perspective with current discoveries in this region. There will also be information on the recent Tara Oceans expedition devoted to the study of marine plankton and its role in the global climate machine.

Housed in shipping containers, the exhibit will give the public an opportunity to understand the evolution of the Ocean in the context of current and future climate change, and the Ocean’s essential role in life on our planet.

The public will be welcomed everyday aboard with tours conducted by the Tara team.

On saturdays, fun workshops for kids will happen between 2pm and 5pm.

Throughout these 3 months in Paris, nearly 130 schools and recreation centers in Paris and the region will be invited to discover the new exhibit, visit the schooner with crew members, and take part in scientific workshops. Participants will experience the highlights of a real scientific expedition and learn about current environmental issues.

The arrival of the schooner will also be an opportunity to bring together scientists, environmental organizations, and European policymakers & media through formal meetings, debates and films projections


At the same time:

–Presentation of the book Tara Oceans, Chronicles of a Scientific Expedition, published by Actes Sud (on October 17) 


How to get there:
Subway lines 1 and 13 to Champs Elysées-Clémenceau / RER line C to Invalides / Bus lines 72, 83 and 93


Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday from 11am to 18:30 
Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 18:30 
Closed on Tuesdays  

SPECIAL CLOSING January 18 until 2pm and 25 January until 2pm and 27 January until 2pm
Tickets: 6€ (2€ for 8-12 year olds; free for children under 8)

Continue your visit at the nearby Palais de la Découverte (Reduced entry price upon presentation of a Tara exhibit ticket. Reciprocal advantage upon presentation of a Palais de la Découverte ticket at the Tara exhibit)

Site: www.taraexpeditions.org
Junior Site: http://www.tarajunior.org/clubtarajunior/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tara.expeditions
Twitter: http://twitter.com/TaraExpeditions

Exhibition partners:

agnès b., City of Paris, Waterways of France, Région Ile de France, ADEME, EDF Foundation, Palais de la Découverte-Universciences, Metro Publications, Agence France Presse

Tara partners:

agnès b, CNRS, CEA, EMBL, Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Fondation Veolia Environnement, Fondation EDF, Lorient Agglomeration, United Nations Environment  Programme, IUCN, UNESCO-IOC

Media contact: Eloise Fontaine, eloise@taraexpeditions.org
Contact for school tours & educational activities: Xavier Bougeard, education@taraexpeditions.org

From Le Havre to Paris, an unusual trip

The adventure began in Le Havre alongside an obscure commercial quay. To get to Paris via the Seine and its bridges, we had to take down Tara’s masts: not a small undertaking.

First, we began by dismantling all of the fittings and rigging. Then the booms were lowered onto the deck and the spans (“maroquins”) were dismantled. These are the two cables that connect Tara’s two mastheads. Hanging in a harness up at 27 meters, it takes a bit of unselfish concern to loosen the turnbuckle with 2 oversized wrenches. Using two hydraulic jacks, we raised a mast by 1 mm to remove shims that maintain the compression and tension of the rigging. The only thing left to do was disconnect all the guys so that the crane could lift the mast. This was an awesome moment when everyone had to know exactly what to do in order to avoid damaging the equipment. While part of the crew worked on the masts, others construct wooden structures on the deck where the dismounted masts were placed.

Friday at 2am: our strange journey began with the crossing of the Quinette lock and a harsh reunion with the ocean – wind at 35 knots and a choppy sea. Some rocking swells confirmed the solidity of our constructions before we entered the access channel to the Seine.With the tide rising, we went up the Seine to Rouen at an average speed of 9 knots. Here we finally left the ocean world for the realm of the river: after a few bridges, we were passing cargo barges. Two days of bucolic navigation between cows and locks brought us to the capital. Since last Sunday at 3pm, Tara has been docked in the heart of Paris. Wednesday we put up the masts, and curious people gather around, wanting to know what this strange boat is doing here.

After the Statue of Liberty in New York in February and Tower Bridge in London a month ago, we are now at the foot of the Eiffel Tower! A very special stopover before heading back to sea.

By Tara’s captain, Loïc Vallette


Interview with Chris Bowler, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans expedition

Our stopover in London continues. This afternoon the team of Taranautes was expected at the Maritime Museum for a screening of the first in the series of 4 documentaries made during the Tara Oceans Expedition: “The Secret World”.

Chris Bowler, researcher at the ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure) in Paris, specializing in diatoms, spent the day answering questions from the public. I decided to ask him some questions too.

Laëtitia Maltese: Chris, what are diatoms?

Chris Bowler: Diatoms are phytoplankton. Because of their relatively “large” size and weight, they play a significant role in the functioning of the oceans’ carbon pump, and therefore in climate balance – first through photosynthesis, and then when they die by “transporting” the carbon trapped in their cells to the ocean depths. They are also a vital link in the food chain since they’re the favorite food of copepods, the dominant species of zooplankton.

LM: How long did you spend on board and what was your job?

CB: I spent a total of 6 weeks, on 3 separate legs: Dubrovnik–Athens, Monte Puerto–Valparaiso, Bermuda–Azores. This last leg was particularly interesting because we were far away from the continental influence, and at the junction of waters from very different zones. Stations were defined in advance, based on satellite maps. As chief scientist, I had to decide the most appropriate zone to study.

In the oceans, waters are sometimes “separated”, vertically and horizontally. They are characterized by (among other things) different temperatures, salinity and density, and they don’t mix. Our goal is to compare the plankton of these different water masses. This analysis of biodiversity allows us to understand the relationship between the physico-chemical parameters and plankton. We can then make the connection between the natural phenomena of circulation and climate change.

LMWhat are the first results of the expedition?

CB: Before Tara Oceans, there was little data on a planetary scale. Thanks to the expedition, we’re finding that diatoms are abundant in various oceans of the world, and there’s a great diversity of species. The first DNA analyses allow us to quantify: We thought there were 5,000 species of diatoms, but with the data from Tara, it looks like there are around 30,000 species! The results should be published in 2013.

Before the Tara expedition we were studying diatoms from cultures grown in our laboratory over several years. Now we can check a number of hypotheses using the wild diatoms collected in the samples of Tara Oceans. The samples we collected are so numerous (27,000) that 6 months after the expedition, taking into account all the laboratories, we’ve analyzed barely 1%. I’m convinced that the results of the expedition will serve as a reference in years to come, by the sheer mass of information provided.

LM: How did Tara change your life as a researcher?

CB: I have a better understanding of the issues of my research at the global level, a much more comprehensive vision, an openness to the world.

LM: In what way do you think Tara missions are essential today?

CB: With today’s advances, cutting-edge technologies can be easily miniaturized for use aboard ships of Tara’s size. So, at a lower cost, studies can be carried out on a large scale, accelerating collection of data and therefore scientific advances. The difficulty in oceanographic research is logistics, and the real problem is that we realize our ignorance of ocean life! Many doors are opening with this unique and exciting project.

After this exchange with Chris, I think of the story he told at the Maritime Museum about the epic explorers like Columbus and Vasco de Gama. And I go away reassured by the idea that mankind still has so much to discover! As for Chris, he will participate in the event “Science Museum Lates”, September 26th at 19.30, on the theme of climate change.


Laëtitia Maltese



After Dublin and before Paris, the French scientific research vessel Tara arrived in London on September 17th for a ten-day stay. The schooner has just completed a two-and-a-half year, 70,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic, Pacific, Antarctic and Indian Oceans, investigating marine ecosystems and biodiversity under the impact of climate change.

Formerly Sir Peter Blake’s “Seamaster”, since 2003, Tara belongs to  agnès b and Etienne Bourgois, COO of agnès b. Tara is on course to alert  the public to the fast upheavals in the oceans due to global warming  and organize scientific expeditions.

Scientists aboard Tara, mainly supported by the CNRS, EMBL, CEA*, the Veolia Foundation and EDF Foundation, have been exploring the role played by plankton in the earth’s life support system, and observing the effects of climate change on this critical base to the marine food chain.

Artists and journalists have also participated in the Tara Oceans expedition, helping to promote public awareness about the serious threats facing the world’s oceans. 21 laboratories in 10 countries are collaborating on the mission, and their research findings are being published immediately on free-access databases. It could take up to 10 years to analyse all the samples and complex data collected during the expedition. This work will eventually provide the first complete overview of the world’s plankton ecosystem.

Researchers from Tara Oceans shared their message about cherishing and protecting the world’s oceans at United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the recent Rio + 20 summit, where United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon heralded the work of Tara Oceans: “Earlier this year, I had the chance to board the Tara. The team was really inspiring. They shared so much information with me about oceans and climate change. I am really grateful that they are raising awareness around the world … and I am very proud that the United Nations is supporting them.

In May 2013 Tara will head north for a new scientific expedition, crossing through the Arctic Ocean by the northwest and northeast passages.

French fashion designer agnès b. is the main sponsor of Tara  Expeditions. Deeply concerned by the ecological threats facing our  planet, she has funded the schooner as a platform for state-of-the-art  scientific research: “Since 2003, I have been personally committed to  this project which at the beginning may have seemed totally utopic. In  fact it has turned out to be a remarkable story. Above all our program  helps advance knowledge. Thanks to Tara’s adventures, we are succeeding  in raising young people’s awareness about the environment.”


Tuesday, September 18th at 9am

Aboard Tara – St Katharine’s Docks, 50 St Katherine’s Way, London E1 1LA.

In the presence of Etienne Bourgois, president of Tara Expeditions & Chris Bowler, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans.

Researchers and crew will be available for interviews aboard Tara until 5 pm.

A series of events are planned in London to raise awareness about the work of the Tara Expeditions Foundation :

- Exhibition and screenings at the agnès b. covent garden shop – 35-36 Floral Street London- from September 4th to 27th Tara Oceans, The Secret World screening at the Maritime museum : September 20th at 12am (free. rsvp marc@taraexpeditions.org)

- Public visits : September 22nd – 23rd from 10am to 12am and then from 1pm30 to 5pm

St Katharine, SKD Marina Ltd, 50 St. Katharine Way, London, E1W 1LA

- School visits : September 24th – 25th (contact marc@taraexpeditions.org)

- Climate Change evening at the Science Museum – September 26th (free)

3 talks by Chris Bowler, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans from 7pm20 to 9pm30.


Tara Expeditions Marc Domingos – marc@taraexpeditions.org and Eloïse Fontaine – eloise@taraexpeditions.org ; agnès b. Emma Brunn – press@agnesbuk.co.uk

* French National Center for Scientific Research, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission and The European Molecular Biology Laboratory

First scientific results from Tara Oceans

After two-and-a-half years of study in all the oceans of the world, the Tara Oceans expedition will reveal some preliminary results this fall.

Data includes the identification of marine species and their genomes, with an initial surprise provided by the “census of species of protists, primitive organisms which are single cells with nuclei,” says Chris Bowler, one of the principal scientific coordinators of the mission and Director of Research (CNRS) at the Institute of Biology, Ecole Normale Superieure.

“Formerly there were estimated to be about 80,000 species of protists on the planet. The Tara Oceans expedition has identified at first glance about 1,500,000!” Other publications – concerning the impact of the environment on biodiversity and the effects of ocean circulation on ecosystems – are planned for 2013.

At a total cost of 10 million euros, the Tara Oceans mission will get funding from the program “Investments for the Future”. 20 French laboratories responsible for our data analysis will receive 7 million euros over the next 8 years.

“We will now be able to measure the impact of climate change on planktonic ecosystems at the very base of the food chain,” says Chris Bowler. “We plan to establish mathematical models concerning their evolution in function of environmental factors, to anticipate their potential degradation.” By 2014, an oceanographic database called “Biobank” will be created. It includes all the organisms identified by the expedition, thus providing a useful source of study for researchers.

Interview in the magazine, La Recherche, July 2012


Emmanuel Reynaud, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans and specialist in imagery, welcomed two weeks ago the schooner Tara and her crew in Dublin, the city where he lives. On the occasion of the major European festival called “Dublin 2012 City of Science,” many events took place for an enthusiastic public. Impressions of this stopover:

Tara’s silhouette appears on the horizon behind a red cargo ship awaiting authorization to enter the bay, with the Kish lighthouse in the distance. I left the boat in Lorient at the beginning of April after my last leg between the Açores and A Coruña. Here she is, recently renovated and sailing into my home port, Dún Laoghaire in the southern part of Dublin Bay, previously called Kingstown. The whole crew is out on deck to greet us, and we salute them from the military battery with the Irish flag and a burst of sunshine.

As soon as Tara (Teamhrach in Irish) comes to dock, a rainstorm joins in the welcome celebration. All this was short but intense, including the welcome at the Maritime Museum and the sailors’ chapel, where the crew had a good Irish coffee and sang an Edith Piaf song. Then Eric Karsenti arrived directly from his boat docked in Lisbon, to speak at the ESOF (European Science Open Forum) about Tara Oceans, and bravely met 300 children for a ‘porridge-conference’.

Afterwards 450 people flocked to the wharf despite the uncertain weather to visit the boat.

Even the Irish television came to greet Tara, as well as the Youth Council of Dún Laoghaire, and the young competitors of ISAF.

Everyone was delighted with Tara’s first visit to this harbor, and the accompanying images of plankton of the world, displayed on 40 panels set up along the 1,6 km of the port’s east jetty.

The Irish premier of the new film “Planet Ocean” was presented to a full house in the presence of the co-director Michael Pitiot, whom I had not seen for almost two years. Even Patrick Poivre d’Arvor experienced the charm of Irish waters with a morning dip in the bay – water temperature 12 degrees!!

It was a pleasure to see everyone and spend some time together in Ireland. Tara departed in the rain, torrents of tears as she sailed away, carrying a message from the youth of Dún Laoghaire to Brest, their twin city. Come back soon!

Epilogue: As part of the Imagine Festival of Scientific Films in Dublin in 2012, “Invisible”, the short film made by Evin O’Neill and myself about plankton and its role, won first prize. We will fly to New York in late November to present the film at the Imagine Festival New York 2012.

Emmanuel Reynaud

Eric Karsenti fascinates scientists at the ESOF in Dublin

Eric Karsenti fascinates scientists at the ESOF in Dublin

Yesterday morning in Dublin, Eric Karsenti co-director of Tara Oceans, presented the first results of the two-and-a-half year expedition around the world, to an audience of scientists from all over Europe. Less than 4 months after Tara’s return to Lorient, several publications are planned for the next 6 months.  After his one-hour conference, Eric Karsenti received an ovation from his peers.

Vincent Hilaire: Eric, you’ve given many talks in different places around the world to present the Tara Oceans project. You just gave a talk today for scientists gathered at the European Science Open Forum (ESOF).  What are your thoughts about this conference?  

Eric Karsenti:
I gave the talk for about 200 scientists and many journalists. This was one of the first times I presented concrete scientific results from the Tara Oceans Expedition. The very first presentation took place not long ago at the Ecole Normale in Paris.
In general, scientists are amazed, and many people now want to use the same methods, especially our  sampling protocol and analysis. Just today for example, a researcher from Dublin asked if he could  use these methods. He wants to organize exchanges with Tara Oceans.

Vincent Hilaire: Since Tara’s return to Lorient in March, what have the researchers been doing in their respective laboratories?

Eric Karsenti: In all the laboratories of the Tara Oceans consortium researchers are working hard. Tara Oceans scientific coordinators are examining the thousands of samples we managed to collect. 4 articles are being written for forthcoming publication in scientific journals. We are currently recruiting postdoctoral researchers.  We’ve also created a specialized website at EMBL, the lab where I work in Germany, so that Tara Oceans scientific coordinators can share their results and give progress reports on their work.
We’ve also completed financing the “Great Loan” attributed a few months ago by the former team at the French Ministry of Research.
Vincent Hilaire: How long will it take to publish the first 4 articles you just mentioned?

Eric Karsenti: 6 months to one year. One article will cover the Mediterranean sampling stations. A second paper will discuss the biodiversity of 35 different stations. A third will be cover the gyrus –  giant viruses. A fourth article will about phages – the viruses on bacteria.

Vincent Hilaire: Do you still think it will take about 10 years to analyze all the samples?

Eric Karsenti: Yes, about 10 years.

Interview by Vincent Hilaire

The best focus of the Tara Oceans expedition

This week, we invite you to rediscover the best Tara Oceans focus, from June 2009 to May 2012.

Happy reading!


Tara live:

April 2012
After an expedition lasting two and a half years, Tara is back in Lorient. This latest voyage to study marine life has consolidated the ship’s reputation in the world of science and adventure. The schooner continues to sail in the wake of the great oceanographic vessels. Etienne Bourgois, president of Tara Expeditions, and Romain Troublé have their sights fixed firmly on the future.

February 2012 
Due to its spherical form, the earth receives more solar radiation in the tropical zones than in the temperate and sub-polar zones. This situation in the long term results in intense warming at the inter-tropical zones and glaciation in the higher latitudes. Fortunately for life on earth, winds and marine currents distribute this warmth over the entire planet. Oceanic surface and deep circulations transport excess and deficit heat from one region to another.

A historic day for Tara Expeditions. After a press conference Thursday at the United Nations where Eric Karsenti, scientific director, presented Tara Oceans Expedition, today Tara experienced a landmark event. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, headquartered in New York, came aboard Tara early Saturday afternoon.

December 2011 
On the 10th anniversary of Sir Peter Blake’s death (December 6, 2001), Tara Expeditions asked several personalities to express their feelings about this dedicated sailor. All through December you will find many testimonials. The series starts with Peter’s wife, Lady Pippa Blake. Then Don Robertson, friend and crew member with Team New Zealand and Seamaster (Tara’s former name). Alistair Moore, who was trained by Sir Peter Blake during the Blake Expeditions, will also give us his impressions.

September 2011
After sailing along the coast of Chile, out to Easter Island and through the Galapagos Islands, the Tara spent two months in French Polynesia. The exceptional biodiversity of the French overseas department made the stay worth every minute!

F.Aurat/Tara Expeditions

F.Aurat/Tara Expeditions

April 2011 

February 2011 
Navigating together through the channels of Patagonia aboard Tara, Etienne Bourgois and Eric Karsenti, the two co-directors of Tara Oceans take stock of the expedition.

September 2010 
Our voyage may look surprising when you follow us day by day: sometimes we sail towards the west, other times to the north. Sometimes we seem hesitant and turn around a zone. Our meandering on the ocean’s surface is determined by the search for certain oceanographic structures, and the best decisions for navigation, especially navigation using our sails. For this Captain Olivier Marien and I consult with each other several times a day to make decisions combining scientific needs, weather & sailing conditions, and the obligation of advancing towards the island of Ascension, our next port of call.

Etienne Bourgois, co-director of Tara Oceans, takes a look at the future of our expedition. How will this second year be organized? For him, “Without a doubt, this is the beginning of a new voyage, different, but at the same time very similar.” This second year represents the starting point of a completely new expedition.

Aout 2010 
One thing Dr. Chris Bowler (Expedition Scientific Coordinator and CNRS Director of Research in Biology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure) asserts without any scientific doubt: ‘the star’ of the expedition’s second year will be the study of upwelling off the coast of Peru in the Pacific Ocean.

June 2010 
The Tara Oceans Expedition left the Lorient on September 5, 2009, after a year of intense technical and scientific preparation by the scientific consortium OCEANS and the Tara Expedition crew.

Glider (planeur sous-marin) aux îles Marquises, juillet 2011. Sibylle d'Orgeval / Tara Expeditions

Sibylle d’Orgeval / Tara Expeditions

Avril 2010 
No sooner had she dropped anchor in the bay of Mumbai (Bombay) that Tara received on board the Indian professor Balakhrish Naïr, who has made fundamental discoveries on the marine origin of the disease, cholera. This is his interview with Chris Bowler, one of the principal scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans.

September 2009 
On 5 September 2009, at noon, the Tara boat has departed from Lorient for a three-year expedition on all the world’s oceans.

June 2009 
A token by Michel Franco, engineer-designer of Antarctica in 1988.



April 2012 
Launched in September 2009, the schooner’s seventh expedition (Tara Oceans) hasbeen a two and a half year voyage around the world, with fifty stopovers. Itspurpose has been to investigate planktonic and coral ecosystemsin the perspective of climate changes. One hundred international scientists have taken part. The initialresultsof the expedition have exceeded expectations. But it willtake many yearsfor the data to be analysed and the results published.


C.Sardet/CNRS/Tara Oceans

February 2012
The OCEANOMICS program will give us an opportunity to find applications for Tara Oceans’ discoveries in various domains of research and development aimed at the global ecology of the planet. At the “Salon d’Agriculture” today, Minister of Research M. Laurent Wauquiez, and Minister of Agriculture, M. Bruno LeMaire announced the results of their call for “Biotechnology and Bioresource” projects. OCEANOMICS is one of 8 research projects selected during this 2nd round, and the only one not in the field of agronomy.

November 2011 

September 2011 

Février 2010 
They comprise one of the living world’s five great natural divisions and yet they are the least well known. What are they called? Protista, from the Greek protos, meaning ‘first’.


Environmental issues:

January 2012 
Motors off, sails down, Tara begins a long station in the Gulf of Mexico. In the middle of nowhere? Not really. We’re close to the spot where almost 2 years ago, one of the most serious ecological catastrophes involving oil occurred: the explosion of Deepwater Horizon. At first glance, no trace of the oil drilling platform, nor the millions of liters of spilled ‘black gold’. But our scientific team wonders whether marine micro-organisms still carry evidence of the catastrophe. While we wait for analysis of our samples, let’s look back on what happened here.

October 2010 
IUCN scientists were part of a recent expedition, Tara Oceans, to investigate coral bleaching on the reefs of Mayotte, an island that lies to the north west of Madagascar. The team found that bleaching here, which was first reported in March this year, is the worst seen in the Indian Ocean.

Récifs coraliens à Mayotte.

M.Oriot/Fonds Tara



May 2012
Four artists choose a work that encapsulates ctheir time aboard the Tara during the Tara Oceans Expedition and explain the story behind it.

Interview with Michael Pitiot, director and writer of the series of four documentary films, TARA OCEANS, THE SECRET WORLD .


The Taraddiction, a social phenomenon?

“Taraddiction is an addiction to Tara! A rather unknown pathology, but we sailors are the first to feel the effects!

This can be explained by saying that we’re passionate about taking part in such an adventure, and it’s true! But beyond this aspect, any of us can tell you that every time, we feel something powerful inside us, almost “physical” when leaving or re-uniting with the “whale.” It’s a sensation generally triggered by the appearance or disappearance of the two orange-topped masts of the schooner, emerging between palm trees, buildings or containers at a port lost in some corner of the world…

It is also quite moving to see a male or female scientist leaving Tara, after sometimes only two short weeks, with a heavy heart and tears in their eyes, and they tell us a year later that they’ve thought about it every day … But then again, addiction makes perfect sense when you’ve been away too long from HER, because it ends up becoming a real need, which has to be fulfilled!

Hence it’s difficult to explain this to “earth dwellers” who have an a priori view from afar! Yet in their way, they frequently show that they are not exempt from certain addictive side effects…

To give an example, you only had to be present at Lorient on March 31st, on the return of Tara Oceans amongst the dozens of boats accompanying us and the hundreds of people on the docks, waiting to glimpse the schooner after 2 and a half years of absence…and above all, the surprising silence of the crowd as the ship glided through the last meters separating it from the dock! Especially impressive and poignant — I remember the tears welling up in my eyes. After talking with a few people, I understood the simple reason for the silence: emotion!

Another thing that often occurs to people after visiting the “whale”: “There’s a certain aura,” they say… There’s no doubt about it, and it’s not a figment of the imagination, Tara exudes a fascination! Even on dry dock, a day does not go by without curious people passing through the area who stop to chat, or to pose proudly in front of Tara for a photo… And we continue working, pretending not to notice their doings.

Finally, there is a separate category of people, who are totally hooked on the “Taraddiction”: the real freaks, junkies, those (like us) for whom Tara becomes part of their daily lives! I think of all those teachers who invested their time and allowed many students to follow the adventure by focusing all or most of their courses on topics of science, sustainable development, environmental protection… Some have done great things: giant maps of the journey, board games on sustainable development, outings for plankton observations, films….
I also think about many other people like this family from Lorient: at each departure and return of Tara, they deploy a large banner inscribed with “Thank you Tara, we love you, Bravo!”.

And Jean Paul, on the day Tara returned, who launched an impressive model after working on it for three years!
 Or Maryvonne, a Lorient faithful who has followed the boat for years, and never misses an opportunity to take a picture. Meeting by chance, we first saw her on the morning when the “whale” was lifted onto dry dock and she was running around in all directions with her grandson Mathis, photographing everything she could. I was surprised to see her there, but it wasn’t a coincidence. She was waiting for this occasion. (I learned later that she has a whole network of friends that enabled her to know the “D” day!) Then a few hours later, passing by her car, I met her again and she showed me her trunk, filled with treasures, photos of Tara. I realized then that Maryvonne has a real passion for Tara after seeing all the photos she had taken over the years. Impressive Maryvonne! And there are others that could be mentioned…

We are often told “thank you”, but we should thank YOU for success in instilling such dynamism in the Tara universe — discovering and sharing your passions! It’s really heartwarming to see all these people on land investing in such projects, while at the same time we’re trying to do our very best on board somewhere in the ocean. We feel supported! Tara certainly leads scientific expeditions related to the environment, but remains above all a beautiful and wonderful human adventure, made up of encounters on board and on land! Tara has always been a big family, and it shows!

To all you Tara fans who are (like us) living a passion, this log is a homage to you. THANK YOU!

Daniel Cron, sailor


Every time the Tara makes landfall Rainer Friedrich, project coordinator at World Courier, has to organize the complex logistical operation of transferring the samples collected at sea to European and American laboratories. His role is essential. Interview.

What is the best way to transport samples? 

The best way to ensure the success of such a demanding enterprise is to have at your disposal a dependable network of agencies, and a flow of regularly updated information. A good relationship with airlines and the authorities of the countries where the ship docks is also essential. World Courier enjoys excellent working relations throughout the world.

How much time do you need to prepare for a stopover?

To tell you the truth it all depends on the port. For example, it took us about three months to organize the Djibouti stopover because the laws there are very complicated. For most ports preparation requires one or two months.

To which ports has the Tara expedition taken you? 

I’ve been to Barcelona, Nice, Dubrovnik, Djibouti, Male, Mayotte, Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, Guayaquil, Papeete, San Diego, New York City and Lorient.

What was the most difficult stopover? 

Without doubt it was Djibouti and Male where we had to maintain the internal temperature of our “VIP containers” at a specific level in extremely hot weather. On the whole, the coordination of the expedition is exhausting and requires a lot of time for each stopover. If we didn’t have the documents obtained by Romain Troublé, director of operations for the expedition, our work would be much more difficult (for example, he obtained a very useful document from the French authorities). I am very grateful to Romain for doing the groundwork and giving me all these documents at the start of the expedition.

What is your best memory, and your worst? 

My best memory must be Mayotte. The Tara couldn’t alongside a dock because the rates set by the Comoran/French authorities were prohibitively high at 4,000 euros a day. So I hired a barge and unloaded the samples in the middle of the lagoon! It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, and much easier than I had expected. Cape Town was also a magical moment. The Tara was moored alongside the V & A Waterfront and we had a magnificent view of Table Mountain. The site, and the efficient World Courier team based in Cape Town, made sure the stopover and our logistics went perfectly! Even the last minute requests (“Sorry, we’ve got another package for you”) didn’t change my positive view of this stopover.

My worst memory was when I got very ill in Djibouti. Luckily Major Schuber, a military doctor in the German Army, was staying in the same hotel as me. He saved my life! Another time we were in Male in the Maldives and didn’t have enough dry ice. The flight on to which I had booked the seawater samples was cancelled and I had very little time in which to book another flight to Europe if the samples were to be preserved in perfect condition.

The stopover in Guayaquil was unforgettable too! The place chosen for unloading the samples was not satisfactory for our logistics so I had to find another reliable port as quickly as possible, and one with a suitable infrastructure for protecting the seawater samples and unloading them in complete safety.

Which were the hottest stopovers? 

Without doubt Djibouti, Male and Mayotte.

Of all the Tara stopovers, which one was your favourite destination? 

That’s easy. It was Bandos Island in the Maldives where I took six hours off, once the job was done, to relax and recharge my batteries! And also Cape Town which is, for me, the most beautiful city in the world…

Once the samples get to Europe, what happens to them? 

All the samples are sent to Frankfurt. There they are unpackaged, inspected, counted again, and repackaged depending on what they contain. Then one of our special trucks delivers them to the participating laboratories in the European towns and cities of Evry, Paris, Roscoff, Barcelona, Banyuls, Marseilles, and Villefranche-sur-mer. We also dispatch them to two destinations in the United States: Tucson in Arizona and West Booth Bay in Maine.

It must be a very stressful job. How do you stay calm and keep smiling?

There’s no magic formula to help you manage a huge logistical challenge like the Tara Oceans Expedition. You need to be thick-skinned, know how to make things happen and make instant decisions. That said, having a beer with the scientists and the crew of the Tara once the job is done is also a great way of relieving stress and putting a smile on my face !

Is this the first time you have been involved in an operation of this kind?

World Courier is involved in many interesting operations, such as transporting samples from space, in particular from the International Space Station (ISS-1). Most of the work in this scientific endeavour involves understanding how the organisms react in space, and the potential impact space can have on them. We also manage the transportation of urine samples collected from cyclists during the Tour de France, for the purposes of drug testing. But for me, in my twenty-four years working for World Courier, I’ve never worked on a project more exciting than the Tara expedition! Tara Oceans is a unique logistical challenge that I well never forget.

I’ll have some great stories to tell my grandchildren !

Back to the starting block

After an amazing arrival in Lorient, then a full week devoted to the visits of school kids aboard Tara, the last few days have been used to make room on the boat.

First the scientists dismantled, stored or took back their equipment, including everything from microscopes in the dry lab to the rosette, pumps, nets and filters of all kinds. Then everyone departed. What an odd feeling to be alone, having spent all those months at sea as a group of 15 people.

We sailors then turned things topsy-turvy inside the ship, completely emptying the front and rear holds with the help of cranes, forklifts and trucks. Almost everything was removed: anchor, generator, diving compressor, deck equipment, etc. The idea was to make room to work comfortably in this next phase. Another strange impression – seeing these wide open spaces inside Tara, when just a short time ago the sailboat was filled to the brim!

As Loïc the captain says, “We’re now in construction mode”, and although there’s a lot of work to do, it’s not necessarily unpleasant to be working together on land, not moving, with a different lifestyle – much more comfortable, able to phone our families easily, eating according to our desires, etc.

Today there was a new step in this always-fascinating spectacle: Tara was lifted out of the water and put into dry dock on the “Keroman” wharf, exactly the same place where the schooner was sitting three years ago when I discovered her for the first time.

For Baptiste, François and myself – involved since the early preparations for the Tara Oceans expedition – there’s a feeling of déjà-vu, a kind of strange “return to the starting block”, especially since we recognize and greet some of the employees of the Timolor Company who had helped us way back then. But in between, three years have gone by, full of wonderful experiences and encounters – three years that went by so fast we hardly saw them go!

Daniel Cron, sailor

Visitors aboard Tara

Since the beginning of this week in Lorient, Tara has welcomed a constant stream of visitors. The whole week was devoted to this – 800 children and young people came aboard the boat – all ages, from pre-schoolers to students of naval architecture, everyone passionately interested in the scientific research schooner.

Certain groups have been preparing their visit for long time. Some have been working on Tara Oceans projects for 3 years and are totally familiar with details of the expedition. Coming aboard the boat is a high-point of their work – finally confronting what they imagined with the real thing. For others, it’s a totally new discovery. Everybody enjoys the visit, and lots of questions are fielded: How many people are aboard? Do you speak English? Are you a sailor or a scientist? What does your work entail?

The visit is organized in two parts. First the young people explore the boat: sampling platform, wheelhouse, main cabin, crew’s quarters, cargo holds, foredeck. Each stage of the visit is an occasion to talk about science, daily life on board, navigation on Tara, the purpose of sampling, and of course, the reasons for the expedition, questions about the environment, climate change, and protection of the oceans.

Afterwards, outside on the pier next to the boat, there’s a discussion with a member of the team– sailor or scientist. This open and informal exchange gives students a chance to ask any questions they wish, to hear an eye-witness account from a ‘Taranaute’, and get scientific information directly from the source.

The weather has been gorgeous since the beginning of the week, and meetings have been taking place in the sun, on the pier of the Cité de la Voile Eric Tabarly. Sometimes people don’t want to leave! Last Tuesday, at the Forum organized by the Rectorat of Rennes, schoolchildren participated in other activities offered by the city of Lorient’s CCSTI (Centre de Culture Scientifique, Technique et Industrielle), the Observatoire du Plankton, and also the “Make the sea the most beautiful place on Earth” workshop set up by the Cité de la Voile in collaboration with Tara. Students presented their work to other students in the auditorium. All in all it was a wonderful time of sharing.

Xavier Bougeard, in charge of Tara Oceans educational programs

Expedition photos to make you dream…

Vincent Hilaire, photo-journalist aboard Tara, and Julien Girardot, photographer-cook during the Tara Oceans expedition, exhibited their photos at the Palais des Congrès in Lorient. Two artists, two styles, two visions, but a common passion: photography, and a unique subject: Tara.

Tell us about your exhibit:

Vincent: “From one pole to the other, the poetry of ice”, displays 40 photographs combining two adventures, one at the North Pole during the Tara Arctic expedition, and the other at the South Pole during Tara Oceans. There are 20 photos each from the Arctic and Antarctic, all in black and white, taken 3 years apart but at the same time of year. What is striking is the contrast between the polar night and the endless daylight at the South Pole.

Julien: “A Unique Marathon” includes 50 photographs taken between Djibouti and Mauritius during the Tara Oceans expedition. It’s a kind of travel book with each image accompanied by a short text. These are color photos that address a variety of topics — science, navigation, life on board, ports-of-call, people we encountered.

What do you want to communicate through these photos?

V: I had the opportunity to travel to these magnificent landscapes of ice, and I wanted to show the special atmosphere there: the beauty of nature and pristine landscapes. At the poles, time stops and every instant you have the impression of living an eternal moment. It’s this feeling that I want to share with the public. At the South Pole, besides the landscapes and Tara, I concentrated on marine mammals, penguins. In contrast, at the North Pole, my pictures reflect the more human and personal adventure, which I experienced for 5 months. When you have the privilege to venture into these lands, it’s your duty to share the sights and experience to inspire others.

J: The adventure aboard Tara is about science, but there’s also communication between the people on board, and at ports-of-call. I wanted to share the wonderful encounters I had, even the briefest ones, like this young merchant in Bombay. I wanted to show emotional moments between people, for example when Abdou — our guide on the Djibouti coral reefs — looked at photos of the Tara Arctic expedition. He’d never seen anything like it before. These are the kinds of touching moments, human and fraternal which I love to photograph and share.

How many photos did you take?

V: Nearly 8000 pictures at each pole.

J: Aboard Tara I take an average of nearly 1000 photos per month, so there should be about 4000.

How did you select your photos?

V: I combined different criteria — aesthetics, poetry, the impression of unity. The link between the two poles is, of course, Tara.

J: To choose my photographs, I took into account the artistic but also the information content.

What is your favorite picture?

V: For the Arctic it’s “The Whale” — Tara resting on the ice, like a shipwrecked vessel at night on a frozen crust. For Antarctica, it’s the iceberg silhouetted against the light in the Antarctic Sound. It’s like a painting.

J: My favorite is the one of soaring birds at Saint Brandon. They encircle Tara at anchor like a wreath, and the scene is bathed in an orange-yellow light. Just an anecdote, but the place is called “Cargados Carajos” which means “crown of birds” in Portuguese. Besides the image itself, this photo reminds me of the magical moment I spent there alone. After taking the shot, I went swimming in this dream scenery.

Where are the next exhibition dates?

V: Nothing definite yet, but the exhibit will certainly travel in France, and hopefully abroad. Following our visit to New York, I’d like the exhibit to be shown there, and I hope my book can be translated into English.

J: From July 10 to August 10, “A Single Marathon” will be displayed outdoors in Roscoff.   Added to the exhibit will be 40 new photographs, which I took while sailing aboard Tara in Polynesia, and during the New York to Lorient leg.

Do you have other personal projects in mind?

V: I want to continue working in black and white, on the theme of humans facing dehumanization — to show what I find shocking in our society. And I also hope to return with my camera to the Moroccan desert, the place where I first understood my desire to transform traveling into adventure.

J: I have a project for a photographic book about the revival of traditional sailing boats in the Polynesian lagoons. The idea was born after my voyage in Polynesia aboard Tara.


Interview by Anna Deniaud 


The adventure continues !

After an expedition lasting two and a half years, Tara is back in Lorient. This latest voyage to study marine life has consolidated the ship’s reputation in the world of science and adventure. The schooner continues to sail in the wake of the great oceanographic vessels.

Etienne Bourgois, president of Tara Expeditions, and Romain Troublé have their sights fixed firmly on the future.

After a marathon expedition like this one, what does the future hold for the Tara?

The ship will remain in Europe this year. She will stay in Lorient for school visits and the Volvo Ocean Race before heading to Dublin and Brest in July and then Paris in the autumn. Then in 2013 we would really like to return to the Arctic Ocean, which we did not study during the Tara Oceans Expedition, and pass through the North-West and North-East passages. We know very little about the biology in that region of the world. It will be an opportunity for us to apply the know-how we have developed over the last two years to the North Pole, a region rarely out of the news.
We shall continue our programme to measure plastic pollution in seawater and devellop new usefull collaborations.

Returning to the pole…

Jean-Claude Gascard, who took part in the Tara Arctic project in collaboration with the European scientific programme DAMOCLES, is once again coordinating an ambitious European programme in the Arctic: ACCESS (2011-2015). Tara Expeditions looks forward to participating as well as collaborating with russian, canadian and quebec scientists experts in this particular field. Scientists think that major changes are taking place in the Arctic and that a fresh assessment of the biodiversity there will be very important for the future.

You are also thinking about doing further coral studies…

We are currently drafting the outline of the expedition which, in 2014, will lead on from the Arctic voyage. The idea is to study the coral reefs biodiversity gradient at the surface but also at greater depths accross the Pacific Ocean. This expedition will take place in the Pacific and South-East Asia, and finish up in Hong Kong.
After that we hope to prepare another Arctic drifting expedition which would start in mid 2015, starting out from the Bering Strait. The expedition would take at least two years…

Polar drifting has been very successful for the Tara…

Between the start of the first Arctic drift in 2006 and the end of the second, almost a decade will have passed. Back then, in 2006–2008, some of the biological programmes had to be abandoned. Since then the Tara has acquired a certain expertise in polar logistics which we are delighted to make available to the scientific community.

Are you looking for greater visibility?

The Tara Oceans was an exceptional expedition, and successful, but the wider public has not yet realized to what point it has surprised scientists. Everybody agrees that the expedition has shown us just how ignorant we are about the oceans. We are working on getting the message across to the public through cinema releases. Tara Oceans will keep going after the expedition.

You have also talked about studying estuaries…

It is not a planned project yet but it is one I hold dear. There are so many large cities next to the sea. Two billion people are involved and the issues are enormous: pollution, global warming, access to drinking water, and desertification. Populations will be under considerable pressure.
We estimate that, by the end of the century, nearly 150 million people will have been displaced because of climate change.
One thing is for sure, Tara Expeditions will be continuing to work for the good of the environment.

Interview by Dino Dimeo

by Eric Karsenti, scientific director of the Tara Oceans expedition

– 10 years to analyse the complex data and samples collected by the expedition. This work should produce the first complete overview of the world’s plankton ecosystem.

– Discoveries applied to research and development into a global ecology (within the framework of the Oceanomics programme).

– Considerable strengthening of the collaborative structure of the OCEANS consortium which comprises all the scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans.

– Greater political impact of our observations, in collaboration with national and international authorities such as the United Nations.

– Stronger ties between Tara Expeditions and science bodies to communicate scientific knowledge about the oceans to the wider public. These bodies include France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).

Expedition memories: Sarah & Marc

Just before our arrival in Lorient, this last chapter of “Expedition Memories” is a tribute to the oceanographic engineers aboard Tara. Tirelessly, and sometimes with very challenging wind and weather conditions, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral, assisted by many other oceanographers during this two-and-a-half year expedition, launched various instruments thousands of times to collect water and microorganisms. Unlike many other members of the Tara team, their best memories are not about specific stopovers.
Sarah Searson, oceanographic engineer: 19 months on board
Your best memory?
- Sarah Searson: “Certainly all the encounters I’ve had, the people I’ve gotten to know. Before embarking aboard Tara, I had visited many countries and met a lot of people. But on this expedition, the different people who came aboard to work, combined with Tara’s visits and stopovers in so many places, gave me an extraordinary window on the world.  And I think it was the same, in reverse, for almost everybody we met. Thanks to our exchanges, Tara gave them another opening on the world, on our world.”
What does Tara mean to you?
-Sarah Searson: “Before embarking aboard Tara, I had worked on about 40 ships, all of them much bigger. Finally, I like Tara more than the others because of her small size. It’s like living in a community – everybody helps out, and not only in their specific field of competence. At the beginning I had doubts about our ability to do high level science aboard Tara, because of the rolling motion of the boat, which is due to her small size. Now I’m really proud of what we accomplished with Marc Picheral. We collected a maximum of what we had originally imagined. Looking back on this success, I’m very proud, and surprised.”
Is there a Tara Oceans spirit?
-Sarah Searson: “Every boat, no matter what kind, has a different spirit, because everyone is living in the same space. In my opinion, there is indeed a ‘Tara Oceans spirit’, because during this expedition many people came aboard several times. It’s great to see people again, gradually get to know them. A community was created in this way. From the beginning to the end of the expedition, on every leg there was always a good feeling of camaraderie.”
Marc Picheral, oceanographic engineer: 10 months on board
Your best memory?
- Marc Picheral: “Sailing downwind with an excellent crew, arriving on the island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic. We were sailing at 10 knots, and it was the very first time during the whole expedition I had the feeling of being on a sailboat. Tara was sailing beautifully. Before that, in the Mediterranean, we had much more wind, around 60 knots, so it wasn’t much fun. Afterwards, between Beirut and Port Saïd, we had more very strong winds. In the Indian Ocean, we were dying of heat, without a breathe of wind. And then finally Eole was with us.”
What does Tara represent for you ?
- Marc Picheral: “For me Tara first represented Antarctica. A legendary boat. I had already done a little sailing aboard Tara, learning how to launch the oceanographic instruments. Tara was a professional challenge for me. At first, like Sarah, I really didn’t believe we had much chance of bringing back samples and high-quality measurements in the context of Tara Oceans. Now, as we return to Lorient, I can say that Tara has proven herself to be a true research vessel. The original legend – an ‘adventure’ sailboat –  has been replaced by the reality – a boat working for science.”
Is there a Tara Oceans spirit? 
- Marc Picheral: “For me Tara is a work place with its limits, which can be transformed into stories of people. Whenever you spend time on a boat, you create bonds. The only difference here is that we spent a lot of time. That’s what makes the difference, and creates these relationships.”
Interviews by Vincent Hilaire

The countdown

Since yesterday, with seventeen people aboard, Tara is heading towards Lorient, the last destination of Tara Oceans. After leaving the Spanish coast early in the night, the schooner is now under sail, and we’ve already traveled a third of the 330 miles of this final stage. All of us are living intensely the final moments of this expedition. Here’s what is going through the minds of the leading coordinators of this project.
What does the end of this expedition mean for you?
- Eric Karsenti, co-director of Tara Oceans: “It is a success in that we managed to do everything we wanted. It is an ending and a beginning as well. The end of the collection and the start of analysis. Now that we have funding, thanks to the French government, as part of the program “Investment for the Future”, we will create a database for the measurements, the images of microorganisms that we have taken at each station, and also for genetic sequencing. This is a large undertaking that we have to conceive and implement. Then comes the second part of the work, making all this material collected during the expedition available to the scientific community.”
- Etienne Bourgois, co-director of Tara Oceans: “Yes, Tara Oceans is just beginning. Everything now is now in the hands of scientists. Regarding more specifically Tara Expeditions, we will continue sharing these adventures with the public and explaining to children what we do. I welcome Tara’s return to Lorient; it’s the end of a long journey. I’m very satisfied with the ‘osmosis’ between Tara’s crew and the scientific team. This has to continue. We will do everything possible to maintain this collaboration with partner laboratories of Tara Oceans. I would also like to congratulate Tara’s crew. After 115,000 km, the boat is in superb shape, and this is a great satisfaction for me.
- Sabrina Speich, physicist, coordinator of Tara Oceans: “Almost all of the 153 stations we did were successful. At the beginning, we had satellite data enabling us to choose sampling sites in different bodies of water, and this developed into a real scientific strategy. We combined several different kinds of measurements: altimeter, surface temperature and chlorophyll. There’s never been an expedition or oceanographic research vessel that’s done this work, in real time, for two-and-a-half years in a row. Now a formidable analytical endeavor begins. The strength of this project is that we brought together oceanographic physicists and biologists. Thanks to this, we were able to conduct a wide-ranging study of the world’s oceans, from biodiversity to genetics. The first part of the work is done, and now the team spirit must continue.”
- Chris Bowler, biologist, coordinator of Tara Oceans: “It wasn’t at all obvious. We had to adjust the functioning of certain things, and everything worked. Today the expedition is ending and I feel vefry tired, even though I look forward to this grand finale and I’m really enjoying our success. I’m also very excited by what comes next. I’m impatient to start focussing on the analysis of all these samples. In addition, the first preliminary results are already leading us to new horizons in understanding planktonic life in the oceans. We have a wealth of information. This imminent arrival is also a little strange. Being onboard without preparing a station, writing log sheets, and labeling tubes, is not the normal procedure. One feels a void.”
- Colomban de Vargas, biologist, coordinator of Tara Oceans: “For me Tara Oceans will remain a story that is both professional and personal. Thanks to this expedition I met my wife and we now have a little Joseph. It’s both a scientific and personal success. I’m also a little apprehensive about the expedition ending. It’s been 3 years of our lives, constantly thinking about Tara and the work. That’s why I fear the end, but we’ll rebound with the follow-up. With Tara Oceans, I realized one of my life’s goals: to know what’s in the oceans, from viruses to small animals. We are going to have some great years of research, a dream fulfilled. I regret that Gaby Gorsky, one of the project originators along with Eric Karsenti and Christian Sardet, is not here. But he’s held up by his duties as director of the Oceanographic Observatory at Villefranche-sur-Mer. If the expedition’s arrival in two days is as fantastic as the departure, this will be something.”
Interviews by Vincent Hilaire

Ahoy!…A Coruña

After a return voyage across the Atlantic accompanied by fair weather, we arrived at the northwestern tip of Spain on Tuesday. It’s the last stop before Lorient. We’re coming to the end of this adventure with a certain nostalgia, but also the satisfaction of an immense distance traveled, and the quality of the work accomplished.
As the sun rose, we knew that a good day was in store. Through the morning mist, we could imagine a coast resembling cliffs. Slowly Tara plowed her way through the calm green water. The smells of seaweed and algae rose up from the waves–for the Britons aboard, a fragrance reminiscent of their homeland. It’s 8 o’clock and already 20°C.
A cone shaped like a bell now appeared in the mist. A couple of miles distant, the outlines of the coast became clearer as we made out the first buildings. In fact, the cone was the lighthouse overlooking “Punta Eiras”, displaying some of its commanding poise.
With the haze now dispersed, some pilot whales came up a few meters from Tara. Placidly rising to the surface to breathe, they then dove under a few seconds later. As for each landing, most of the crew had gathered on deck to enjoy this return to solid ground. Even those who had late night watches and only a few hours of sleep, the excitement was enough to get them out of their berths.
Finally, the breakwater of A Coruña Port came into view. After sending out the dinghy to inquire about possible docking, Loïc Vallette agreed to the stopover fees, and Tara was soon moored starboard side to the dock.
This last step before returning home is just a touch-and-go. We’ll leave La Coruña tomorrow with Etienne Bourgois and Romain Troublé aboard, President and Operations Director of Tara Expeditions, respectively. In addition, Eric Karsenti and many scientific coordinators will be with us on this final voyage. A time of sharing and joy before the big reunion with our home-port in Lorient.
One last thing: since noon, after two-and-a-half years of traveling around the world, we’ve returned to the French time zone – which brings us even closer to you!
Vincent Hilaire

The last station

Saturday, March 24, 2012 was a real milestone. In the Atlantic Ocean, 300 nautical miles from the Spanish coast, the Tara Oceans Expedition ended. This was the 153rd and last station of an extraordinary adventure: Two-and-a-half years of collecting marine organisms in oceans all over the world.
“It’s a real success, the fruit of hard work,” said Eric Karsenti, scientific director of Tara Oceans, visibly elated, even though he’s anxious to know the results of these efforts, i.e. what all these samples will tell us. And it will take lots of patience from the researchers, and at least the same tenacity shown by the two oceanographic engineers, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral, who launched the rosette 674 times during this period.
They constantly took turns on this expedition, crossing oceans and making stopovers, innumerable flights from distant countries, to find their way back onto Tara’s deck. Long-distance maritime runners!
Sarah Searson herself has spent 19 months aboard! Respect! Chief scientist of this leg, and a scientific coordinator of the expedition, Quebecois biologist Stéphane Pesant also says he’s “very, very satisfied” especially with this leg. The idea was to repeat station number 152 in the same body of water, but after the passage of a gale.
The gale occurred, for just the right length of time, and allowed Stéphane’s team to do another sampling of the body of water and its tiny occupants. Before analyzing these new samples, he’s already certain,“There are changes associated with the passing of a wind of 40 knots.”
The types of zooplankton sampled before and after the gale are not the same. It’s clear there was mixing linked with the wind.”
For two days we experienced this mixing first-hand. Under sail, Tara crisscrossed the sampling zone several times, preventing many of us from sleeping. In some valleys between two liquid mountains, our berths were more like trampolines!
For Loïc Vallette, our captain,“With this weather, we could have sailed with a tail wind directly to La Coruña. Instead of that, we tacked back into the 40 knot wind — not very seamanship-like, but we had to do it, and we succeeded!”
The following day, after a sunset and sunrise with amazing colours, our last station began under the best conditions. From the first light at dawn, the air was mild, the sea much calmer, with only gentle swells. All the better, for this would be a very long day.
At a pace worthy of a marathon, the scientific team, helped by the sailors manning the winch, managed over 22 immersions lasting until 11:12pm. At which time the last net, the WPII with a 200 micron mesh was brought up. It wasn’t a great catch — on the contrary. But Stéphane and Eric were smiling. As Marc Picheral said a few minutes earlier, his face drawn, “all good things must end.”
The smiles of Stéphane and Eric seemed to echo this sentence. A new marathon had ended and the entire expedition too.
With this sense of accomplishment, and before taking a well-deserved rest, the whole team raised a glass to this success, thinking about the rest of the team scattered across the globe.
On Monday, March 26, a symbolic last rosette will be launched at exactly the same spot where the first station took place, two-and-a-half years ago. The circle is complete.
Succeeding in this important new mission, 4 years after that of the Arctic, required a lot of money and the adventurous spirit of Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions, who supported the idea, Eric Karsenti’s rather crazy dream, of exploring the world’s oceans in Darwin’s footsteps. Success depended on an international team: 250 passionate people, committed and available, from different horizons and very diverse professional backgrounds. And while the work is completed for some, for others it’s continuing, and in a way just beginning!
So as Fridjoff Nansen and his team shouted, after the first Arctic drift in human history, “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” Tara has just accomplished another feat: Since leaving Lorient in September 2009 we traveled 60,000 nautical miles to learn more about the world’s oceans. But aren’t plankton worth that effort? Plankton or us? Without plankton, human beings might already have stopped breathing!
Vincent Hilaire

The Olympic Triangle

Since Wednesday morning, Tara is under sail. We have no particular destination because we must stay in the area where we are now, to do the final sampling station of the expedition.
Our captain, Loïc Vallette decided to improvise an Olympic course between three imaginary buoys, as a way to stay active as the sea gets rougher, and also to enjoy using sail power – economical, ecological, and anti-noise!
After a night spent drifting to the end of station number 152, this morning the sailors, led by second mate Baptiste Régnier, hoisted the sails. As usual Loïc used the motors to direct Tara’s prow into the wind. The foresail and the main sail were set with a reef, then came the staysail and a few minutes later the yankee jib, since the wind was still weak in our direction.
Right now the wind from the southeast is blowing at 20 knots, but it should get stronger tomorrow and reach 35 knots in an area to the south. Tara is the only participant in this 300-mile regatta that will keep the crew busy until Friday, date of the last station.
Meanwhile, scientists like Eric Karsenti finish up their work on the zooplankton collected at the preceding station. Other people like Defne Arslan prepare the “log sheets”, documents that will keep track of all the samples. Sarah Searson, oceanographic engineer, downloads all the data collected by the rosette.
In short, this is a very useful day of transition before the next immersion of the instruments that will gather still another large quantity of data – the last.
This coming Friday will remain an historic day, with the number 153 to keep in mind – the number of the very last station of the entire Tara Oceans expedition.
Having had the chance to experience “coming out of the ice” in the Tara Arctic expedition, I feel this last step in about the same way – the end of a job and a great adventure. A landmark moment, even if it’s a small part of the whole.
This morning in the mess room, hardly agitated by a rough sea with meter-high waves, everybody goes about their occupations. The scientists are taking it easy after two days of sampling, and the others continue to take care of the boat, make lunch, answer emails, be on watch, or write to you!
Life in our little Gallic village never stops, evening during an Olympic triangle!
Vincent Hilaire 

The Final Bouquet

We are more than 355 nautical miles from La Coruña (Spain), and this morning we’ve started the next to last station of Tara Oceans Expedition. This will be followed at the end of the week by another identical station. Why study twice, and just a few days apart, the same body of water?
Since strong winds are expected between these two samplings, Stéphane Pesant, chief scientist on this last leg, is trying to understand what impact the wind might have on plankton and their metabolism.
At 7am this morning, the whole crew was on deck to launch this station Number 152. A routine well-orchestrated by the 2 “historical” oceanographic engineers of the expedition, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral. Everyone found his position almost “naturally” and the manipulations were automatic.
Ten rosette immersions and 13 net hauls are planned for these two days.  In the wet lab, two stalwarts, Defne Arslan and Céline Dimier-Hugueney will be taking care of filtrations.
“Since the beginning of the Tara Oceans Expedition, we’ve never done this type of station in 2 parts,” says Stéphane Pesant. “This body of water is fairly standard for the North Atlantic in this season; the interest is really in the mixing of surface waters.
The mixture of the surface layer that goes down to 250 meters is dynamic. We want to know how its structure may change, or not, after the passage of this storm.
More than the biodiversity, what interests us here is plankton metabolism. Does it change with the passage of this gale because these microorganisms suddenly have access to nutrients not found at the surface? How does their photosynthesis evolve? How do species respond to these weather events when forced to other depths? Are there any interactions between them in this new environment, and which species are found in this body of water before and after the gale?”
Such are the questions that Quebecois Stéphane Pesant and his team hope to answer with a sampling series. But the dynamic and enthusiastic Stéphane has more experiments in store. Using equipment in the wet lab, he wants to measure photosynthesis of samples taken from different depths. He also plans “an incubation of the water sampled at night.”
Part of the water column sampled during this week will be placed in the dark for 24h, to see how the metabolism of microorganisms reacts. Their excursion into the depths after a gale will then be simulated. For this experiment, one of the fishing equipment bins has been transformed into a bathtub.
Finally, a drifter buoy measuring salinity and water temperature was launched last night by the team. We passed it today during one of our multiple re-positionings. It provides a marker to keep track of our body of water – a blue body topped with a white appendage serenely floating on a calm North Atlantic Ocean!
Since yesterday, the sea has been almost flat and barely rippled by a few knots of wind. Only a north swell disturbs this calm before the arrival of these gusty winds.
By the way, Lorient is now only 340 miles away!
Vincent Hilaire

Expedition Memories, part 2

From the Indian Ocean to Antarctica via French Polynesia, Céline Dimier-Hugueney and François Noël are mainstays of Tara Oceans. Céline is a biologist, and François chief engineer. Besides devoting several months of their life to the expedition, they both brought along skills and strong motivation 
Céline Dimier-Hugueney, biologist (a year and a half aboard):
Your best memory?
-Céline Dimier-Hugueney: “Recently in a TV interview, I said ‘Antarctica’. But I had to give only one answer. After those icy landscapes, my second favorite place was Polynesia, especially the Marquesas. It’s very green and mountainous. A mixture of sea and mountains. What’s more, we arrived during the holidays of Hiva. The Marquesan culture is very rich: there’s a lot of sculpture as well as dancing and singing. It was more tribal, more warlike than what I’d seen in the Gambier Islands. And lots of handsome guys with muscles and tattoos! As a souvenir I had a tattoo engraved in my skin — a manta ray.”
What does Tara represent for you?
-Céline Dimier-Hugueney: “Before Tara, I had already sailed on several oceanographic vessels: the Marion Dufresne, the Thetys; and the Urania (with the Italian equivalent of the CNRS). Tara is different from these boats, primarily because it’s a sailboat, and that’s rare in oceanography. Aboard Tara I learned a lot from an oceanographic standpoint, since I could put into practice what I had studied in school. In the context of this expedition, there were also specific logistics that took me 6 months to master.
I also learned to maneuver a sailboat, to navigate in a different way. For me Tara is a legend. I knew Antarctica only by name. I visited Tara for the first time during a stopover in Paris, and applied for a job on the boat, but there were no more opening left for the Tara Oceans expedition. Luckily time played in my favor. I wanted to travel, and Tara gave me this opportunity.
Is there a Tara Oceans spirit?
-Céline Dimier-Hugueney: “The expedition gave me a chance to connect with lots of people. For those who spend only 2 or 3 weeks on board, there’s not enough time to become part of the ‘Tara Oceans group’. But for those who come aboard regularly, yes, there’s a real group spirit, because everyone knows each other. To experience that you have to embark frequently. In any case, there’s a Tara Oceans scientific community made up of all the people working on this project.”
François Noël, chief engineer (18 and a half months aboard):
Your best memory?
-François Noël: “Our arrival in the Gambier Islands. The weather was beautiful and I’ll never forget the welcome people gave us. It’s easy to live there. Everything you need is right there. The food — fish and local fruit. The transparency of the water, and swimming at 26°C. That’s how I like water! The underwater scenery is amazing. There are corals, and a multitude of colorful fish. I also discovered stingrays. A French school teacher whistled and they came to eat in the water around our feet. We visited the local pearl farms, and were able to see the process of cultivating and extracting pearls.”
What does Tara represent for you?
-François Noël: “Initially it was curiosity that led me to Tara – the desire to navigate in a different way, and get to know the world of sailing, which I knew very little about. Previously I had worked on deep sea fishing boats, tugboats, supply ships for offshore platforms, ferry boats, and more recently, on passenger boats for tourists.
Tara gave me a chance to travel – to the Gambier Islands, but also to Antarctica. Aboard Tara, you have to give a lot of yourself, and be attentive to everything that’s going on. It’s like family life on board. You get to know more people. It’s less monotonous since there are women on board. Everybody participates in household chores. It’s a different type of functioning. On boats I sailed on before, the cook worked alone in his kitchen, and we weren’t even allowed to enter!”
Is there a Tara Oceans spirit?
-François Noël: “The mix of all these different professions works very well. It’s unusual. As for the science, I learned a lot about plankton and other things I would never have known about.”
Interviews by Vincent Hilaire

Expedition memories, part 1

As the Tara Oceans Expedition comes to an end, day after day, picture after picture, the conversations on board increasingly revolve around memories. “You remember the Gambier Islands…and the icebergs in Antarctica.”
Although this expedition is not over, meetings in the mess room resemble more and more veterans’ reunions! Between nostalgia, intense memories and bursts of laughter, here are some of these souvenirs. Memories from a sailor will be paralleled with those from a scientist.
Loïc Vallette, Captain: 10 months on board 
Your best memory?
-Loïc Vallette: “We’re in the Pacific Ocean and after a month at sea in good conditions and with a terrific ambiance on board, we arrive at the Gambier Islands. This must be the end of the world! What we saw corresponded exactly: a lost archipelago, a small village, beautiful landscapes and a police station with 2 officers on-duty. No one expected us, the village was calm and the welcome was spontaneous. There was peace and harmony this morning where time seemed to have stopped. We were floating in a dream.”
What does Tara represent for you?
-Loïc Vallette: “I’ve known Tara only in the context of Tara Oceans, since I embarked during this expedition. It’s a boat like the others; it has to function and move forward.”

Is there a Tara Oceans spirit?
-Loïc Vallette: “Many people come aboard from everywhere; they mix and join in the boat’s rhythm. It will be strange when it suddenly stops in Lorient. But even if the boat is docked and the expedition is over, it won’t end there. Strong links have been forged and friendships will last. And then we wait for the results.”
Emmanuel Reynaud, optical lab manager : 2 and a half months on board 
Your best memory?
- Emmanuel Reynaud: “Definitely the arrival in the Marquesas Islands in the Pacific. We had just experienced 15 days of rough conditions and there was this island with a cloud above. It was the only cloud on the horizon. The scene was lovely. The wind calmed down and the sea became very beautiful. We immersed the rosette before arriving. And afterwards we anchored at Hiva Oa Island.
My worst memory was the storm between Beirut and Port Said in the Mediterranean facing 40 knots of wind.”
What does Tara represent for you?
Emmanuel Reynaud: “For me, Tara is synonymous with a unique experience. We did something aboard this boat, which no one has ever done: set up an imaging platform on a boat, which moves! In addition, we departed in a rush at the beginning of the expedition, but everything held up until the end!”
Is there a Tara Oceans spirit?
Emmanuel Reynaud: “Tara Oceans is different from the laboratory atmosphere. You learn a lot, especially if you’re not an oceanographer. Living with 15 people coming from different countries and varied backgrounds is very rewarding.”
Interviews by Vincent Hilaire

Goodbye Azores !

On Thursday Tara was out in the Atlantic Ocean again after nearly 24 hours navigating through the labyrinth of this Portuguese archipelago towards San Miquel, the last island in this direction. We finally left behind the Azores and its capital city, Punta Delgada, on Friday.
The few days spent in these islands were really very pleasant. We found everything there that makes the difference between an ordinary stopover, and a very good one.
Sight-seeing on Faial Island gave some of us an idea of the volcanic origins of this archipelago. The “caldeira” (or boiler) at the center of Faial is simply breath-taking. Its crater culminates at 1,043 meters and is 6 kilometers in circumference. Seen from the southern side, the impressive peaks – sometimes engulfed in clouds – descend to the bottom of the crater forming a plain. Puddles of water form there in colours similar to the African savanna.
The site of the Canto lighthouse is majestic – partially buried by lava during the many eruptions that followed the birth of the island. It looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and the rocky shallows dramatically breaking the surf.
This country is green, covered by meadows overlooking the ocean, as if a piece of the Massif Central had popped out of the mid-Atlantic Ridge (the underwater mountain range located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). Just outside Horta is the countryside, with cows and horses grazing in pastures. The villages are rural. We saw people and scenes similar to what one could find in rural France. People here are friendly, welcoming, and open to visitors. In brief, everything is easy and prices are very reasonable, which adds even more to a foreigner’s enthusiasm!
Buying provisions was especially easy – almost twice the amount for half the price of what we bought in Bermuda. Our cook, Julien Girardot had a big smile by the end of his ‘stocking up’, and loads of ideas for recipes to prepare. He started last night by a roast beef, with blue cheese sauce and gratin of potatoes!
That night we sailed near Ilha do Pico, then Sao Jorge, and a little later Sao Miguel, with the sea as still as a lake. This leg is starting with bright sunshine and not a breath of wind, which of course means motor power. Nights are calm and mild, and our first 2-day sampling station should begin on Sunday. A first scientific meeting took place today, led by Eric Karsenti, director of Tara Oceans. The two oceanographic engineers, Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral do a check-up of all the equipment. Tara is gliding on flat water with only a slight swell coming from the north, and a few dolphins as escort.
Just the right conditions for us to come down from our ‘azorean’ cloud, still floating above the biggest caldeira of all – the ocean.
Vincent Hilaire

Rite of spring

After sailing downwind for three days, this Monday we are no more than 450 miles from the Azores, and the port of Horta on Faial Island, our next stopover. We resumed sampling today in relatively cold water, 18°C. This is our 150th station since the start of the expedition.
One sample, containing numerous fish larvae and eggs, marked the beginning of spring in the ocean, according to Chris Bowler, head scientist of this mission.
If you look at the sky and on the deck of the Tara where sunglasses have blossomed among the t-shirts, you really believe it’s spring. This impression is confirmed by our scientific measurements. “For the first time since leaving New York we found a DCM, a stabilization of layers which form during spring and summer”, says Chris Bowler.
DCM stands for Deep Chlorophyll Maximum, the ideal zone under the water’s surface for reproduction and development of phytoplankton by photosynthesis. It’s the optimal depth for sunlight coming from the surface, and for nutrients rising from the depths. According to Chris, “Today the DCM is situated between 30 and 60 meters, perhaps a sign that we’re benefitting here from an up-welling from the mid-Atlantic ridge since there are a lot of nutrients, including nitrates for example.”
This huge nursery where the phytoplankton grow always stabilizes in the spring, becoming more dense, less volatile, more established than in other seasons. The DCM is where the famous ‘blooms’ appear – explosions of underwater life where phytoplankton proliferate, providing a feast for the zooplankton and the entire food chain. In the blooms which we’ll probably observe on the next leg, between Horta and Corunna, we may find some of the same species caught today before reaching the Azores.
At our present station, not far from the Azores, Chris and his team found a great variety of species in their fifteen samplings. Large fish larvae and numerous crustaceans herald the arrival of spring. There is, indeed, something in the air, in the water!
It’s the explosion of new life, and phytoplankton constitutes this spring’s first buds.
As Chris said with a smile late this afternoon, “Love is in the air!”
Vincent Hilaire

Fishing for the Origins of Life

Saturday March 3rd: We have only 650 miles to go before reaching the Azores. We’re sailing over depths of 5,000 meters, approaching the Atlantic ridge, the spinal column that characterizes the bottom center of the Atlantic Ocean.
With the different sampling stations done since Bermuda and those still to come before we arrive at Horta Island, our chief scientist Chris Bowler hopes to penetrate the mystery of life in this ocean – life largely influenced by the activity of underwater volcanoes running the entire length of this abyssal ridge.
There’s so much life at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, with hot springs and active volcanoes – probably at the origin of life on Earth – what types of organisms are found in the first 1,000 meters? Do they resemble those that emerged when the Atlantic was born, with the breakup of the Pangea and the beginning of volcanic activity?
Chris is passionately interested in answering these questions, but first we need to review some history. The Atlantic Ocean was born 450 million years ago, when the continents of America, Africa and Europe first appeared. It was named ‘Atlantic’ in 1507 right after the discovery of continental America by Amerigo Vespucci.
To understand Chris’quest, some basic notions of geology are necessary to perceive the dynamism of this ocean. In the beginning there was a single ocean, the Pan Thalassa. With the splitting apart of the Pangea – the planet’s original, unique land mass, the Atlantic Ocean emerged from the seismic activity that broke and pushed the land to both sides. In fact even today the underwater volcanoes continue a movement begun millions of years ago: geologists estimate that the Atlantic widens by 2 meters every 100 years.
The Atlantic ridge was discovered in 1850 by ships posing telegraph cables on the sea bottom  between Europe and America. Men working aboard the cable-laying ships were the first to notice a significant rise in the sea bottom level. Before them, no one had any knowledge of this. But what about the life in this ocean?
Initially, the entire scientific community considered the Atlantic to be an ‘azoic’ region, without life. The Challenger expedition (1872-1876) was the first to explore the water above these depths, and discovered living organisms. Off the coast of Brazil, the Challenger explorers were surprised to find not far from the coast, water at zero degrees where organisms were not the same as in warm, tropical currents. This water coming from Antarctica  runs northwards through the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed many ‘layers’ of water exist, as other scientists before Challenger had imagined, but the species living there move between the layers, so these are not separate, closed environments. Sometimes the layers even mix together.
But the mystery remains about organisms living above the Atlantic ridge volcanoes. Does life there resemble the original explosion? Let’s go back to those cable ships which brought up living organisms from the depths along with their pipes – giant worms, shells and sponges among other things. Closely studied a few years later thanks to CNRS submarines in collaboration with IFREMER, the worms revealed some extraordinary things.
After they were analyzed in special decompression chambers, the worms were found to have particular proteins allowing them to endure very different temperatures on each side of their body. So, very rich forms of life exist near these abyssal fumaroles, where there’s heat, but also sulfur, iron, and quantities of nutrients.
This ocean bottom is the matrix and cradle of pelagic life, and perhaps the origin of life 3.5 billion years ago. But do any ‘representatives’ exist closer to the surface?
This is what Chris wants to know and what inspires his research, and particularly this transatlantic voyage. “The instruments aboard Tara don’t go very deep, only to 1,000 meters, but that’s enough to know if the life forms we find could have developed in conditions similar to the origins, thanks to the presence of this volcanic matrix below. Studying these organisms some of which come up from the great depths at night, we can get information about earlier life forms.”
The interest of this leg, as we gradually approach the Azores located on the eastern part of the Atlantic volcanic chain, is this life in the deep. “After the first two sampling stations and before the next one, the 150th since the beginning of Tara Oceans, we can say that there’s very little life in the first 200 meters from the surface. But below that? »
Still another point that the expedition will no doubt clarify. Like borings taken in ice, exploring the layers of the oceans will perhaps bring us back to the origins. It took a long time to conquer Mount Everest on land. When will we conquer the underwater Everest?
Vincent Hilaire

The countdown has begun

It’s March 1st. Mars is a planet, but it’s also the month of our arrival in Lorient, in just 30 days. Two and a half years of navigation. We’re hoping lots of people will come to welcome us home! In the meanwhile, we continue fishing for the infinitely small, and much work remains to be done.
The rosette “Rosie” is back to normal again. The weather is beautiful, and the sea has huge waves. We are enjoying warm temperatures again, around 22 degrees C: I spoke too quickly in the preceding text – we’re still wearing bermudas!
Wednesday evening we started a short sampling station that we’ll continue today with no problem. Everyone is at his post doing his job. A minor incident interrupted the sampling this morning, when a piece of cable was sectioned. It had to be totally cut, but the repair job took only half an hour.
We’ll be driftng until 7 o’clock this evening, then we’ll start heading east again. A depression is forecast with winds around 30 knots, so we couldn’t miss this window of good weather.
Since departing from Saint George Island (Bermudes) we’ve used the sails for a large part of the 700 miles — more than a third of the distance to Horta, one of the islands of the Azores archipelago. This will be the last leg to cover such a considerable distance, 1,800 miles. Afterwards, between the Azores and La Corogne, we’ll have scarcely 1,000 miles to go, and finally 300 more to reach Lorient.
When you think that we will have traveled 60,000 nautical miles, the total distance covered by Tara Oceans Expedition! That’s equivalent to three times around the globe.
The countdown, or the counting up of miles – Numbers don’t really matter, when the general feeling aboard is that our arrival is close and at the same time far away. We still have ten more days of sailing. And also because the scientific program will continue practically up to our arrival.
What really makes this arrival feel close are the memories of all the stopovers and past destinations. We feel that the end is in sight.
We’re all talking about the magic day in Lorient that’s awaiting us, but as our English friends say, “Let’s finish the job first!”. Wisdom of the oceans no doubt, but it’s the same on land when we say “Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.
We’re thinking of all of you: families, friends, fans and supporters of Tara Oceans and Tara Expeditions in general. We’re on our way home, and soon there’ll be a big celebration.
There’s plenty of time to prepare the welcome!
Vincent Hilaire

A message from the Atlantic

Chris Bowler, one of the principal scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans, is aboard as chief scientist for the 3rd time since the beginning of the expedition. After Dubrovnik-Athens and Puerto Montt-Valparaiso, this new leg between the Bermudas and the Azores will be his longest stretch on board – a transatlantic voyage covering 1,800 nautical miles, or a little more than 3,000 kilometers.
Professor and researcher in biology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, Chris has a real love of nature, “always full of surprises”. Driven by this passion, and encouraged by his mother in the English countryside, this humanist first opted for the sciences, then biology as his field of research, before becoming a mainstay of the Tara expedition 3 years ago.
Vincent Hilaire: Chris, you are the head scientist of this leg to the Azores. First of all, can you give us news of the rosette. Is it still malfunctioning?
Chris Bowler: The rosette is doing fine! Sarah Searson, our oceanographic engineer, replaced a defective electric cable. The bottles were not only failing to close at required depths, they were not closing at all. It was impossible to collect samples. Since the repairs, however, there have been 4 successful immersions. By the way, the rosette was also malfunctioning between Puerto Montt and Valparaiso, so I thought maybe the problem was me. But now we’re out of the Bermuda Triangle!
Vincent Hilaire: It’s your 3rd leg aboard Tara. What inspired you to embark again?
Chris Bowler: I’m very happy to be here, to experience first-hand the life onboard Tara. There’s always an interesting mix of very different people. Everyone finds his place, and the spirit of Tara lives on. This is my first transatlantic crossing. It’s connecting me with my past.
Vincent Hilaire: How so?
Chris Bowler: My paternal grandfather was a sailor in the merchant marine. He died before I was born. When I was little, my father gave me his medals. The Atlantic convoy ship he was on sunk off the Canaries. Although he survived, he had to struggle to convince the authorities that he wasn’t part of the military. This was in 1942 when convoys were being tracked by submarine U-boats.
I think of him in the Atlantic, and want to feel what he must have felt, far away from his family and England. And I want to honor his memory.
Vincent Hilaire: Tara Oceans has now lasted 2 years and 5 months, and in one month we return to Lorient. When you look back to the first episodes of this expedition, what comes to mind?
Chris Bowler: It’s amazing that the dream still exists and hasn’t lost its way. It really was not obvious from a logistical standpoint. This was a very long trip, in both human and financial terms. I’m glad that Eric Karsenti had the courage to start with no money. At the time I thought we should first find funding. But he said “let’s just do it”, and then he met Etienne Bourgois (president of Tara Expeditions), who shared the same adventurous spirit. I learned a lot from them – that sometimes you have to set off without being fully prepared. They both took huge risks. At the beginning of the expedition, the Mediterranean was a testing laboratory. It was a brilliant idea, and the passion, expertise and thoroughness of it all did the rest – a unique expedition.
I’ve been disappointed by only one thing: apart from agnes b. and a few partners, and of course the laboratories and their research funding, no one gave us financial help. We appealed to banks and large multinational corporations that say they’re concerned about the environment, but to no avail. I’m very disappointed about this.
Even if you have a great project, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find funding. Otherwise, I’m aware that the whole team, sailors, scientists, and the boat are tiring of this big world tour. But 95% of the program is done. All scientists involved in developing the sampling protocols are people from the support team. They’ve done an amazing job and what’s more, they’re the ones who will be processing the data, a task normally done by technicians.
Vincent Hilaire: What about the results?
Chris Bowler: Despite the fatigue and lack of specific funding, our first results are extraordinary. A major lesson to be learned from these two-and-a-half years of collecting marine microorganisms is that the ocean will not be so difficult to understand. Contrary to what we might imagine, there are limits to marine biodiversity. It’s not an infinite world. In the photic zone, where light reaches down to a depth of 100 meters, the Tara Oceans expedition will make it possible to define the distribution limits of microorganisms. We’ve also discovered that we’ll eventually be able to understand the interactions between organisms. Some are solitary; others social, and sometimes they remain in the same sets, cells in symbiosis.
However, this data analysis will be the work of several lifetimes, maybe for the next 20 years, with the first high-level scientific publications due in 2012. But we need funding! We are fortunate that in the last decade technology has advanced considerably, especially in DNA sequencing.
We will be sharing all of our results with the global scientific community. Our philosophy is close to what prevailed during the heyday of the Naturalists.
Vincent Hilaire: What is the future for your research.  Are there any financial leads?
Chris Bowler: I’ve just received good news via email aboard Tara. Our Oceanomics project, an extension of the Tara Oceans expedition, has just been selected by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research (headed by Laurent Wauguiez), to benefit from an “Investment for the future” grant. We can now work in tight collaboration as a consortium.
Interview by Vincent Hilaire 

Stopover at St. George’s (Bermuda)

On the eve of our departure for the Azores, one might say that this stopover, a bit longer than expected, gave the crew a welcome chance to rest and properly prepare the return crossing of the North Atlantic.
Part of the new scientific team arrived safely yesterday, exhausted after sometimes 20 hour-flights. Tomorrow early in the afternoon we’ll head east, certainly with some wind. We have slightly more than two weeks of sailing ahead of us.
The streets of St. George’s offered us a haven of peace these past few days, as did the lagoon where we’re anchored until tomorrow. This city of 15,000 inhabitants is like a little cocoon. The Bermuda archipelago counts 65,000 souls in all.
Encounters with the “locals” in shops, supermarkets, restaurants and bars have been warm and friendly. People have always been caring, interested and even curious. Very often we hear the question “Where are you from?”
The majority of the people here are dark-skinned, but of course this is not tourist season. The Americans who normally arrive in droves during the summer are somewhere else this time of year. Local men, women and children are descendants of African slaves brought here by English settlers. Before the first shipwreck, the island was totally uninhabited.
The houses of St. George’s are painted bright colours. Gardens are clean and tidy.
Palms, rubber trees, giant ficus and hibiscus add more colorful notes to the scenery. What is striking when walking about, besides the calm, are the churches at almost every street corner.
Anglican, African Methodist, Catholic – steeples and crosses punctuate the sky. The most beautiful of all these buildings, clearly visible at the top of its mossy steps, is without a doubt Saint Peter’s Church. It dates from 1612 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The roofs are also very striking – almost all are white and have the same form, with built-in channels to collect rainwater. There is no source of water in the archipelago.
St. George’s is nothing like Hamilton, Bermuda’s main city. Hamilton is a fairly large commercial port, its wharves crowded with shipping containers. Here the streets are wider and buildings are taller, and there’s less of that human scale we appreciate so much when arriving from the sea.
Vincent Hilaire

Tara is in Bermuda

In a drizzling rain that reminded us of Brittany, we arrived early Sunday afternoon in the archipelago of 123 islands called ‘the Bermudas’. After approaching by the western flank of the main island, Bermuda, we followed the coast to the entry channel of the town of St. George, on the island called St. George’s. Here there will be a complete turnover of the scientific team, and we will remain in Bermuda until February 23.
Despite a few rays of sun, we knew early in the morning that our landing in Bermuda would not happen in good weather. But the sea was calm and the temperature a mild 20°C compared to the nippy weather when we departed from New York.
At first glance, the island seemed quite built up, with a few beautiful beaches interspersed with small groves of trees. A few fishermen were busy on the water around us, and in the background, brightly colored houses with white roofs looked rather Mediterranean.
Between Bermuda and St. George’s Island, a channel came into view marked with classical red and green beacons, with their colors inversed compared to those found in France, but similar to the ones in the French Antilles. Despite the gray sky, the water was an extraordinary turquoise.
People out for a stroll at the tip of the canal’s south entrance waved a greeting as we entered the narrow passage, scarcely 50 meters wide. All along this lagoon were colorful houses, conifers and palm trees. A peaceful island.
With Alain Giese, second mate, we took soundings at the dock where Tara was going to berth, to make sure the water was deep enough. “Starboard to quay” called out Captain Loic Valette. A few minutes later Tara was snuggly in place at the dock, and a customs officer came aboard to give us official immigration papers for each one of us to fill out.
Slowly but surely we are getting closer to Lorient, the end of this expedition. Not only is the distance shortening, but yesterday we changed time zones. There’s now only a 5-hour difference from Paris time.
Vincent Hilaire

In the heart of an eddy

Since Wednesday morning, the scientific team aboard Tara has been tracking an “eddy”, a whirlpool in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Studying this cold water column – about 180 kilometers in diameter – will tell us what planktonic organisms live within it, and will also help us understand how and why such whirlpools sustain life in oligotrophic zones poor in nutrients, like the one we are now crossing between New York and Bermuda. Of the planet’s five oceans, the North Atlantic is certainly the one that’s been studied the most, but the eddies coming from cold currents north of the Gulf Stream remain a mystery.
Maritime legends about the Sargasso Sea are well-known. At the sight of this seaweed floating on the surface, some sailors might think that land is near, which is not the case. And then there are the myths about the Bermuda Triangle where many ships and airplanes have disappeared for unknown reasons.
Since yesterday we have observed the floating brown seaweed, but our quest is not inspired by legends. In fact the goal of our search is this eddy that’s been swirling right here beneath Tara’s hull for the past 48 hours.
“The Sargasso Sea, where we’re located right now, is not a desert despite what many people have thought for a long time”, says Lee Karp-Boss, head scientist on this mission. “In the middle of this big North Atlantic gyre – the surface current which runs in a circle from west to east – researchers have been trying to understand why in certain places there’s such a large quantity of nutrients.” Information from satellites first showed us that the production of chlorophyll was greater in these whirlpools than elsewhere, providing food that zooplankton wasn’t finding in other places.”
Since Wednesday, Lee and her team of 6 highly motivated scientists have deployed a maximum of tools to capture all the fine points, all the characteristics of this eddy. Whether it’s pouring rain or the middle of the night, we’re using the whole range of nets and bottles to capture the water that will eventually answer our questions.
To achieve this goal, Isabel Ferrera, researcher in biology from Barcelona, has been bumping her head in the wet lab with the rocking of the boat. She and Céline Dimier-Hugueney from Roscoff are doing the filtrations, which will show which bacteria are present in this reservoir of life.
In order to glean all possible information about this eddy, Tara will have crossed the whirlpool from one end to the other, even taking position at the very center, the “eye”. This entire water mass will be described as never before. “Previous oceanographic studies of these water masses have never undertaken an “end-to-end” sampling – investigating the entire range of organisms, from viruses to fish larvae. We certainly hope to gain a better understanding of these mysterious whirlpools.”
Lee then pointed out that during this station, the scientists observed an especially great diversity of protists – a group of single-celled organisms which includes phytoplankton, the base of the food web.
This fascinating hunt is over, and now Tara is heading for Bermuda. After 48 hours of racing around, the scientists will finally be able to rest.
Vincent Hilaire

Good Bye Big Apple

On Sunday morning around 9:30 New York time, Tara sailed away from Chelsea Pier. As part of the Tara Oceans expedition, we are beginning a new leg of the round-the-world voyage that will take us to Bermuda, on our way home to Lorient, France.
Two scientific stations are scheduled once we’re in the Gulf Stream again. Very cold weather, a strong wind from the northwest with gusts at 30 knots, but bright sun similar to the day of our arrival a week ago. This morning we’re headed for the open sea we all love so much.
Bye bye Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge, like a film playing in reverse, but this time with wind and some new faces on deck. The entire scientific team changed in New York. Lee Karp, an Israeli now living in the United States, is the head scientist of this new leg, replacing Lars Stemmann. As usual since the beginning of Tara Oceans, Sarah Searson has replaced Marc Picheral in the post of oceanographic engineer.
Celine Dimier-Hugueney from the Roscoff laboratory has returned after being absent for several months due to a health problem. Christian Sardet from the Villefranche-sur-Mer marine station is back in the optical lab with microscope and camera. For Anne Doye and Denis Dausse, this is their first voyage aboard Tara.
For sailors and scientists alike, Tara Oceans is a big family, continually breaking up and coming together again. But all this will soon come to an end, in a little over one month. Steffi Kandel-Lewis, biologist in charge of filtrations during the last leg, told me during Saturday night’s goodbye party that after our arrival “It won’t be the same any more; we won’t see the crew again.” Steffi, who embarked two times since the beginning of the expedition, left the boat in New York and won’t see Tara again until we dock in Lorient.
The stop-over in New York was especially remarkable because of Ban Ki-moon’s visit aboard Tara on Saturday. But also for the discovery of this cosmopolitan mega-city with its dizzying architectural exploits, paradoxically human in scale. In New York people talk to each other  and human warmth circulates naturally among the population in the streets. Surprising.
Sailing south to Bermuda, we hope to find a little warmth before beginning the transatlantic crossing via the Azores. In the evening after sunset, it was zero degrees. A good reason to feast on an excellent “tartiflette” (a classic of French Savoyard cuisine: potatoes and bacon au gratin with delicious reblochon cheese and creamy sauce) prepared by Julien Girardot, the cook who just replaced Celine Blanchard. This is Julien’s third voyage aboard Tara since the beginning of this expedition, but his first time in the cold.
Vincent Hilaire

Ban Ki-moon at sea on Tara

A historic day for Tara Expeditions. After a press conference Thursday at the United Nations where Eric Karsenti, scientific director, presented Tara Oceans Expedition, today Tara experienced a landmark event.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, headquartered in New York, came aboard Tara early Saturday afternoon.

Yesterday his visit was still not certain. But in the late afternoon, the information was confirmed after the security services of the United Nations completed their control and gave the green light. At 2 pm on Saturday, February 11th, Ban Ki-moon accompanied by his bodyguards, his wife and his spokesman Eduardo del Buey, arrived at North Cove Marina in Battery Park. agnès b, Romain Troublé, project director of Tara Expeditions, and captain Loïc Valette greeted them on the dock. Tara’s engines had already been already purring for a couple of minutes. The departure manoeuvre was carried out efficiently and Tara left North Cove Marina where we had been moored for almost a week.

With a smile on his face, Ban Ki-moon listened intently to explanations about the masts, sails, and scientific equipment. This man with diplomatic powers equivalent to several heads of state was visibly savouring the moment. Captain Loïc at the helm, Tara descended the Hudson River in 15 minutes, then sailed up the East River. The Brooklyn Bridge and midtown Manhattan paraded in front of the crew, already charmed by this illustrious guest who engaged in friendly conversation with everybody.

Ban Ki-moon then came inside Tara to discover the living space especially designed for polar expeditions. Accompanied by Eric Karsenti, he learned about the challenges of our mission, and all the scientific equipment on board. He then spent considerable time in Tara’s “dry lab” discovering images of the amazing but unfamiliar world of plankton.

In view of the upcoming Earth Summit in Rio, Ban Ki-moon stressed his personal commitment to issues concerning the oceans, and invited Tara Expeditions to help define the role of oceans for mankind in the various initiatives promoted by the United Nations. As we approached Chelsea Pier where Tara will be docked until departure for Bermuda tomorrow, Ban Ki-moon completed his tour of Tara’s deck and saw the impressive winches.

One last handshake with agnès b, an appreciative salute to the whole crew with words spoken in French, saying that he was “very moved by this visit,” and the Secretary General returned to land, leaving us on a cloud. Tears of emotion in the the eyes of agnès b, the French designer and Tara’s owner — testimony, after this historic visit, to the long journey accomplished by the schooner, her partners, the teams of sailors and scientists — a journey not calculated solely in nautical miles.

Vincent Hilaire

New York, 8 million inhabitants, the Big Apple.

In New York, time doesn’t count. Life never stops beating. Sleep doesn’t exist. Noise is constant and everywhere. Lights never go out. It’s been five centuries since Jehan Angot, a ship-owner from Dieppe, France, financed Verrazzano’s North American expedition. New York harbor has been pinpointed on the globe ever since.
New York shoves you, pulls you, carries you, takes you with all its strength, and gives a lot back too. Tara is docked in North Cove Marina, Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, very near the World Trade Center site still under re-construction. We’re here for a week of visits and meetings.
On our arrival “the man in black” was there. The understated elegance of Etienne Bourgois. A shy smile, a warmth that doesn’t say everything, but is strongly felt. His boat is living proof of his ideas. There’s science, but also the human side. Tara is a powerful link. At the base of the skyscrapers, the schooner doesn’t shock, she reassures. The Big Apple never stops seeing the world pass by – fertile ground for the wildest projects. Tara is one of those projects, led by an extraordinary family involved in fashion, art, and science. The result is… Tara moored at the tip of Manhattan, near the Statue of Liberty.
Everyone is here: Eric Karsenti, scientific director of the expedition, Colomban de Vargas, scientific coordinator, Romain Troublé, operations director – the people responsible for making this project happen. We’re here to talk about life in the oceans, and future projects. A few more days at the tip of Manhattan, and then Tara will return to Lorient, France to complete this amazing world tour.
Alain Giese

Daniel Cron, Tara’s Chief Mechanic: logbook

New York! A symbolic stopover, which many of us can’t wait to experience; a name that crystallizes lifelong dreams — especially for people like me who discover this city for the first time. What an experience!
As I began my night watch at 4am, we were sailing towards the mouth of the Hudson River. And as the sun rose, the night-veiled sky gave way to a deep blue and an incessant ballet of tourist helicopters and airplanes from surrounding airports. I then discovered that what I thought were light beacons at sea, turned out to be tall buildings that had been visible for hours, even though tens of kilometers in the distance!
Then before us, our eyes wide open, a spectacle which left none of us indifferent, even the pilot who has been here for 10 years…
We hoisted our sails among the picturesque ferries, and with all sails out, in bright sunshine, as a tribute to the “Great Lady”, symbol of freedom, we all shouted in unison when we saw her in the distance. How many times had we imagined her, saw her in movies and photos when we were children.
We then made our way to Manhattan. In front of us, a concentration of huge skyscrapers like nowhere else in the world. The closer we got, the more our eyes widened at this mix of shapes, eras and building materials. We then sailed up the East River from Lower to Upper Manhattan travelling along the shorelines of Little Italy and Soho — an opportunity to see legendary buildings like the Empire State or Chrysler.
We then veered in view of the United Nations headquarters, another symbolic place for Tara, since the hull proudly bears the logo of the “United Nations Environment Program” – a real engagement!
The end of our tourist route took us back to the extreme southern tip of Manhattan along Battery Park, and joining the Hudson, we eventually ended our trip by mooring at North Cove where a good-sized crowd was already waiting for us! There were marine scientists taking the next leg, and key directors of Tara Oceans who’ve come especially from Paris for the occasion: Etienne Bourgois, Roman Troublé, Eric Karsenti, Rainer, Julien, Céline, Baptiste…a real family, with warm smiles for each and every one, even if for some, it’s been almost 2 years!
We are actually close to “Ground Zero”, where 11 years ago the Twin Towers were destroyed, forever scarring the world. We are near their base and I have every reason to be especially aware of their absence, since I was born on September 11.
New York will be a major event for me because I will disembark here, after 3 and a half months on board. It was long and it was short — difficult to define, but that’s exactly how it felt to me! The America’s Cup in San Diego, the lost island of Clipperton, the wild Coco Island, crossing the Panama Canal, Belize’s Blue Hole, Savannah’s abandoned island and the improvised New Year’s fireworks…
But more than the landscapes seen and the deep commitment to this scientific expedition, there is the profound richness of various events and human encounters which will remain forever etched in my mind. For me the adventure will end on February 12, when Tara’s moorings are cast off early in the morning, with the same inexplicable feeling that many of us have at the time of farewell. I’m glad to have experienced these unique 3 years, from the preparation of Tara Oceans to today.
But in any case, we’ll meet again on arrival at Lorient on March 31!
See you there!
Daniel Cron
Chief mechanic on Tara

Tara docked in NYC at the foot of Freedom Tower

Sunday morning around 6:30, with the brilliant sun scarcely compensating for the 2° C temperature, Tara began her final approach to New York City. The first skyscrapers began to appear on the horizon, breaking the surface of the ocean where we’d seen no construction for eleven days.We were still 25 nautical miles from New York, about 45 kilometers.
Excitement on deck, first photos taken, but the Big Apple kept us waiting impatiently. A white-bearded pilot came aboard to escort us through the labyrinth of New York’s islands. Then the Manhattan skyline began to be clearly visible.
Several of us were experiencing their first arrival in this part of the east coast of the United States, and to make it even more special – arriving by sea.
We passed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (the second time for Tara), but now Loïc Valette is the skipper. With little wind but a rather strong current, the approach was made smoothly. This was the occasion for the pilot, Captain Thomas G. Britton, to learn more about Tara’s history and be impressed by the itinerary already completed since the beginning of Tara Oceans, and by the previous Tara Arctic expedition (from 2006-2008).
Being careful to enter the Hudson River without getting caught up in the traffic of ferries sailing between Staten Island and Manhattan, Captain Britton passed around cigars in sign of his admiration.
Then on deck we heard “Statue of Liberty!” That’s all that was needed to stir up enthusiasm among the paparazzi on board, otherwise slowed down by the very cold morning temperature. A series of photos in front of the world-famous American symbol, and Tara headed up the East River.
The Brooklyn Bridge, then a passage in front of the United Nations headquarters in mid-town Manhattan, for an historic souvenir photo.
Finally, we came back down the East River, took down the sails, and headed towards Battery Park, North Cove Marina. The tourist trip was over, and we started preparing for the final manoeuvre, installing fenders and mooring lines. The strong current complicated our entry into the small Marina at the foot of Freedom Tower.
After going around once to check out the situation, Loïc Valette and the pilot entered the Marina. A last port side turn, and Tara was rapidly moored along the wooden dock, at the foot of Ground Zero. We will stay here throughout our stopover, before leaving for Bermuda on February 12th.
Vincent Hilaire

Tara coasts on the Gulf Stream

Due to its spherical form, the earth receives more solar radiation in the tropical zones than in the temperate and sub-polar zones. This situation in the long term results in intense warming at the inter-tropical zones and glaciation in the higher latitudes. Fortunately for life on earth, winds and marine currents distribute this warmth over the entire planet. Oceanic surface and deep circulations transport excess and deficit heat from one region to another.

The Gulf Stream is one of the major surface currents along the East Coast of the United States transporting warm water from the equatorial Atlantic current of the Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico via the Florida Current.

At Cape Hatteras, the Gulf Stream meets the cold Labrador Current and curves eastward. Here, the contrast in temperature, 15° C, and depth, over 1000m, between the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current is such that the border was named “The North Wall” by oceanographers. Up to 150 million cubic meters per second are transported at a speed of nearly 10km/hr.

Instabilities arise and this great warm current forms meanders, which gradually turn into vortices enclosing warm water escaping into the cold water to the north, or the contrary, where entrapped cold water is transported to warmer waters in the south.

These eddies, dozens of kilometers in diameter and with depths up to 1000m, continue moving for several months while slowly mixing with surrounding water.

Further east, after passing the mid-Atlantic rift, the Gulf Stream divides into two, one branch to the north towards Europe which forms the North Atlantic Current, and a branch to the south becoming the Canary Current. Part of the water of this current sinks into the depths to 400m forming “mode” water in which mineral and organic elements  or anthropogenic carbon is carried. These latter surface and deep currents move westward to eventually replenish the Gulf Stream at its surface and at depth during a time span lasting up to several decades for the mode water.

This entire circulation transports huge amounts of nutritive elements and marine organisms. Plankton must adapt to changing conditions during transport or disappear. Depending on the destination taken by the water masses that these organisms occupy, the populations and their progeny will be lost, trapped in eddies, transported to Europe as far as Spitzbergen or they will be reinjected into the Gulf Stream.

Many studies have been carried out on the transport of nutrients, large marine zooplankton and fish, but few have reported on smaller organisms like viruses and phytoplankton.
During the Tara Oceans mission in the Gulf Stream, the scientific team made an initial inventory of all transported biodiversity (viruses to zooplankton) by sampling at key locations in the current. These were defined by the analyses of satellite temperature maps, sea height (altimetry) and vertical profiling (0-1000m depth) across the current. Using this data, we identified and sampled the heart of the Gulf Stream’s surface and the mode water down to 400m depth as well as the Labrador Current waters.

Lars Stemmann, head scientist
Daniele Iudicone, oceanographer

Catherine Chabaud’s Log

Hello everyone.
It’s 9am Tuesday January 31st aboard Tara as I write these lines. The sky is totally blue, the sea has white-caps again. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen any seabirds (or very few) and no marine mammals.  

The Sargasso Sea (named for the drifting seaweed so common here) is a desert, at least in appearance, since the plankton collecting nets are loaded with living things.
 We are advancing with only the yankee (fore sail) hoisted, and neither main sail nor motor; we’re moving along at 4 knots (7,5 kilometers per hour) thanks to a moderate south-westerly wind. It’s a lot warmer than yesterday, and we’re still being pushed by the powerful current of the Gulf Stream. Everything is peaceful.  
Yesterday and last night’s calm spell gave the scientists a chance to finish the first long sampling station of the Savannah-New York leg. Finally this aspect of their work is rather 
like what fishermen do, often working in cold, crisp air with the halo of spotlights. Right now almost everybody is still sleeping. The next long station will take place in 2 days, further north, off the coast of New York. Before then, the team will be able to rest up and prepare for another frenetic time on deck. This evening we’ll celebrate our first long station, and the 600th immersion of the “rosette.”
Since the beginning of the sampling work, I’ve been curious to see what’s being collected.  And no doubt you’re as impatient as I am to see what they look like — these micro-organisms brought up in the nets and in the rosette’s tubes. Some are visible to the naked eye, notably the krill and fish larvae found at the bottom of the “bongos”, and these I’ve been able to photograph. But certain organisms, for example viruses and bacteria, can only be “discovered” later, in laboratories on land. 

Aboard Tara for this leg between Savannah and New York, Sophie Marinesque, research engineer in marine biology, is in charge of the “dry lab” equipped with microscopes. Sophie & I have selected a few of the specimens collected since Savannah. The black and white photos that I’m sending you show the organisms detected by the “flow cam”. The same organisms in color and 3-D were photographed with the “stereoscope” by Luis Gutierrez, Mexican optical engineer, during the San Diego-Panama leg. Take a look at these astonishing images, with captions added by Sophie & myself. 

Bon vent à tous,

Catherine Chabaud

Tara leaves Savannah

At 10 o’clock local time, Tara and her 15-member crew navigated down the Savannah River to the North Atlantic Ocean. We’re headed for New York, with 2 scientific stations programmed along the way, including one in the famous warm current of the Gulf Stream.
The fog was heavy this morning, but lifted an hour before we raised anchor. For a long time, the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge pillars were shrouded in fog. After the traditional horn signal announced our imminent departure, and just as Captain Loïc Vallette set the motors into reverse, the sun finally appeared. Tara’s grey hull gently peeled away from the dock running along River Street as the tide began descending.
The usual operations were carried out. The dinghy was raised onboard and stowed. The fenders and hawsers put away until the next stopover. In just 2 hours, accompanied by hungry sterns and a few pelicans overhead, we reached the Atlantic Ocean. Calm seas and light winds from the southeast were ideal conditions for a first night at sea.
For this “Gulf Stream” leg, the team is mostly French, with one Cuban, one German and one Italian. But as usual, English will be our common language to accomplish this next stage of our scientific mission around the world.
This evening all sails are hoisted:  mainsail, foresail, staysail and yankee. We’re in the middle of the Sargasso Sea, making just over 6 knots, and certainly helped by the Gulf Stream. But only partially, according to Lars Stemmann, our head scientist: the power of this warm current, which rises from the tropics before crossing the North Atlantic, will tell us immediately when we’re totally caught in its flow.
“The current of the Gulf Stream is 300 times more powerful than the Amazon River, and 5,000 times more powerful than the Rhone. Its average flow is 55 million cubic meters per second,” Lars told us last night at the first briefing. Our climate in Europe depends on this current. It’s also a major player in the global circulation of water on our planet.
Before our next station, the 144th since leaving Lorient over 2 years ago, we have to sail about 400 miles and pass Cape Hatteras, where the Gulf Stream flows very close to the coast.
This first long station, devoted to the Gulf Stream, should take place after 2 days of navigation, on the 28th or 29th of January. For the second station 3 days later, we will be positioned above a warm whirlpool, developing in the cold current coming from Labrador. It’s only 10 short days until we dock in the North Cove Marina at New York’s Battery Park.
Vincent Hilaire

Tara soon in the Gulf Stream

Tara arrived Friday, January 20th in Savannah, Georgia, in the southeastern United States. On Thursday, the schooner will set sail for New York, and during this leg will sample seawater from the region where of the Gulf Stream begins. Among the 15 crew members, the navigator and journalist Catherine Chabaud, embarked on this leg and re-discovered Tara with open joy.
Anybody who has returned to sail on Tara knows that seeing the “whale” again is a very emotional moment. I first looked for 2 masts of the same size, with their fluorescent orange tops, and after spotting those, I saw her rounded flanks sitting high in the water. And then a flood of memories came back, from my other voyages aboard Tara : unloading skis with the “Mountains of Silence” team, at the beginning of Shackleton’s Route, in South Georgia; sailing amidst the ice of the Antarctic Peninsula, the long hours on the foredeck with Sebastião Salgado, the photographer, waiting for a leopard seal to appear, the conversations in the wheelhouse or in the mess-room.
Since then, a wet lab has been added on Tara’s deck which allows scientists to filter water samples collected by the rosette, which is also kept on the back deck. A cabin has been transformed into an “optical laboratory” (the “dry lab”) where scientists analyze and photograph the freshly sampled microorganisms with cameras and microscopes.
One thing struck me since I boarded 2 days ago: during the expeditions I participated in before, in South Georgia and Antarctica, our favorite subjects were icebergs, penguins, and sea lions — photographed and filmed from every possible angle. Today, on the Tara Oceans expedition, our stars are viruses, bacteria, diatoms, copepods…They are the focus of everybody’s attention and subject of all conversations. A flat screen on a wall in the mess-room shows images of magnified “sea dust”, mostly invisible to the naked eye, exhibiting their unusual and beautiful forms.
In the days before departure, there’s excitement on board: scientists are preparing their sample tubes, using the protocol defined in advance for the entire expedition. With Loïc Valletta, captain, they analyze charts showing the currents, and study ideal locations for the next sampling stations. In the morning, high school students from Savannah visit Tara. On Tuesday morning, I shared this experience with advisors at the ‘Conseil Economique, Social et Environmental’, live via Skype. Tuesday afternoon, the two leaders of this scientific leg, Lars Stemman and Daniele Iudicone, presented the work of Tara Oceans at the University of Savannah, and in the evening there were cocktails for the crew: Marc Picheral, research engineer at the Laboratory of Oceanography in Villefranche, had just learned that the CNRS was awarding him the “Cristal”, the highest distinction for a research enginneer.
On Thursday, we will go down the Savannah River, like the container ships which transit here. Savannah is considered to be the second largest commercial port in the United States. The sea is 20 nautical miles away and we should have fair wind for our departure.
Good luck to all. You’ll be hearing from me soon, out in the open sea!
Catherine Chabaud

Back in the USA

Friday, January 20: the American flag is floating above Tara. We arrived this morning  in Savannah, Georgia. One leg of our voyage is over; before the next one begins, the crew is enjoying a very warm welcome offered by this small city on the east coast.

It took nearly 2 months for Tara to go from one coast to the other, heading south past Mexico then cutting across Central America via the Panama Canal. We left San Diego at the end of November after a long stopover for repairs. Now we’re back again on American ground. 

After several hours sailing up the narrow Savannah River, accompanied by the sound of canons blasting in our honor, Tara finally moors in the middle of the city. All along the dock, people crowd around the boat asking questions, engaging in lively discussions with crew members who are delighted to share the world they’ve been living in the past few weeks.Though the quai is still thronged with visitors, certain Taranautes go off to explore the city. For those of us who experienced the effervescence of  San Diego, the contrast is striking: the modern buildings of California have given way to beautiful streets lined with old houses, some of which date from the city’s origins in the 18th century. This is a human-scaled city – less than 150,000 inhabitants, ten times fewer than in San Diego – where street musicians are omnipresent and draw lots of enthusiastic spectators.

In one of the many city parks, the Tara crew’s t-shirts attract the attention of many strollers who don’t hesitate to start long discussions with these strange new arrivals. The hospitality continues into the evening: a reception in our honor, organized by the French Consulate, is scheduled at the Savannah Technical College. To bring us there, a traditional school bus has been hired to transport the 15 Tara passengers. Certain of us rediscover our childhood in the back of the yellow bus. 

At our destination we are welcomed as very special guests. During the speeches honoring our passage in Savannah, a classic French dinner is served – the crew enchanted to eat foie gras and pastries after a month at sea. At the end of the meal, the French chef gives us some dishes to take home so we can continue the feast for a few more days aboard Tara. Until our departure – scheduled for January 26th – we’ll be very occupied with the visits of local officials, schools and scientists.

These next few days will also be needed to renew the Tara team. Most of the scientists will disembark, to be replaced by another group; and the sailors will prepare for the next leg of the voyage – 10 days heading north to New York. As for me, after 2 months as journalist on  board, sharing with you the unique floating world of Tara, I’m giving up my job to an old-timer: Vincent Hilaire will take over the writing, camera and video equipment for the next two months, until Tara arrives in Lorient. Best of luck!  

Yann Chavance

Thermal shock…

The last long station of this “Panama-Savannah” leg has just begun in briskly cool weather that Tara has not experienced for months. On deck the scientists seem to miss the blazing sun that followed us since Panama; but below Tara’s hull the current carrying us is still under the sign of the tropics.
Entering the Gulf of Mexico, we went from suffocating heat to mild, pleasant summer weather. But this weekend, after passing the famous Florida Cape and heading north, the thermal shock was more violent.
On deck people are now wearing vests and warm jackets, and blankets appeared in the cabins. In less than 48 hours, the temperature has dropped 10 degrees.  And this is only the beginning… But curiously, under our feet, the water has retained “tropical time”, staying about 25 degrees; but only a couple of kilometers away, nearer to the coast the water temperature is only 15 degrees.
Between the last station in the Gulf of Mexico and this one, with Florida to the West and the Bahamas to the East, the current carrying us retains almost all of its heat. A current that our scientists have not stopped studying between these two stations.
Throughout the week, as if in a routine, each morning was devoted to a short station “in miniature”. The program consisted of: CTD (physico-chemical water data), Bongo (net used to catch largest species between the surface and 500 meters), sometimes TSRB (Tethered Spectro Radiometer Buoy, sensors used to analyze ocean color), and finally surface water sampling to study phytoplankton and to catch specimens for Gabriella to photograph in the dry lab.
Needless to say, the current that’s been carrying us all along this leg and will soon become the Gulf Stream has been scrutinized every day by the scientific team. And the sailors, even without studying it, have certainly been experiencing this famous current, especially Loïc. “It’s obvious, running on 2 motors against the wind, ordinarily we’d make an average of 5 knots. When we passed through the Florida channel, we were making 8 and a half! This will put us ahead of schedule for this last week at sea, even though we’ve stopped for the 2 days and nights of this long station.
Finally, everyone is counting on this benevolent current to take us safely to harbour by the end of the week. In this case, Savannah.
Yann Chavance

Going with the current

After skirting the Panama coast to Mexico by way of Belize (and a cinematographic interlude with Yann Arthus Bertrand), Tara is now in the Gulf of Mexico. The pace is building up as we finally get down to scientific business. Our course takes us north, following the marine currents.

For Loïc, the captain, this leg is really split in two, “We were relatively calm before Belize, but now our schedule will get tighter. The scientific team is itching for more action. A single short station took place after exiting the Panama Canal, but then the rosette remained tethered on deck because we didn’t receive the authorisations for sampling. Now that we’re in American waters, things will change. We’ve scheduled 2 long sampling stations, one in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, and the other along the Florida coast.

The main feature of this leg: Tara will be drifting the whole way thanks to ocean currents. After following the Caribbean current, which became the Yucatan current upon entering the Gulf, Tara will join the “Loop current”. This will bring us to the East Coast via the Florida current. Joined by other currents, it becomes the famous Gulf Stream. “This gives us a chance to follow the same water masses and the evolution of the organisms they carry,” says Emmanuel, the head scientist of the leg. “These organisms are all part of the same system, which lets us study changes in diversity, and the number of organisms in a connected system.”

To follow the currents as precisely as possible, the scientific team relies on satellite maps. Water temperature, sea level or phytoplankton concentrations – each chart shows the winding current as it makes its way to the East Coast.  This coincides perfectly with Tara’s route. But the question remains — are two stations enough? “All along the way, in addition to the stations, we’ve programmed at least 6 or 7 CTD profiles” replies Emmanuel.

Specifically, a CTD allows us to record a number of factors: not only Conductivity-Temperature-Depth, but also salinity, oxygen concentration and fluorescence. After immersing the rosette, the scientists then have a detailed profile of the actual water characteristics. “In addition, even without sampling, the camera shows us zooplankton distribution, and gives us an idea about the quantity and species present”, adds the French-Israeli scientist.

These multiple CTDs will let us correlate the water masses between the two long stations, while offering a global vision of these famous currents. But the positioning of these 2 stations is not motivated only by the study of currents. In the Gulf of Mexico, one station will take place not far from a sad ocean memory: the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April, 2010, which caused one of the worst oil spills in the United States. “Apparently, no traces of the catastrophe remain in the water, but some may be found in marine micro-organisms,” says Emmanuel. As often is the case, we’ll have to wait for the more complete laboratory analyses on land before we know for sure. For the scientists onboard, this leg offers many research directions.

For the sailors however, going north towards Savannah has a more symbolic aspect. “After Florida we’ll encounter a harsher climate, with a cold wind coming from the North,” says Loïc. “For Tara, this leg marks the end of summer!” A summer that lasted nearly a year.

Yann Chavance

Two Stations, Two Teams

New year, new ocean, new team, but the same objective. For the 7 scientists who recently embarked aboard Tara, the Panama Canal was the perfect place to relay with the other team: the first station of this new leg was almost exactly the same as the last station of the preceding leg.

Just before entering the Panama Canal, Gabriel and his team were able at the last minute to get permission to take a few samples at the entrance of the canal, on the Pacific side. A week later, the team led by Emmanuel (head scientist of this new leg) will do the second part of the experiment: another sampling station, but this time as we exit the canal on the Atlantic side.

“We want to compare the distribution and diversity of organisms at each end,” explains Emmanuel, professor of oceanography at the University of Maine. “When the Panama Strait  closed up, a short time ago in geological history, 2 populations of similar organisms became separated in 2 separate oceans. It’s interesting for us to see how these populations have evolved since then, genetically and in terms of diversity.

But according to the head scientist of Franco-Israeli origin, the strategic position of these 2 stations could provide other information: the Panama Canal, scarcely a hundred years old, artificially re-opened the Strait. “Boats release water from one end of the Canal into the other, not to mention organisms which can attach themselves to ships during their passage. This could modify the distribution of species on each side.

To know more about this, we’ll have to wait for the results of long genetic studies done in laboratories using the samples taken aboard Tara. For now, the new team will continue the work of their predecessors, smoothly performing their first sampling station. Fortunately, among the new arrivals there are certain Tara ‘old-timers’.

Marc, who works on the rosette alongside Sarah, has totaled 9 months aboard. Lucie, who replaces Noan doing the filtering, is on her third leg. Another old-timer, Gabriella takes over in the dry lab. Their experience in doing sampling stations benefits the people who have just come aboard, and makes for a perfect transition between the 2 teams. In the wet lab, our biologist from Barcelona, Francisco, is replaced by a compatriot, Beatriz.

To complete the team, Halldor, from EMBL, and Olivier from the Genoscope, are moving around helping everybody, along with Vincent, the only newcomer among the sailors since the departure of our young ‘mousse’ Baptiste.

At the end of the day, the manipulations have become automatic, and the new team finishes this famous first station in record time.

Yann Chavance

From one ocean to another

During Tara’s long journey since leaving Lorient in September 2009, the sailboat- laboratory has passed through many legendary places and had some very memorable experiences. Going through the Panama Canal has just been added to the list. This morning we left the Pacific Ocean, and now we’re here on the other side of the continent, sailing in Atlantic waters.

7:00 The quiet of the night gives way to the familiar din of engines. Slowly the heavy hull begins to move, illuminated by the first rays of the sun. Near a small buoy, a fast boat moors alongside Tara, bringing the Panamanian pilot who will stay with us most of the day. Aboard Tara, he will guide our captain, Loïc Valette as we maneuver through the locks, helping him in the difficult passages.

7:20 We arrive at the first buoys signaling the start of the canal. A journey of almost 80 km has just begun. We’re ready to cross a continent.

7:45 Tara passes under the “Bridge of the Americas”– for a long time the only way to get across the canal from one side to the other. The 2 shores come close together here, as if to guide our way: the estuary changes into a canal.

8:20 The first locks appear in the distance. As the sun begins to warm Tara’s deck, more and more of us come up to the railing to watch.

8:55 Here we are in the Miraflores Locks. A phone call informs us that we are now in the spotlight, the canal webcam pointed at us, sending an image of this strange ship around the world.

8:56 Lines are thrown, gates are closed, leaving behind the Pacific Ocean. Before us a huge red cargo ship makes the 36 meter-long Tara look like a little dinghy. Imperceptibly the water raises the 2 ships a few meters.

9:35 We pass into the second chamber. The ballet of gigantic gates starts up again — opening for our passage, then imprisoning us once again under the watchful eye of some pelicans.

9:50 The last gates open in front of Tara’s nose. We enter Miraflores Lake, full throttle to the next 3 locks of the canal.

10:30 We’re back in the play of aquatic elevators, this time in the Pedro Miquel Locks. Only 2 more gates to pass and we’ll arrive at the level of Gatun Lake, 26 meters above sea level.

10:50 The crew casts off the ropes that attached Tara to the locks. Concrete and steel give way to lush vegetation on the banks.

11:05 We pass underneath “Centennial Bridge”. With the sun beating down, the recently- embarked scientific team begins to prepare their first sampling station, scheduled for tomorrow, checking one last time the rosette and the wet lab.

12:00 Gatun Lake and its multitude of tiny islands opens before us. Loïc and the Panamanian  pilot guide Tara’s 120 tons through the buoys of the channel.

13:30 After a meal on deck, its time for a welcome-aboard briefing, even though there are quite a few habitués among the new-comers. The scientific team then details the procedures and challenges of  the upcoming stations.

14:40 An unexpected event: we have to change pilots.Tara turns off the engines and throws anchor in a corner of the lake. The wait is long. We remain moored until nightfall when finally we can pass through the last locks leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

19:40 After 5 hours of silence, under a sky set afire by the setting sun, the engines start up again. The new pilot is aboard, the way is free, and we can finally begin the last stage of our journey.

20:10 Nightfall on the canal, and here we are in the Gatun Locks. This time the locks will gradually make us descend to sea level. Still 4 locks to pass before we can navigate on another ocean under a starry sky.

22:00 Slowly, the last gate opens. Beyond, the Atlantic Ocean. Finally!

22:40 We pass the last buoy guiding us to open sea, and leave the pilot here. All 15 Taranautes are on deck, ready for the next leg of the voyage. The long crossing is finished. This morning we were still sailing in the Pacific Ocean, and now we’re in the Atlantic, where Tara will remain until reaching Lorient.

Yann Chavance

The Lost World

“Let’s not get excited,” we’ve been telling ourselves for the past few days aboard Tara.

After a disappointment at Clipperton 10 days ago, the announcement that we will probably pass close to Isla del Coco (another legendary island in the north Pacific) could eventually cause even more disappointment. The previous day, the decision to schedule a last station before Panama almost cancelled our passage near the island. But Sunday morning, the crew received a wonderful Christmas present, a few days before everybody else.

« Isla del Coco » ! We awoke at dawn hearing these words. The sun had not yet risen but everyone was already on deck, discovering through the mist a ghostlike silhouette before our eyes. Although only 24 square kilometers in size, the island is very imposing. It looks like the set for a film: steep cliffs that seem insurmountable are covered by dense jungle, with many waterfalls crashing noisily into the sea. In this lost world, we all expect to see emerging from the jungle a forgotten pterodactyl or a huge gorilla. While Tara zigzags in this grandiose landscape, between the many rocky islands covered with birds, Loïc tries to contact the land authorities to ask if we can moor for a few hours.

Suddenly the ship’s radio spits out some Spanish. Immediately Francisco is summoned to translate. The Costa Rican authorities want to know a little more about our boat, sailing in their waters: although situated about 500 kilometres from their coast, the island belongs to Costa Rica. After a long discussion, we shut off the motors and wait almost an hour for the authorities to arrive.

Finally, a small zodiac sidles up to Tara, and an immense bearded man who looks like a South American revolutionary comes aboard. Despite the language barrier, and thanks to Francisco’s talents as a translator, the discussion quickly becomes very relaxed. The official who came aboard departs with books, newspapers, and other Tara souvenirs, and we have permission to spend a few hours on the island.

It took only a few minutes before the first zodiac was loaded with impatient visitors. 3 weeks without landing! 3 weeks without feeling solid ground beneath our feet. You can easily understand our joy when the zodiac landed on the beach, opposite some buildings of the Nature Reserve, the only traces of people on the island. At the foot of a waterfall, a narrow path invites exploration. A small group of us begins the ascension of one of the island’s summits (the highest is more than 600 meters), passing though a tropical forest in the middle of the ocean.

In this unusual decor, certain people recall the pirate adventures of their childhood. Not surprising, since this very place inspired Stevenson to write “Treasure Island”. In fact this was the island’s official name for many years – almost causing its destruction. Encouraged by legends of treasures buried on Isla da Coco by pirates, corsairs and buccaneers, hundreds of treasure hunters came and dug up the island for many years, gradually destroying its fragile ecosystem. The creation of a National Park in1978, and the title of «World Heritage Site» accorded by UNESCO in 1997, fortunately saved the island’s incredible biodiversity.

In this jungle isolated from the continent, there’s a great number of endemic species – ones that exist only on this island – which means that Isla del Coca has become a unique place for the study of biodiversity. On land, but also in the water. The gardens of coral surrounding the island are considered one of the world’s best places for diving, and especially for observing the largest species: hammer sharks, manta rays, whale sharks – and even orcas and humpback whales further off the island’s coast.

For Sunday visitors like us, lacking time and diving gear, this is the chance to swim near the beach, with simply a mask on our face. But we keep our eyes wide open since the park rangers told us there could be many sharks in the area. Only Loïc had the experience – face to face with a shark at a depth of only a few meters. This short swim made everyone’s spirits soar before we took off for a few more days of open sea, and Panama. On a visit to Isla del Coco, Jacques Cousteau called it “the most beautiful island in the world”. This Sunday morning aboard Tara, no one would have contradicted him.

Yann Chavance

A Day on Clipperton – almost.

The entire crew was waiting impatiently to spend a day on Clipperton, this tiny island lost in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. A mixture of excitement, but also apprehension: would we be able to set foot on this legendary island? Would the sea allow us this chance? Find the answer in the following account of a very unusual day.

It’s 6 am, Wednesday December 7th. Surprisingly everyone is already on deck, looking very tired. Not even taking time for breakfast, a small group is on Tara’s fore deck, gazing at the ocean bathed in early morning light. Gradually a slight shadow appears far away on the horizon line. We see nothing more until the sun finally emerges from the night, a deep red suddenly illuminating the cloudy sky. Like a sign, a solitary opening in the clouds on the horizon gives us a glimpse of Clipperton.

Armed with our cameras, everyone begins to distinguish through their zoom lens the sandy beach, the rocks, the first palm trees. Excitement is on all faces, and this feeling of living a privileged moment, a very unusual sunrise. As the day breaks, Tara approaches the atoll. The first seabirds begin to circle the boat and quickly become a horde, sometimes hovering at arms’ length. At 7 am, we finally reach Clipperton.

The boat begins to circle the island at a certain distance in order to find a place where we might pass through the barrier of coral. We sail by coconut groves, a few shipwrecks on the beach, the famous Clipperton rock, and a monument bearing the French flag. When we come back to our starting point, there appears to be a small opening in the waves crashing on the reef, so we launch the dinghy with François and Alain aboard for a reconnaissance tour. From Tara’s deck, all eyes are fixed on the little boat, which from afar looks like it’s struggling against the elements.When they return, the news isn’t good. “Landing here would be very risky.”

Loïc replaces Alain on the dinghy, and heads toward the reef to make his own decision. Not even ten minutes later they’re back, and the captain is categorical: the heavy surf makes this passage too dangerous for 15 people to disembark. Also, the tide is going out, making the manœuvre more perilous with every passing minute. As a consolation prize, Daniel and François take turns ferrying small groups of people closer to the island. Just a few dozen meters away, the beach seems so close, so accessible; but the din of waves crashing on the reef reminds us that we’re not willing to risk the challenge of this island. The wind chases away the clouds, revealing a gorgeous blue sky. Tara anchors a hundred meters from the beach so we can spend a few hours within view of Clipperton.

Once anchored, some people take out the fishing rods, while others prefer masks and snorkels. Beneath Tara’s hull fish are abundant in water so transparent we can see huge coral formations 15 meters below. Some small sharks with black spots approach the swimmers.

A few hours in this spectacular setting give us all a good rest, but still, we’re very disappointed. Not able to feel solid ground underfoot, to taste a coconut on the beach, to walk among the boobies (seabirds of the Sulidae family) or even bring back a tangible souvenir from Clipperton. It’s a cruel disappointment, especially as Tara hoists her sails and glides away from this long-awaited island stopover, while we all return to our daily routine. We’ll spend another 2 weeks at sea doing science, until we reach Panama. The legendary atoll will keep its mystery; the strong attraction we felt these past days will remain intact. As the Clipperton rock disappears on the horizon in the boat’s wake, a group of dolphins perform their acrobatics in front of Tara’s nose – a good-bye ballet.

Yann Chavance

Tribute to Sir Peter Blake 10 years after his death, by Lady Pippa Blake

On the 10th anniversary of Sir Peter Blake’s death (December 6, 2001), Tara Expeditions asked several personalities to express their feelings about this dedicated sailor. All through December you will find many testimonials. The series starts with Peter’s wife, Lady Pippa Blake. Then Don Robertson, friend and crew member with Team New Zealand and Seamaster (Tara’s former name).  Alistair Moore, who was trained by Sir Peter Blake during the Blake Expeditions, will also give us his impressions.

On December 5th 2001 I lost a special husband, Sarah-Jane and James lost a wonderful father, his fellow sailors lost a great teammate and New Zealand lost a hero.

Ten years is a decade – a long time within a life time but sometimes it feels as if that fateful day could have happened just weeks ago. Times have been tough and there have been some dark days. However there was no option but to move on with life in a positive way – helped enormously with the support of friends and family around the world.

Amongst special friends I name those involved with Tara Expeditions. When the decision came to sell Seamaster we were determined that she be sold to the right people who could carry on the environmental work of which Peter was becoming so passionate. So when we met Etienne Bourgois, agnès b. and the Tara team everything came together and we knew that we had achieved our goal. I am proud that Tara is crossing the oceans continuing the environmental mission that Peter was launching into. The world’s future relies on such missions to help make a difference and we, the Blake family and the Sir Peter Blake Trust are behind Tara Expeditions all the way.

Lady Pippa Blake

Scientists on deck

Throughout the day, a kind of effervescence animated the deck and laboratories. With motors off and Tara immobile in the ocean, a strange ballet was performed; seabirds swirling over the boat were the only audience. At last the new team’s first sampling station had begun.

After cancellation of the first station, some of us were becoming impatient. These past few days, Tara made several short stops – time enough to plunge measuring instruments (the famous “rosette”) into the water. These samplings allowed the scientists to establish a profile of the different layers of ocean on our trajectory.

For Denis and the other researchers aboard, this information is very precious: “With this data we’ve been able to the determine the depths at which we’ll get the most interesting samples, notably the zone where there’s the least oxygen.” It’s precisely this large expanse of oxygen-scarce water that has attracted the scientists to this corner of the north Pacific. Under Tara’s hull this morning, at a depth just below 100 meters, lies an immense zone with almost no oxygen. “It’s especially interesting to study these particuliar zones,” says Denis. “We’re hoping to find things we would not see elsewhere – perhaps even some new species adapted to these extreme conditions.

So it’s not surprising that at 8 a.m. everyone is already on deck, ready to start a very full workday. After the rosette descends a first time, continually taking in data from the surface to a depth of 1,000 meters, the results begin to appear: the layer we’re looking for is right here under our feet. Studying the precious graphs furnished by the rosette, Denis comments: “Right here the probe says the oxygen level is zero! Not even very low levels, but an anoxic milieu, that is, almost totally without oxygen. We can see that this anoxic layer is very wide, and also very deep, rising to just 100 meters below the surface.”

But the scientists’work on board isn’t limited to determining the characteristics of this very particular layer. Our goal is to study the organisms that live here. Throughout the day an army of sampling devices are put into action one after another: filtering nets, pumps, bottles attached to the rosette. Little by little the samples accumulate on the rear deck. Lots of hands are busy sorting, labeling, storing and treating the precious samples. Gradually everyone figures out what to do, learns new skills which soon become second-nature, all this in the broiling sun.

By the end of the day, even the most experienced admit to being totally exhausted by this work.“That was a really long day!” says Noan, frequent voyager aboard Tara. For a first station, we have to set everything up, make sure everyone is doing what’s necessary, and get into a routine. And we’ll have to start all over again for the long station coming up soon. That will be a real challenge.” Fortunately, the captain had prepared a little surprise for the deserving team, a great way to celebrate the successful completion of our first sampling station.

Yann Chavance

Jean-Louis Etienne visits Tara

The French explorer had an emotional rendez-vous with his former sailboat “Antarctica”, now called Tara. This was the occasion to share with the crew many memories linked to the boat since its construction in 1989. Tara has come a long way since then!

Today, Tara continues its outreach program by hosting over 50 students from the San Diego French American School. The crew welcomes the children, and in small groups they visit the boat from deck to berths, passing through the Wet Lab and the machine room.

The pupils are studious and very curious about everything. It’s no wonder — for months in class they’ve followed Tara’s voyage, and are thrilled to be actually on board. Among the groups, a familiar face appears: Jean-Louis Etienne, who lives in San Diego, has come to visit the crew before they embark on the open seas.

He conceived this boat with the help of engineer Michel Franco and architects Luc Bouvet and Olivier Petit, and named her “Antarctica”. Constructed to withstand Arctic ice, the boat sailed across the world’s oceans with Jean-Louis on board. Purchased and rebaptised “Seamaster” in 1996 by the famous New Zealand navigator Sir Peter Blake, then acquired by Etienne Bourgois in 2003 especially for the Tara Arctic expedition, the boat has undergone numerous transformations.

But for Jean-Louis Etienne, it’s still the same boat, which took him across the world. “I have the feeling that I never left. A part of me is still here,” reminisces the explorer, deeply moved by his memories. “I could walk the length of the boat without even opening my eyes.” Moving around, as if on familiar ground, he notices here and there a cabin transformed into a lab, a wooden panel removed, a new control instrument. Surrounded by the whole crew, the French explorer recalls his adventures on this same deck, the boat’s past technical problems, the good times and the bad.

Memories are evoked wherever he looks, and the audience is enthralled to be in the company of a living witness. Even if there’s a whiff of nostalgia, we feel this man is happy to see his former boat in such good hands. “When I put her up for sale, some people wanted to use her for cruises,” he sighs. “Here, she’s found her place. I’m proud of what she’s doing as Tara”.

Loïc, the captain, takes the opportunity to ask for information about Clipperton, our next stop. Looking at a large map of the island, Jean-Louis Etienne, who led a 4-month expedition there in 2005, explains where to approach, where to anchor. Vital information for the crew: Clipperton is Tara’s next destination, half-way between San Diego and Panama. Our departure for Jean-Louis Etienne’s esteemed island is scheduled for Thursday!

Yann Chavance

Tara in dry dock

It’s been a long time since Tara has come onto dry land: the last time was in summer 2010. Sailing the Pacific, even among those enchanted islands, unfortunately left serious scars (torn sails, one broken engine, etc). All this requires dry dock repairs. It’s time to do more than apply a band-aid.

We’re now in the world of sailors: the daily grind of the dry docks, hot gulps of coffee on the go, greasy hands, and the smile of the crane operator! It’s all ours, this indescribable jumble produced by digging into Tara’s bowels! Changing the portside motor will certainly bring some surprises; we’re expecting a struggle.

Finally, Tara is out of the water. Dockworkers have meticulously stanchioned the hull. We go onboard as soon as possible and look over the work list. It’s a long one so we start immediately!

Opening up the floor of the mess-room on the kitchen side has been assigned to François Aurat and myself. François is a hardworking guy from the south of France. He is fearless, likes action and doesn’t like wasting time on a job.

We work as quickly as possible. After a couple of days, the mess-room flooring is taken apart, metal sheeting is cut open, and the uncoupled engine hauled up onto the quay, much to the satisfaction of the chief mechanic. The hole, in spite of everything, does not appear very large, and leaves us wondering about installing the new engine.

The “whale”, Tara’s nickname, echoes with strange sounds: electric screwdrivers, machine screw drillers, electric drills and hammers. We eat lunch in 20 minutes — a sandwich laced with ketchup or mustard — and get right back to work. The on-site workers, less stressed and frenetic, watch us living and working like demons. Sometimes they smile at us and they often lend a hand. No one wants to break the rhythm. We’re all doing our best to manage fatigue.

We’re on the quay, a world I know well. In America or not, this dry dock doesn’t keep its secrets for long, and the work advances quickly.

We’ll be back in the water soon. These periods on land are not the most pleasant for a sailor. He loses his bearings: the night watch, meals on time, the routines on the open sea have nothing to do with being on land. At the end of the day, we return to the hotel to shower off the day’s grime. After a brief rest, we meet up with some of the others and share some beers. Often, the conversations are about getting the boat back into the water. But it’s time to look for a place to eat. The shadowy eateries in the area are glad to have us. Dinner is wolfed down and no one is tempted to hang out in the neighboring bars. We have to keep up the rhythm and tomorrow our toils continue.

Soon the boat will be back in the water, and we’ll return to the oceans searching for plankton! That’s all we’re thinking about right now!!!

Alain Giese

Tara in San Diego

San Diego media and VIPs turned out on Oct. 27 to welcome Tara to San Diego in style. On the Maritime Museum dock in front of the vessel, Dr. Stephane Richard of French BioBeach launched the press conference by welcoming Port of San Diego Chairman Scott Peters, who presented Tara with an official Port of San Diego proclamation.

“We recognize the importance of this marine scientific expedition and its significant scientific research that is crucial to all ports,” said Chairman Peters. “The Port of San Diego also has great concern for the world’s oceans and bays. One of the missions of the Port of San Diego is to serve as an environmental steward of San Diego Bay.”

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, having already received a tour of the vessel before the press conference began, then welcomed the Captain, crew, and scientists aboard Tara on behalf of the City of San Diego. “The ocean is central to life here in San Diego,” he said. “Not only is the beach a huge part of our culture, but the oceanographic and biodiversity research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is truly part of our identity. For the next few weeks, you’ll be a part of a community that celebrates our ocean. San Diego cares deeply for the health of the ocean and understands better than most communities the role it plays in a healthy planet.”

Following the Mayor, French consul general David Martinon, Dr. Eric Karsenti, and Romain Troublé spoke, after which the VIPs and press in attendance toured the vessel.

Later that day, San Diego scientists were in attendance at a scientific symposium and cocktail reception at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, sponsored by French BioBeach. Dr. Karsenti and other members of the expedition had the opportunity to present results and details of Tara’s research to some of San Diego’s top scientists. The following day, Oct. 28, Tara welcomed on board Dr. Craig Venter, famed in the scientific community for his role in being one of the first to sequence the human genome and in creating the first cell with a synthetic genome in 2010.

Venter founded Celera Genomics, The Institute for Genomic Research, and the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, where he now works to create synthetic biological organisms and to document genetic diversity in the world’s oceans. Dr. Venter was given a private tour of Tara and learned about their research from the Tara team.

That evening, Tara docked at the scenic Bali Hai restaurant, with its spectacular view of San Diego Bay, and the crew and scientists were welcomed at a dinner organized by the Tara Welcoming Committee (French BioBeach, UK Sails, Joe Saad Associates, and STPR). There were more than 50 in attendance, and the guest of honor was four-time America’s Cup champion Dennis Conner, sailing legend and a fixture of the San Diego sailing community.

At the dinner, the Cortez Racing Association presented Tara with its club burgee to fly up the shrouds and CRA hats for the crew to wear as a souvenir of their visit to San Diego. Romain Troublé presented CRA (represented by Staff Commodore Joe Saad) a framed photo of Tara, dedicated and signed by all the crew.

Romain Troublé and Dennis Conner exchanged America’s Cup reminiscences, and Conner invited Troublé and other Tara crew to join him aboard Menace XXIV to compete in Class 3 in the popular CRA Halloween Regatta on San Diego Bay the following day. All joined the after-race party and awards ceremony at Fiddler’s Green Restaurant.

Stephanie Thompson

Welcome to San Diego

On Wednesday 26th October, we glimpse the California coast, first sign that a world exists and is waiting for us beyond the seemingly boundless ocean. Whales accompany us into the bay. Then we see a bunch of white sails.

All of Tara’s team is there to escort the boat to San Diego’s Maritime Museum Port. Tara takes her place among the “Surprise” (the boat from the film, Master and Commander), a Soviet submarine from WWII, and other historical ships anchored there.

On the following day, San Diego’s mayor Jerry Sanders visits the schooner and welcomes Tara on behalf of this city, which cherishes the ocean, is capital of the America’s Cup, and home to Sea World, the world’s largest aquarium. He joins Scott Peters, Port Authority Chairman, in offering an honorary plaque to Tara Oceans celebrating the progress of this worldwide expedition in the presence of Romain Troublé and Eric Karsenti.

In the afternoon, the Tara team visits Scripps Institution (University of California in San Diego), one of the leading centers for oceanography in the world. Key members of the expedition — Eric Karsenti, Chris Bowler, Mike Sieracki and Matt Sullivan — present the latest techniques used in acquisition and analysis of samples.

After immersing ourselves in the world of diatoms, the genomics of viruses and other plankton inhabiting the oceans, we celebrate our arrival on the terrace of this splendid site overlooking La Jolla Beach. A band of dolphins appears among the surfers as we enjoy the California sunset.

Andres Peyrot

San Diego Prepares to Welcome Tara

When Tara arrives in San Diego on October 26th for a three-week stopover,  she will be greeted with excitement and pomp by America’s Finest City’s  officials and scientific community, which includes the University of  California, San Diego, and Scripps Institute of Oceanography, among  others.

Starting with a boat parade to escort the vessel into the harbor, all  efforts are being made to honor Tara’s mission and take advantage of her  presence in the city. Tara will be berthed on Harbor Drive in the heart  of San Diego’s busy downtown, as a guest of the Port of San Diego, at the San Diego Maritime Museum alongside such tourist attractions as the  historic Star of India and Berkeley.

On October 27th at 11am, the Mayor of  San Diego, Jerry Sanders, and Port of San Diego Chairman Scott Peters  will hold a press conference to officially welcome Tara to San Diego.  The Consul General of France in Los Angeles, David Martinon, the  scientific director of Tara Oceans, Dr. Eric Karsenti and Romain Troublé, operations manager of Tara Oceans will also speak at the event.

Port Chairman Scott Peters tied Tara’s research to efforts the Port is  making to safeguard its own environment. “As an environmental steward,  the Port of San Diego has great respect and appreciation for the marine  research being done by this team,” said Peters. “The port’s jurisdiction  includes more than 3,000 acres of water. We are developing a Climate  Mitigation and Adaptation Plan to prepare for potential climate change  impacts here in San Diego.”

Following their remarks and questions from the media, the VIPs will receive a tour of the vessel.

Stephanie Thompson

Approaching California

On Saturday, October 22nd, we begin the last sampling station of our leg between Honolulu and San Diego, 200 nautical miles from the American coast.

The sky is grey, water temperature is 16º C, and on deck, the crew is bustling about in heavy gear. The sailors and scientists are all nostalgic, having left behind beautiful Hawaiian weather, and hope that the famed California sunshine will appear. What we are sampling, so near the coast, is a thin upwelling created by a Californian current.

An upwelling is water from the depths that rises to the surface, much colder and rich in nutrient minerals (nitrates, phosphates, etc.) This richness generates an increase in plankton growth, resulting in higher chlorophyll concentrations detected by satellite imaging. However, the currents evolve rapidly and the richest zone can be difficult to find. A couple of cloudy days prevent us from determining precise temperature and chlorophyll distribution, and the daily oceanographic charts can’t keep the pace. Satellite images provide only fragmentary information.

Thanks to onboard temperature, salinity and chlorophyll sensors, the drylab computers indicate areas where chlorophyll is concentrated at the surface: the color-coded line oscillates from dark blue (poor) to red (rich), suggesting relative abundance along our route. This colored mark, a thin slice on the map, pushes us to imagine the form and structure of the upwelling, and to plan a 48-hour station.

At noon, the scientists realize that the morning’s sampling is relatively poor compared to the maximal chlorophyll observations carried out during the night. After consulting with captain Hervé Bourmaud and the team, our head scientist Isabelle Taupier Letage makes the decision to reposition the boat 40 nautical miles back, and to start a new long station the following day. It’s better to retrace our steps in a familiar sector rather than take a risk in unknown zones.

On Sunday, October 23, the nets and pumps are hard at work. Jérémie Capoulade observes an important concentration of diatoms, types of phytoplankton that absorb large quantities of mineral nutrients to synthesize organic material via photosynthesis. We’ve definitely managed to put Tara’s hull into the California current.

And finally on Monday, October 24, the California sun rises over a slick-surfaced sea. We can see the reflection of the boat in the water, smooth as a mirror. Below the surface are colonies of salps and medusas swimming in rich, green-tinted water sparkling with prisms of light. At 16:30 we’re ready to continue towards San Diego with no regrets.

Some comments from the lab:

Jérémie Capoulade: “Observing plankton onboard Tara is not an easy job. You have to be patient to capture images of these small animals that are constantly moving with the incessant rolling of the boat. But all in all it’s totally rewarding to observe the beauty and elegance of these specimens.” 

Andres Peyrot

After the rain, fair weather

Having crossed a very stormy sea with gusts of wind up to 35 knots, we finally arrive at the heart of the low pressure zone. Our main sail got badly torn, and we spent the last period of navigation on deck, attached to security harnesses, watching the wild sea unfurl and spray us with salty cascades.

François Aurat, during his night watch : « 2h30, 29 knots northeast, you’d think it was mid-August at the entry to the port of Brest! That’s the magic of Tara. Only the crèpes and sausages are missing !! »

Today, Sunday October 16, the sun is shining again, and it looks like we’ll arrive at our next sampling station by tomorrow evening. The scientific team is ready to get back to work. Martin offers us a freshly-caught sea bream for the sake of science. With a scalpel in hand, Celine Dimier dissects the guts of the fish, looking for plastic inside the stomach. Unfortunately (dare I say?) it’s totally empty, which of course is why the fish got itself caught on a hook. We still have to analyse the fish’s flesh, which might contain invisible toxicity.

It’s also useful to preserve this catch for studying the eventual consequences of Fukushima, the nuclear catastrophe that occurred on March 11, 2011. This fish was certainly not in direct contact with the contamination, but it will serve as a “point zero” with which to compare the levels of radioactivity in organisms that have come in contact with contaminated water or debris from across the Pacific. Celine Blanchard skillfully negotiates a trade – to get freshly-caught sea bream in exchange for pieces of frozen Thazard that had been caught in an even more significant zone – in the center of the north Pacific, when we were crossing the « plastic continent ». We all thank Celine for her fine business sense, which has allowed us a delicious new round of poke mahi mahi for dinner.

Andres Peyrot

Big samples

On Friday October 7th, 2011, it’s 02:00 in the morning, and I’m on the night shift with Yohann until 04:00. Lights are off and we’re keeping track of the boat from the cockpit. The moon is setting on the horizon and Tara is plunged into complete darkness. The clear sky unveils a multitude of stars illuminating the ocean all by themselves. At the back of the schooner we can see fluorescent plankton sparkling in the propeller wakes.

At 9:00, Isabelle Taupier Letage, our head scientist, rushes into my cabin: “Andres, there’s plastic!”. I jump out of bed and follow her onto the deck. “Fishing nets are entangled under the hull. Martin and François are diving to release them”. The whole team is peering over the safety railing. Martin and François jump in to extricate this humongous plastic cobweb which has been slowing us down for the last hour. As they finally succeed in pulling the nets off the hull, we pull them up on deck.

Isabelle and Céline Dimier are trying to unravel this tangled mess to cut off some samples. Isabelle removes a pink toothbrush and adds it to the multi-colored plastic pile which Céline has saved on aluminum foil. Between the mesh, we find a colony of small crabs which have adopted the nets as a new home. Copepods and other plankton species are also present. The samples will be studied in particular by Melissa Duhaime from Arizona University, who will tell us more about the microbial life interacting with this plastic.

For the rest of the day, we continue to spot floating macro rubbish. We also see finely dispersed plastic flakes drifting below the water surface. It’s a soup of minute fragments of plastic bags. Outside of that, the concentration of macro rubbish remains relatively sparse and unevenly distributed.

Andres Peyrot

Spotty Plastic

Wednesday October 5th, we successfully finished the second long station of the leg between Honolulu (Hawaii) and San Diego (California). Our second sampling done with the Manta trawl (a surface net designed to collect plastic) is less loaded with plastic than the sampling we did yesterday.

Meanwhile, in the dry lab scientist Jeremie Capoulade observes with astonishment the presence of a tiny silicon bead actually inside a plankton sample. He calls on Bendetto Barone to identify the intruder and make sure it’s not just another unfamiliar organism. The drop of water that Jeremie places under the microscope does indeed contain plastic, rather unexpected in such a tiny sample.

Thursday, October 6th we finally change direction and head east, veering close to the wind. On deck we keep a pair of binoculars handy and continue to observe plastic macro-debris floating around chaotically. In general, we see less plastic rubbish than the first two days when we were actually sailing within the gyre. This confirms the variable quantities of plastic observed during expeditions of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

As we sail towards the center of the “plastic continent” we keep our eyes wide open.

Andres Peyrot

Plastic Continent Ahoy!

On Tuesday October 4, as we reach latitude 31º N, for the first time we encounter some floating plastic rubbish. We’ve arrived at the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. It’s a first “triumph” because the studies on plastic distribution in the north Pacific by the Charles Moore Algalita Foundation (1999-2008) showed unpredictable locations.

A modeling of ocean convergent points carried out by Dr. Maximenko from Hawaii University in 2008 traced marine currents with small drifting buoys. More recently Maximenko demonstrated 5 worldwide convergence zones, and amongst them the Pacific “plastic continent”.

In practical terms, and partially due to wind variability, it is impossible to even pinpoint the plastic distribution at the interior of a gyre. We can’t even predict where the most rubbish will be found at a given time. We resigned ourselves to this fact and began this leg in the manner of “hit or miss”, and voila! We’re in the middle of the rubbish, less than a week after leaving Honolulu.

We’ve deployed the Manta trawl net, specifically designed for surface plastic debris sampling. As the net is brought on board, all eyes are riveted on the contents: a multitude of colored plastic fragments surrounding a large green stopper, covered with an algal ecosystem. Two small-attached crabs appear to be defending their habitat with their claws. This plastic has been colonized like a coral reef.

Judging from what we see below the macro-rubbish floating line, this plastic has been there for a long time and is part of the marine environment. We’ll have to determine the exact consequences of plastic on ocean life and study the microbial interactions with the plastic. Maybe we’ll discover bacteria capable of digesting and dissociating certain polymers? Many questions remain unanswered and a multitude of analyses await these samples, which Tara will bring to San Diego. One thing is certain: there’s lots of plastic!

Andres Peyrot 

Approaching the « plastic continent »

Saturday, October 1st, 2011, we complete the “ALOHA” station when the multinet brings in the last samples. Then in the middle of the night, we take off again. Winds from the east blow are blowing in the direction opposite to where we want to go.

Since the the boat cannot head into the wind, Hervé (Tara’s captain) is obliged to change course and sail north. Our goal is to reach a latitude far enough north (about 35°N) where we’ll leave behind the trade winds and catch winds from the west that will carry us to California. This means a modification in our program of sampling stations. What’s more, the boat must be in the port of San Diego imperatively on October 26th. The number of days planned for sampling depends on the number of extra days spent sailing. Accustomed to the challenges of this kind of scientific expedition, the Tara team begins a race against time.

The scientists prolong their workdays in order to maintain sampling protocol, and the crew does everything possible to optimize navigation time. Isabelle Taupier Letage, head scientist, must make decisions about planning the stations and their locations. After consulting the rest of the team, she decides to start a second long station once we pass above latitude 30°N, because from that point on, we’ll officially be at the edge of the “plastic continent”*.

Before that, we’ll have 2 days of pure navigation. The wind picks up, motors are shut off, and we reach a speed of 9 knots in silence. François (deck officer), throws in some fishing lines. A few hours later he brings to the kitchen fresh sea-bream and mahi mahi. Celine (the cook) satisfies our nostalgia for Hawaii by preparing the famous island dish, spicey mahi mahi poke. For now, we try to forget the idea that plastic is polluting the marine food chain and might be hiding in the flesh of the fish we’re eating. The results of our research will be known soon enough.

Andres Peyrot

*The plastic continent : a calm zone in the Pacific Ocean where currents carry floating detritus that accumulates in mass. This sea of rubbish, visible only from aboard a boat, was first discovered in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore. It took him almost a week to cross the plastic mass. He was astonished by what he had found in this little-traveled part of the world, and began an association to study the phenomenon, and bring it to public attention (for more information, see www.alagita.org).

Welcome to Paradise

After a 20-hour trip, I finally landed in Honolulu. It’s 20:30 local time, a 12- hour time difference with Paris. A voice echoes in the cabin of the plane: “Welcome to paradise”. The taxi driver is Palestinian and drops me at the Aloha Tower port entrance. I wheel my luggage through a deserted shopping center, towards 2 gray masts jutting out over the concrete buildings. Tara suddenly looms up before me.

At that instant, my Parisian life is put on hold along with city habits, and I begin a new adventure that will last more than a month. A reality shared with some of the new arrivals who are coming aboard Tara for the first time this week. Part of the previous crew will disembark and take up their old routines. In a week’s time, the new team will be complete and we’ll confront the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, on our way to San Diego.

In the days remaining before departure, the sailors are hard at work. A torn sail has to be repaired, the engine is taken apart and parts are replaced, scientific material is renewed, and food supplies are brought on board. We have very little time to explore Oahu Island and meet local scientists. Stopovers are not only necessary for the expedition’s logistics but also present opportunities to share science and culture.

We are lucky to have scientists as guides; they live on the island and are also Tara Oceans collaborators. There’s Jim Maragos, an American trustee of Tara Oceans and coral specialist who has lived for more than 40 years in Hawaii. Aldine Amiel and Eric Roettinger are marine biologists and photographers of the microscopic world. Their web site (kahikai.org) shares news and images of ocean biodiversity. Both of them have been among the scientific teams aboard Tara. Last but not least, there’s Lionel Guidi, a postdoc at Hawaii University in the C-MORE laboratory (Center for Microbial Oceanography: research and education). Tara’s scientific team will give a presentation here at the Center on September 27. The scientists will present the protocol established for the Hawaii-San Diego leg.

Meanwhile, before immersing themselves in a purely scientific universe, our hosts show us around their island: 

Pearl Harbor with the Battleship USS Arizona Memorial, where over 1,100 American crewmembers perished during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. On this day, the United States entered WW II. The memorial was constructed above the sunken boat, which is still intact after almost 70 years. We also saw our first rainbow of the stopover, a frequent sight above the Aloha state.

The Oahu west coast is the first opportunity for the captain, Hervé Bourmaud, to escape Honolulu’s urban zone. As the typical 5-lane American highway becomes a coastal route, passing volcanic hills, Hervé says, “So, Hawaii is more than an industrial port with its buildings and a Hooters facing a Starbucks”. We had to walk for an hour under the Hawaiian sun before reaching the nature reserve at Kaena Point, where monk seals, an endangered species, spread out on a rocky beach.

The famous Oahu North Shore, a mecca for surfers of the world. We arrive just in time for the first waves announcing the winter swells. Too monstrous for the Tara team, we admired them from Pipeline Beach where the international championships take place several times a year. Our bravest sailors had already taken their first steps on rented long boards at Waikiki Beach. But we didn’t miss tasting the snow cones from Matsumoto Shave Ice, where the waiting line extends beyond the door at all hours of the day.

In the meantime the following people disembarked from Tara:

the scientists:

Xavier Durrieu De Madron, head scientist

Margaux Carmichael

Julie Poulain

Sarah Searson

Brett Grant

Christian Rouviere

Julien Girardot, cook and photographer

the following people embarked:

the new scientists: Isabelle Taupier-Letage, head scientist

Céline Dimier, protist specialist

Jérémie Capoulade, optical engineer in charge of imagery

Marc Picheral, engineer, architect of and responsable for the CTD*

Claudie Marec, responsible for scientific equipment on board

Benedetto Barone, Italian oceanographer

and 2 new crew members:

Céline Blanchard, cook and naval architect

François Aurat, deck officer (this post had not been filled since Papeete)


Andres Peyrot

*CTD: instrument measuring Conductivity, Temperature and Depth, as well as other physico-chemical parameters of the water mass.


Hawaii, Last Stop in Polynesia

Under the starry sky, a halo of light tells us we’re approaching Honolulu. With sails trimmed (since one got torn) Tara glides slowly through the water. We’re finally reaching Hawaii after more than 3 months navigating around Polynesia.

Our route has paralleled that of the first great navigators – not the first European explorers, but the Austronesians who voyaged in pirogues more than 2,000 years ago, without even a compass (not to mention GPS or VHF) and gradually peopled these far-flung islands. Those early sailors had a remarkable knowledge of the sea: they navigated by observing the sun, reading the waves and dominant winds, and following the “paths of the stars” —natural guides transmitted by their ancestors. 

We spent long hours poring over maps that show the immense distances between Pacific islands.We imagined with admiration the difficulties facing our predecessors, expert sailors who set out to discover distant islands where they might settle. This morning Hawaii finally appears before us – the northernmost corner of the Polynesian triangle, one of the last conquests of the ancient “people of the sea”.

With the morning, sailboats come to welcome us, and we join the pilot boat that leads us to our place at dock. Slowly Tara slips into quai no. 9 in the center of Honolulu, amidst modern glass buildings reflecting this new world we’re about to discover. Once we’re moored, a maritime official comes aboard to take care of our entry papers. We then have to wait for the passage of customs and health officials before setting foot on firm ground. An hour later, after visits and visa check, we have officially entered the United States and can finally disembark!

Friends have come to meet us with traditional Polynesian necklaces of flowers. Laughter, hugs and smiles make us realize we’ve come back to earth again. This is the end of the voyage for the scientists; but for the crew it’s just the beginning of a new race against time. They have to reorganize life on land, get supplies for the boat and take care of technical problems.

Meetings with different laboratories and the University of Hawaii will help us prepare the next mission to San Diego, and the study of the “great Pacific garbage patch”. In a few days the new scientific team will be complete, and Andres, the journalist who just came aboard will replace me in writing the logbook.

Hervé Bourmaud, Captain of Tara

Kiribati : Islands on borrowed time

At the end of this equatorial afternoon, Tara sails along the reef, leeward of  Christmas Island. The stormy sky blends with the ocean, darkened by imposing black clouds driven by the trade winds. Through the sea spray we can make out the shore which doesn’t exceed 3 meters average in height.

This atoll, considered the largest and oldest in the world, is part of the Kiribati Republic, a country with an uncertain future. This immense oceanic territory, composed of a multitude of islands at ocean level, is already feeling the first effects of the global warming.

Christmas Island is a small green oasis, lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and far from the major sailing routes. There are 5,415 inhabitants living on 322 square kilometers; this surface comprises 70% of the Kiribati lands.

Forgotten, and then rediscovered on Christmas Day (hence its name) by Cook in 1877, the island was eventually annexed to the distant British colony, the Gilbert Islands, in 1919.

At dusk, we see the village lights of London, baptized by Father Rougier, who leased the atoll between the 2 world wars to plant coconut trees. Across the “Channel” is the abandoned village of “Paris”.

Several cable lengths away from a Japanese fishing boat, which seems abandoned, we drop the anchor accompanied by loud metallic clangs of the windlass. Darkness falls quickly and it’s too late to make the official entry into Kiribati territorial waters, so we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

The stark moonlight outlines a shadow of a massive jetty constructed by Japan’s Agency for Space Exploration.They had begun a space shuttle project, but it has since been abandoned.

The following day at 6 am, in the rose-tinted morning light, details in silhouette appear more and more clearly. Then day breaks and we can discover this new place. The day will be long. We’ll first have to take care of the administrative paperwork allowing us to disembark. After customs and immigration officials inspect the boat, we finally get permission to land on Kiribati.

The limpid, turquoise waters of the immense lagoon make our arrival seem unreal with the inflatable boat at the small jetty of London’s port. Brightly colored pirogues of the fishermen are moored or lie on the sand. In the background we can make out the village and its buildings withering under the burning morning sun.

The Island’s future

We meet up first with our local contact, Riteta Bébé, a government representative for environmental issues and protection of natural areas. She is in her office, where on walls yellowed with age there are maps of the lagoon overlapping with photos of endemic species. This meeting is a chance to discuss environmental issues and better understand the challenges facing Kiribati, an island living on borrowed time due to the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.

During the discussion with Xavier de Madron, our head scientist, we learn that the first effects of climate change are already being felt. Contamination with seawater of the fresh water pockets below the atolls is one of the consequences, and causes certain diseases in the population associated with non-drinkable water. The United Nations General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, signaled a recent alert during his visit to Kiribati. An alternative solution to recuperate rainwater on the islands with large reservoirs could be put into place.

Another serious environmental preoccupation is the pollution caused by plastic trash littered everywhere across the island where people live. “We have problems dealing with waste removal, but more than anything else, we have to educate the population”, admits Bébé. “We’ve made a major effort to teach the students in the schools, but the best example was the stopover of Plastiki here in London”, she told us with a smile. This boat constructed with recyclable material is doing a world tour and had a big impact on the local population. “Seeing a boat constructed with plastic bottles fascinated the kids, but this also gave them a perspective on how recycling can work”, she added.

In the last few years, nature reserves have been created in the Phoenix Islands (Phoenix Island Protected Area). This is a vast governmental project to conserve ecosystems, but it lacks funding, so these areas are rarely visited. But for Bébé the future holds promise: “The park project is a good example, and we hope to do the same on our atoll which has many endemic species. This is a real treasure for the generations who perhaps in the future can live here”, she concludes.

Daily island life

It’s time to leave our host and head for the police station where we are expected to complete our entry permit. We pass through the London streets where the low wooden houses are open to the street. There are throngs of children, a bit timid and surprised at our presence. We stop at the one and only gas station — the island’s general store — to ask our way and do a little shopping. The shopkeeper looks apologetic and says, “The boat which supplies the island is 3 weeks late. It should arrive soon but no one knows when. There’s no more rice or milk, and flour is becoming scarce, but the people here are used to it”. On the majority of Pacific islands, the inhabitants depend totally on the passage of these little cargo supply boats with erratic schedules.

Not far from the cemetery is the police station, with neither door nor window, where the commissioner meets us. He looks Micronesian, with a proud bearing, and was born here on this island. For him, the life style has changed. People here do a lot of fishing; it’s their livelihood. Money here does not have the same value as elsewhere. Mutual help and community tradition are integral parts of our island life. We have 2 medical doctors who deal with emergencies. And for childbirth, the women stay on the island and prefer the traditional method. We don’t even have television here”, and laughs at our surprised looks. The immigration officer comes to say hello, and adds, “I’ve been working here for 4 years, but I’m from Tarawa, another Kiribati island, and I haven’t been home once. That’s a long time away from the family”. It is difficult to shorten distances in this little country with immense borders.

Time passes quickly and it’s already evening — time to return to Tara and take course for Hawaii to continue our mission

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s captain

The best logs from the Tara Oceans expedition

This week, we invite you to rediscover the best Tara Oceans logs.

Happy reading!

March 2012
Today, Saturday, March 31, 2012, Tara came back to her home port after a two-and-a half-year expedition covering 115,000 km. A passionate reunion shared with the people of Lorient who gave us a wonderful welcome, full of respect and fervor. We were accompanied by well-wishers and Breton bagpipes for most of the afternoon under a generous sun, from Groix Island to the Belem dock where we are now moored. 


F.Latreille/Tara Expéditions

March 2012
Saturday, March 24, 2012 was a real milestone. In the Atlantic Ocean, 300 nautical miles from the Spanish coast, the Tara Oceans Expedition ended. This was the 153rd and last station of an extraordinary adventure: Two-and-a-half years of collecting marine organisms in oceans all over the world.

February 2012
For the last and most important stop-over in the USA, the Tara team had a series of strategic meetings in New York, before heading out to sea for the return trip to Lorient, France. 

February 2012
Sunday morning around 6:30, with the brilliant sun scarcely compensating for the 2° C  temperature, Tara began her final approach to New York City. The first skyscrapers began to appear on the horizon, breaking the surface of the ocean where we’d seen no construction for eleven days.  We were still 25 nautical miles from New York, about 45 kilometers. 


V.Hilaire/Tara Expéditions

December 2011
During Tara’s long journey since leaving Lorient in September 2009, the sailboat- laboratory has passed through many legendary places and had some very memorable experiences. Going through the Panama Canal has just been added to the list. This morning we left the Pacific Ocean, and now we’re here on the other side of the continent, sailing in Atlantic waters.

December 2011

While our families and friends on the other side of the world were preparing
traditional holiday festivities, a scent of exoticism floated on the deck of Tara in preparation for a very unusual Christmas. Beneath the coconut trees of Panama, it’s not easy to feel the holiday spirit !

December 2011
The entire crew was waiting impatiently to spend a day on Clipperton, this tiny island lost in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. A mixture of excitement, but also apprehension: would we be able to set foot on this legendary island? Would the sea allow us this chance? Find the answer in the following account of a very unusual day. 

October 2011
On Tuesday October 4, as we reach latitude 31º N, for the first time we encounter some floating plastic rubbish. We’ve arrived at the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch ?. It’s a first “triumph” ? because the studies on plastic distribution in the north Pacific by the Charles Moore Algalita Foundation (1999-2008) showed unpredictable locations. 


A.Peyrot/Tara Expeditions

September 2011
Under the starry sky, a halo of light tells us we’re approaching Honolulu. With sails trimmed (since one got torn) Tara glides slowly through the water. We’re finally  reaching Hawaii after more than 3 months navigating around Polynesia. Our route has paralleled that of the first great navigators – not the first European explorers, but the Austronesians who voyaged in pirogues more than 2,000 years ago, without even a compass (not to mention GPS or VHF) and gradually peopled these far-flung islands.  Those early sailors had a remarkable knowledge of the sea: they navigated by observing the sun, reading the waves and dominant winds, and following the “paths of the stars ?—natural guides transmitted by their ancestors. 

We spent long hours poring over maps that show the immense distances between Pacific islands.We imagined with admiration the difficulties facing our predecessors, expert sailors who set out to discover distant islands where they might settle. This morning Hawaii finally appears before us – the northernmost corner of the Polynesian triangle, one of the last conquests of the ancient “people of the sea ?.

August 2011
It’s already been 2 years since the Tara schooner st sail over all of the world’s oceans. September 5, 2011 will mark the beginning of Tara Oceans 3rd expedition year. This 3rd year will take place in the Northern Hemisphere.

April 2011
Yesterday morning at 9.30, the rosette was immersed into a fairly choppy sea in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, kicking off the hundredth scientific station. Operations should have begun 24 hours earlier but the small cyclonic whirlpool from which the scientists wanted to take samples had migrated a little further north. After a night of additional sailing Tara is now floating at the heart of this whirlpool – 55km in diameter and situated 1,200 nautical miles off the coast of Ecuador.

March 2011
Currently at Easter Island, Tara welcomes aboard Leila Tirichine, researcher and Lee Karp-Boss, chief scientist.
If Leïla and Lee had to display the colours of their country, it would be difficult for them to choose one single flag. Following the tradition aboard Tara, they would hoist the flag of their country of origin, plus another one in honour of their host country. And stored in a trunk, they would keep the flags of all the countries they’ve visited…

February 2011
It’s the first time that Etienne Bourgois and Eric Karsenti, the two co-directors of the Tara Oceans expedition, have found themselves together onboard Tara at the same time. This trip is an opportunity for them to discuss a number of issues and make plans with the current team. At the end of March Tara Oceans will celebrate its one and a half year anniversary since departing from Lorient on September 5th, 2009. This is a chance to assess what progress has been made as we near the midway point, and discuss the future.

Etienne Bourgois et Eric Karsenti, les deux codirecteurs de Tara Oceans.

© Tara Expéditions

Décembre 2010
According to Christian de Marliave (alias “Cricket”), polar specialist.
Since our departure from Cape Town for this 2nd expedition year, Tara has Antarctica in sight before reaching the Pacific.  For the schooner and part of her crew who participated in the Arctic Drift, this voyage will have an aura of reunion with the polar environment, and with ice, Tara’s second element. 

September 2010
On 5 September 2010, exactly one year after setting sail from the port of Lorient in Brittany, France the Tara Oceans Expedition will leave Cape Town, South Africa heading east into the second of its planned three year journey.
During this second year, Tara will cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, from east to west, sailing from Cape Town to arrive in Auckland, New Zealand in August, 2011.

May 2010
Tuesday 25th May, 1.40pm. Drifting at latitude 13°06′ South, longitude 46°58′ East, Tara’s scientists are busy at work. Hervé, the captain, climbs on deck: « Everyone stop what you’re doing, we’re getting out of here! ». 

March 2010
An explosion of life right in the middle of the ocean, the planktonic efflorescence generally known as “bloom” reached its climax in the Omani sea, just as Tara was cruising in its waters. In other words, this brought great satisfaction to the researchers on board.

February 2010
Since leaving the port of Djibouti, Tara has anchored many times, searching for the most beautiful coral sites in the bay of Tadjoura. Fifteen dives have already been made and over 200 samples have been collected.

djibouti 20100203

© Tara Expéditions

January 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.

January 2010
The charming creature in the picture gazing at us lovingly is known as a protist. It’s true name is Lithoptera müelleri, but to make it easier, we’ll just call him Hubert.

December 2009
The Suez Canal, a waterway which cuts through the desert, is more often than not seen as a sort of “marine highway”, what with its colossal dimensions, its massive display of industry and organisation and its picnic areas –such as the lake in which Tara rested last night.

December 2009

November 2009
Every 4 to 6 weeks, the precious samples collected by the scientists onboard Tara are delivered ashore and sent away to be analyzed in labs all over the world.
What follows is a recap from the exchange which took place during our stopover in Dubrovnik (Croatia) with Rainer Friedrich, the man in charge of the transfer and delivery of these hundreds of vials and bottles filled with plankton.

September 2009
We are seeking the tiny and the overlooked, the basis of the global food chain: the species that make up the plankton.
Yes, because the plankton is not a species by itself. This term comes from Greek planktos, which means: “drifting”. Plankton is a group of animals, plants, viruses, and bacteria that leave themselves to be drifted in ocean currents. On board, we are equipped with several plankton traps: nets and filters that can sort out the organisms according to their size and collect them separately.
We focus on 4 categories…


On 5 September 2009, at noon, the Tara boat has departed from Lorient for a three-year expedition on all the world’s oceans.

Tara Oceans: A 3rd year in the Northern Hemisphere!

It’s already been 2 years since the Tara schooner set sail over all of the world’s oceans. September 5, 2011 will mark the beginning of Tara Oceans 3rd expedition year. This 3rd act will take place in the Northern Hemisphere.

The program: Tara will cross Hawaiian waters, explore the North Pacific “Plastic Continent”, head towards San Diego, and pass through the Panama Canal before reaching New York. In 2012, Tara will cross the Atlantic in the spring before rejoining its naval base at Lorient.

This summer, the schooner spent 2 months in French Polynesia. At Papeete, the mission’s “treasures” were sent to different laboratories. Tara’s treasures? These are the meticulously gathered samples stored in the freezers during the expedition. These samples contain the hidden, tiny, and abundant life about which the vast majority is still unknown: plankton. This “melting pot” of viruses, bacteria, protists and all kinds of tiny animals has never been studied so systematically. Planktonic ecosystems have never been sampled on this planetary scale.

It’s not common knowledge that the oceans’ plankton provides over 50% of the oxygen we breathe and sequesters a large part of the carbon we produce. Plankton has a major impact on the earth’s climate. It is 98% of the marine biomass, and is also the base of the food chains.

Tara is now sailing towards Hawaii, then onward to the North Pacific “Plastic Continent”.  The “Plastic Continent”? It’s a calm zone in the Pacific Ocean where marine currents meet, carrying floating trash which accumulates in layers. This sea of rubble, only visible from boat decks, was discovered in 1997 by Captain Charles Moore. It took him almost a week to cross it – he was amazed to have found it in this infrequently travelled part of the globe.
After stopping over at San Diego, Tara will take the famous Panama Canal and then cross the Atlantic arriving as planned at Lorient in the spring of 2012.

Without doubt, the longest leg has already begun for the Tara Oceans scientists. The expedition is churning out an avalanche of data which will take more than 10 years to completely analyze. The goals are ambitious: understand the functioning and diversity of marine life and predict the response of marine ecosystems to climate changes. For all of these experts, Tara Oceans is a long-term project. “We must provide all the support necessary to let this project succeed and flourish scientifically in the years to come,” emphasizes Jean Weissenbach, Genoscope’s Director (Sequencing Center). The first results look promising, and will be published soon, after the time it takes to rigorously verify the analyses.

Source: Flash Tara #4. Gaëlle Lahoreau.

Leaving the Society Islands

This morning is the end of our stopover at Papeete’s commercial port. Tara is about to leave the dock with a new scientific team. Our friends have come to say good-bye with traditional seashell necklaces offered at Polynesian departures. The foghorn signals the setting of sails to new destinations and with a heavy heart, the hawsers mooring us to land are thrown off. Authorization is given by the lookout to enter the channel. The sails are hoisted and already in the wake, the Society Islands (French Polynesia) fade into the distance.

Two months of scientific exploration in the Gambier archipelagos and Marquesas Islands have improved our knowledge of island life and the people isolated in the heart of this immense Pacific Ocean. A life dependent on the ocean and its resources, where environmental problems take on a different value in these places with fragile ecologies: a harsh life in paradise.

From culturing pearls to copra* production, this Polynesian world evolves quickly and is looking for its future in bits of the past. People are slowly rediscovering their roots lost in memory since the first Evangelist preaching. This is merited, for they knowingly retained ancestral traditions. In the land of the tattooed warrior and the communal “marae”*, history hangs on the present and the future is uncertain for this fragile maritime world of the overseas regions representing 80% of French biodiversity.

Onboard 4 sailors and 7 scientists headed by Xavier Durrieu de Madron, are already bustling in preparation for the next sampling mission. The route towards Hawaii will cross the equator and we’ll be sampling equatorial and inter-tropical zones while studying the equatorial currents and counter-currents including the associated plankton populations.

This zone is subject to convergent currents, which influence large climactic systems on the oceanic and planetary scale: for example “el Nino” and “el Nina” that exert considerable influence on climate and economics of the countries bordering the equatorial Pacific.

Tara will cross this convergent zone to study plankton biodiversity. An intense investigation is in store for the scientific team. For the sailors, the challenge is not less demanding, because the zones between the equator and 5º N are where tropical depressions and cyclones form, and these are not readily seen on the weather maps. After reaching 10º N, we’ll meet up with the constant trade winds running E-NE to finish the route towards Hawaii.

For the moment, all sails are hoisted, and the bow is sprayed. Tara will soon arrive at the first sampling station of this new leg.


Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s captain

*copra: dried coconut pulp yielding oil

*marae: sacred Tahitian place

The Tara Oceans Expedition: treasure in the hold

After sailing along the coast of Chile, out to Easter Island and through the Galapagos Islands, the Tara spent two months in French Polynesia. The exceptional biodiversity of the French overseas department made the stay worth every minute!

The Tara’s treasure was unloaded at Papeete and, from there, shipped to the laboratories. But what was this treasure? It consisted of freezers full of samples that had been carefully collected during the expedition. The samples teem with microscopic life known as plankton that is, for the most part, unknown to science.
Never before has this melting pot of viruses, bacteria, protista and minute animals been studied so carefully and so systematically.
Never before have the plankton ecosystems been sampled on such a large scale.

Little is known about plankton and yet they produce half of the oxygen we breathe and absorb our carbon emissions. They affect climates across the world. They are also at the base of the food chain, amounting to 98 % of the marine biomass. Gaby Gorsky, one of the scientific co-ordinators of the expedition, particularly enjoyed the sampling operations near the equator where cold currents full of minerals well up to the surface: “It was magnificent! We found ecosystems working at full tilt. We observed every stage of the food chain, from bacteria to fish and squid, with lots of zooplankton, jellyfish, plankton feeders, filter feeders… Our nets were full to bursting! “.

After French Polynesia the Tara should have set sail for Asia and, most notably, called in at Tokyo. However the difficult economic context, compounded by the nuclear disaster in Japan, forced the expedition’s joint directors, Etienne Bourgois (chairman of the Tara Foundation) and Eric Karsenti (CNRS research director* transferred to the EMBL*),
to rethink the schooner’s route. After much deliberation, it was decided that the Tara should set sail for Hawaii and the plastic “island” of the North Pacific. Then, after briefly calling in at San Diego, the Tara will pass through the Panama Canal, cross the Atlantic Ocean and arrive in Lorient in the spring of 2012.

And yet the longest leg of the journey has already begun for the dozens of researchers involved in the Tara Oceans Expedition. Like a space mission, or an experiment carried out in the great particle accelerator run by CERN* near Geneva, the expedition is producing a mountain of data that will probably take ten years to analyse. The aim of collecting all this data is ambitious and twofold: to understand the diversity of marine life and how it interacts; and to forecast how marine ecosystems will react to climate change.

Already links have been identified. The results look to be very promising. There is talk of some spectacular announcements. Unfortunately it is too early to reveal the expedition’s secrets. Every conclusion has to be checked, assessed and compared to the results of the following sampling operations to see if a trend really exists and if the statistics are there to back it up. The work of the researchers is incredibly meticulous.
For the experts, the Tara Oceans Expedition is a long-term project. A project that Jean Weissenbach, director of the Genoscope (Evry, France), says “must be given the means with which to develop in scientific terms”.
If this project is to come to fruition, the Tara Oceans Expedition must have the support of research institutions, foundations, individuals… Without it, the samples will remain frozen in liquid nitrogen at -186°C and never reveal their secrets about the diversity of oceanic life and how it interacts.

Gaëlle Lahoreau

Full Tara Oceans Flash available HERE.

* CERN: European Laboratory for Particle Physics
CNRS: National Centre for Scientific Research
EMBL: European Molecular Biology Laboratory in
Heidelberg, Germany

Questions for Fabrice Not, chief scientist on the Marquesas Islands leg

We are starting on a 10-day leg around the Marquesas Islands, with Fabrice Not, biologist at the Roscoff Marine Station, as chief scientist. Three other scientists have joined the team of the preceding tour for this special mission: Pierre Testor, Fabrizio d’Ortenzio and Steffi Kandels-Lewis. This new leg in waters surrounding the Marquesas Islands will deal directly with the plankton ecosystem situated leeward of the islands, and especially with iron enrichment.

What is the goal of this mission at Marquesas Islands?

At the latitude of the Marquesas Islands, there’s a belt about 1,000 km wide, crossing the Pacific from east to west, which is especially poor in iron, and where there’s not much plankton, even though the waters are rich in nutritive salts.

Further out from the Islands, we detect important phytoplankton development / visible on satellite maps as a large blue zone, east of Marquesas Islands. Periodically, we detect the occurrence of green eddies that signal the presence of chlorophyll. In these zones, we find a considerable amount of iron, which promotes phytoplankton blooms.

We want to understand the source of this iron: is it from the islands’ terrestrial dust transported by the wind, or does it come from turbulence created by the current south of the islands that creates an upwelling of deep waters more concentrated in iron?

To recapitulate: we will try to understand the effects of windborne earth and turbulence. Then we will study how the phytoplankton community evolves in this context.

What is the specific feature of this leg? It’s my 4th time aboard Tara and my 3rd as chief scientist, but this leg is certainly the most unusual: it is part of the global Tara Oceans project, and at the same time is quite autonomous. Normally, Tara is sampling on an ocean-wide scale, but this time we are concentrating on a very targeted zone, and on a specific phenomenon — the source of iron in the ocean. The parameters studied here are much more limited in time and space.

In addition, it’s the first time that biology and physics are being fully exploited aboard Tara. We have the usual measuring instruments: the CTD-rosette, for oceanographic data; seawater pumping and sampling nets for microorganisms. We also have a submarine “glider” and drift buoys, which give us information about the physical characteristics of the water masses. Bringing together such a panoply of instruments for a single objective is quite rare!

What will these instruments tell us?

The rationale is to target the choice of our sampling stations. Instead of using only satellite data for general global surface fluxes, the glider transmits localized depth information almost in real time. This complements the satellite data. <br />With more instrumentation, our data sources are multiplied, and we can access and identify more precisely complex phenomena on the surface and at depth.

What is the sampling plan?

Even if we have a provisional plan, it will continually evolve with all of the incoming data.

We are planning a first reference station called “Gaby” on the windward side of the islands, which corresponds, to a large blue satellite zone — an almost desert-like area. It is the most complex station because of its exceptional exposure to wind and waves.

A second station called “Eric” will also be held on the leeward side of the islands, at a place where sudden plankton blooms are found and thus where a source of iron enrichment occurs. On the satellite map, these zones are green and are found very near to the coasts.

However, the bloom phenomena are episodic, and therefore, it will be difficult to collect data. We’ll have to be on the alert while constantly analyzing satellite data and wait for the formation of a new plankton bloom.

How often do blooms occur?

They are difficult to forecast… But Fabrizio d’Ortenzio has studied satellite data for several years, and has found that during this season, there are blooms occurring at least once per week. With constant satellite surveillance and a bit of luck, we’ll have the opportunity to observe a bloom at the right time… We’ll just have to stay not too far away so we can get to the zone on time! It’s a complicated strategy.

For the 3rd station called “Romain”, the idea is to follow the water mass sampled during the “Eric” station to see how it evolves during the following 3-4 days. Finally, “Philippe”, the 4th station, will take place even further from the islands to follow the evolution of the plankton community as it travels with the current.

We are planning these 4 sampling stations in a fairly restricted zone to understand the phenomenon. We’ll be observing the evolution with a time scale measuring the “before” and “after” and following it for hundreds of kilometers. The buoys that are set afloat will continue transmitting data for several months and we’ll be able to continue our study after we leave.

What are the major difficulties?

It is advantageous to have so many instruments on hand, but at the same time, this complicates the work. We have to take into account the different sources of data, which of course gives a more complete picture, but is also more difficult to analyze. And the choices are sometimes difficult to make because we are entering into the complexity of the phenomena. In addition, we have to work with the uncertainty linked to a sudden occurrence of natural phenomena. And we mustn’t forget a last crucial parameter, which is the weather!

It’s like walking a tight-rope, to successfully manage all these uncertainties. We have to be extremely flexible to be able to respond quickly and continually adjust our sampling strategy. This is the most difficult but also the most exciting. I think we have the perfect team for this. What’s more, we have enough people on board for the rotations.

This mission is perfectly suited to a boat like Tara. Tara allows for great flexibility since she’s smaller and more maneuverable than the usual oceanographic research vessels.

In addition, the combination of disciplines as different as physics and biology is also complicated. They are 2 different worlds, and their vocabulary is not the same. We have to find a common language. Our relationship to time working at sea is very different. One of the challenges is to succeed in understanding one another and working together towards our common goals. When we succeed, the results are magnificent!

The combination of our different skills, and the specificity of the area to be explored, makes this leg, for me, really unique!

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Coral Mission Accomplished !

The weekend is over and with it, our mission to study coral reefs. The last days have required strategic planning, “like a game of chess” according to Hervé Bourmaud the captain, playing with capricious weather conditions. But Sunday after the last dive, the scientists had big smiles: our program was successfully completed.

The dives outside the lagoon which had been worrying everybody – because of the site’s exposure to winds and waves – were finally accomplished. And they fulfilled our highest expectations: exceptional visibility, and very rich, diverse ocean floors. The divers’ eyes were still sparkling as they described what they had seen.

24 dives at 24 sites, one of them outside the lagoon – so, 24 hours roaming the sea bottom.

The scientists, Francesca, Connie, Eric (alias “Kahikai”) now know the Gambier Islands from below much better than their tree-covered mountains. They can talk about forests of coral, underwater landscapes, drooping reefs, the extraordinary transparency of the water beyond the barrier reef, or marine terraces covered with different species of coral.

Francesca Benzoni, head scientist, has finished packing up her samples. Eric has wrapped up three huge chunks of porite, more than 40 kg. each. But the work is far from over. To the contrary, when the samples eventually arrive in the laboratories, months of study will be necessary to discover their secrets. “All these samples collected during the four coral missions will keep me busy for the next 20 years!” says Francesca with her usual dazzling smile.

“With 40 centimeters of porite, we can find information concerning the past 40 years, notably the water temperatures, salinity, and pH. It’s the same principle as ‘carrots’ extracted from the ice at the poles” explains Eric, standing next to the heap of baggage starting to invade the deck.

“Exploring a place so rarely studied like the Gambiers has been truly fascinating. We found species that had never been inventoried at this site – a source of great satisfaction. We determined four large areas where the state of coral is very different, but globally the reef is in good health. In contrast, near Taravai Island, something happened about 15 years ago that provoked the massive death of coral. We tried to find out more from the local people, but we didn’t get very convincing explanations” says Francesca.

Kahikai arrives on deck loaded with all his photography bags. His eyes look a bit tired, but like everyone else, he has a big smile. “I succeeded in photographing all the coral samples, and also took some beautiful images of various small animals in the lagoon. I love the one of uni-branches, did you see them? I think I’ll sleep through the whole plane trip going home,” he adds.

He will finally be able to catch up on all those hours of sleep spent in front of the aquariums, often photographing very late every night – fish, jellyfish, or any beautiful creature whose colour attracted his attention during the dives.

The two weeks passed so quickly at the rhythm of our coral studies. A boat-shuttle for the airport just arrived to pick up Francesca, Kahikai, Eric and Claudio. The shuttle will return in the afternoon with a new scientific team who will take over for the next leg – destination: the Marquises, and Tahiti.

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Gambier Islands, 4 new species of coral

Tara has adopted her ‘coral rhythm’. Finished the long distances of the preceding leg between Guayaquil (Ecuador) and the islands of French Polynesia. We are now almost sedentary, staying for 2 weeks in the lagoon of the Gambier Islands.

From our mooring, each day 2 pneumatic boats take Francesca, Connie and the 2 Erics to a diving site, one in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. The divers jump into the water equipped with a burin and net for collecting samples of coral, and a camera to photograph the sampling site and coral in situ. For an hour they crisscross the ocean floor at depths varying between 10 and 15 meters.

Metallic hammering noises echo underwater, and a long column of bubbles rises from each diver. In the zodiacs, Mathieu and Julien keep an eye on their progression.

After an hour, heads emerge from the water. Mathieu takes care of the diving tanks. “Find anything interesting?” “It looks very much like this morning’s site,” says Francesca, “But nothing like what we saw the first day, where there was a lot of dead and damaged coral. Here it’s very much alive and very beautiful!” “And we had another visit of a small black spot,” she says smiling. The lagoon’s little sharks seem curious about the scientists’work and swim by to observe them, but without showing their teeth for now.

In 1974, the biologist Jean-Pierre Chevalier made a study of Gambier Island coral and inventoried 54 species, a collection conserved at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. “It’s fantastic to be here and pursue my work! Since Sunday I’ve already found 4 new species! So we’re now up to 58!” Francesca’s radiant smile communicates her energy.

Eric Béraud brought up a big block of porites, a kind of coral — 40 kilos on the deck that will allow us to study the history of the lagoon. “Porites grow 1 cm per year, so this 40 cm block will tell us about events of the past 40 years. Like a glacial carrot, or the cross-section of a tree-trunk, it will give us information on the evolution of the ocean’s state-of-health.”

Eric Roettinger, nicknamed “Kahikai”, is in charge of imagery. He goes collecting specimens, then brings them aboard the boat. The ‘science table’on the deck is where he sets up his photo studio, just like a portrait studio, but in miniature. The only real difference is that the models measure only a few centimeters and pose in aquariums. A uniform backdrop and 2 lateral lamps, and Kahikai is ready to shoot. “Could you turn over the jellyfish with the pipette? That way the tentacules will be more visible.”

The elegant, translucent creature continues its pulsations and dances beneath the lights. Night has fallen and it’s gotten cool, but Kahikai stays cosy under his cap, and continues taking pictures through the night.

Hervé Bourmaud, the captain went to Mangareva in the hope of buying some fuel, but returned empty-handed. Hazards of island life, the Nuku Hau, the boat we’ve been expecting for 2 days, has still not arrived. “The one who advances in peace” takes her time and wears the name well.

Tomorrow Tara will change moorings with 2 days scheduled around Taravai, island west of the lagoon. Stationed in the shelter of this island, we’ll be protected from the “noirot”, wind of 25 knots forecast for the coming days.

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Questions and answers with the team

They’ve been onboard for a month, and others for more than 12 weeks. Nigel, François, and Sophie confide their thoughts to the onboard journalist: their best and worst moments on Tara, the sounds they like or dislike, what they miss, etc…
Nigel Grimsley
Chief scientist, embarked at Guayaquil (Ecuador) on May 19, he landed at Gambier Islands on June 22.
The positive: The ambiance onboard!
Best moment of the day: Sunrise. I’m a morning person and I love to see the beginning of a new day.
What do you miss? The silence. A boat is a very noisy place. At home, I can hear all/the little sounds of nature.
What has this trip given you?  Meeting people! I rarely have the opportunity and time to discuss as much as I want with the scientists from other laboratories like Roscoff and Villefranche-sur-mer, for example. On Tara, it’s a real exchange platform, rich and creative. I’m originally a biologist and immersing myself into the oceanographic world, which is normally a marginal subject, expands my vision of science.
Message: Preserve the biodiversity! We have to be aware of all life forms! In a hundred years, lots of species will disappear, it’s disturbing and sad… and mankind is partly responsible. We’ll have to try to continue with a maximum number of other species. We depend on them.
François Noël
Chief mechanic, embarked at Guayaquil on May 19, he will disembark at Papeete on August 15.
Odor: The aromas of surprise pancakes and croissants last Sunday!
Noise: Made by the clutch: it squeals.
Best moment: I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you in 2 months when I leave.
What do you miss? The latest news! The government debates on television. I love to see them when they argue. At the beginning, it’s not very interesting, but after a while you really get involved.
The worst moment since you embarked: When the desalinator broke down with a defective pipe. I remember it was a Sunday and I had just come onboard. Breakdowns often occur on Sunday. The cooling pumps also broke down on a Sunday, but the second time, it was a holiday Thursday, just like a Sunday…
What you’ve gained from the expedition: Seeing other horizons is always satisfying. Returning to Polynesia. I haven’t been back for over 30 years, since my military service. I can’t wait to see Tahiti again.
The worst moment of the day: On all fours amongst the machines while cleaning the bottom of the hold!
One fear: Not really “fear”, but the anxiety that the desalinator wouldn’t start again at Guayaquil: either we’d stay put, or no one could take a shower…
Johan Decelle
Scientist, embarked at the Galapagos (Ecuador) on May 7, he landed at Gambier Islands on June 22.
Best souvenir: Seeing the whales circling Tara during a sampling station.
Best moment of the day: Sundown and better still, if there’s an aperitif at the same time!
The worst moment: The alarm going off for “Accuri” (water sampling procedure every 6 hours. Sophie, Céline or Johan take turns at midnight and at 6 am).
The best moment: My observations on the microscopes, working on the samples I’ve just taken in these waters far away from everything, it’s unique. I observe a quantity of organisms that I never could have seen. It’s fascinating. And I love the moments aboard when we’re all together, like at dinner.
Noise: The sound of the water gliding along the hull.
Odor: The smell of croissants and pancakes.
A Fear: Before embarking, imagining almost a month and a half at sea without putting my feet on land.
What do you miss? Doing sports! A boat is a limited space… and going swimming is rare.
What you’ve gained from the expedition: Time for thinking. It’s rare while on land to pause and give yourself these moments.
Sophie Marinesque
Scientist, embarked at Guayaquil on April 30, landed at Gambier Islands on June 22.
Best moment: When the boat arrived at Guayaquil! I knew from a friend and scientist onboard, Gabriela Gilkes, who sent me messages, exactly when they would arrive. When I saw Tara in the distance, then approaching the dock, it was an exciting moment. And I would be embarking…
Worst moment: With Nigel (the chief scientist) while stowing material in the forward hold, at the beginning of the leg, I was sick as a dog.
The best moment of the day: Sunrise. Everything is peaceful and the boat is waking up. The lights on the ocean are magical.
The worst time of the day: When I have to wake up for the “Accuri” (see Johan’s remark) at midnight and 6am…and when François Aurat shakes me to wake up.
Odor: The smell of bleach (when others are doing the cleaning).
Noise: The sound of water against the hull, which I can hear from my bunk.
The worst noise: The sound of the automatic pilot.
What you miss: Michel.
A fear: When I climbed to the top of the mast. But even worse was when&nbsp; the shark came at us while swimming in front of Henderson beach. But maybe it was as scared as me…
What you’ve gained from the expedition: Overall the encounters. Being obliged to live together in this space and getting to know each other. The smallest detail becomes an adventure. And naturally, the experience working onboard and discovering species with the Flowcam (imaging instrument in the dry lab).
A message: A little ‘Hello’ to the people back in my lab!

Capricious weather

Totally dependent on weather conditions, we try to set up a schedule for the next few days of sampling stations. The Gambier Islands seem within sailing distance away and the time until we arrive at our destination is getting short. But it’s challenging to plan sampling stations that depend upon forecasts for a totally unpredictable wind. Looks like the ‘weather window’ doesn’t want to open for science.

Yesterday, after we had cancelled two days of sampling with the CTD rosette, the wind was less strong and the sea less rough. « How about giving it a try ? »

Ritual launching of the CTD: sails down, wind coming from behind Tara, everybody at his post near the back deck winch, where the CTD is lowered into the sea. But without the lift of the wind, waves suddenly seem stronger and make the boat rock seriously. The rear seems ready to sink each time a wave passes under the hull. Impossible to launch the CTD in these conditions. We can’t risk letting the rosette disappear forever into the ocean depths.

But the true underlying question remains: “When to begin our long, 48-hour sampling station?” Start as early as possible with the risk of a change of weather and having to interrupt the work; or continue to advance and wait for the improvement forecast? Either bet is equally risky.

Fortunately, the area targeted for our next station is vast, and one or two extra days of sailing won’t change the objective of our measurements. The scientists want to take samples in the zone of the Pacific gyre, that gigantic whirlpool imprisoning a mass of warm water to a depth of 200 meters. The waters of this huge whirlpool are very poor in nutrients, the essential food for marine plankton. The water surrounding us for over 30 days now appears bright blue, sometimes tinted with violet hues. Very few particles stop the sun’s rays, which makes the sea as transparent as spring water for tens of meters deep.

For more than three weeks we’ve had the feeling of advancing in a desert. We follow our solitary way, far from well-traveled maritime routes,&nbsp; reassured to still find some unoccupied places on the&nbsp; planet.&nbsp; No land, no other boats, just some white-capped mountains of water.

Except for yesterday, when suddenly we met a cargo ship coming from the opposite direction! “Where are they going? Where are they coming from? Why are they following this very unusual itinerary? The proximity of other souls strikes our imagination: other people have chosen to be here! Aboard that tiny point on the horizon, people are living, busy working. They’ve certainly seen us too and are probably talking about us. Instinctively, we’re curious to know the reasons that made them take this route.

Then it’s our turn to imagine their reaction: Suddenly, in the middle of the Pacific, right in front of them, a boat lowers its sails and lets itself float for several hours, giving no sign of distress. Then the boat starts up its motors to return to the place where it began, and continues this merry-go-round for 48 hours…still without calling for help. Everything seems ok on board, even better than ok. What’s more, the totally irrational manoeuvres look like they’re perfectly orchestrated with order and precision. “Crazy…they must be crazy!”.  (“No, we’re just scientists”, would be our answer.) Our trajectory during the sampling stations, showing up as a dotted line on the control screen, could indeed seem rather incoherent.

But aboard Tara we’re definitely not going crazy; the latest prevision for a sampling station is Tuesday, weather permitting. Before then, we’ll have sighted land for the first time in three weeks – Henderson Island.


Sibylle d’Orgeval and John Decelle

For more information see: www.tara.protist.fr

The Galapagos/Guayaquil leg is over

Monday, after the long trip up the Rio Guayas leading to the city, we finally arrive at dock, but unlike our first visit to Guayaquil, when the boat was anchored in the marina right on the Malecon promenade, this time we’re exiled to the commercial port.

No more visits of officials or meeting with school groups. Our stopover this time is logistic: all the scientific samples must be disembarked, in exchange for 2 tons of new material, notably the chemicals needed for preserving samples, and various tools necessary for laboratory work.

The crew is busy on deck when suddenly 6 helmetted silhouettes appear on the horizon and head for the boat. Beneath the customary attire – helmets and fluorescent vests required for moving around on the docks amid Fenwicks and containers – we recognize our fellow Taranautes.

Rainer Friedrich of World Courrier, Steffi Kandels-Lewis of EMBL and Céline Dimier from the marine station of Roscoff (CNRS) are here to organize the unloading of samples. Hiro Ogata, Nigel Grimsley and Céline Bachelier will replace part of the scientific crew and embark on the next leg of the voyage.

The newcomers are welcomed from 3 meters away – the distance between the wharf and the deck of Tara. Without permission of the port authorities, the new arrivals don’t have the right to come aboard, and we are not permitted to leave the boat.

More than 2 hours go by while the extremely zealous officials examine every corner of the boat, before allowing Tara to be connected to the continent by a gangplank. Finally we can embrace our fellow crew members. Gaby Gorsky and Nigel the new head scientist, waste no time and are already deep in conversation about plankton.

The next day, Tara is emptied then filled up again. 200 liters of samples are transfered into refrigerators, and hundreds of empty test tubes are loaded aboard for the next stations.

We benefit from the experience of preceeding unloadings: from Egypt to Chili and the Maldive Islands, Rainer who is in charge of shipping has already done this same operation more than 10 times. Helped by the whole crew, he is amazingly efficient. Each transfer has its particularities, its customs formalities (which seem increasingly fastidious) or other minor difficulties.

This time the problem comes from the tide: it’s low, and Tara’s deck is 4 meters below the level of the dock… Not so simple to load and unload the boat. But Rainer reassures us with a smile: “Alles gut! Das ist ein kleines Problem…No problem… let’s just do it.”

Between 2 loads of cardboard boxes, Gaby and Christian Sardet continue their conversation with Nigel and the other scientists.They’re happy about this last leg, which despite last-minute changes, was “a very elegant leg”– Gaby’s way of saying that the work accomplished aboard satisfied his scientific appetite.

“The waters sampled during the last stations between the Galapagos and Guayaquil are very rich in plankton, and especially zooplankton.We’ve rarely seen so many big specimens! And by making the voyage between Guayaquil and the Galapagos 3 times, we’re able to do a magnificent vertical transect of the equatorial currents. The next station that Nigel will do – the third crossing – will be important because it’s above a very particular zone of erosion that forms a crater on the ocean floor. We’re hoping to come up with some hypotheses about the causes of this erosion.”

Nigel is no novice.This is his third time aboard Tara, but his first time as head scientist. “Starting off with a long sampling station, a new scientific team, and such an ambitious goal is not an easy prospect,” admits Nigel with a very serene smile – the famous British ‘cool’. Céline Dimier and Steffi finish arranging everything meticulously inside the boat. “Without a precise protocol and strict organization, the rotations of different teams aboard would be impossible. No one would find anything!” affirms Steffi.

Besides equipment, Céline #1 (the cook) loads Tara with the food necessary for one month of sailing. Up to the very last minute the boat is being prepared. At 22h the liquid nitrogen arrives, at 23h a second delivery of food, but the onions are still missing, and the quantities delivered are very uncertain.

But tomorrow morning, Thursday at 8h, with or without the onions we’ll set sail.&nbsp; We’re embarking for 34 days of sea, science, and the Gambier Islands.

Sibylle d’Orgeval

New members of the scientific team :

Nigel Grimsley, molecular biologist, Hiroyuki Ogata, micro-biologist, Céline Bachelier, engineer in oceanographic instrumentation, and Marc Picheral, engineer-oceanographer, returning aboard to replace Sarah Searson.

New sailors: François Noël replaces Daniel Cron as chief mechanic, and Vincent Le Pennec will be his assistant, adding one member to the crew of sailors.

Evening showers

We celebrated the end of the long scientific stations with an aperitif. The intensity of uninterrupted work lasting almost 3 days subsides, and our minds can drift again, no longer concentrating on getting the job done without fail.

During the stations, time is precious and can’t be wasted. Everything is planned and must be carried out perfectly. The boat now continues its route towards Guayaquil, scheduled to arrive Monday evening.

Sarah would have slept 48 hours non-stop to recuperate all the energy she expended in such a short time period. But tonight the elements decided otherwise. The boat follows its course towards Guayaquil.

The deck hatch windows are wide open to cool down the cabins heated up by the sun during the day. A first wave a bit more energetic than the others hits the hull, the spray rises over the deck and falls through the hatch…it’s raining in my cabin, and the impromptu foot bath wakes me up. Then I hear the roar of a second wave, which seems much more massive than the former little one, and I instinctively retract my legs, but the wave rises over my deck hatch and plunges into the one across the way.

A big “boom” followed by 3 expletives break the nocturnal silence…and the light goes on in the facing cabin and then, after a pause, goes out. Sarah, I imagine, has given up the thought, as I have, to mop up the flood. A towel will suffice to tide us over until daybreak, and we fall back to sleep in our bunks.

We hesitate between closing the hatches and trying to sleep in a sauna, or leaving them slightly open and risking a wetter environment, something like a Turkish bath, while gambling on the possibility of the next wave being even more dynamic than the others. Aurore, who is sleeping in the bunk under Sarah’s, is also “sharing”fully in the joys of evening showers. Both choices are debatable.

Next day the rhythm continues: equipment has to be cleaned after the stations, and the team scientists write their reports. Sarah, Gaby, Christian and Silvia finish the work of the last stations, but also that of their leg: they will disembark at Guayaquil and are thus preparing to “pass the torch” to other scientists.

After arriving at Guayaquil, the day’s work sending off the samples will again require a huge amount of energy.

We’ll catch up on lost sleep later on solid ground…

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Welcome aboard

Saturday 12:30 local time. After traveling for 20 hours, I arrive at my destination: the island of Baltra in the Galapagos archipelago. I’ve come to meet up with Tara, newly arrived in port this morning.
At each stopover, changes take place: new people arrive to replace those who are leaving. Crew members take turns over the two and a half years of the expedition. The average stay aboard lasts two months – but it’s less for people who can’t leave their regular work for this long, and more for those who have time to experience an extended period of navigation.

Puerto Aroya, on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos archipelago is the occasion for one of these rotations. Stephane Pesant, head scientist, and Celine Dimier, engineer-biologist, are leaving the boat. Christoph Gerigk and Joern Kampe, two journalists from Geo magazine (Germany) who boarded at Guayaquil are also departing. Johan Decelle, biologist, and Aurore de la Morinerie, illustrator, are coming aboard.

And there’s a third newcomer: I’m joining the crew to replace Anna Deniaud who for almost three months has been journalist aboard. The changeover must happen quickly: we will stay in the harbor only 2 short days before leaving for Guayaquil.

Necessary preparations…
Fortunately, before departure I began my ‘immersion’with a week at Tara’s home office in Paris. A very full week – assembling information about the navigation zones we will cross, mastering tools of communication used aboard, re-reading articles written by my predecessors, working with Eloise (in charge of communication) who will be my go-between, making the last purchases of equipment, and finally – to understand the heart of the Tara Oceans project – meeting Chris Bowler, one of the expedition’s consulting scientists.
Director of a research group at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, involved in the project for three years, Chris has an overview of the expedition’s objectives. In one hour he tries to transmit something of Tara’s scientific spirit…and also gives me some written reports so that I can appreciate and communicate the work of the researchers on board, without being scared by words like protists, diatoms, coccolithophora or other eucaryota. The Tara spirit: a living organism
 “Tara’s scientific challenge is above all a human challenge!,” says Chris.
“As students, we were constantly being told: ‘Stay focused!’ But scientists who become too specialized lose, alas, the global view necessary to comprehend a subject that is cutting-edge. When we study each micro-organism present in the oceans, to really understand them, we have to know about the conditions of their life. Otherwise it would be like studying Parisians without considering Paris or France and their particularities. I am nostalgic about the period of naturalist philosophers, when knowledge was not as compartmentilized as it is today!
So, for me, this is Tara’s major challenge: to bring together scientists from different, complementary disciplines, in order to study ecosystems in their totality. Even if the core of the project is linked to biology, both chemistry and physics are essential for a global understanding. It’s also why the expedition will last for two and a half years, and will explore such a huge territory. We live in a world of interactions; a partial view is inaccurate. We must have a global ambition in order to understand the particular.”
“And the hardest aspect is not necessarily bringing together different scientists in the same workplace. Rather, it’s developing the will to work together and find a common language. Sometimes the same vocabulary word means two totally different things in physics and in biology,” regrets Chris.
“Tara’s aim is indeed to succeed in creating a spirit of community and sharing of complementary knowledge, in order to go further. I sometimes imagine Tara as one of the living organisms we study. Each part of the organism is vital to the good functioning of the whole, and dependent on all the others. Creating this alchemy with a group of human beings is not necessarily natural! It’s a big challenge!”
When I leave Chris for my final preparations, I imagine how at each stage, the arrival of ‘new particles’ in the organism can’t do much to simplify the task. But Tara has been navigating successfully for almost two years in this way, and we’ll continue to face the challenge.
Sibylle d’Orgeval

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

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.

Bongo and Co

At latitude 29º South, and longitude 101º West, Tara’s crew has just finished its 96th station on the border of the South Pacific gyre. No doubt about it, water temperature and salinity have risen, and nutrient density has decreased.

The first results confirm that we’re in the immediate vicinity of an oceanic desert, where planktonic organisms become more rare, are smaller and are found at greater depths. The scientists have armed themselves with patience for filtering over and over again. 800 litres of water have been pumped and filtered, not counting the samples from the rosette. The actual yield from the sampling has not been great in quantity, but in compensation, the variety and the originality of the micro-organisms has been almost miraculous.

From 8 in the morning to late at night, scientists and sailors have been taking turns on deck to sample this deep blue water. Here the ocean’s color reflects the nature of the environment. In order to live, phytoplankton absorb light, in particular the blue wavelength and some of the red.&nbsp; Where phytoplankton are present, the water takes on green hues.

As the bottles are filled, Tara drifts in the South Pacific and must return regularly to her initial position.&nbsp; Within seconds, the scientific station takes on the air of a seaside resort. Some of the team members soak up the sun, others take advantage of the boat’s speed to drop a fishing line. The nets are drying their “wings” in the breeze, before taking up their dance in the marine depths. In the space of a day and a short night, over 24 net hauls have been made.

While the rosette CTD maintains its position as the most important instrument of each station, and of the Tara Oceans expedition in general, nonetheless a panoply of nets are indispensible in optimizing this voyage. Here is a quick look at the various “plankton traps” on board.

The Regent

This is a large net, almost a meter in diameter, used for catching zooplankton. Because of its large diameter, it traps in its mesh the most rapid organisms which are able to escape from other nets. A haul with the Regent, at a depth of 500 meters, filters more than 350 cubic meters of water while catching carnivorous copepods, medusae and other zooplankton.

In earlier times, this net was made of silk. “The biologists themselves went to flour mills to procure this fine silk. The mesh used to sift flour was perfect for catching plankton”, explains Franck Prejger, taxonomist at the Villefranche-sur-Mer laboratory (CNRS). Today nylon has replaced the silk, and sewing machines have replaced hand sewing.

The WP-2*

Internationally known in the profession, this simple net that terminates in a conical canvas collar and a brass funnel, serves to filter phytoplankton. The WP-2 can have 2 different mesh sizes: one of 50- and the other of&nbsp; 200-micrometers. The smallest mesh is used to harvest phytoplankton such as protists. The larger size catches the next level of the food chain – the organisms which feed on phytoplankton, such as copepods.

The Bongos

There are 3 types of Bongo, differing in mesh size. The 180- , 300- and 2000-micrometers. The Bongo 180 is either used at the surface, or at the DCM (Deep Chlorophyll Maximum) and serves primarily to filter protists.

The Bongo 300, with a 50kg ballast, is immersed obliquely at about 500 meters depth to filter small zooplankton. This net is equipped with 2 collectors. One part of the catch, after formol fixation, will be dedicated to taxonomy, that is, the determination of species. The micro-organisms from the 2nd collector will be kept in alcohol to be used for “meta-genomics” or DNA sequencing.

Other plankton nets: 

The Double 20

This net resembles the Bongo because of its 2 nets, but is called “Double 20″. As indicated by its name, the size of the mesh is 20 micrometers. The Double 20 filters protists from the surface and at depth.

The 5

This simple net with a 5-micrometer mesh, is another type used at the surface, or at the DCM level. Its very fine mesh enables the filtering of especially small micro-organisms like dinoflagellates and diatoms.

The Manta

This rather special net is not specifically made for sampling plankton, but actually for collecting plastic particles. With its shape resembling a Manta Ray, this net has an aluminum body and 2 long nylon sleeves. It is hauled only at the surface to recuperate micro-waste as part of the “plastic program”.

*WP-2 is an acronym for “Working Party nr. 2″, a plankton net developped by UNESCO in 1968.

Anna Deniaud

Alone in the South Pacific

No  freighter on the horizon, no boat visible on the radar. Has this  maritime route been forgotten by sailors? Not even a trace of an  airplane in the sky. Mankind seems to have deserted these parts. With  every passing nautical mile, Tara comes closer to this famous ocean  desert of the South Pacific.
There even plankton becomes scarce. Only  the tenacious heavenly bodies have accepted to accompany the team on  this long journey. Every night, as proof of their support, the stars and  the moon illuminate the sailboat’s path with thousands of lights.
Around  Tara, the big blue ocean stretches as far as one can see – on the  horizontal and the vertical. The abyssal zones go down to almost 4000  meters. Yesterday, some crew members jumped into these dizzying depths,  letting themselves be rocked by the sleepy waves. Though it’s pleasant  to revive the circulation in our legs, it’s also prudent to look out for  any sharks that may want to fill their empty stomachs. But as for  fishing from the deck, even the fish population is rarefied here! One  after the other, equipped with a mask, the bathers inspected the  surroundings and took up watch, helped by the transparency of the water.
39  meters is the depth that light penetrates the ocean here, as measured  with the Secchi disc. The Secchi disc is the most ancient  oceanographic instrument on board. Developed in 1865 by Pietro Angelo  Secchi, an Italian Jesuit astronomer, this white disc with a ballast and  long rope descends vertically and delineates the depth of transparent  water.
Depending on cloud cover, water agitation and the operator’s visual acuity, the measurements can vary slightly. Recently  on board the scientific schooner, the archaic instrument has regained  popularity due to “the great Secchi contest” initiated by Lee Karp-Boss,  head scientist on board. At each station, the crew members note down on  paper their estimate of the water’s transparent depth. “Place your  bets, no more bets on deck!” At the sun’s zenith, the Secchi disc is  submerged under the watchful eyes of scientists and sailors. Depending  on the boat’s drift, the disc sometimes goes down obliquely, naturally  falsifying all measurements. Some exclaim “scientific scandal”, but  adept calculations allow the results to be corrected and a winner  confirmed. The lucky one receives a miniature Secchi disc and will have  the honor of doing the next depth measurement!
The “Secchi  Contest” is just one more example of how science has permeated all daily  activities aboard Tara, going as far as persecuting some scientists in  their sleep.&nbsp; Just the two of them, science and nature seem to have  completely subjugated people, controlling their smallest actions and  gestures.
Yesterday morning, a group of medusae arrived, nudging  Tara’s hull. In less than 5 minutes, the scientists with their buckets  and nets were on deck trying to get acquainted with these gelatinous  organisms. More amenable than their colleagues, 2 salps (free-floating  tunicates) bared their characteristics under microscope lights. Heart,  muscle bands, luminescent organ, embryo – all seen through its  transparent body – Helicosalpa virgula divulged its secrets to Franck  Prejger, taxonomist from the Villefranche-sur-Mer laboratory.
With  scientific research and the immense surrounding environment, it’s easy  on the boat to lose all notion of space and time, even to forget that  outside this floating cocoon, the world continues to rotate, and not  necessarily roundly. Only the sound of the bell announcing mealtimes  gives a daily rhythm to life on board. The weekly list of “household  duties” informs the travelers of the days of the week, and emails bring  the whole team, sometimes violently, back to reality.
For  several days, the sun has beaten down upon the schooner, but today it’s  the rain which tries to penetrate the portholes, reminding some of their  home countries. The engines are on; Tara continues her route, crossing  in her path several brown shearwater birds. In another week the Moais of  Easter Island should stand out on the horizon.
Anna Deniaud

On the Trail of Robinson Crusoe

Land! Land in sight! Crew members hastily don life-jackets and rush outside on deck. Aboard Tara, maps and modern navigation instruments have not diminished the excitement we feel at the sight of land. All sails unfurled, the schooner heads for the Juan Fernandez Islands, located 670 km from the Chilean coast. Comprised of three islands — Santa Clara, Alejandro Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe Island — this volcanic archipelago owes its fame to the latter, where the solitary adventure of Robinson took place.
To write his novel (first published in 1719), Daniel Defoe was inspired by the story of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor. In 1704, after a quarrel with the captain, the rebellious Alexander asked to disembark from the boat onto an island, known at the time as Mas-a-Tierra. Rapidly the sailor regretted his decision, but it was too late — his companions had definitively abandoned him. For 4 years and 4 months, the man struggled to survive in this hostile place, with only a Bible and a logbook for company. “Poor, pitiful me, Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked during a horrible storm, the entire crew drowned, and myself half-dead, I landed on this wretched island which I’ve named Island of Despair.” (Excerpt from the journal of Robinson Crusoe in Daniel Defoe’s novel.)
In his book, the writer romanticized the sailor’s arrival on the island. But his version was not too far from the truth, because the very ship (called the “Five Harbors”) which had abandoned Alexander Selkirk, actually got shipwrecked a short time after he disembarked. Watching the horizon everyday from high on a rock, the Scottish sailor was finally rescued from his Pacific prison by an English ship.
“Less than one marine mile from the coast, Tara continues her voyage, passing the steep mountains of Robinson Crusoe Island. Armed with a notebook and colored pencils, Celine sketches the landscape unfolding before our eyes. Occasionally a ray of sunlight floods the ochre-colored rocks which contrast with the green forests of the island. Nearly 140 plant species grow on this land, including 100 which are endemic. The archipelago also has a large number of native land birds. In 1977, Robinson Crusoe Island was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Preserve.
In the Bay of Cumberland, 2 sailboats are anchored. In the past, when England’s Queen Elisabeth I encouraged piratry in far-off lands, there would certainly have been many more boats moored in this bay. After pillaging the treasures of South America, particularly those of Peru’s Incas, the pirates and privateers of the Old World took refuge here in this archipelago, resting for a few days before affronting the dreaded Cape Horn.
Equiped with binoculars, Sarah and Gabriela explore the island from a distance. Tucked in between 2 cerros (peaks) are a few houses. Today almost 600 people live on Robinson Crusoe Island, the only inhabited place in the archipelago. Here the population earns a living thanks to tourism and fishing, notably lobster fishing.
We’re sorry not to be able to land on the island to do some exploring and eat a delicious lobster! Not a hint of mutiny aboard, not even a quarrel with the Captain…Anybody want to disembark with a knapsack? No one seems interested. We have to get back to our voyage, fast, very fast because time is limited. Tara’s scientific team must continue their mission. On deck, the crew takes advantage of these last moments using the sails. Tomorrow Tara will enter an anticyclone. For 5 days only motor power will move us forward.
Anna Deniaud

Escaping the tsunami!

Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 22:00 hours. On board Tara, it’s euphoria! In the black of night, the crew’s faces are lit up with joy. Who would have thought that a generator’s soft whine could make so many people happy? After exhaustive testing, the GE2 is finally repaired. The Chilean experts are leaving, relieved in spite of being seasick. Tara will take to the open ocean tomorrow for its 93rd sampling station near the edge of the continental shelf.
Friday, March 11, 2011 at 8 o’clock: On board Tara, the exuberance has subsided and some faces show concern. A tsunami alert has been given for Valparaiso. Who would have imagined that our long-awaited departure date would be threatened by a destructive wave bearing down on Chile’s coasts? Just after receiving port clearance,Tara is blocked. No movement is authorized.
9 o’clock: Policy change. The Valparaiso port authority has given orders that all vessels must evacuate the port as quickly as possible. With an average speed of 6 knots, or about 11 km per hour, it would be difficult to flee, and instead of rushing, it’s better to prepare. The grey whale raises all sails and heads out into the South Pacific. As this legendary port disappears before our eyes, the memories of this stopover are welling up, and our anxiety increases for all the local people left behind. We are hoping that this announced tsunami will not cause too much damage.
At the helm, Loïc the captain seems at ease. “In a couple of hours, we’ll be past the continental shelf, and there will be no risk – I’m not even sure that we’ll feel anything.” Gabriela, an English scientist, is reassuring her father who has just called her on the schooner’s telephone. On Tara’s deck, some are taking advantage of the last miles of communication network to send messages to their families and friends. Some are being ironic about the situation.
15:00 hours: On board Tara, everyone occupies themselves. Céline has made some madeleines (biscuits) and is taking them out of the oven. Marcela is immersed in her book “Gracias por el fuego”. Chet Baker’s suave voice wafts through the mess-room. Thoughts of the tsunami seem to have been forgotten. On deck, Sarah and Baptiste are still testing the winch in preparation for tomorrow’s sampling station. All of a sudden, familiar underwater forms appear – sharks are circling Tara! According to Gabriela, who is a specialist, they appear to be Prionace glauca, commonly called “blue sharks”. There are 5 or 6 circling the boat. This captivating spectacle lasts more than an hour.
23:30 hours: After a very calm day, the wind picks up, blowing 15-20 knots into the sails. Dancing with the waves, Tara rolls left and right, and pitches fore and aft. In their berths, François and Baptiste are preparing for their watch. At exactly 23:30, the 2 sailors sense an abnormal movement of the schooner. Five minutes later, a second wave catches their attention. Has the tsunami brushed by Tara? Whether on Tara, or on the Chilean coasts, the tsunami has fortunately caused more fear than harm. Tomorrow morning, the scientists will calmly start the 93rd station.

In the Wake of Kon-Tiki

In 2 days Tara will leave the port of Valparaiso, headed for the most isolated island in the world, the famous and legendary Easter Island. We are preparing to sail 2,100 marine miles during the course of which the researchers will carry out 3 long sampling stations.
The new team is present and ready: 7 sailors and 7 scientists, including Marcela, official observer for the Chilean government. During this 21-day leg, Lee Karp will head the scientific team which definitely has a feminine look. Lee is embarking for the first time aboard Tara, but far from being a beginner, this American researcher has already accomplished 7 expeditions in the north Pacific.
Originally from Israel, Lee has been living in the United States for 20 years. She is currently working as professor-researcher at the University of Maine, School of Marine Sciences. Her research deals with the relationships between form and function in phytoplankton, as well as their role in the environment. “I am delighted to participate in this leg. It’s especially interesting since we’re going to pass from an upwelling to an oceanic desert.”
The upwelling, located near the Chilean and Peuvian coasts, is a zone particularly rich in micro-organisms, which explains the great quantity of fish in the region. In contrast, in oceanic deserts, plankton and phytoplankton are rare. “Besides the scientific interest, I’m also excited by the idea of navigating in the same waters as the Kon-Tiki. The adventure of this raft was my favorite book when I was a teenager.”
Similar to Lee, Loïc Valette, Tara’s new captain plunged into Thor Heyerdahl’s story* as a child. Following the same maritime route as Heyerdahl (which to this day is not frequently travelled) should be a great experience for the young captain and his crew. Having been aboard for a month and a half as mechanic, Loïc will now take command of the sailboat.
“I feel lucky to take over as captain in Valparaiso. Not everyone has such an opportunity!
This port is legendary in the maritime world. Loïc didn’t earn this promotion by his prowess in the machine room. He has the diploma of First Class Captain in the merchant marine. For the past 15 years he’s been navigating aboard commercial ships. And he’s been around sailboats since he was a child. “My father is a sailor. We had a sailboat, and as a kid, whenever school was out, I was on the boat.”
While awaiting departure, scientists and sailors continue preparations for the voyage. At the yacht club of Chile, close to Tara’s mooring, Loïc encountered Captain Jaime Von Teuber.
With his blue cap, a pipe in his mouth and a graying beard, Jaime looks like your traditional figurine of a sailor. Thanks to this old salt, Loïc obtained some useful information for our upcoming navigation. Just two or three phone calls from Jaime, and now we’re officially expected at Easter Island.
Anna Deniaud
* The Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl led an expedition on a raft, the Kon-Tiki, from Peru to Easter Island. He was trying to prove that the Easter Islanders could originally have come from South America. However a majority of researchers maintain the thesis that Easter Islanders originated in Polynesia.

Arrival at Valparaiso

This Saturday morning at 9am, the nets began to filter the surface and depths of the Chilean continental shelf. Very quickly the oxygen-free zone was found to be closer to the surface, compared to the last station sampled the day before – only 50 meters this time instead of the 90 meters before.

“This means that all life is concentrated in this layer, where we’ve found just as much phytoplankton as zooplankton”, said Chris Bowler, our head scientist. “We even recorded a diatom bloom, and that’s probably because it’s the end of summer and growth is at a maximum.” There were also plenty of jellies at the bottom of the collectors brought up to the surface.

Twelve samplings were carried out. “This is a coastal station, and our samplings are nothing special here, since many universities have already analyzed these waters”. According to Chris Bowler, “What is special about our sampling system is that it’s “end to end”: from viruses to fish larvae, we’ll be doing genomics and thanks to DNA, we’ll accomplish something that’s never been done in these zones.”

This leg is ending – with, as always since the beginning of the Tara Oceans expedition,&nbsp; a scientific plus that will bring additional knowledge and maybe some discoveries about this part of the Pacific Ocean.

For a part of the team, this arrival at Valparaiso is also the end of an adventure. All those who were on board, and those who embarked at Buenos Aires will be leaving Tara here. The new captain, Loïc Vallette, will take up the official command at Valparaiso, having just spent a month on the machines. He relieves Hervé Bourmaud who will embark again at the Galapagos Islands.

The second captain, Alain Giese, the cook Hélène Santener, and the whole scientific team except Franck Prejger, will be leaving. As for me, I’ve come to the end of six months of sailing aboard Tara. Six months of an incredible adventure which led me from Cape Town, South Africa to Valparaiso via the Antarctic and the Patagonian channels. It was a total of 13,000 nautical miles or 25,000 kilometers – a distance spanning the South Atlantic, the Southern Ocean and a section of the Pacific.

A new expedition journalist will take over the reins, Anna Deniaud. We wish her good sailing winds and happy writing to share with you our voyage around the globe on this scientific endeavor.

This evening, we’ll be anchored in front of the thousands of Valparaiso lights, slowly blinking out as the night progresses. Tomorrow, on Sunday, we’ll be moored at quay number 7 of the commercial port. Tara will set sail again on the 9th of March, headed for Easter Island, after sharing some unique moments with school children and local dignitaries. But there will also be maintenance work and repairs, especially of the generator, which has prevented us from taking samplings at depths.

Good and safe winds Tara!

Vincent Hilaire 

Next Stop Valparaiso

After four days at the Marina Oxxean (Puerto Montt) we took to the seas  today for new adventures. At Puerto Montt, the scientific team was  changed, food supplies were bought and fuel was tanked.

As we left our wooden quay at 9am this Sunday morning, there was  already brilliant sunshine, and it was nice and warm. There were only a  few stratus clouds here and there, coloring the huge blue sky. Rare are  the boats that travel on this stretch of sea between the continent and  the island of Tenglo, which means “calm waters” in the ancient local  language.

After reversing and turning around, Tara headed off towards the exit of  this shallow channel at low tide. The foresail and main sail were raised  as well as the forestaysail. I was in the dinghy with Alan Giese, the  second captain, to document this instant in photography and video. The  reflections of the two sails shimmered upon on an almost immobile wave.  “This boat really has something special”, said Alain.

We expect to carry out our first sampling station next Tuesday. The main  focus on this leg is to study the life which flourishes in the Humboldt  Current running north along Chili’s coast. The phenomena of deep  cold-water upwellings take place here at the mercy of the winds. This  zone is a mixing of cold southern waters and warmer waters from the  north. As we left Puerto Montt this morning, the water temperature  measured by the on-board instruments was 160, but Puerto Montt is at the  far end of the Ancud Gulf and we were in a shallow zone.

During this stopover we also tried, with the help of local technicians,  to restart one of our generators, the only one capable of running our  main winch used to immerse the sampling instruments. Unfortunately it  didn’t work and after two hectic days, the problem still wasn’t solved.  On the positive side, only a couple of hypotheses remain as to the cause  of the problem. All of the others were verified, tested, and dismissed.  This leg will thus not benefit from the hydraulic winch, and we’ll only  be able to take surface samplings.

On board, the ambiance is excellent. We have with us two enthusiastic  Chilean researchers as observers until Valparaiso. Chris Bowler from the  École Normale Supérieur in Paris is the chief scientist. He will guide  us on our last Chilean leg with three sampling stations. Eight hundred  nautical miles separate us from Valparaiso, but that’s as the crow  flies, something that we never do.

Before leaving for Antarctica, we were cleared through customs to enter  Chili with the formalities taken care of almost two months ago at the  end of December. We’ve spent two months in Chili with many memories and  the discovery of this country crisscrossed by mountain chains, glaciers,  and volcanoes, and bordered by two oceans.

This Sunday evening, after crossing the Chacao Channel we’ll find one of those two, the one that is misnamed: the Pacific.

Vincent Hilaire

Tara leaves Deception Island

On Tuesday morning we left the dormant volcano’s crater where we’ve been anchored for the last 3 days. The wind had died down, and the water was very clear and barely rippled. A couple of chinstrap penguins leapt out of the water around us. The ceiling of the sky was also much higher, which allowed us to see the circle of mountains buttressing the volcano.

Two cruise ships were at anchor, carrying out their customary shuttling of people back and forth in the dinghies to the nearest beaches, disembarking their batches of tourists. A soft yellow light bathed this peaceful lake.

As on our arrival, we left the island by the same route The cliffs at the northern entry this time appeared much less hostile than a couple of days ago when we “landed” here in windy conditions, high seas and a snow storm. Compared to the previous anchorage at Brown Bluff, we saw very few penguins at Deception Island.

We are now passing by Snow Hill Island and occasionally, on the port side, we can see misty tops of the peninsula. Both engines are running, one reef on the foresail but none on the mainsail. There’s very little wind barely measuring 6 knots. In the coming days we expect first a southwesterly flux, which will then turn north. 20 to 30 knots.

The door to the Antarctic closes behind us as we pass Snow Hill. While discussing on the bridge after dinner with Hervé Bourmaud, our captain, and Edouard Leymarie, one of the 6 researchers on board for this leg, both confided their wish to return and explore more the White Continent. Of the 14 on board, there are 13 of us who are here for the first time. Lots of images and memories are already turning about in our heads. Lots of new wishes also, like discovering the west coast of the peninsula which in the end we didn’t manage to see at all. Our time was running out.

We are getting ready to recross the Drake Passage. Our arrival at Port Williams is still scheduled for next Saturday. The forecasted winds in the Beagle Channel could make for a tricky arrival and anchoring.


Vincent Hilaire

Fossil Island

Marambio lies at latitude 64º06’South and longitude 56º41’West. We’ll have spent 20 hours anchored here. Yesterday evening, after we arrived, the surrounding mountains were dusted white with snow.

The trip on land today kept all its promises: the ground of Marambio is scattered with fossils and nesting arctic terns.

At the northern point of the island, a camp with some red and yellow tents. Four Argentinean and Spanish geologists are on mission for a month. Their camp is installed on a small plateau facing the sea. When we arrived yesterday evening, it was the surprise of the day for them. They have been here since December 22nd and will stay until January 25th. Their camp consists of several tents, one of which serves as a living base. It’s heated and there’s a table, chairs, a camp-stove and refrigerator – a place where they eat and work.

They are working for the Argentinean Antarctic Institute and the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute, mapping the island and doing a soil study. This island is very ancient: its formation dates back to the creation of the Antarctic Peninsula, when South America separated from the White Continent resulting in the creation of Drake Passage. Studying this island is thus of utmost importance to better understand this epoque dating back millions of years.

Sergio, Elisabet, Manuel and Francisco (aka “Paco”) served us tea and we talked for several minutes. They complained about the lack of sunshine since their arrival. Except for one or two days, they’ve had overcast and cold weather. It’s their 4th mission on Marambio. And like the times before, they arrived here by plane. On the plateau above their campground, there’s a runway which can accommodate big military transporters. Once they land and arrive at their chosen site, they have to set up camp composed of a dozen or so tents. They were glad about our visit – a real change from their routine.

Sergio is Argentinean from Buenos Aires, and remembers Tara’s former visit in 2005 when there were mountaineers aboard.

After this pleasurable meeting, it was time to get back on board. We left our anchorage in the mid-afternoon to return to the Antarctic Sound, where a new station, the fifth since we departed from Ushuaia, will take place in the coming hours. Most likely we’ll be at a new anchorage this evening, in front of the Argentinean base “Esperança”.

At the moment, the breakdown of the generator which runs the immersion winch has not been solved. Numerous telephone calls and emails to land-based specialists are being made in order to find the cause.

Vincent Hilaire

Visits in Tierra del Fuego

Since arriving in Ushuaia, besides our neighbors at the Marina Afasyn (mainly charter sailboats taking tourists to Antarctica), we’ve met local authorities, including a delegation from the government of Tierra del Fuego Province.

In the impressive main building of the city, the crew was welcomed along with Eric Karsenti (director of Tara Oceans Expedition) by Claudio Eduardo Roig, undersecretary of the government in charge of science and technology, and by Mario G. Eiriz, honorary consul of France in Ushuaia. Questions were asked concerning authorizations for sampling and scientific collaboration during our voyage through Argentinian waters.

Eric Karsenti was extremely clear and reassuring. First he reminded everyone that during this leg of the voyage, between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, an Argentinian scientist was on board, Roxana di Mauro of the INIDEP laboratory in Mar del Plata. « Roxana has kept some of the samples she took while aboard Tara. And if the government of Tierra del Fuego wishes, analyses of the other samples will be communicated to them in priority. Collaborations, in particular on the suject of crab larvae, will also be set up with the CADIC (Austral Center of Scientific Investigation) based in Ushuaia. We want to organize scientific collaborations with you. It’s in our mutual interest to join forces and set up exchanges ». This clear message was well-received.

That same Tuesday, in the early afternoon we were welcomed by the CADIC and its director Adrian Schiavini for an informal meeting – occasion for a first exchange about work methods used aboard Tara – before preparing an ‘open house’ for the general public scheduled a few hours later in the same location. On the program: projection and presentation of the expedition by Eric Karsenti. The evening had been announced by the local press, so we had a full house in this holiday period. Eric presented his talk in French – clear and informative as usual. Stephane Cuisiniez, director of the Alliance Française, had the challenge of translating Eric Karsenti’s remarks, which he did brilliantly. The evening ended with the projection of the film “Tara, Voyage to the Heart of the Climate Machine”, which explains the work accomplished aboard Tara during the Arctic Drift Expedition.

The following day, to complete our meetings, the same CADIC scientists came to visit the boat and see all the scientific instruments – a fascinating one-and-a-half hour visit led by Eric Karsenti, Sarah Searson (engineer-oceanographer), Roxana di Mauro and myself. The next visit, organized with the help of the Alliance Francaise, will be that of a school. Our crew is reduced for the holidays: nine people on board today and only eight tomorrow when all the scientists will have departed, before the arrival of a new team after the holidays.

It’s time to prepare for our next destination – Antarctica. We’ll be re-stocking Tara with food and supplies, making repairs, changing parts and purchasing warmer clothing. A great new adventure lies ahead of us.

Happy holidays to all !

Vincent Hilaire

Tara in Ushuaia

Some  logs are especially enjoyable to write. Not that the others are uninteresting or less important. But this evening Tara is in Ushuaia,  the southernmost city in the world, 1,000 kilometers from Antarctica.

Besides  just being here, this arrival has a special feeling because we had such a rough crossing. Not easy to forget the 80-knot wind at our Cabo Virgenes mooring. After docking Tara in the marina Afasyn this  afternoon, some French sailors standing around on the pier told us about  their different experiences. A neighboring sailboat exhibits its  anchor, completely twisted by the violence of the hurricane. This  sailboat was docked on States Island where we originally were supposed  to dock. Another more dramatic incident — a Polish skipper and his  brother died in this same crazy wind. “The sea gives and takes away” —  we all know this saying well.

In any case, we’re all delighted to  have arrived safe and sound, though dead-tired. “It’s strange to find  ourselves here, suddenly removed from our daily routine” said Sebastien  Colin, the optical engineer who took magnificent images of plankton in  the dry lab despite the heavy weather.

Before arriving at  Ushuaia, sailing up the Beagle Channel offered us an impressive  spectacle. We left the dock early in the rainy morning to catch up later  with another sailboat with which we would share piloting expenses.  Around 5 am we began our entry into the Channel– a total of 60  kilometers to reach Ushuaia. Astonishing light, with surprising  contrasts, a sensation of calm tranquility. In the distance, snowcapped  mountains.

Isla Picton, then several hours later Isla Gable. The  trip up the Channel went smoothly with optimal conditions. Not much  wind, sometimes sunny, 8° C. And white peaks as far as one can see on  both sides — Chilean and Argentinean — of Beagle Channel — Then we  arrived at Puerto Williams, a small Chilean city at the foot of the  mountains. The ‘Pelagic Australis’ was waiting to continue the route  with us. Finally, around 17:00 we glimpsed Ushuaia across the bay,  another city built at the foot of a mountain chain.

Near the  Eclaireurs Islets with a famous red and white lighthouse, a pilot came  aboard to guide us for the last few miles. The outlines of the city  appeared a little more clearly. In silhouette we began to make out the  harbor, streets, cars, many houses built on the wooded flanks of the  mountain. Having once traveled to the Spitzberg Islands in Longyearben,  Ushuaia reminded me of Norway, and for a few seconds my thoughts took me  back to the roof of the world. But this was no time to dream. Ushuaia  is located half-way between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific, and our  docking maneuvers were beginning.

This evening Tara is moored  with several other coupled sailboats. A group of people, an improvised  welcome committee, was waiting for us. “Welcome to Ushuaia”. Roxana di  Mauro, Argentinean scientist aboard, was the first to be surprised:  “They all speak French!” She was expecting to hear other languages here.

Most  of the scientists on board will be leaving us on December 22. Our  departure date for Antarctica is scheduled for December 29. We will  retrace out steps in the opposite direction before crossing the Drake  Passage, towards the Antarctic peninsula.

Vincent Hilaire

Tara approaches the Great Southern Ocean

52 knots in a  gale ! Fortunately, the day before yesterday when we set the sails  after a short sampling station, Captain Olivier Marien anticipated a  strong increase in wind by taking in two reefs. The weather forecasts were accurate. Since last night we’ve been sailing in 30 to 50-knot  winds. And Tara “rides it out” with no difficulty, as we say in  sailors’ jargon.

Consequently, the long station  planned for this afternoon had to be cancelled. Most of the crew  assembled in the main cabin, waiting for the storm to blow over. Are we  getting close to the Roaring Forties? We’re now sailing at 36°18’  south, but it feels like we’ve already crossed the threshold of the  Great Southern Ocean, as if we’re in the entry hall.

In the  portholes of the main cabin, the South Atlantic Ocean rises and  descends, sometimes revealing an albatross. We still have our escort of  sea birds. Albatrosses for example continue to play in the wind in the  most natural way. Wind at 50 knots doesn’t perturb them. To the  contrary, it seems like the stronger the wind, the more inspired they  are.

They trace ever more daring trajectories in the sky that even an  expert pilot would not risk. They’re born to fly, that’s the  difference. Turning sharply on the left or right wing, diving vertically  between the waves, they dance with the sea and wind. Their skill is  fascinating. What are they doing? Are they hunting? Are they flying  just to experience the feeling that we call freedom? Or is it simply  instinct, their genetic code commanding this perfect air show? Actually  it doesn’t really matter. May the ornithologists forgive me, but I’m  happy just to observe the pure beauty of these birds.

We expect to have 24 more hours of storm, and then the wind should calm down. We will continue our southeastern route during this period, before tacking in the direction of Buenos Aires. This  morning Olivier Marien and his first mate Julien Daniel tacked during  this heavy weather. “Each of us concentrates on his task, and since we  know each other well, we don’t need to keep checking to be sure  everything is OK,” he told me after we lived through this moment  together on deck. Moments that give all its meaning to the word  ‘sailor’. Knowledge and mastery of maneuvers even in stormy weather,  team spirit, calm, and a concern for everyone’s safety. “A hand for  oneself, a hand for the boat”, the dearly-missed Eric Tabarly used to say.

At sea in stormy weather, all sailors are alike, helping each other without knowing it.

Whatever the goal of their voyage, they all have the same feelings at certain times: Humble before the incredibly powerful elements, and joyful when they succeed in pulling through.

We  send best regards to all of you who are following the Tara voyage. We’re thinking of you in these moments of a ‘sailor’s life’.

Vincent Hilaire

Heads of Tara Oceans Expedition in Rio de Janeiro

They hadn’t been together aboard Tara since Beirut, Lebanon. That was almost a year ago, last December, as the expedition was preparing to leave the Mediterranean for the Red Sea. More than ever Etienne Bourgois and Eric Karsenti, co-directors of Tara Oceans Expedition, are convinced of the importance of this scientific/humanistic project which has mobilized a team of women and men all over the world.

Etienne Bourgois (CEO of agnès b.) is responsible for the maritime, logistical, technical &amp; educational aspects of the project. Eric Karsenti (senior scientist at EMBL) is in charge of the scientific part. But this doesn’t prevent the two men from having opinions about the other’s domain.

- Vincent Hilaire: What are your thoughts about the beginning of the expedition’s second year, since our departure on September 5 from Cape Town, in South Africa?

- Etienne Bourgois: “It’s a good start. Thanks to what we’ve done since Cape Town, and will continue doing until our mission in Antarctica, we’re going to have a very precise image of life in the south Atlantic Ocean at a given time. The level of cooperation for water sampling between the sailors on board and the scientists reached a new high during the voyage between Cape Town and Rio via the islands of Saint Helena and Ascension. We took samples in waves 4 to 5 meters high which had never been done. Before confronting the seas of the southern hemisphere, this is an important accomplishment.”

- Eric Karsenti: “When we left Lorient in France more than a year ago, things were a bit chaotic. Our itinerary was marked with many stopovers. Today, the ‘breaking-in’ period is over, and we’re doing high-level science aboard Tara. Everything is working perfectly. We’re doing everything we hoped to accomplish, and we have developed reliable methods. As Etienne says, we’ve moved to a higher level. It’s no longer random sampling of plankton, but a precise and targeted global hunt.”

- V.H: Speaking of ‘the hunt’, the one undertaken between Cape Town and Saint Helena is exemplary – one of the major accomplishments of this leg.

- Eric Karsenti: “I can tell you that what we just did in the south Atlantic is a real scientific achievement. With the help of meteorology, satellite imagery, and the almost-hourly collaboration between our teams on land and at sea, we succeeded in entering the heart of a huge whirlpool originating in the Indian Ocean via the Aiguilles Current. This current runs in an east-west direction, and after descending the Mozambique channel, passes the Cape of Good Hope and generates whirlpools that cross the south Atlantic — carrying a diversity of living organisms linked to its original environment. We succeeded in finding and exploring one of these whirlpools. We now work aboard Tara as if a land-based router were giving weather forecasts to a competitor in the Vendée Globe race. What’s more, with our accumulated experience, we can succeed in finding a needle in a haystack. This is unique. In addition, we accomplished the mission using our sails for most of the 5,000 miles between Cape Town and Rio.”

- Etienne Bourgois: “I want to emphasize that we obtained these results in conditions of total safety, never easy at sea, especially considering the windy weather we had. Our sailors and scientists even succeeded in organizing an extra sampling station despite the tight time-schedule for arriving in Rio. This shows you just how committed the team is.

- V.H: What are your thoughts about the stopover in Rio?

- Etienne Bourgois: “For us, arrival in Brazil and in Rio is above all a continuation of the expedition, but it’s also a very special stopover. Rio is a huge city, and for two weeks we’ve had many exchanges with scientists, political personalities, artists and environmentalists. This is not a technical stopover for Tara, but a time for meetings, and the most important event was the presentation of our work in the botanical garden of Rio. Two or three hundred people came, including the Ambassador of France to Brazil.”

- Eric Karsenti: “We arrived in Rio at a time when there are many new projects here for scientific development in oceanography. And Tara offers this scientific community an opportunity to be inspired by our expertise, for example concerning our extensive sampling of everything from larva and viruses to zooplankton. The study of ecosystems along the Brazilian coasts could greatly benefit from this partnership which scientists here are hoping for enthusiastically. Tara went to a workshop at Ilha Grande, near Rio. Representatives of the French CNRS met their Brazilian counterparts with the goal of facilitating scientific exchanges between our 2 countries at the highest level, including the Tara Oceans program.”

- V.H: On the starting line for this second year, and after Rio, Antarctica for a month?

- Etienne Bourgois: “We will not be the first to go there. Other research vessels have done it before. But with Tara’s low draft and her 36 meter length, we can get to places where no other oceanographic ship has been. For example, we hope to sail in the Wedell Sea, to the east of the peninsula.”

- Eric Karsenti: “If we succeed in studying and describing this sea, it will be a real first. Part of it is under ice. We know there’s a lot of sea life and not much biodiversity, but no one is able to prove this with scientific data. Our study will be a continuation of what we were doing before in the Malouine current. Our goal of achieving a global description of ecosystems at the scientific time “T” would not be meaningful without Antarctica.”

- Etienne Bourgois: “During the three years of our expedition, we’ll go to Antarctica only once, but we’ll stay there for a whole month. It’s a long enough period to complete some important research, especially valuable considering the challenging weather conditions in the southern seas: we’ll be in the Furious Fifties.”

- Eric Karsenti: “I think human aspects of the adventure will sometimes be as important as the scientific expedition. At these latitudes, science isn’t done in the same way, when it can be done at all!”

- V.H: Do you have any particular wish for this second year, which has begun so successfully?

- Eric Karsenti: “I wish we didn’t have to run after financing. I hope that scientific institutions and private organizations begin to realize the quality and importance of this expedition. I would like to stop begging. I’m a research scientist. If we don’t get the necessary funding, we could export our savoir-faire.”

- Etienne Bourgois: “Funding remains a problem. To have even a chance of completing our three-year expedition, we will have to decrease costs. For example, in an activity that uses a lot of equipment like ours, there’s a certain amount of wear-and-tear and breakage inherent to any expedition of this kind. We have no spare parts. To continue using the sails and benefiting from the increasingly strong winds present in the oceanic regions we’ll be crossing, we’ll have to replace our two main winches on the deck. This operation will cost 25,000 euros, just to give you an idea of our needs. If we can’t meet these costs, Tara will be used to the breaking point. And so this extraordinary, legendary boat would be the victim of lack of funding. Since we began organizing expeditions with Tara, we’ve gone from 12,000 motor hours to 24,000, in seven years of adventure. That’s an enormous voyage.”

- Eric Karsenti: “We feel a bit alone in this struggle. Everyone who made promises should now take action. We have the impression that despite our explanations, certain people don’t realize the difficulty and significance of what we’re doing.”

- Eric Karsenti: The agnès b. Foundation and the Veolia Environnement Foundation have supported us since the beginning. EDF Foundation, World Courier, Brittany Region, Cap l’Orient, the CNRS and the Foundation for Biodiversity Research also help us financially. It is through them that the expedition is possible!

Interview by Vincent Hilaire

Adios Ascension ! Headed for Rio de Janeiro

A new adventure is starting. Departure this morning at 8 o’clock from our mooring at St. Clarens with the usual maneuvers for our crew. First, we bring aboard the 2 tenders used for reaching land, then we do a solid ‘lashing’, securing them in place for the upcoming period of navigation.

After starting up the engines, we haul in the anchor with its 70 meters of chain. Next, the 2 big sails, the yankee and the foresail, are hoisted. Tara under full sail and already moving ahead at 5 knots — a slow but sure departure. The voyage ahead will be long Tara, so give us a gentle beginning! Headed west for Brazil, our next stopover is in 2,000 miles. Before then, we’ll have 2 long sampling stations, and 2 short ones, weather conditions permitting.

Our 4 new scientists, some of them with shaved heads, arrived the day before yesterday, right on schedule, and got settled the next day in their quarters. As soon as their bags were brought on deck, the 4 arriving scientists had a meal on board with those leaving, and the rest of the crew. 17 people to feed, but Marion, our cook, is holding strong, and was warmly congratulated by the disembarking scientists.

Before and after this lunch, the 8 scientists talked extensively about their work, giving each other advice, lab tips, details about organization, storing and functioning of equipment, condition of batteries, computer passwords, etc. As Philippe Koubbi (head scientist) and Patrick Chang (engineer-biologist, specialist in microscope imaging) were leaving, tears came to our eyes. Special thanks to both of them from the whole crew, until we meet again. We will not forget Lucie Subirana either, nor Marc Picheral; he will return in a few months for the Antarctic phase of the expedition. This was a whole month of being at sea together, and lots of good memories.Having gotten their instructions, the new arrivals enjoyed a good swim, then walked around the island in the afternoon, before embarking for 20 days at sea. Our new playmates are:

Jean-Louis Jamet (head scientist), Pascal Hingamp (to replace Lucie in the wet lab doing filtrations), Jean-Baptiste Romagnan, to assist Sarah Searson on deck, and also to do zooplankton sampling, and Mattias Ormestad, a very tall Swede, replacing Patrick Chang in the dry lab. It looks like the lab was built just the right size for Mattias !

Let’s get back to Ascension. All in all I had a very good feeling about this island, despite an austere first impression. What makes for the richness of this place, I think, are its inhabitants more than its landscape. The water is warm and full of fish, the weather is pleasant, and the volcanic landscapes are varied — lunar along the coast, tropical on the mountaintop, and Mediterranean on the southern part of the island. But it’s the island dwellers who made me really appreciate this forsaken place. Among the 800 people living on this rock, I particularly liked those called the ‘Saints’.

They are expatriates from Saint Helena, big-sister island to the south where Tara made a short stopover. The Saints come here to work, to earn a living and pay for whatever they have on Saint Helena, their ‘home’ as they call it. Ascension is a windfall for them, and in addition gives them the extra advantage of having British passports. It seems that everything here is made to attract them, and (unlike on Saint Helena) there’s an airport.

The Saints are amazingly kind and friendly people. They have made Ascension and their exile here (not reserved for Napoleon!) a tiny paradise. I will never forget the generosity of David Lawrence alias ‘Skippor’, who took me around the island in his 4-wheel drive car. The first time I met him, I was walking along one of the few roads on the island. I beckoned him, he stopped with a big smile, and immediately took me for a tour of the island, before treating me to a nice cold beer. Impossible to offer him a drink in return — that would almost have bothered him. His explanation for all this generosity was simple : “We’re Saints.” He said this as he was sipping a beer, totally relaxed, wearing shorts and a Bob Marley tee-shirt.

Even if you don’t speak English, on Ascension you can get along with gestures. Just 2 are enough: the classic hand salute, and the raised thumb, like Caesar pardoning the gladiators who survived in the Coliseum. Here nothing is aggressive; everything is pacific in the middle of the south Atlantic.

Vincent Hilaire

Infinitely small and fascinating

Patrick Chang is looking through the microscope, his head thrown back to observe a screen placed high up, totally enthralled with these true wonders of nature. For many hours throughout this 70th sampling station, each time the plankton nets are hauled in, he hurries into the lab with the latest sample to discover more about the appearance and movements of these myriad species swimming in a few drops of water. He has a real passion for the microscopic world that we’re all getting to know a little better since the start of this expedition.

Photos are piling up in his computer, like a bestiary coming directly from outer space. The infinitely small ocean creatures transport him far away from earth, in his dreams as a scientist keen on discovery, and also perhaps in his childhood dreams. And after each encounter with these creatures, when we pass by to see what he’s working on, his unique laughter soon rings out, communicating his great joy. He’s a biologist who enjoys literature and cinema as much as science.”

The study of the south Atlantic gyre has been fascinating for all of us. “This central zone of the ocean has not been studied much. We have only a few papers by Russian ecologists reporting on preceding oceanographic campaigns,” explains Philippe Koubbi, chief scientist aboard Tara. “In the beginning, the decision to explore this zone was taken, as usual, thanks to satellite imagery provided by our colleagues on land. We noticed zones where the ocean’s surface was between 0.3 and 0.4 meters above the normal surface, poor in chlorophyll and in nutritive elements. These are called ‘oligotrophic’ zones. Also, the month of September is particularly interesting because it comes right after the explosion of life in August. This is the time of year when we see a peak in plankton development, and in the reproduction of zooplankton.”

Once our presence in this zone was confirmed by the immersion of oceanographic equipment, the very first plankton nets showed that life was present, that the catch would be very promising. Salpes,* copepods,* amphipods,* certain specimens of a size we haven’t seen since Cape Town. Considering the usual scale of this mini-world, these are real giants! Their forms and structures show extraordinary finesse. We also discovered a few fish from the very deep sea, for example a lantern fish, or a silver hatchet fish. 18 plankton nets were lowered into the water during the 40 hours of this sampling station. Despite this extremely rapid rhythm, we took time to have a close look at these aquatic curiosities.

“The huge south Atlantic gyre is particularly interesting, first of all because it moves through nearly all of this ocean, and also because when it finally reaches the tip of Brazil, this south equatorial current splits into two branches. One goes left, following the Brazilian coast towards the south. The other goes towards Florida before feeding into the Gulf Stream which eventually reaches Europe. You can imagine the importance of this flux and the life it transports.

Another interesting thing to notice, according to Philippe Koubbi, is that this current moves from east to west in this hemisphere, in a counter-clockwise direction. In the northern hemisphere it’s the opposite, and the same goes for trade winds which follow the same trajectories as these currents and the Coriolis force in general. The Earth’s rotation is of course the origin of this whole dynamic.”

“What’s certain is that, compared to the Benguela upwelling*, which we examined just after leaving Cape Town, there’s less phytoplankton here. We’ve completely changed environments.”

The crew is completing its third long sampling station since Cape Town, with some fatigue, but also enjoying the pleasure of a job well-done. This time, weather conditions have been a little less difficult, and we’ll be able to get some rest.

Tomorrow around noon, Tara will reach the island of St. Helena. We will spend only a few hours on Napoleon’s land of exile. Two last sampling stations, short ones, are planned between there and our arrival at Ascension Island. As we come to the end of this first stage of the second year, Patrick Chang barely leaves his microscope. He’ll be disembarking at Ascension with his head full of memories and his hard drive full of photos.


*salpes: marine organisms with gelatinous bodies that move via contractions, pumping water to filter micro-algae, their phytoplanktonic food.

*copepods: small crustaceans

*amphipods: a kind of small crustacean

*upwelling: an upward movement of waters from the depths

Vincent Hilaire

The young scientist & the adventurer

Before the next change of our scientific team on Ascension Island at the beginning of October, we will present each week contrasting portraits of an onboard scientist, and a member of the sailing crew. Today Lucie Subirana, biologist, and François Aurat, jack-of-all-trades sailor.

24 years old, brunette with brown eyes, long, straight hair and a slight accent from the south of France, Lucie is from Perpignan, in the heart of Catalan country.

48 years old, with a mop of wild gray hair and the look of an adventurer, François is from the center of France, not far from the Tronçais Forest in the Allier. He now lives in Carqueiranne, in southeastern France.

She has a DUT in Biology, and a ‘licence’ in Plant Biology. This is her first oceanographic mission, her first expedition.

He has a BTS in business. For 20 years he was manager of a company specializing in sports equipment – windsurf and snowboards.

In less than a week aboard Tara, she recently covered more nautical miles than in 24 years on her little sailboat in Canet beach. She has always been attracted by the sea, and now for her first major voyage, she will travel 5,000 kilometers in the south Atlantic.

When I start talking with François for this article, our conversation takes off on the subject of Tara’s technical stopover in Cape Town before departing for this second year. He was one of the crew members who re-did the hull bottom and renovated the deck-treads. Just looking at his hands you can tell that he’s an experienced handyman.

The first time Lucie saw Tara was in Barcelona in 2009. She was impressed by the size of the boat, by the friendliness and openness of the crew. Before her first visit aboard, she had already proposed embarking to her colleagues at the Arago laboratory in Banyuls-sur-Mer where she works. This CNRS/Université Paris VI laboratory is a partner in the project. It was just before the summer that Lucie found out she would actually join the Cape Town to Ascension journey.

The first time François saw Tara was in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice. The crew was there doing trial runs in preparation for the actual expedition. That was 3 years ago, and since then François has never left Tara’s projects– on land or at sea. After Villefranche, he helped Myriam Thomas, in charge of event planning for the Tara Foundation.

Transporting, setting up and disassembling photo exhibits. Afterwards he accompanied the boat from Lorient to the Pont Alexander III in Paris, including taking-down the masts at Rouen. Then in Lorient he participated in his first construction work on Tara.

It took six months to transform, take apart, and reassemble the schooner. A necessary transformation after the Arctic expedition, to adapt Tara to her new mission. François’ only comment on this was, “We were really hurting.»

For Lucie, the first hours of sailing were physically very challenging, which she was not expecting. Some sea sickness at the beginning made her wonder if she would be able to hang on for a month until the first port of call at Ascension. Afterwards, when conditions improved with smoother sailing, Lucie started smiling again, and showed how much she was enjoying the adventure. When she’s on watch with a sailor, she’s learning the basics of navigation: how to read the radar, make entries in the logbook, assist with manœuvres on deck. As far as science goes, Lucie takes care of the filtration procedures for her lab, and finds the work fascinating. She will never forget observing fluorescent plankton in the middle of the night.

For François, the first hours of sailing were a liberation. Leaving port after overhauling a boat is like getting a reward.

Over the many miles we’ve covered, he’s had an almost permanent smile on his face. Between two manœuvres or repair jobs, he’s taken photos of birds and seals. At least a dozen times he’s thrown a line overboard, trying to catch a beautiful coryphene.

New moments aboard Tara, after those experienced in the Indian Ocean, will complete his photo album. “I love the Tara Oceans project and look forward to knowing the results of our sampling. And I’m really turned on by this particular boat. I wish that my two 18-year old sons, Thibault and Rémi, would waste less time than I did. I waited 45 years to discover this. You’ve got to move around, not retire within yourself.”

On the first page of photos in his album, François pasted a shot of a man seen from behind wearing a tee-shirt that says “I’m free”.

Vincent Hilaire

Thirteen West

It wasn’t a ‘bug’: At about 4 o’clock in the morning during Mathilde Ménard and Marc Picheral’s watch, the longitudes suddenly registered at zero for a few hundredths of a second. And then the degrees in minutes and seconds began to appear again, but to the west. We had just passed the Greenwich Meridian. Passage to the west, after more than a year spent primarily to the east

Out west, the air is the same this morning, but this “West Side Story” brings a few changes for us. The first is that we changed the time on our clocks, to adapt to the places we’ll be coming to. Now we’re on Greenwich Meridian time + one hour (officially, GMT + 1). That is, we’ve abandoned daylight savings time earlier than usual.

Before arriving at Ascension in a few days, we’ll have to set our clocks back one more hour, to be at GMT, that is,    ‘the hour of the sun’.

What’s also changing is our environment. In appearance it’s the same — waves as far as the eye can see, a horizon of liquid gas (the sky) 360° around. No boat has crossed our path for 10 days, and a squadron of black petrels is still on our trail. But looking more closely, there are some changes. Yesterday evening, during our watch, Olivier Marien (the captain) and I found a flying fish on the deck. It’s certainly the first of a long series, since we’ll be heading north after the next sampling station, planned for tomorrow; the farther north we go, the more we’ll catch the trade winds. And trades winds are the favorite territory of flying fish.

The water temperature continues to rise all along our route west north-west: 19°C  this morning under Tara’s hull, with a very cloudy sky, and outside temperatures quite mild.

Our no-man’s-land is getting more mild, and this should continue until St. Helen’s Island which we’ll pass by, before reaching Ascension Island. Maybe there will be some boats in this zone.    

Arrival on this British island is planned for September 30th at the latest.  Here we’ll have the first change in our scientific team: Philippe Koubbi, chief scientist, Marc Picheral, engineer-oceanographer, Lucie Subirana and Patrick Chang, engineer-biologists, will disembark and be replaced by 4 other scientists. The first changes in the sailing crew will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  

Vincent Hilaire

Multi-net Power

Friday evening a special event happened aboard Tara. Like taking out a racing car from an old garage, or letting loose a bull in the arena, we uncovered our prize. Since our departure from Cape Town, the beast kept a low profile, nearly hidden by the wet lab installed at the rear port side. Now its time had come, it was the star under the spotlights, in the eye of the cameras.

With his usual precision, Marc Picheral, our engineer-oceanographer, orchestrated the whole operation: fastening with ropes, then lowering into the water our champion of plankton-hunting, the multi-net. If the rigging, the general system is not just right, the equipment could wind up in the depths of the ocean.

Most of the crew members, sailors and scientists, had assembled on the rear deck to participate in this special moment. Their curiosity was justified by the fact that this multi-net had not been put in the water since last March.

Sarah Searson, the other oceanographer onboard, listened carefully to Marc’s advice on how to succeed with this operation. In terms of plankton nets, the multi-net is like the carburators of an Alpha Romeo. It has 5 collecting nets, and the special ability of taking plankton samples at precisely selected depths. While other types of nets can individually capture their micro-prey, the multi-net gets 5 hauls in one. But procedures of laboratories and their techniques are often different, and the multi-net is not used by all of them.

Since there was a little wind and some current, we had to immerge this voluminous stainless steel container with its 5 nets by letting out 1,500 meters of cable. The first net opens at 1,000 meters, the second at 750 meters, then 500 meters, 250 meters, and the last net stays almost at the surface. Immersion time is two and a half hours for a slow, precise descent and then hauling-in. This means great patience and vigilance so that everything goes well.

With this tool, we have brought to the surface microorganisms like Phronima, an amphipod that truly resembles the terrifying creature in the film series, Alien. “It’s this morphology and this mouth which inspired the design of the monster”, explains Philppe Koubbi, chief scientist aboard. I like to imagine our multi-net during its descent, seen from below as it crosses these regions inhabited by so many mini-monsters, scary-looking though not dangerous considering their size. But even at this infinitesimally small scale, the fight for life exists.

Another thing is sure: next time we take a swim in the sea, each one of us will think about the amazing micro-world we’re swimming in.

Vincent Hilaire

Hunting the Eddy

After exploring the Benguela Current last week, we’ve been searching since yesterday morning for eddies. Particularly the eddies in the Aiguilles Current that cross the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Tara Oceans expedition had begun to observe eddies in the Mozambique Channel where they form. When they reach the level of the southernmost point of Africa, certain eddies continue to move in an east-northeasterly direction, and enter a new ocean.

This is what interests our scientists, and there’s nothing better than finding ourselves in the middle of one of these whirlpools, called ‘gyres’ in English. But easier said than done!

Our search starts with the help of satellite imaging which detects gyres in relation to the level of the sea. Then oceanography takes over.

We did a certain number of underwater profiles to learn about the layers of water underneath Tara. And so, late yesterday afternoon, we got the confirmation with a feeling of relief, “This is it! We’re really here!”

Our graphs of temperature have indicated the actual presence of an eddy. After 9 immersions of sounding devices, chief scientist Philippe Koubbi is certain: “We’re right in the middle, in the eye of this ring which originates in the Indian Ocean. Here in the center, water is warmer than outside the ring. The line-graphs of temperatures (“isotherms”) plunge, showing that the eddy is moving and carrying along water that has characteristics different from water in the Atlantic. So it’s very interesting to do a sampling station in the heart of the gyre. Because, first we can find the characteristics of the ocean of origin, and then we can see if the front of the gyre mixes with, or is more or less impervious to the Atlantic Ocean water.”

After this first series of oceanographic experiments on Tara’s deck, it was time for biology and physical chemistry. And our activity doubled in intensity: Celine, Lucie, Philippe, Sarah, Marion, Linda, Marc, Patrick, Captain Olivier Marien, a large part of the crew worked full-force, taking turns throughout the night.

Various plankton nets were lowered into the water at different depths, then hauled back up. Samples were separated into jars for later measurement of carbonates and nitrates. Our radiography of this part of the ocean continued. Between two short rainfalls, both zooplankton and phytoplankton were brought into the dry lab for imaging. We were astonished by what just a drop of seawater can contain; Fascinated by the beauty, the quantities, the near-perfect forms of these microorganisms — a fabulous micro-world.

In the gyre, 400 kilometers in diameter, our scientists noted last night a major presence of gelatinous zooplankton, such as physalia, and velella. Velella move around, sometimes carrying a gasteropod that resembles a snail. Physalia are jellyfish that sting badly. Unfortunately Linda now knows this. These two organisms live at the water’s surface, their striking blue color providing camouflage for easier hunting.

Proof that the environment has considerably changed since we’ve been in the Benguela Current: The inhabitants of this region have remarkable ways of capturing their prey — prey that’s becoming increasingly rare.

The big question still remains – Is there a mix between water of the Indian Ocean and water of the Atlantic? And on a biological level, can we see genetic crossovers between the species originating in these two different environments?

Vincent Hilaire

A week at Sea

In Cape Town, local people had warned me: here, in a single day, you can experience all four seasons. Like a birthday present for our expedition’s first year, an excellent weather forecast encouraged us to sail off on September 5. Exactly one year ago to the day, Tara had departed from Lorient, beginning this adventure.

Just as we were leaving the harbor, a few whales came by to blow out our first birthday candle with a magnificent and graceful show. In their eyes, I can read people’s feelings, typical of departures for the open sea: a mixture of enthusiasm and uneasiness. After all, it’s not everyday that you cross the  Atlantic Ocean on a sailboat! 

Very quickly we’re immersed in the experience – high sea, strong winds. Our first 48 hours are rough, but we succeed nevertheless in accomplishing this very important sampling station: studying the phenomenon of upwelling in the Benguela Current, off the coast of Cape Columbine. This beginning tired us out. Some people were seasick, others did night watch. But nobody had insomnia when they slipped into their bunk. 

Heading west-northwest, I have the sails reduced for the night.  We gather the sheets, the crew working the winches, those well- known ‘coffee grinders’. With bursts of wind at  30 knots, Tara is getting her sea legs after more than a month in dock.  In the morning, the wind is blowing steadily at 25 knots. We hoist the sails — 8 knots,  9 knots, 10 knots.  We’re finally   moving fast. Satisfied smiles, and once again the strong sensations of  sailing in open sea for two days of pure happiness. Tara has found her rhythm, confronting with no difficulty the huge waves coming from the south Forties. Dolphins off the prow, albatross in the wake, our escort watches over us,   reminding us that we’re not so alone!

Already seven days at sea. The crew is working together smoothly, life on board is well organized, and we’re already dreaming of trade winds. 

Olivier Marien, Captain of Tara


First long station of this second year

At 7 this morning, the first people showed up in Tara’s for breakfast. The sea was calm, and the sun shining. Having spent 24 agitated hours with winds at more than 30 knots, it was lovely waking up after a calm night drifting in the Benguela current.*

This early wakeup was organized to get us all started on the first long sampling station of this second year. For the scientists aboard, this meant getting the expedition going again on the next leg of the journey, from Cape Town to Ascension.

A first CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) sets in motion all the ensuing work. The CTD is the basic technique of measurement in oceanography. It allows us to visualize different layers of water underneath the boat at a given time.

Aboard Tara, oceanographers Sarah Searson and Marc Picheral were like ballet directors arranging a choreography that has only just begun. And their performance in long station could last up to 48 hours, with only short intermissions.

After this first CTD at a depth of 160 meters, and a first haul of saltwater brought to the surface in all the bottles making up the “rosette”, a plankton net was put in the water.

At the same time, engineer-biologists Céline Dimier, Lucie Subirana and Patrick Chang were preparing the wet lab installed on the rear deck. Indispensable preparations: It’s been almost 2 months since this equipment was used during the last long station off the coast of Cape Town.

There was a kind of excitement for the scientists on the back deck, most of whom were not novices on board. For Céline, after a first haul of her plankton nets and observation of the precious liquid, it was clear that “the catch was good”.

During these operations all over Tara, the sea was green and marine mammals were almost constantly playing in the water around us. Dolphins and seals — and in every plankton net hauled up to the surface – shrimp, and a multitude of micro-organisms and fish larvae. One sure thing – there’s alot of life beneath Tara.

Of course this zone – the Benguela upwelling, with abundant nutrients moving upwards – is one of the richest in the world, along with the Peruvian and the Mauritanian upwellings.

“Upwellings are caused mainly by wind. But the wind can’t be too strong or too weak,” explains Philippe Koubbi, head of the scientific team aboard Tara. “Here, off the western coast of South Africa, the wind blows parallel to the coast. Winds push layers of warm water out towards the open sea, provoking this upsurge of cold water from the depths. If there’s sunlight too, phytoplankton finds excellent conditions here for its development. The entire food chain benefits. This sampling station is therefore particularly important for ‘taking the pulse’ of the upwelling, even though we know it’s even more active between October and February. The goal of this station is to try and answer the question of the effects of global warming on wind action, and thus on the preservation of the upwelling, by recording the presence (or not) of plankton, or of certain types of plankton.

Another interesting point: we know that because of intensive fishing in this area, which occurs during times of strong upwelling and changes in wind patterns, there might be an impact on the species present here, hence on the entire food chain.

Recently certain species, for example the anchovy or the sardine, have left the zone. But certain predators have remained here, and are starving. Also observed in this area has been an increase in the number of medusas, and certain small fish have been eating them. Why? What does plankton tell us about this situation? Is plankton proliferating? Or is it becoming scarce? Are some of the planctonic micro-organisms disappearing? Are they changing? Is plankton responsible for the departure of the sardines and certain other species? What causes these changes in behaviour, the departure of certain species and the arrival of others? Is the habitat of these species in the process of changing? Perhaps the Benguela upwelling will reveal its secrets to scientists, enlightening them about changes here and elsewhere.

Each time Sarah and Marc begin their ballet, they’re thinking about this. And this evening, their stage-set will be a dark night. That’s what a long station is all about.

Somewhat like the performance of an artist.

Vincent Hilaire

*The Benguela Current is a rapid, cold ocean current which moves from South Africa, up along the coasts of Namibia & Angola, towards the north, north-west, joining a warm equatorial current. It is fed by an upsurge of cold water from the depths along the coast of West Africa.

Second year, a new voyage

Etienne Bourgois, co-director of Tara Oceans, takes a look at the future of our expedition.

How will this second year be organized?

For him, 
“Without a doubt, this is the beginning of a new voyage, different, but at the same time very similar.”

This second year represents the starting point of a completely new expedition.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that we’re going to do alot of sailing during this second year. There’s an immense distance from Cape Town, where we just set sail, to Auckland, New Zealand. We’ll have a new rhythm on board, very different from the first year, when we made many stop-overs. Olivier Marien, the captain in command during the beginning of this second year, will have to juggle even more with wind and difficult seas while still meeting our scientific objectives. Then we’ll return to Antarctica at the end of this year. For Tara it will be almost like a home-coming. The boat practically knows the way, having been there with Jean Louis Etienne, then with Sir Peter Blake. &nbsp;And now as Tara, we’ll be returning to those immense wild spaces and heavy seas of the south, where this boat reveals her true value, surrounded by an untouched natural environment.”

From a scientific perspective, what do you expect of this second year?

“With Tara Oceans, we are involved in top flight science. As we did during the first year, we’re setting out with a blank page, starting from zero. This is what makes it so fascinating. As for me, I expect alot from the perspectives this expedition opens to us. We’re questioning many things, but primarily, by means of this voyage we’re trying to understand just how much life on earth depends upon biodiversity.”

We just left Cape Town where the members of Tara Oceans expedition continued their interesting meetings. Is this a different dimension from the Tara Arctic expedition?

“These two expeditions don’t have much in common. This one, because we’re circumnavigating the globe in three years, has an even more universal scope. Our project no longer has boundaries. Each stop-over is rich in multiple encounters. We are truly studying and working for the entire planet. Wherever we go, the project has a strong impact on people. This second year gives us the chance to continue reaching out towards others – to discover other countries, other cultures. And every time we can learn from them. Tara is an imposing boat, but at the same time isn’t observed only from afar: she invites exchanges.”

Financially it’s a difficult period for this kind of project. Other expeditions have recently had to give up. Is the future of Tara Oceans secure ?

“Since I began directing this type of adventure, I’ve grown accustomed to this kind of situation — living from day to day, a journey without maps. Of course money is the bottom line, but I remain resolutely optimistic. Support from our partners is essential: the Veolia Foundation, FR 3, the region of Brittany, agnes b, the EDF Foundation, and World Courier. And then there are so many highly motivated women and men working for Tara Oceans. We can’t imagine that will stop.”

At the end of this second year the last port will be Auckland, in New Zealand. Are links strong between Tara and New Zealand?

“It will certainly be a high point of this new year. Over there, Tara is still known as “Seamaster”, her name when the boat belonged to the famous sailor, Sir Peter Blake. Our idea is to share with the Kiwis the long route traveled since then. I am very fond of this country: thanks to New Zealand, I met Tara.”

Setting off from Cape Town under the sun

At 9.15 this morning Julian Daniel, the Chief Engineer, started the two 350-horsepower engines. At the last briefing yesterday, Captain Olivier Marien set the time of departure for 10.00am. A new photograph was quickly taken on deck of the whole of the crew involved in this Cape Town-Ascension stage of the journey, then the departure manoeuvre gotgoing without delay. The mooring lines were cast off, and the fenders -the buoys which prevent the hull from hitting the dock- were brought back on board.

With a pilot on board to navigate out of the port, Tara leaves the Waterfront quay of Cape Town. The temperature is mild and there is a light breeze and bright sunshine. This moment is always full of mixed emotions: there is the joy of embarking on a new adventure, the pressure associated with fulfilling the mission, and with a month at sea scheduled, we need to reacquaint ourselves with deep sea sailing.

Like a discreet yet ever-presentobserver, Table Mountain overlooks the scene. Two other yachts accompany us on this new start for Tara. 

Having passed the harbour wall, we busy ourselves on deck hoisting the sails. First the main sail of the foremast, then the main mast, before finally we hoist the forestaysail. Tara has rediscovered some of her attire. The whole crew are busy working together at the ropes.

The foghorn sounds one last blow, like a final farewell to Cape Town and South Africa. But Mandela’s homeland is notready for this brutal separation. The captain is still increasing the engine speed, then a few moments later he cries out “Whale ahead!” First a blowhole, then a fin, then another blowhole. It’s quite a welcome to the Atlantic Ocean for an expedition that has just returned to service after a month and a half in drydock!

The whales stayed at Cape Town, and we travelled at more than six knots (12 km/h), steering a course 340°, that is to say in a north-westerly direction. The South African coast is already paling into the haze.

Vincent Hilaire

Heading for heavy weather

For Hervé Bourmaud and Olivier Marien, the two Tara captains, this second year will be all about heavy weather.

According to them, the advantage of having a year’s experience behind us is that Tara Oceans is now a smoothly functioning expedition. “The plankton sampling protocols are well established, and the teams of scientists are operating very effectively. Everyone has taken their marks now,” says Hervé, who has spent more time onboard than anyone else throughout this first year. “These same teams of scientists will continue working throughout this second year. They’re at home on board. We’ve demonstrated that Tara is an extremely versatile tool for science.”

This expertise will undoubtedly be an asset as we continue to ‘scan’ the water of the oceans, in waves several meters high. “Setting off from Cape Town, we’re already at 34° South, very close to the Forties. So statistically, conditions are going to get rough,” says Olivier.

The sampling stations will inevitably become much more challenging. Fortunately the weather has been fairly mild during our departure, and the wind is carrying us along, so we can expect to have a “fairly comfortable” start.

Before tackling this second year, the two captains are eager to reflect on the highlights of the first year. Having remained on standby for Hervé, Olivier became ‘boss’ on board off the coast of Italy, between Suez and Djibouti, so for him, that’s really where the adventure began.”At first there was the threat of piracy: a permanent sword of Damocles. A tense situation.

But after we made it through the Mediterranean and then the Red Sea, we left Europe and everything changed.” Hervé‘s response complements this sentiment of Olivier’s. Hervé took back the helm between Djibouti and Cape Town: “In the Mozambique Channel when we got to those islands, like Europa and St. Brandon for example, we were landing on beaches that were virtually untouched. It was obvious that hardly anyone had ever been there.The birds were watching us calmly, we were in their home.” “And in Djibouti”, Olivier concludes, “no one had dived on that reef in ten years.”

For both captains, one of the distinguishing characteristics of this second year will be the different rhythm of the sailing. The distances we’ll be travelling will be longer. This first leg, between Cape Town and the island of Ascension, will be the longest of this new year which has just begun. Olivier will be the boss on board up to Buenos Aires, at which point Hervé will return. He says they will cover a total distance of 2,400 nautical miles, nearly 5,000 kilometers.  By contrast, in the Mediterranean our stopovers took place weekly. According to Olivier, “the crew really is going to have plenty of time to work together, to get to know each other and above all to experience a shared adventure.” Clearly a positive point for these two sailors.

For both captains, the journey continues with renewed vigour as we embark on this second year. If all goes well, Olivier expects to ‘catch’ the south east trade winds in a few weeks.

Vincent Hilaire

Discovering Cape Town (South Africa)

Next Tuesday Tara will return to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront at Cape Town,our port of departure. Hence, the opportunity to say a little more about the legislative capital of South Africa.

Built on the shores of Table Bay,located at the foot of the eponymously named mountain,Cape Town was founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company.

In 2007 it was home to 3,500,000 souls, and 45% of the population were under 24 years old.The majority of this population is also of mixed race origin. English is spoken, of course, but the main language is Afrikaans. Christians make up 77% of the population.

Housing remains a major issue;South Africa’s largest slum, Khavelitsha, is located in Cape Town.It is not the only slum, known as ‘township’, to be found here. There are also the townships of Llanga and Mitchell’s Plain.

One last important point of reference before going back to the sea on Sunday, September 5th: this region enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and as it’s currently the middle of winter, temperatures are fluctuating between 9 and 20°C.The winters are generally quite mild but humid. There is significant sunshine here and the rain is violent but short-lived.

This undoubtedly explains the development of this unique flora, with its famous ‘finbos’, a member of a family of semi-desert plants.

Owing to its proximity to Antarctica, this region’s marine fauna includes a large number of cetaceans, and they’re not the only curiosity Tara’s crew is admiring these days. There is also the colony of penguins at Cape Town, they are the second cousins of the emperor penguins which we’ll be able to see when we get to Antarctica.


Vincent Hilaire

Second year of Tara Oceans expedition: year of the upwelling

One thing Dr. Chris Bowler (Expedition Scientific Coordinator and CNRS Director of Research in Biology at the Ecole Normale Supérieure) asserts without any scientific doubt: ‘the star’ of the expedition’s second year will be the study of upwelling off the coast of Peru in the Pacific Ocean.

But before that, two other big scientific ‘moments’ await Tara’s arrival:  In Antarctica, the study of diatoms, the phytoplankton which trap the most carbon dioxide in the world. And in the Galapagos, the study of acidification taking place in that part of the Pacific Ocean. Acidification may be an early indication of our future climate.

In his office at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, rue d’Ulm in Paris, Chris Bowler is surrounded by posters and photographs of microorganisms — not exactly an austere setting. An informal ‘fifteen minutes with a journalist,’ he greets me with coffee and a big smile. The conversation begins.

“The most important upwelling we’ll be studying throughout the whole expedition will be the upwelling off the Peruvian coast – one of the richest plankton sites in the world. A lot of anchovy fishing takes place there since plankton is an important food source for this fish.”

Upwelling is a phenomenon whereby sediments and fish detritus rise to the surface. Driven from the depths by powerful underwater currents, it supplies the plankton with all its staple ‘foods’, such as proteins, fatty acids and carbon.

“These important habitats will undoubtedly provide us with some precious samples. Bear in mind that on this three-year Tara expedition, we are establishing a scientific base-line, ‘time zero’, making an inventory of the situation at the beginning of the 21st century.  So, these results will still be instructive hundreds of years from now.” Chris almost regrets not being able to live long enough to see the results. 

On this second year, during its journey from Cape Town (South Africa) all the way to Auckland (New Zealand) Tara will do soundings in two of the world’s four oceans: the South Atlantic and the South Pacific. In both these oceans, where currents move from east to west forming circles (gyres), the biggest upwellings occur in each case on the East coast of the African or American continent. Another upwelling we will study is the one produced by the cold current which runs along the coast of Argentina rising up from Antarctica. It is very rich in sediments.

Chris turns to a world map on the wall. The line of Tara’s journey has been marked out. “In our crossing of the South Atlantic, we will also continue to study the famous Agulhas Rings.” His hand gestures depict these circles of currents which form in the Mozambique Channel, and which the expedition followed last July up to the Cape of Good Hope. They carry along within their loops a colossal mass of living microorganisms. “Beyond Cape Town, they proceed on their journey, crossing the entire South Atlantic. We will continue to follow them and observe these beautiful rings on their transatlantic voyage. We locate them via satellite imagery, then we sample them. The question is: How do these circles, and the life they transport, cross the Atlantic? From a biological point of view our knowledge is still very limited in this field. Past expeditions have focused mainly on the physiochemical aspect of things (salinity, the size of these rings, etc). Passionate biologist, Chris is clearly proud to be rectifying this omission.

“The other area we want to study will take us to the shores of the Antarctic Peninsula. Multitudes of diatoms, which are phytoplankton (photosynthesis-performing organisms) live in these waters.  Diatoms proliferate in the glacial Arctic Ocean around the edge of the Antarctic continent.  They seem to like living around the poles.

Like their microscopic brothers and sisters comprising the phytoplankton, diatoms feed at the surface of the ocean on carbon present in the air. But when diatoms die, weighted by their tiny skeletons, they sink to the ocean floor, carrying the carbon with them. So they naturally trap all this carbon that we generate. Understanding how the diatoms live and adapt to changes in the Earth’s carbon dioxide level is therefore essential. The circumpolar current, the giant gyre surrounding Antarctica, thanks to all these diatoms, is the largest carbon sink in the world.

This is of particular interest to Chris.  To be thorough, he doesn’t forget to add that “our eight months around South America will also allow us to study, in the southern Chilean channels, the impact that fish farms in the area are having on plankton ecosystems.  And let’s not forget about our stopover in the Galapagos. In this part of the world the ocean is particularly acidic. Apart from the study of coral, we want to try and understand how plankton is adapting there. If this acidity were to become standard throughout the oceans, the Galapagos constitutes a living laboratory. Especially knowing as we do now, that life in the oceans is affected by climate change.

“But in addition, the Galapagos takes us back to Darwin, since that’s where he put together his famous theory of evolution.” Chris’s face lights up again, as before, when we were discussing diatoms.

The biologist takes a book from his library: The Voyage of HMS Challenger, in 1872, which took place well-after Darwin’s Beagle voyage. “We know that Darwin was investigating life on earth. Tara Oceans follows in the footsteps of this other British expedition, the first oceanographic expedition in the history of mankind. Way ahead of their time, the men aboard the Challenger were interested in sediments, and crossed the South Atlantic several times in pursuit of that interest. On board there was a certain Ernst Haeckel, naturalist, biologist, artist. Some of his drawings of plankton inspired an archway for the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1900.” For a long moment Chris admires one of these drawings. Our voyage is also leading us on a journey into the past.

Though he’s not making drawings for Tara Oceans, Chris enjoys reviving the romance of these great expeditions. For him, it’s another of his goals of this new year: to convey the message that science, art and adventure on the seas are still closely connected, just as they were in the old days. 

Vincent Hilaire

Visits from South African students

At each stopover, after departing from the Lorient, Tara’s crew has conscientiously maintained their commitment to organize visits onboard by local schools; thus responding to the expedition’s educational objective, one of the fundamental reasons for this project.

At Cape Town, the crew welcomed 120 adolescents from 2 city “townships”(disadvantaged neighborhoods). This visit was co-organized with Cape Town’s aquarium, which also hosted an exhibition on TARA Oceans for the students. They then came onboard to discover the schooner, its functioning, scientific equipment and everything else. All of the crew and scientists onboard relished that moment, and the mutual pleasure was evident in the smiling young public who were very attentive. The surprise was all the greater, for the life onboard the schooner seems so distant from theirs. In fact, it is not a question, during these visits, of going into detailed and often complex science, but to try to transmit the message of everyone’s commitment for a better world.

Three days after leaving Cape Town, and after having passed again the mythical Cape of Good Hope in exceptionally good sailing conditions, the re-fitting has just begun for Tara in the small port of Simon’s Town, a few kilometers from Cape Town. Here also, via the Consulate and local organizations, visits from nearby schools will soon be organized and meetings with the South African population will be opportunities for numerous exchanges and discoveries. Here is also an important part of the Tara Oceans expedition, the scope of scientific research extending to discover cultural and humane pluralities.

Amélie Bétus

The southern Indian Ocean currents influence the south Atlantic Ocean

The Indian southern equatorial warmer current affects the biodiversity and the thermo-haline circulation of the Atlantic Ocean.

At Tara’s present location, the Agulhas current flows at high speed along Africa’s east coast (up to 6 knots). Arriving at the Cape of Good Hope (formerly called the Cape of Storms), this current meets up with the colder and polar currents from the Atlantic.  This results in a retroflection phenomenon where the Agulhas current turns on itself and proceeds eastward in the Indian Ocean.

During this retroflection, the Agulhas current creates meanderings, which evolve into rapidly turning eddies. Periodically some eddies detach from the current and traverse the Atlantic Ocean towards the American continent.

Each year, the dynamics of the eddies, which succeed each other in the Mozambique Channel, partially control food supply and marine predator displacement. Due to temperature and salinity conditions, in addition to diverse species trapped in their midst, these eddy masses influence the circulation and marine biodiversity of the south Atlantic.

One of the Tara Oceans’ goals is to precisely evaluate the role of these oceanic masses in their enrichment of the flora and fauna of the south Atlantic.

By sampling nascent eddies in the South Indian Ocean, and then following their peregrination in the Atlantic Ocean, the scientists will be fathoming the details of genetic dissemination on large oceanic scales.

As the last-born ocean, the Atlantic continues to benefit from the contribution made by its “big brothers” the Indian and Pacific, where the continuing regulation of oceanic exchanges creates an evolving situation, which remains to be studied.

Gaby GORSKY and Valérian MORZADEC

A welcoming haven

Tara continues its descent of the Scattered Islands. After Juan de Nova it will be Bassas da India’s and then Europa’s turn to receive a visit from the scientific expedition.

Located in the southern Mozambique Channel, the only thing the last two Scattered Islands have in common is their proximity to one another, as their geographies are completely different.

Bassas da India is an island where only a few coral reefs emerge. There’s no vegetation or noteworthy seamark. The captain seizes the opportunity to sail alongside of the coast so as to compare the nautical chart with the GPS readings. To our surprise, a stone’s throw from the reef-flat, we appear to be located right on the island. Which one do you think is wrong? Which is telling the truth: the computer or the GPS?

It’s a strange experience for us to observe this coral atoll formation, inaccessible and lost in the middle of the ocean.

We are surprised by the variety of flora, and above all fauna, we encounter in Europa: a huge variety of birds, fish, goats, turtles and insects. Life is thriving in this sanctuary where impromptu visits are forbidden. To board this island, special permission must be grantedfrom the Prefect of the French Austral and Antarctic Territories (TAAF), based in Reunion. The island is classed as a nature reserve, and protected by a military detachment which completely prohibits access to unauthorized persons.

The endemic fauna is one of the treasures of the island. The Tara crew is lucky enough to witness the laying, as well as the hatching, of some turtles. Eighty-seven of them returned to the water this evening! It is part of the job of French police and military. Their presence on the island is worked in 45-day shifts. They are here to maintain French sovereignty and ensure the conservation of the island. Among their duties are the cutting and eradication of sisal, and the identification and protection of biodiversity. Described as “oceanic sanctuaries of a primitive nature”, the Scattered Islands are administered by TAAF, whose objective it is to minimize human impact.
The marine and lagoon samples carried out by Tara scientists will undoubtedly contribute to a better understanding of this remarkable ecosystem.

The welcome we receive from the soldiers of the 2nd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (RPIMa) is very warm, and thanks to a satellite connection the camp has a television …it is an opportunity for the international Tara crew to finally watch a World Cup matchand allow friendly rivalries to get the better of us just for one night. That evening Spain and Germany qualified for the semi-finals, to the delight of our football enthusiasts.

This stop-off, of several hours, on the island of Europa has been a welcome break for the Tara crew. The pleasure of a friendly reception, plus a visit to a beautiful island has provided us with good memories with which we now must confront the southern winter and the harsh seas of the South.



Islet ahoy

It would have taken2 days of navigating to discover Juan de Nova, a tiny island of less than 5 km2, abandoned in the Mozambique Channel.

Upon discovering Juan de Nova, you catch a glimpse of its forest. In fact, the ten or so meter high trees are visible from afar and jut out over the sea. Coming closer, we discover a white beach of fine sand encircling this extraordinary vegetation. She-oak, imported at the beginning of the century, constitutes the majority of the trees of this islet. We weren’t expecting to see these tropical conifers.

We approach with trepidation, since the masses of coral are legion on the outskirts of the anchor zone. A sailor is posted at the front to stand vigil, while the GPS allows precise positioning on the map.

With the anchor dropped, it’s time to greet the French policeman and the 2 scientists waiting for us on the beach.

Juan de Nova forms part of the Scattered Islands, and is under French rule. These islands are part of the Territory of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands(TAAF). That explains the presence of the 14 French soldiers, relieved every 2 months, along with a French policeman; armed forces destined to protect French sovereignty.

Like the other Scattered Islands, Juan de Nova is deployed as a meteorological station since the 1950’s. In 2007, a scientific collaboration was set up with regular presence of scientists from La Réunion.

Goal: to study the flora and fauna of the island, but above all to find a solution to combat the introduced mammals. The presence of black rats, mice and especially cats-are a menace to the fuliginous terns-which breed here.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Juan de Nova was exploited for itsphosphate, and thenabandoned during the 1930’s. It was mainly during this period that non-native animals were introduced.

It is surprising that this islet, which has been uninhabited for so long, is now, as of some years ago, being cared for, thanks to the goodwill of TAAF.

A Spartan existence and a rustic habitat; our Robinsons appear rather happy to be here for a couple of months, and they describe the islet like a little corner in paradise. Tara successfully carried out a plankton sampling, but unfortunately there was not enough time to visit.

We would have been happy to stay awhile.

Valérian Morzadec

Tara Discovering Mayotte

After making two complete tours around the island, Tara uncovered Mayotte’s cut-out coastline. With alternating sand beaches, mangroves and numerous islets, the diversity of the scenery enchanted the crew.

By multiplying the moorings in the lagoon, in keeping with the needs of the scientific teams, the boat fulfilled its goal: to accomplish a maximum of diving sites and allow the “coral mission” to achieve the study of coral reefs.  

Mayotte is a zone with a rich and exceptional biodiversity: enough to regale our scientists who, with 39 dives and more than 1000 samples, left enthralled from this coral mission. To protect this unique lagoon with its diverse fauna and flora, a marine park was created this year at Mayotte, the first overseas, and the second of France after the Marine Park Iroise situated at the tip of Brittany. Realized with the participation of local inhabitants, this protected natural site has a goal of preserving a remarkable ecosystem with a fragile equilibrium. Many years of discussion were necessary to arrive at a workable management and a legislation, which allows the continued exploitation of the maritime zone while preserving the natural resources.  

A short history

Frequented since the 6th century by Arabian seamen, the Comoros Archipelago (of which Mayotte is a part) was colonized and converted to Islam by successive sultanates.  

Inseparable from its three sisters, Mayotte benefits from a particular situation. Since its possession in 1841, France administers the isle.

The currency changeover to the Euro, school teaching, civil defense and health services make up a certain number of advantages and rights under French administration.  

This situation is not without its problems with respect to the rest of the Comoran archipelago. The living standard and low income of the other isles creates a disparity, which makes Mayotte an eldorado for the anjouans (inhabitants of the closest isle) and other grand Comorans located less than 70 kilometers away. Besides, numerous Mayotte families have relatives on the other isles. This “kinship” moderates the separation between Mayotte and the rest of the Comoros, which makes clandestine immigration one of the major problems.  The “kwassa”, these boats often built for a unique crossing, often transport 2 or 3 times their maximum allowable load.  Accidents and human dramas are frequent, and although France aids the other archipelago isles, the situation remains tenuous.

Meanwhile, a possible departmentalization, Mayotte is experiencing today a mixed situation, the Mayotte culture cohabiting with a “Gallicizing”.


Energy packed guests

In Mayotte, Tara was given the pleasure of welcoming the lucky winners of the EDF internal contest onboard.

Here’s the info on this special day:

The EDF Diversiterre foundation is a branch of the French energy group EDF, and one of the most important sponsors of the Tara Oceans expedition.

The foundation was created essentially to support a number of projects and solidarity based actions. Be it through the development of renewable energy, through sponsorship, or the active support of various associations, EDF is looking to change its image, to be more than a simple producer of electricity.

In order to do so, Diversiterre’s commitments extend over four different fields of action: Sports, through the promotion of disabled and adapted sport ; Culture, through the renovation of French patrimony; Social work, in its fight against medical exclusion and last but not least, the Environment, through sustainable development and the preservation of biodiversity.

It’s through the organisation of an internal contest that 6 members of EDF personnel were given the chance to win a trip to Mayotte and spend a day onboard Tara.

One word is enough to sum up our guests’ reactions throughout the day: “Impressed”. Impressed by the scientific equipment, by the ship itself, by its captain, the crew’s availability, and the organisation on board…
Eric, Frédéric, and Richard, followed by Emma, Laurence, and Didier shared the life of our crew members for a day.

Our guests were treated to a tour of the boat, an introduction to the scientific equipment onboard, discussions and explanation with scientists of the coral mission, and a meal with the team followed by a trip to the diving site alongside our divers: enough to get a real feel of life onboard Tara. 

Needless to say, their stay in Mayotte will have been a powerful and intense experience.

However, winning the contest didn’t come without a share of responsibility: our guests were given the mission to share the information collected on the various sites visited, through the company’s intranet. Eric, who is celebrating his birthday today, is in charge of relaying information about Tara, and he is ecstatic! “It’s exceptional to be on this boat, being a sailor myself; I can tell you this is an amazing birthday gift!” As a devoted reader of maritime literature, this, to him, was “a great escape, Tara evokes great human adventures ».

The others, including Emma, find the technical and research aspect most remarkable : « the equipment is impressive, especially at sea, it is as adapted as what can be found in the CNRS”, “it’s exceptional to be able to share this experience with the scientists, who’ve made it a point to be available”.

After a day spent in the shoes of Tara team members, our guests –proud and satisfied- left us. They wore smiles on their faces as they released this unanimous comment: “We had a great day!”
Interviewed on board by Valerian Morzadec.

Serious coral bleaching has occurred in Mayotte

Mzouazia Bay, 6.00am: the anchor is raised. Tara is going back to another shelter on the eastern, windward side of the island. It is for safety’s sake but also to avoid too many trips with the dinghy. We move from place to place wherever the scientists’ and divers’ work takes us. At the same time it is an opportunity to discover the lush, rugged coast of Mayotte.

On board the task of sampling is in full swing. Delicate, jagged, whitened coral is collected and classified along with seaweed of various shapes and colours. The important task of filing the photographs is also carried out each evening. Analysis of fish-stock data reveals the stability of a fragile ecosystem which teems throughout the lagoons. The mission currently underway aboard Tara is of great interest. It brings together different coral-reef related, scientific fields of expertise. This expands our knowledge of the region’s biodiversity and at the same time allows us to measure the effects of global warming on the water at surface level, focussing specifically on the bleaching and deterioration of coral. This process of deterioration can ultimately devastate coral and cause it to disappear.

The first studies conducted around the island in recent days provide an insight into the health of the reef. It appears, unfortunately, that the reef has experienced serious coral bleaching this year. This phenomenon is undoubtedly due to the presence of warm water at surface level. We have also noted a high rate of coral mortality in the northern part of the lagoon. The same observation can be made of the Iris shoal, a seabed only 15 meters deep yet situated far out at sea, 10 miles north of Mayotte. This shoal is too remote to be affected by the evolution of the lagoon’s waters.

In terms of coral biodiversity this lagoon is one of the richest in the world, which makes the findings all the more alarming. This mission also provides us with the opportunity to meet local scientists who study the reef on a daily basis, and to compare their data with that which we have obtained on board. Alban Damont is one of those dedicated specialists working here on location. He also guides the cameramen in their search for the island’s most archetypal spots. This endangered environment needs to be protected without further delay. Human activity has destabilised this natural environment and a balance must be restored. This is the goal the marine park has set itself, as was explained to us on our arrival.

In three weeks time we will have collected a lot of precious data regarding the future of this precious environment.

Hervé Bourmaud

Diary of an on-board Customs Diver

The coral mission begins. The divers, the bottles and the inflatable dinghy are prepared with the upmost attention to safety. It’s quite a set up that must be put in place each day. Jean-Jacques, who along with Mathieu, is in charge of the safety and logistics of the dives, provides us with the following extracts from his diary:

This morning we get up at dawn and load the large dinghy which Tara has hired for the dive. At 7.30am we set off for the first site, known as the “White Island”, located twenty minutes from the lagoon, near the port of Longoni. …The scientists are excited as they emerge from the water; they have managed to track down a group of species which they had been hoping to find. …We reconvene with Tara who has come to meet us and is anchored nearby. While the others sort and catalogue their coral, Mathieu helps us inflate the diving cylinders using the compressor installed in the front hold. Meanwhile we are delighted to see a group of dolphins swim by the boat. It’s almost as if they’ve come to say hello. The afternoon’s schedule is a repeat performance, only this time we go to the “Green Island”.

In the evening we debrief on the course of the day and prepare for the next day’s navigating, which is determined according to which sites the chief scientist, Francesca Benzoni, wants to explore. I really liked the “plankton” team who have just left and I enjoyed working with them, but I have to admit that today I did feel like I was truly in my element, doing the job which I have trained so well for and know how to do.

Today we leave the boat and head, with the diving team, to the North Reef’s outer drop, seven nautical miles away. At the site the divers get into the water and I stay on watch aboard the dinghy. A little later another inflatable dinghy approaches, its occupants ask me if we are the Tara team, I tell them that we are and they inform me that they are free-diving, spear-gun hunters. They ask me if I can lend them a lead belt as they’ve left theirs onshore. They promise to drop it off onboard Tara in the evening. They keep their word and, by way of thanks, bring us a fantastic wahoo (a member of the tuna family) fresh from the sea. After Jan has cooked it, it is simply delicious and there is enough for the five people on board.

Jean-Jacques Kerdraon

We have a “little” scare on Tara

Tuesday 25th May, 1.40pm. Drifting at latitude 13°06′ South, longitude 46°58′ East, Tara’s scientists are busy at work. Hervé, the captain, climbs on deck: « Everyone stop what you’re doing, we’re getting out of here! ».

Always on the lookout, he has just received a call on the iridium telephone from the Coastal Patrol service of the French military’s General Staff on Reunion: « we have been informed of a possible attempted act of piracy in your vicinity at 11am this morning ».
After further investigation it transpires that we are 8 nautical miles (15 km) from a Spanish fishing vessel, presumably the target.

Decision made. We head south, engines at 8 knots, extra lookouts, surveillance radar. The crew is on high alert, binoculars in hand.

Never mind that the shift, which began at 10pm last night, has to be cut short. It is unfortunate for the team of scientists as they have only managed to collect a small portion of the samples they were hoping for. They are particularly disappointed because the harvest was looking so promising.

Earlier that morning Tara’s crew had spotted a small unidentified craft not far from the boat, which is quite unusual for this region. Whether it was just a fishing boat or something other than that we’ll never know.

Before departing from Diego Suarez, Hervé, erring on the side of caution, had made some inquiries of a tuna seiner moored close to us at the dock. He and this Spanish captain had examined maps and compared information. Up until now this region had seemed so peaceful.

As soon as the alert is made the General Staff offers to direct us towards a nearby naval vessel which is ready to join us in case of any trouble. However, as this navigation option would take longer it is deemed equally risky, so instead Tara heads back to the Western Cape. We sail all night keeping a close eye on the horizon and on any suspicious radar echoes. Our lights are off and our positioning system is down to avoid being detected, all the while we remain in constant radio contact with the military base in Mayotte.

Thanks to the sophisticated means of communication at our disposal and the contacts which have been established, Tara was able to make good decisions. Once again the solidarity of seafarers has prevailed.

We are now peacefully anchored in the lagoon of Mayotte.

Valérian Morzadec

From Reunion Island to Madagascar

Because Reunion is an island, it’s easy to imagine it populated by fishermen and seafaring people. This, however is only partly true: the port where we have stopped hosts the larger part of the fleet, but historically, Reunion is home to a landbound population of planters for whom the Indian Ocean was mainly considered an obstacle to travel — a body of water feared by sailors because of its difficult temper and rough winds.

Tara had a stroke of luck on the way to northern Madagascar, in the form of a swell, which pushed us towards our destination. Sadly though, we were unable to dock at mysterious Tromelin island, located midway on our route: this small, isolated sand isle is enclosed by a perilous coral reef which renders access to the island difficult, and makes it impossible to drop anchor: the waters encircling Tromelin are 4000 metres deep!

Much to the disappointment of Jérôme, our cameraman, who was already imagining himself as a solitary castaway, filming Tara passing by this land where so few souls ever set foot. We settled for a tour around beautiful Tromelin instead, with binoculars to help us observe what our eyes couldn’t reach. A major bird colony inhabits the island: red footed boobies and masked boobies which, far from being shy, treated us to beautiful swoops and dives (reminding us that the only person onboard who actually succeeded in fishing was Ian Probert, imagery specialist from the Roscoff laboratory, who will seize any occasion to plunge his plankton net underwater).

Despite these complicated navigation conditions, we were able to set up and complete a sampling station before reaching Tromelin. The samples collected in this seldom studied area are now carefully stored in Tara’s flank. We arrived in Madagascar yesterday at noon. Apparently, the wonders of Diego Suarez –in the north of the island — are renowned throughout the entire southern Indian Ocean: Mathieu, Tara’s versatile sailor in charge of diving, tells us: “This place is a paradise for 4Ls! (Translator’s note: Renault 4L, the first front wheel drive family car produced by Renault.) Painted yellow, they serve as taxis, and at night they look just like Christmas trees, with all the lights on their hoods.”

Tara is docked in front of Spanish-Basque, seine-fishing tuna boats. One last detail to plant the setting in your minds: we had been told that the women of Antsiranana (the Malgache name for Diego Suarez) are especially attractive. Mathieu confirmed this: Indeed, “the women are very beautiful and wear lots of jewelry. Here, on the main street, you’ll find jewelry stores every 100 metros.”

After an intensive cleaning session from Tara’s prow to her stern, the boat is now ready to welcome children and visitors onboard. On deck, ropes arestashed away to prevent those not used to being on a boat from tripping and falling: welcome, friends and visitors from Diego Suarez!

Sacha Bollet

Heading for Tromelin

The name is a mystery for most people: Tromelin. It’s one of the Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean — 5 little-known French territories where the vegetation is very sparse, scattered around Madagascar.

Since 2005 the prefect of the TAAF (French Austral and Antarctic Territories) based on Reunion, has been the administrator of the Scattered Islands. The first one on our route is Tromelin, halfway between Madagascar and Reunion, a tongue-shaped, sand-covered island measuring 1,7 kilometers long and 700 meters wide. Surrounded by coral reefs and ocean depths of 4000 meters, Tromelin has always had the reputation of being very dangerous for passing boats. It is however a perfect configuration for research aboard Tara. We will be sampling water masses rarely frequented by other plankton enthusiasts.

“It’s a stone in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” says Lionel Bigot, scientist from the University of Reunion. “These islands fascinate everyone because they’re so isolated from human activities. On Tromelin, a meteorological station is the only sign of French presence. “Although these territories are very small, their zone of economic jurisdiction covers more than 640,000 km2. This necessarily attracts the envy of fishermen, and research scientists, and causes geopolitical rivalries between various countries.”

While waiting to plunge our nets in these highly protected waters, we hear the terrifying history of Tromelin, the “Island of Forgotten Slaves”. In 1761, The Utile, a slave ship belonging to the Compagnie française des Indes Orientales, was wrecked on the terrible reefs outlining the shore. 142 crew members, and 60 slaves captured in Madagascar, survived the disaster and organized life on the island using materials and supplies remaining from the wreck. After 2 months on Tromelin, the crew succeeded in rebuilding a boat, and they sailed away from the island, abandoning the slaves with the solemn promise of eventually returning to fetch them.

It took 15 years for this promise to be kept — by the Chevalier of Tromelin. He found 7 surviving women, and an 8-month old baby. Incredible as it may seem, they had managed to stay alive on this totally barren island, and had even succeeded in keeping a fire going, though no trees grow here. The forgotten slaves were freed, and the baby baptized Moses.

Even before we can glimpse their sandy shores, the Scattered Islands have aroused our curiosity. We will certainly not approach, content just to explore the mysteries of the waters surrounding the Island of the Forgotten Slaves.

Sacha Bollet

The eddy: second cousin of the gyre

This evening the curves of Reunion appeared! Massive mountain silhouettes in the dark night, and lights from houses at the water’s edge. Patience though! We still have to wait a little before we can set foot on the island and discover it in the full light of day.

We are currently heading, with the wind at our backs and the sails stretched taut, towards our second plankton sampling point since departing from Mauritius.

Colomban de Vargas, a specialist in planktonic ecosystems at the CNRS laboratory in Roscoff, has rejoined Tara for the third time as senior scientist. He has highlighted two sampling points which correspond to « eddies ». This English word refers to the small, transient whirlpools which form at the edge of large ocean currents. « Gyres », explains Colomban « are huge whirlpools. They are oceanographic structures stable enough to last either for years or a whole season, whereas eddies are much more volatile.”

A major ocean current runs along the East coast of Madagascar forming a retroflexion towards the south. A number of small whirlpools have been expelled from this flow of water at the point where it meets the Mascarene Plateau, which is where we are right now. According to our satellite maps there are about ten of them.

« Essentially, eddies are columns of water where the salinity, density, and chlorophyll level are different from the mass of water around them » explains Colomban. « We will be taking samples from the centre of two eddies this week. »

In an attempt to alleviate somewhat the workload of the scientific team (16 hours of non-stop sampling!), the shift has been broken up into two parts. We arrive at the sampling site the evening before and the scientists install the over-night nets in order to capture the nocturnal migration of zooplankton. They then go to bed for a short night’s sleep and resume operations the following morning: pumping bottles of water samples, collected at different depths and filtrations.

Mission accomplished for the first eddy, northeast of Reunion… with a surprising reading: the depth at which the concentration of chlorophyll reached its maximum was 120 metres! A record since the start of this expedition. At this locale there must be colonies of plankton which do not like the excessive light at these latitudes. The ocean is very clear and the sun’s rays can penetrate down to significant depths.

This evening we will try to locate the centre of another whirlpool, to the south-east of the island, where the surface chlorophyll level is higher.

A few more hours of courage, brave scientists, and we can regain our spirits and strength on the promised land of Reunion!

Sacha Bollet

Fishing in St Brandon: a national sport

“In St Brandon, there is no need for bait: the fish will jump right in your boat. » Those aren’t the exact words Armand (administrator of the archipelago) used upon our arrival, but that’s the general idea. 10 days later, our daily diet is composed mainly of fish and rice. Skill, however, has nothing to do with this.

The day after our arrival on the southern island, two fishermen climb onboard Tara to visit the ship. They kindly set up a fishing line with sturdy nylon and a sizeable hook, “to catch the “baboons”, the local delicacy which is related to the grouper.

Julien, our cook, is the first to try: the fishing lines are cast overboard. Before we can count to 20, something is already thrashing at the end of the line. Caught on our hook is a grey fish with black stripes of about 50cm long, which would vaguely resemble a shark if it weren’t for the large sucker adorning the top of its head.

It’s a remora, a harmless suckerfish that sticks to other fish and rids them of their parasites. Its flesh is perfectly inedible. The gluttonous remoras hang around Tara’s hull, only to rush over in large groups when the remains of what is left on a plate are tossed overboard. It’s impossible to throw a line without catching them, so we decide to put our dreams of fishing on hold until we stumble on a more promising opportunity. As compensation, Armand brings us a large babonne, which Julien prepares for us, marinated raw in coconut milk, lemon and spices.

Our second attempt takes place in the North of the archipelago, using a fishing rod and a lure. By throwing the line sufficiently far away from the boat, we should avoid catching remoras. Once again, only a few seconds later something tugs on the line. A long fish, with a slightly menacing aspect is struggling on the deck. It’s what the French refer to as a « crocodile needle fish ». These fish, with their long indented beak, swim very close to the surface. Their skin shimmers with blue, silver, green and yellow highlights, and they are chockfull of bones.

This time, we are saved by two fishermen cruising along in their boat, who trade us a large babonne for two cans of soda. In these isolated islands, money isn’t the best currency. And indeed, what can money buy, if not the few supplies in Armand’s grocery store? The one true treasure here, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, are the goods transported by cruise or leisure ships such as Tara: cans of fruit, chocolate cookies, sodas… anything that will distract fishermen from their everyday diet.

There is no exchange rate here. Values are indexed according to the warmth of human exchanges. Noël, Armand’s cook, welcomes us to Raphael Island with a mountain of delicacies made of fried fish and cod. On our way back, we come across two lobster fishermen. They show us the inside of their rowboat. “Not much in the way of success today », they were driven away from the reefs by the rain. “That means they’ll only give us a few small ones”, apologizes Armand, with a smile on his face. Small? The two men stuff 20 lobsters of quite honourable size into a bag.

Can you guess what happens when Ruby, our Mauritian scientific observer spends a few hours onboard the refrigerated ship that delivers the fish caught in St Brandon to Mauritius? Every single fish she touched is given to us for our dinner!

That’s right; there is no need to know how to fish if you make friends in the right places.

Sacha Bollet

Kite surfing is a dangerous sport for the teeth

To compromise a family vacation at Saint Brandon is really simple. The archipelagos are so isolated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, that a tiny incident can become serious in a couple of seconds.

Basile, 11 years old, wanted to tap the hand of her brother who was kite surfing. A slap of wind and there’s Basile with dental braces torn away, a large hole in the forehead and terrified parents.

Aboard their luxurious catamaran, the fist aid kit is not enough. Armand, the administrator of Saint Brandon, and a good friend of Tara’s crew calls us on the VHF: “Tara, we have someone injured, can you come take a look?”

With a safety vest and two suitcases with emergency supplies, Mathilde and Baptiste jump into the inflatable boat and race down to the southern islands. “When we arrived, there was a lot of blood!” recounts Mathilde “one saw that the wound was deep and the best would be to take her on board Tara”. With a half-turn and full-throttle, our ocean ambulance returns, with the young wounded and her father. “During the arctic expedition, we had doctors on board, but on this round, we’re navigating on marine international mode,” explains Hervé, the skipper. “All of the crew on Tara have been instructed as “assistants” for doctors on land. It’s the Hospital Purpan at Toulouse, which is always ready to respond 24 hours a day”.

Mathilde sends a photo of the wound and Hervé receives instructions from a doctor by telephone: “here it’s not possible for helicopter evacuation, so one had to do it on the spot”. That is the theory. “When you are faced with the wound, that is something else: you tell yourself there’s a problem… one sees the bone!” Basile is put under local anesthesia with a series of small injections.

Nurse Mathilde relates: “this is the painful part. At the beginning, the solution penetrates with difficulty around the cut. Afterwards it desensitizes rapidly.” “Fortunately there were two of us” adds Hervé, “it’s super important to hand over instruments and make the knots…” Making knots… that’s something, which our sailors know.

Impossible to affix simple Band-Aids, the injury is too deep, it needs to be sutured. Doctor Hervé takes a very fine thread (to avoid leaving a big facial scar) and makes a first suture.

Basile is very calm; it’s her father who is nervous. “Don’t worry Dad, it’s fine…” The tough kid in a bathing suit doesn’t flinch during the three sutures. Hervé finishes by carefully cleaning up the cut “in the tropics, one has to be wary of eventual infections.”

At the end, the valiant victim climbs up on Tara’s deck with a smile. She approaches Armand: “Do you think that will leave a big scar?”  The mischievous Mauritian: “Ah yes, it’s sure to be a big one”. The brave convalescent: “ Oh yeah terrific!”

Sacha Bollet

Plankton Attached to Coral

Already 8 months since Tara left Lorient. Faithful readers, now that you’re completely ‘fluent’ in plankton, we can move on to the fine points of a local, tropical dialect: coral.

You’re already familiar with Dinoflagellates… those single-celled organisms capable of photosynthesis, but also feeding on particles, and sometimes doing both at the same time.

Let’s observe one of these dinoflagellates fighting against the ocean current using its two flagella. It floats around in the open sea until it reaches a coral reef. From the outside, this reef looks very beautiful: calcareous spirals, solid bushes, and potato-shaped lumps with a labyrinth of ridges. Closer up, it’s even more beautiful: an envelope of calcium carbonate created by little animals called coral. Take away their protective covering and the corals themselves resemble a colony of tiny sea anemones.

Our dinoflagellate comes to rest on this providential structure. It sheds its two little tails, and attaches itself inside the coral. How exactly? This is what Roxane Boonstra and other researchers at the University of Miami are trying to find out: “These dinoflegellates, called zooxanthellae, live in symbiosis with the coral.” During the day, zooxanthellae create matter by synthesizing sunlight. The coral takes over at night. They extend their tiny tentacles to grab or filter small particles in the ocean. In this exchange of methods, each of the two organisms benefits from the other.

Today’s harvest was good for Francesca Benzoni, responsible for coral studies aboard Tara. She spreads out on a table the samples of coral taken underwater. “I try to collect 3 examples of each. The first will stay at Mauritius Oceanographic Institute on Mauritius Island, the two others will be sent to University of Milan Bicocca to be analyzed.” The Tara coral team includes specialists in morphology like Francesca, and molecular biologists who are interested in the DNA of coral. “It’s rather easy to determine the genus of a coral with the naked eye, but identifying its species is much more complicated. Often we have to look at its DNA to be sure.” This combined approach has only been possible for the last ten years, since the development of tools that allow us to delve inside the genome. “Very often, these tools make us question all the old classifications of coral!” adds Francesca.

Each sample is carefully identified and labelled. Francesca and Roxane cut the coral into little pieces and put them into test tubes for the DNA analysis. Add some liquid fixative, and they’re put away in a cool place in the hold, Tara’s treasure chest. Big pieces of coral are cleaned with bleach to conserve only the skeleton of the animal, then carefully wrapped in newspaper to be stored away.

Francesca’s objective is to identify the different species in the Indian Ocean. “The zone has already been studied, but we’re interested in the places rarely sampled: Djibouti, Mayotte and Saint Brandon.” David Obura, another specialist on our coral team, confirms this: “Saint Brandon is a special place, very isolated. Perhaps there are fewer species than in other regions of the Indian Ocean, but for us it’s interesting because there’s very little impact from human activities here. We can observe how coral recovers after a rise in temperature, for example.”

A few degrees higher, and the entire harmony of a reef can be destroyed. Finished, the beautiful symbiosis that unites coral and zooxanthellae. The dinoflagellates go back to the open sea where they can continue a new existence, until they find new coral where they can attach themselves.

Sacha Bollet

Phronima in a Barrel

Rainy day aboard the Tara. Long waves unfurl against the boat’s hull. Wind in the sails at 17 knots, we’re headed towards the archipelago of Saint Brandon.

Nets have been replaced by computers and books. Everyone has found a small spot inside Tara to keep dry, and work.

Ideal weather to talk about a representative of zooplankton that we’ve encountered several times this week: Phronima.

Immediately re-baptized “the alien”, the first Phronima we caught measured almost 10 centimetres. With a head in the shape of a Greek helmet, and big protuberant eyes, it looks like a frightening extraterrestrial. But Phronima is actually a rather common animal in the warm seas of the world — a crustacean with some very surprising domestic habits.

This creature is a hunter, capturing gelatinous animals among the plankton. Carefully cutting up the transparent cellulose envelope of its prey, Phronima recycles it, constructing a barrel as a shelter for itself. Each species of Phronima specializes in the capture of one type of animal. Some prefer medusa, others prefer salpes or siphonophores.

When it grows bigger, Phronima builds a new transparent tunica so as not to be short of space. It grips the barrel with its forelegs, and swims using rows of cilia hidden under its tail. Phronima doesn’t even have to leave its gelatinous shelter to hunt, nibbling its prey just outside the barrel, and pulling them inside when they’re sufficiently small.

Despite its frightening appearance, Phronima has maternal qualities rather unusual among crustaceans. The mother takes good care of her progeny: she lays eggs, then raises and feeds the larvae in her transparent incubator.

The specimen we photographed actually came out of its shelter – a rare image!

Sacha Bollet & Christian Sardet

In the Wake of Two Centuries of Scientific Discovery

A sampling station in the crystalline waters of Gan island, one of the last island chains south of the Maldives. Our scientists cheer up after 2 days of constant rain.

Tara’s orange prow follows in the wake of another expedition that crossed the Indian Ocean over a century ago – the HMS Sealark, led by the zoologist John Stanley Gardiner. In 1905, this lively Englishman sailed around islands and atolls to catalogue the marine flora and fauna. He was one of the first to study the symbiosis between coral and micro-algae – the same micro-algae found in plankton. Called zooxanthellae, these organisms are capable of photosynthesis. They create organic matter using sunlight, and nourish the coral in exchange for shelter and protection.

Gardiner was also interested in the way coral reefs formed…and he wasn’t alone. Our mentor Charles Darwin, whose round-the-world voyage inspired the Tara Oceans Expedition, had an intuition in the 1830s about the geological history of atolls. He wrote in his journal: “General laws must determine the marked difference between the reefs fringing the coasts, and those emerging from the ocean depths in the form of rings, distant one from another. We have demonstrated that by a sinking movement, the first category of reefs gradually evolves into the second, and into other even more remarkable structures.”

Not bad Mr. Darwin! Modern science has given us a more precise understanding of the mechanism of reef formation. It all begins with a volcano emerging in the middle of the ocean. When the volcano cools off, it becomes an island, and then a ring of coral grows in the shallows all around its coastline. At this stage, two changes can happen: the level of the sea rises, or the ancient volcano gradually collapses. Water then penetrates between the fringe of coral and the land, forming a lagoon. The third stage suggested by Darwin is the atoll. The remains of the volcano disappear completely under the sea, leaving a ring of coral barely emerging at the water’s surface.

We’re hoping to add to the scientific heritage of these historic discoveries during our two weeks of research around St Brandon. Don’t believe those photos of paradisical dives: we’re here only to serve Science!

Sacha Bollet

The Observer Who Loved Cousteau

“My house is near the water. I’ve always heard the sound of waves crashing on the beach. But what really made me want to work around the sea was a documentary by Jacques-Yves Cousteau that I saw when I was 8 years old.”

Incredible. More than 9000 kilometres from France, and the famous man with red cap strikes again. Rilwan Yoosuf is aboard the Tara for 5 days as scientific observer for the Maldive government. A smiling, discrete presence, he takes photos, asks questions about the sampling operations, and shares our daily life.

In the Maldives, there are only 6 marine biologists, and Rilwan is their assistant. Coral is a national treasure in the archipelago. Thanks to tourism, the primary source of income. Visitors from all over the world come to dive among the colorful reef fish. Coral was used for a long time as a building material. “We had nothing else. It was crushed and made into a paste. Houses, mosques, everything was built with coral. To harvest this natural cement, people gradually destroyed the barrier reef protecting the islands from the onslaught of waves. In 1980, a dramatic flood washed over Malé, the capital city, alerting the authorities to the necessity of protecting the fragile reef. In 1998, the water temperature rose slightly, causing 90% of the coral to turn white and die. To study their very slow recuperation, we set up 15 observation sites throughout the archipelago.”

Rilwan began his work in the ocean as a diving instructor in 2000. “I’ve clearly observed a decrease in the reef fish population, overfished to supply the luxury hotels. Fish like the grouper, in the Serranidae family, are becoming rare, and lagoon sharks have been protected since last year, after having nearly disappeared. The government has given exporters of sharks fins 6 months to get rid of their stock.

Rilwan also works on migration of tuna and sharks. For this, floating buoys are anchored offshore of the atolls. An entire ecosystem develops around them: First seaweed attach themselves, followed by small reef fish, which eventually attract much larger fish. “We have the power to protect plankton and fight against overfishing. But we alone cannot stop global warming,” warns Rilwan. “That is a job for all the countries of the world, to stop the rising sea level which threatens the Maldives in the future.”

Aboard Tara, Rilwan is particularly interested in the state-of-the-art technologies used for our work. “We have already organized oceanographic expeditions in the Maldives, but never abroad. We would like to build a research boat in the coming years.”

Sacha Bollet

Dry Dock in Paradise

Step outside the airport building and a blast of heat invades your lungs. In Malé, the capital of the Maldives, the air is the same temperature as the water: 30°. To leave the airport, you take a boat-taxi: These long, covered boats look like ferries and move nimbly over the crystalline water. Aaaah, the vision of Tara floating peacefully in the middle of the lagoon!

But no, the boat is out of the water for the first time since the beginning of our long journey. The cooling system for the port side motor’s propeller shaft had been functioning poorly for months. The port of Malé was the first opportunity to find a dry dock able to handle our huge sailboat, and check the “plumbing” that transports seawater to cool the motor.

Far, very far from the paradisical image of this archipelago, the boatyards are located on an island entirely built from trash! Garbage litters the burning ground. Disgusting landfill taking over the omnipresent sea.

Julien, chief mechanic, had to dive with scuba tanks to fasten the cinches underneath the boat’s wide hull without damaging the depth sounder or measuring instruments. It took 5 hours to organize the manoeuver and hoist Tara to land. When the boat was finally installed in the dry dock, a torrential rain began to fall. The helpless crew took shelter under the hull and waited until the shower stopped. On deck, the zodiacs filled with water and twice had to be baled out. Everybody got to work. Julien removed the propeller and literally “unboxed” the shaft. At the junction between the exterior and interior of the boat, he found a worn-out rubber joint. This was preventing the circulation of seawater necessary for cooling off the motor.

Time was limited. Everyone lent a helping hand to clean the underwater part of the boat. “All the scientists were scraping away at the hull”, Julien happily reports. “They were all dirty, covered with remnants of crustaceans torn off the bottom!” Hervé the captain, and Baptiste, all-around sailor, finished up the job with a high-pressure hose. Until 4 in the morning non-stop, they scraped off seaweed and shells accumulated during 8 months of sailing. “Now the hull is as good as new,” assures the chief mechanic.

No damage, no leaks were revealed by this passage on land. As for Julien the cook, he’s been struggling inside the cabin with a small fridge that’s leaking freon. Our precious cold drink refrigerator is out-of-commission, and too big to pass through the doors! The plexiglass panel above our main room must be&nbsp; removed in order to evacuate the fridge, and is replaced by a new one “made in Malé”.

Paradise exists for sure. We have seen it, but from far away, from very far away!

Sacha Bollet

The Maldives, a paradise on earth slipping under the sea

The archipelago is the delight of advertisements and holiday agents with its postcard dreams, but the picture is not rosy: the sea threatens to swallow up this rare and still preserved natural habitat. Hence, the interest of government officials, who’ve come to salute the work of the “Taranauts” for the preservation of the marine environment and the planet.

Suddenly, like a mirage: a green fringe, a hyphen slides onto the horizon line between the blues of sky and sea. No doubt: just above, light clouds confirm the presence of a piece of land in the middle of the ocean. With binoculars, one picks out this time a thin beach of white sand, which underlines a palm-tufted grove, hemmed with a crown of turquoise water. On board Tara, everyone who can is on deck, eyes looking through camera sights, mouths agape: the first islets of the northernmost atoll of the Maldives archipelago appear before our eyes, seized by the magical scenery. We make a little stop in the lagoon amongst the fishermen for immigration formalities as a shoal of dolphins arrive to complete this idyllic painting. The ‘bathwater’ is more than 300 C, and even if microscopic jellyfish irritate the skin, we all succumb to the beauty of the place.

This image of paradise is, however, fragile and menaced. A dramatic illustration of the danger: on the 26th of December, 2004 when the tsunami wave from the Philippines arrived here, it overwhelmed practically this whole small country, and took, with its passing, 89 victims. The streets of Malé, the capital which reaches…2m above sea level, were flooded, like most of the 1,200 islands of this exceptional territory, made up of a series of atolls stretching like a track of confetti to the south-east of the Indian peninsula. But, if tidal waves remain a danger, which can strike at any moment this Eden between sky and sea, it is the warming of the climate, which worries the authorities most. To such a point that, just before the large Copenhagen conference on climate, the Maldives government met symbolically dressed in divers outfits at the bottom of a lagoon to alert public opinion to the scenario awaiting this territory situated at sea level. A shocking image was not sufficient, however, for the leaders of the world to agree amongst themselves on concrete measures to stop the phenomenon.

Life is pleasant in the Maldives. And not only for the 300,000 tourists (as many as the Maldives population!) who, every year, come to relax in the “sea bungalows” (hotel rooms on stilts…foreshadowing the final deluge of the country?) or to dive on the coral reefs, which make the success of this dream destination. “One doesn’t die from hunger here,” says Adam, employed in the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, and “one can say that everyone is happy with how the leaders run the country…in any case, almost everyone!” It is true that the mild climate and courtesy of helpful inhabitants, everything appears ideal in this best of worlds, like the smallest trip is made in a canoe, suspended over the turquoise waters of the lagoon. Social peace reigns in this Muslim society and secular (only example in the world with Turkey…) after settlers who came from neighboring Sri Lanka in the 12th century. With fishing and copra (coconut), tourism has added a substantial income supplement, but the main problem of the country is far from resolved.

The overpopulation of the island’s capital, Malé, foreshadows that problem which the inexorable rise of the seas could cause. Little by little, to gain more space, one tries to encroach on the ocean by constructing embankments around the existing islands, and enlarging them like on Hulumale, airport island, or creating new artificial ones, using compacted waste as filler, like that one nick-named “garbage island” which serves as an industrial zone. It was there, in the naval yard that Tara was in dry dock for repairs below the waterline.

On all evidence, that will not be enough to save the country from general drowning. And the ecologists are worried about what this technique could have on polluting the waters, which are fished for daily consumption and are desalinated to provision the drinking water supply, already under capacity. Like stopping the coral loss due to warming waters, “the authorities are always looking for a miraculous solution and satisfy themselves by making investigations and issuing regular reports”, confirms Marie; this former civil servant launched, with her husband, into the reproduction of a more resistant species of coral, implanted with success in the zones becoming deserts. Amateur divers need not worry about their next vacations: there will always be something to see in the Maldives, at least under water!

Jérôme Bastion

Tara’s on board artist: Benjamin Flao

He continues a tradition, which began, for Tara, in the Mediterranean Sea; and beyond, will he also continue the heritage of the great artist naturalists of the 19th century? Not so sure, even if Benjamin Flao has embarked “to testify”.

Straddling the inflatable dinghy at a couple of cable lengths from the Tara, Benjamin dips his brush into the ocean. The outlines of the trysail he’s drawing are impressive while balancing under the sun, in the middle of this Indian Ocean, which he knows well. From all angles. “A ship from science fiction!” he exclaims.

Again on board, his bag shouldered, everything captures his attention, he sits everywhere and sketches things which seem the most banal; motor tubes, workshop clutter, kitchen colours, slings of shrouds and halyards of sails.

He sketches like he breathes. “I’ve always sketched a lot, like all kids, because in the family, be they architects or painters, my parents sketched. I’ve retained that adults can also draw; it’s not only reserved for children. And then as I found school rather grim, I continued. I wasn’t particularly gifted, I gradually improved and then I attended two specialty schools, one in Belgium and another in Lyon.”

At 34, Benjamin wants to keep his child-like soul – and he’s managing it pretty well…After all it is chance and the encounters, which present the material of his work. And to plan for a career, he does not want to hear about it! He was 24 and doing a tour of Burkina Faso (West Africa) on motorbike with some friends where he would find his “vocation” as a traveling painter. “That was a shock. I felt I had re-found a lost paradise, at least for us, the fantasies of children vanish too quickly, but there, in Africa, human contacts remained simple, generous, and true. Immediately after returning, I painted like an obsessed, everything that I had seen, the people, and the histories. And after 15 days, I organized my first exhibition.”

Testify. This is the key word, which encompasses Benjamin Flao’s work. On Tara, he doesn’t pretend to emulate the scientists who describe and classify the species on plates, which must be authoritative. “I’m not competing with the naturalists who have done better than me since a long time and today, with modern imaging, there is no sense, he apologizes. “Me, I’m witnessing, in a hundred years, no doubt, it will be amusing to see how today’s scientists work. I want to stay in the moment.”

The small animals at the bottom of the sea, he has not yet seen rising from below, for lack of sampling. But from the books, he has seen creatures (and then some!) “Of science-fiction”. Up till now, he had never been interested in microorganisms. “Science, it is also a type of adventure, a curiosity. That which the scientists do, it’s important, there’s a sense”, he admits, like something very small in front of this unfathomable world, not knowing at which end to ask the question.

Ten years ago, Benjamin already toured with a scientific group to their on-site research. It was in Siberia, searching for mammoths. “I did sketch one or two, but what really interested me, was to tell about this little-known territory.” “What interests me is to experience things. And to take with me, in my drawings, the people who couldn’t come along. I describe what I see, simply that.” This is why Benjamin Flao has a weakness for the travel book, although he still co-produced two comic books: ‘Bad Boys’, about flamenco, and ‘Line of Escape’ (“Ligne de Fuite”) about Arthur Rimbaud.

Here, in the Indian Ocean, he finds again his two passions: sailing, a family heritage, and the coasts, which he knows from Djibouti to Eritrea, notably with Kenyan fishermen. There is no doubt that he is looking to get closer to a subject, which he’d love to sketch: the Somalien pirates. But fortunately, they haven’t come to meet him…

Jérôme Bastion

To see the drawings by Benjamin Flao on board Tara, click on Gallery and in the theme pop-down list, on Artist.

Where one learns that cholera comes from the sea …

 No sooner had she dropped anchor in the bay of Mumbai (Bombay) that Tara received on board the Indian professor Balakhrish Naïr, who has made fundamental discoveries on the marine origin of the disease, cholera.
This is his interview with Chris Bowler, one of the principal scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans.

It is as a humble and inquisitive visitor that the director of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, based at Kolkota (Calcutta) visited Tara’s installations which are being used to explore the earth’s oceans: surprised at the size of the cabins, marveling at the optical imaging lab, questioning the functioning of the ‘rosette’, and the fate of the sea water samples. If Dr. Balakhrish Nair had traveled from his Calcutta offices to visit on board Tara, it is due to his work on cholera, this rapid and deadly disease, endemic and infectious in the Indian sub-continent, which directly concerns the pre-occupations of Tara Oceans: to better understand the sea and its interrelationship with human beings and life on earth.

Here is why:
“One knew that cholera develops with poor hygienic conditions and is transmitted from human to human, until up to the mid 70’s and at the beginning of the 80’s, when Dr. Rita Colwell and her group started to work on the environmental aspect of cholera, of which no one had ever thought of until then”, explains Dr Naïr, omitting to state that he works closely with this eminent american scientist who would become director of the National Science Foundation. The researchers at the University of Maryland proved that the bacillus Vibrio cholerae was directly associated with a plankton, the copepod, which harbors it. Dr. Naïr continued,  “These discoveries in the laboratory were followed up by studies at sea, which led to the understanding that the cholera cycle was annual, and that the infectious agent could remain “hidden” in the environment for a whole year.”

But how is the vibrio, responsible for the disease, transmitted to humans? The classic food chain: fluctuating with the seasons, the environmental factors such as salinity, water temperature and nutrients provoke phytoplankton proliferation, consumed by the zooplankton which in turn multiply, expecially the copepods, carriers of Vibrio cholerae. The copepods are then transported in large numbers to coastal zones like the Gulf of Bengal – where they contaminate water used daily by the population and infect those who consume a sudden large and “infectious” quantity, Dr Naïr states.

“Has the comprehension of this process saved lives?” asks Chris Bowler.
“This historical discovery,” responds the Indian scientist, “led Dr. Colwell’s group to implement a pilot study in small communities in Bangladesh. The filtering of drinking water through a sari (local cotton tissue) folded 8 times, was sufficient to prevent copepods passing through; not enough to filter the cholera vibrios, but sufficient to diminue their number to allow the human organism to respond to bacillus* attack. The experience showed that this strategy reduces cholera infection risks by 48%.”

Before the infectious threat can be reduced, however, there is still a long road ahead: “We are at the beginning of a process, because now one has to spread the conclusions of this discovery, and it will be a lot of work to change the habits of a population.” anticipates Dr. Naïr. “When one sees the results of these precautionary measures, I am sure that the information will spread quickly.”  This discovery can lead to another strategy of prevention, he continues, consisting of satellite detection of zooplankton ‘blooms’**, to herald epidemical risk and to alert the populations.

The importance of ocean exploration is thus demonstrated by this one example, comments Chris Bowler. Understanding this phenomenon, confirms Dr. Naïr, is how one was able to make the connection between a cholera epidemic which begins in Peru and later, spreads across the whole of Latin America after being absent for a century: under the effects of El Nino, the plankton probably spread Vibrio cholerae along the coast, notably by way of a major commestible fish consumed there. “Dr. Cowell’s discovery is a major turning point in understanding cholera”, underlines Balakhrish Naïr.

Jérôme Bastion

* A bacillus is a bacteria with an elongated form like a “rod” , in contrast to the coccus form which is “round”.
** Dense plankton growth

The infinitely small world of… giant viruses

When the rosette and its samples emerge from a several hundred meter dive, Defne Arslan, for her research on marine viruses, is the first in line. Defne is exploring the realm of the largely unknown. 

She may have swapped her childhood mask and tuba for a microscope, but her interests have remained the same: life in the deep blue sea. Ironically, presented with the boundless oceans, Defne chose to study the infinitely small: Marine viruses.  A doctoral student in marine virology/ biology (at the Genomic and Structural information laboratory at the CNRS in Marseille), her line of work – colossal and barely touched-, has been opening up new perspectives and shattering preconceptions.

Driven by the stakes and implications of her research, Defne was given the chance to write a research protocol pertaining to marine viruses – subject of her thesis-, and set it up onboard Tara. That’s right, she is responsible for the small humid lab set up on the lower deck; and this is where she can be found whenever water samples arrive on board.

“The first thing I do is filter the water that will be used for RNA (ribonucleic acid) research- this needs to be done quickly because it is very unstable. After that, I prepare successive filtrates in order to study DNA (desoxyribonucleic  acid) on filters of decreasing size: These will either be sent to the United States for virus analysis, to Spain for bacterial analysis, or to Marseille for “girus” analysis”.
Speaking of which… Do you have any idea of what a girus is? As it turns out, giruses are “giant” viruses (ten times the size of any other virus identified so far), and they just happen to be the specialty of our young researcher, who insists on collecting “her own” samples when she is back in her lab. “Treating the samples myself allows me to control their quality, and this is very important” she says.

With a history of barely more than half a century, marine virology is still a very young discipline. However, it has taken a giant leap these past ten years, to the point where it is now making waves in the international scientific community by putting the very definition of virus nature in doubt (does the virus come from the cell, or the cell from the
virus?), and even the definition of life itself (is a virus a living being?)

“Water is at the origin of life. For that reason, one may wonder if viruses whether the marine environment isn’t also where viruses come from”, says Defne, who for the time being is searching for new giruses in the oceanic environment. The identification of prehistoric viruses, essentially, could lead me back to an ancestral “supervirus” with a very rich genome -closely related to the cell-, which could have later evolved into a succession of smaller viruses, with smaller genomic sequences.

In any case, she underlines, this research project is a vast enterprise:”the marine virosphere is enormous -and vastly unknown- probably much more important than the earthly virosphere: Just imagine that there are 10 million viruses in each milliliter of water in the coastal zones! We don’t really know much yet about the rest – their ecosystem, whether they live at large, in the depths… That’s why we are searching everywhere…”

In 2003, the successive discoveries of the ‘mimivirus’ (for ‘Micro Mimicking virus’)- the size of which exceeded that of certain cellular organisms-  in an English hospital;  and that of similar genomic sequences in marine viruses, have opened a new door which just might lead us to the “missing link” of life.
In the meantime, the samples collected by the researchers onboard Tara will most certainly lead to the discovery of new marine viruses, thus confirming Tara’s vocation as regards marine biodiversity.
One can’t help being reminded of a certain ship bearing the name of Beagle, sailing around the world with a certain Darwin on board… except Darwin had only taken little interest in the marine environment… Tara is rising to the challenge!

Jérome Bastion

Organization by Celine

Since the stopover at Abu Dhabi, a new appointment was established on Tara: that of a biology engineer, taken by Céline Dimier, who is responsible for a stringent book-keeping of all material dedicated for research.

Filters, tubes, pipettes, then flasks and even more bottles, and then also gloves, without forgetting chemicals of all kinds: reagents, fixatives, conservers… This “haystack” inventory, upon which the daily scientific activity onboard is based, is now Céline Dimier’s reserved domain. She was dispatched from Roscoff’s Biological Station to ensure monitoring of the consumables necessary for sampling and packaging and for sample production destined for shipment to the laboratory.

It was about time! Tara has begun her world tour of the oceans, extending stride and steps, like she does now between Muscat and Bombay (normally 2 weeks, a record since the start of the adventure from the Lorient last September!) and she can’t permit the smallest rough estimate. Up to the present, there have not been too many worries, but the erratic management of the stocks, left to the discretion of the different scientists in their domain, has become limited. “I’ve found products that are out of date due to incorrect storage,” explains Céline, “and some chemicals were missing which were thought to be onboard because the inventory was incomplete.”

To avoid this waste, but foremost to avoid jeopardizing the samples even before their unique and costly analysis, the good fairy Céline has arrived to put order into everything. Systemizing the inventory is like the invisible part of the iceberg, upon which the efficiency of the scientific protocol is based.

Armed with a big filing notebook, and a reserve of code bar labels, it took her almost a week! – to take out, and arrange more than 25 trunks of various products crammed away in the forward hold and to sort out over a dozen different chemicals in quantities ranging from 5µL to 5 litre cans…

Now, every product in the reserve stock is noted, an assessment is made at the end of each sampling day for the small doses and at the end of each week, the stock status is recorded, such that an order can be placed to replace missing items upon arrival at the next port. Previously, a senior scientist from Europe, at each stop, would do this job and the difference would be made up by the following change-over…since all of the material comes from Europe (and certain products only pass through customs in limited quantities, thus the danger of insufficient supplies).

When contemplating that a single long sampling station (i.e. when the CTD, or « rosette » plunges several hundreds of meters deep) allows harvesting of more than 200 samples, then one will understand the importance of not only a meticulous inventory but also a rigourous stocking of the « fruits » of the mission. « Some are stored at ambient temperature, others at 40 C in a simple fridge, others at –200 C in a freezer, and the last are deep frozen in liquid nitrogen at -1960 C » enumerates Céline. Thus the importance of surveying the strict observation of sampling protocols which guarantees the infallibility of the analyses carried out in the different european partner laboratories.

This is Céline Dimier’s work, and she, nevertheless continues to participate with her colleagues in sample collections of all kinds, because the sampling days are long and busy, and specialists are not lacking to accomplish this tedious task.

Jérôme Bastion

Stopover in Abu Dhabi, heading towards Muscat

Anchored at dock Tara seems quite small, stranded as she is in the commercial port of Abu Dhabi, a peculiar city on the edge of the desert.

We are surrounded by buildings competing in height, and appear to be in perpetual construction. In front of us, a brand new platform supply vessel destined to oil exploration is getting ready to head back to sea. Today, after custom formalities, we’ll be heading to Muscat, in the sultanate of Oman. On our way, we’ll bid goodbye to the Persian Gulf, where over 30% of the trade between these countries -the richest of the world, due to their oil resources- takes place.

We’ll be passing through the Ormuz strait, which connects the Persian Gulf to the Oman sea. With its 63km length and 40km width, this strait is of the utmost strategic importance. Since the agreement reached on January 1st 1975, free transit is placed under the joint supervision of Iran and Oman. In reality though, the totality of the traffic is in the Omani part of the strait, where the deepest parts and traffic separation devices are found.

This stopover in the country of black gold will have given us the opportunity to set up new sampling equipment, such as the Multinet which will allow us to collect, thanks to its nets, deep water organisms. We’ve also set up a bar code system which will make sample labeling much easier and better organized.

After crossing the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, we are now about to enter the realm of great oceans for the first time, and become acquainted with their distinct oceanographic characteristics, which are our basic objects of study. The sailors onboard are looking forward to being back in the deep open sea, with its mighty swells…

The samples which will be collected in these areas are of great interest to the Tara Oceans project: we’ll be able to compare our results with those obtained with samples from the Indian Ocean. We aim to focus on the Muscat gyre and on a zone located in the continental plateau by the Ormuz strait.

This area is subject to extraordinary occurrences known as “blooms”. Blooms are directly linked to planktonic life: Microscopic algae flourish and light the surface water, which gives the impression of sailing on an ocean of fluorescent green light. We were able to spot several blooms on our way to Abu Dhabi, along the Omani coasts. For miles and miles, it looked as though the water was lit by gigantic underwater spotlights. The image of Tara’s hull slicing through the water and the sight of thousands of colored, sparkling specks splashed in her wake is an impressive one, almost surreal.

Hervé Bourmaud, capitaine de Tara

Tara generation

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

Abdou, son of Obock

For the past fifteen days, diving has been the main item on the menu for Tara’s crew. Onboard, six scientists and one cameraman are busy crisscrossing the depths of the Gulf of Tadjoura and the bay of Ghoubet, to examine the fish and coral of this region blessed with such a rich biodiversity. After 5 months spent fishing for plankton, Tara has just turned herself into a diving platform, for the first coral study session of the Tara Oceans expedition.
From 7:00 on, the whole crew is busy getting ready and setting our three boats up for our first dive at 8:00. First is exploring the surface waters with fins, mask and snorkel to decide where exactly our dive should take place.  Our scientists will be spending a good hour underwater – down between 6 and 30 meters – to make observations and get the samples they need. In groups of two, they SCUBA dive and follow all the recommendations for decompression (MT92).

Back on board, the data must be processed and the tanks filled, and it is only after a well deserved lunch that we head back into the deep for a second diving session. Our sustained rhythm is demanding, and for our program to be executed smoothly, divers and non-divers are asked to contribute.

We are working within a 35 nautical mile radius around Djibouti. Every day, we make our way to a new spot and the days of our sailors follow the rhythm of watch duties. Diving logistics and surface security are ensured by three sailors. Abdou, our Djiboutian native, and his launch have joined the team, and he is taking care of imaging logistics (essentially underwater imaging) for Cyril Tricot, our specialist as well as cameraman for the television show Ushuaia. From the deck, Mathieu and I are supervising the organization of the dives. When conditions allow, we help Cyril with the underwater lighting or the scientists with their sampling.
This diving session is a true success. Tara is thoroughly enjoying her new pulse, which brings throngs of underwater surprises to some and impressive sceneries to the others, what with these volcanic vestiges plunging straight into the sea. And whenever we get the chance to come across the local population, or to catch whale sharks showing off their fins, Tara Oceans and its work around the globe takes on a beautiful dimension.

Samuel Audrain
Multitasking officer

Bab-El-Mandeb, the Gate of Tears

Here we are, clear at the other end of the Red Sea, between two continents. We are going through the Gate of Tears: “Bab-El-Mandeb” in Arabic. According to an old legend, it’s named after the laments of the drowned souls who died during the earthquake which tore Asia from Africa. According to another legend, the name is simply meant to warn travellers of the danger that lies in passing through it.

Bab-El-Mandeb is at the tip of the South-East end of the Red Sea, towards the Indian Ocean. Seen from here, Asia and Africa seem fairly close to another: About fifteen knots. The passage is 40 miles long, and is sprinkled with small islands such as the Islands of the Seven Brothers, or Perim Island which splits the strait in two, thus creating a navigation lane for oceanic ships on one side, and a coastal navigation lane on the other. These little islands are actively used by fishermen, as stopovers or shelters as they cross the strait.

The marine currents which flow through the strait are complex phenomena, and this particular strait is quite special. In the North, the Suez Canal bears its name for a reason: it’s a canal, not a channel. Water exchanges happen here, from the South. Contrary to what you might have though, the Red Sea isn’t completely closed on itself. Currents coming from the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden deliver the essential part of the nutrient salts (or fertilzer) the Red Sea needs, and keep flowing towards the North, slowly dwindling as they are absorbed by phytoplankton.

The Red Sea acts like an evaporation pond; as the water evaporates, the seawater salinity’s increases and it becomes colder, therefore denser. The water then sinks deeper down and forms deep sea currents which cross the Red Sea in the other direction: from North to South,  finally leaving the strait, “kind of like a moving walkway” as Fabrice Not – our chief scientist – likes to say. Consequently, the major part of the Red Sea’s biomass is concentrated in the South.

As for navigating, crossing this channel is far from easy! Three different forces drive the currents: the monsoon, the tide and the local winds. Therefore, what characterizes these currents is variability from the dominance of one of those three. The monsoon is a periodical atmospheric current found in the inter-tropical zone of the globe. It is due to the crossing of the equator by trade winds. In this part of the globe, the monsoon is quite probably THE determining factor when it comes to meteorology.

During the monsoon – from May to October- in  the area of Bab-El Mandel, the sea level in the gulf of Aden falls, tends to become lower in the Red Sea,  and the surface current flows in a South, South- East direction. From November to April, the opposite phenomenon occurs and the surface current goes North, North-West.

During times of strong wind and lively water, when the wind is blowing against the current’s direction, the surface of the water becomes highly agitated. Legends warning navigators weren’t created simply to give the traveller an empty scare, places such as the Gate of Tears require the utmost attention and care upon crossing.

Another major aspect of this bottleneck lies in its strategic importance. Bab-El- Mandeb, the channels of Ormuz and the Dardanelles are the only three navigable straits which cannot be circumvented, which makes them crucially important.

The Bab-El-Mandeb passage became important at the end of the XIXth century -when the Suez Canal was opened for navigation- thus making the Red Sea an optional route allowing ships to avoid going around Africa, through the cape of Bonne Espérance. The two colonial powers of the time, France and England, created two naval bases to regulate its access: Djibouti and Aden, which to this day remain the two locks guarding the channel.

Terrorist attacks directed against the American embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar Es- Salaam (Tanzania) in 1998, as well as the 2000 attack on the USS Cole destroyer in Aden have lead to the opening of an important American military base in Djibouti in 2002. 1800 American soldiers,  including approximately 900 of the special forces are currently stationed in Camp Lemonier, an old  French Foreign Legion base, and with the French keep this passage, through which 3.3 millions barrels  of oil transit daily, secure.

David Sauveur

Why is the Red Sea red?


Generally, people -aside from those of us who are color blind-  think of the sea as a large extent of blue liquid. Why then, in this case, is it associated with the color red?
It seems as though the designation “Red Sea” comes from antiquity. In the Bible, Hebrews were already referring to it as “the Sea of Edom” or “Sea of the Edomites” (Edom meaning ‘red’). The Turks also called it “Kizildeniz”, where “Kizil” once again is a word for the color red.

There are several theories about the origin of the sea’s name, the most common one being that of the presence of a particular sort of algae in the sea, periodically tampering with its color. Two different types of algae are play here : Trichodesmium erythraeum and Oscillatoria erythraeum. Both are of the cyanobacteria category, that is to say, bacteria which perform photosynthesis, in a fashion similar to plants on land : they take carbon dioxyde and use light to create organic matter. In both cases, these microscopic algae form colonies of  a size big enough to form an organic mass visible to the naked eye. Supposedly, Trichodesmium erythraeum is originally blue, but develops a brown-reddish tinge as it dies. On the other hand, the Oscillatoria is naturally of a red-brown pigmentation, and dying therefore isn’t required for it to show that tint.  Like its colleague, its length extends no more than a few micrometers. With others of their kind, the algae cluster around a centre with the help of their filaments, forming a  1cm hairball of sorts. They then assemble into shoals, which change the colour of the sea as we know it.

Clustering occurs during a specific period of their life cycle, which is known as “the bloom”. This phenomenon can be defined as a short cycle of massive proliferation which takes place within a relatively brief lapse of time. For  it to happen, several conditions are required – such as light, temperature and the existence of sufficient quantities of nutrient salts.

Let me explain this a bit more precisely : In the spring, days grow longer (which equals more light) and temperatures rise, alongside the quantity of nutrient salts (or fertilizers) conveyed from different pools into the waters by winter showers.

When this is the case, the algae… bloom!

Certain species bloom earlier than others, depending on theirparticular requirements. The bloom ends when resources start lacking, or with the appearance of predators, such as zooplankton (animal plankton) or virus attacks.

To make it simple, let us just say that this event takes place within the following cycle :
Bloom – arrival of predators feeding on phytoplankton (vegetal plankton) – death of the phytoplankton which either has nothing left to feed on or is eaten itself by other predators – formation of nutrients made of the remains of zooplankton and other animals through their decomposition, which will then provide food for the next generation of phytoplankton – another bloom, and so on…
Our apologies to the specialists which our simplifications might have offended.

With that said, let us get back to the Red Sea : aside from all these phytoplanktonish blooming phenomena, I’d like to add a photographer’s explanation, slightly more poetic explanation: As the last rays of sunlight caress the crests of the Sinai mountains, their reflection in the water  causes it to adopt warmer, richer colors, blending into the colors of the sand or rocks with that of the sea before our bedazzled eyes. It is as if we were within an impressionist painting, and believe me, our eyes are feasting off this delightful view.

An alternative hypothesis regarding the Red sea – taken this time from an encyclopaedia, suggests that its name comes from the universal designation of the south cardinal point, since the beginning of the antiquity, according to the geo-chromatic code… Seeing as I am not acquainted with the geo-chromatic code and am currently onboard an internet-less expedition boat, I’m leaving it up to you to find the answer. The first prize is a tube test of phytoplankton – send your answers to Tara Expeditions.

In my next log, I’ll tell you why the Red Sea is blue – I apologize in advance to our color blind friends : You’d better get your aspirin ready.

David Sauveur

From one captain to the next

Since the 17th of December, Olivier is officially Tara’s captain, though Hervé will be onboard until we reach Sharm el Sheikh, in Egypt. It’s quite a responsibility to be in control of a ship like Tara!

To perform well, a captain must have a full hand: a master at navigation, logistics, administration as well as technical knowledge of the boat. Plus, Tara’s captain has an extra responsibility – the scientific operations taking place onboard: verifying that everything is ready and perfect on the day the sampling is to take place, and ensuring that it is carried out according to plan.

Navigation requires ensuring that security onboard is guaranteed, and rules specific to the boat need be applied. Next, the weather must be dealt with, as well as maintenance of the ship and its various machines, rigging and the deck.

Taking care of paperwork is also the captain’s responsibility: certificates, shore-pass permits, relations with the customs agents: it’s not that simple when travelling across many countries on a long journey; this entails working at sea with different constraints and conditions every time.

Nevertheless, the captain’s main job is manoeuvring the ship. In Tara’s case, the boat is run with the help of a small crew, and though our sailors are excellent, not all men on board are experts in sailing a ship, which makes it essential to know the crew well and be able to exploit their skills and abilities in order to make good use of each person’s competences. Indeed, being a captain also involves role-playing!

This is Olivier’s second captain position. The first time, he was in charge of a 40m long yacht. Then again, Olivier learned his trade at the French school of the Merchant Navy, which offers a top rate training program for officers. Even though he has mainly sailed onboard merchant ships, Olivier is a practised sailor who has already circled the world several times, and has much experience in the field of navigation.

Raised around dinghies and razors, sailing holds no secrets for him: “Though I generally pilot large ships, my heart has always belonged to the sailboats.” As a matter of fact, he even owns one: a 9m long Arpège, a child’s dream come true.

“I’ve the impression you can feel the boat; though one certainly does feel safe in it. A ship like this can handle a lot, but we can’t afford any manoeuvring mistakes! You saw what happened the other day when the wind hit us: If the boom goes and decides to take 5 men with her, she does.” Tara under sail involves enormous physical tension; she’s a large creature!

Being the first mate for two months was already a transfer of power of sorts. Hands on is the best way to learn fast. When you are first mate, you spend a lot of time on the deck whereas the captain is confined to the cockpit or the gangway. After having been first mate, you know what you’re doing when you give orders to the crew.”

Olivier is nonetheless slightly under pressure. You don’t want to mess up on a boat like this, and the captain, in a way, is always on his own: Aside from God, the captain is the only master onboard, responsible for both the crew and the passengers. Coincidentally, being trusted by friends and the owners of the ship is reassuring, and being in charge of Tara is no less than exhilarating.

« Take good care of our whale! » exclaims a laughing Hervé, happy to be on vacation even though leaving Tara – his second home- feels a little strange.

“When you leave, you have to think about the little things: turning off the gas, sticking the keys under the doormat, etc… But Olivier knows the boat well, not only has he already been here for two months, but the Merchant Navy is like “Top Gun”: he’s a good officer.” Hervé can leave, free from worry. Olivier feels confident and happy to be here. From one captain to the next, Tara is set for her next adventures.

David Sauveur

The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal, a waterway which cuts through the desert, is more often than not seen as a sort of “marine highway”, what with its colossal dimensions, its massive display of industry and organisation and its picnic areas –such as the lake in which Tara rested last night.

Countless ships pass through it every day: boats such as monstrously large cargo-ships (up to 500,000 tons!), oil tankers and bulk carriers (which transport unpackaged bulk cargo). It’s difficult to avoid feeling tiny in this lengthy channel, just as fishing boats seem minuscule next to massive ships built of hundreds of thousands of tons of steel. In a sense, the mammoth shipping vessels mirror this civilization of worldwide commerce, with its gigantic quantities of merchandise in perpetual movement.

Through the canal passes a continuous flux which supplies and fuels a major part of the worldwide machine, constituting yet another undeniable asset of the Near East – which already possesses many. In fact, the Near East is the meeting point of continents, cultures, and hydrocarbon resources (something which an extensive number of pipes, derricks, tanks, oil tankers, and impressive platforms with their lit flares make impossible to forget).

Regrettably, aside from some nice scenery of the two lakes ( Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake), Tara’s deck doesn’t exactly offer much of a view of the canal, which is bordered by high banks. To appreciate its size and enjoy the perspective, you need to climb into the crow’s nest.

From time to time, a small town or a radar station appears along the long road of the channel, lined with military posts and observation checkpoints.

Only now, actually experiencing the canal, do I understand why we were made to turn around yesterday because of an American military cargo ship: choked in the narrow 195km long gully, a convoy would make a very easy target if it weren’t for the heavy network of control and observation surrounding the canal.

The landscape seems almost bare, made up of a repetition of carefully located elements. A few seabirds are in sight and high up in the sky, flocks of migratory birds are travelling to their winter destination in long geometrical shapes and figures.

From time to time, we come across fishing boats, or pilot boats guiding larger ships. Sometimes, we can make out ghost structures in the fog, such as the monument to the defence of the Canal in 1914-1918 which emerged from the haze like a strange obelisk, or long forgotten tanks in the dunes surrounding a statue commemorating one of the battles of Suez.

Lake Timsah is where we have decided to stop for the night. In the late afternoon, we arrive there under low skies. Even the waters give the impression of being grey, and everything seems motionless. After diner, as a distraction, several of us improvise the taking of a picture to celebrate the New Year: we do this on the deck, with flashlights, a projector, and survival suits. The exposure time is fairly long, and to make sure our timing is right, an old photography tip is given to the crew to help them count the seconds: One second corresponds to the time it takes to say “one elephant”. So there we are, counting elephants in unison on the front deck… Ronan, who won our little contest, is playing photographer with his digital camera while Anne-Kristel handles the headlight, Jean the spotlight. In the meantime, Daniel, with his flashlight and orange survival suit, looks like a comical cartoon character.

The next morning, after a peaceful night, we set off once again under a thick, grey-blue fog. This time, the landscape is nearly monochromatic, giving those on deck an impression of tranquil solitude which the fog magnifies as Tara glides along the middle of the canal or the Great Bitter Lake.

It almost feels as if we are nowhere, shrouded in an abstract world. Not until late morning does the sun make an appearance, and in the stillness of the air, the colossal floating castles passed along the way seem to be moved by a calm yet powerful force. We reach the mouth of the channel in the early afternoon. The scenery is different. On the starboard side, the desert rises up in mountains; on the portside, the shore is moving away as we enter the Red Sea, surrounded as we are by large ships each waiting for their turn to pass through.

There is quite a bit of traffic and watch calls for more observation. In the night, if it weren’t for navigation instruments, one could easily get lost among all these sparkling lights: buoys, boats, platforms are difficult to distinguish from the lights of the coast, and the narrow Red Sea is bustling with motion. As we sink deeper into the night, Tara remains on standby.

David Sauveur

The ferry: in between at Port Saïd

It’s one of the entries to the canal. And if the Suez canal is a ship highway, we’ve arrived here after passing the boat toll station, made up of multiple buoys framing immense container ships, as tall as buildings, like those where Guillaume, our chief mechanic, normally works.

A seaside still awash with nostalgia, Port Saïd has a history, like Port Fouad, “the little town on the other side”, which one accesses with an old ferry, which has been re-painted a thousand times (in green). Port Saïd also has a color: of the winds tinted with sand, which carry on towards the Mediterranean, the dust of the Middle-East.

I’m met by the police at the old port, where little wooden boats take passengers from the merchant ships. In impeccable French, he reads my passport with a loud, exaggerated solemnity: “European Union, French Republic” …followed by a sincere, mustached smile: “I am very happy to see you here; Welcome.”

We continue a friendly exchange while bantering jokes with Ashraf, the young member of the small, family run business, which assures transport from one end to the other of the waterway. One knows the French here, since Napoleon and Ferdinand de Lesseps, who pioneered a modern canal following the ancient dreams of Pharaohs.

The December air is still warm. On the promenade, which dominates the small fishing port, the young people meet up for a walk, a time for a few winks.

Port Saïd still bears in its especial nonchalance minor, rusty traces of the Suez Canal history. There are old buildings dating from colonial times and ancient villas where the gardens have been left to their natural luxuriance. The traces can still be sensed in the teeming streets of the old city in back of the sea front, closed since 2001 under the new “anti-terrorist” laws. Opposite, the mosque minarets form a clear echo on the horizon-line next to the immense cranes of the naval dockyard at Port Fouad.

To go from one bank to the other, one takes the old ferries of the Suez Canal Company. These old flat boats lived through the end of colonial times, then Nasser, with a first act of third world emancipation, nationalized the company in 1956, provoking one of the Suez wars, which involved the French. These boats also saw other conflicts: in 1967, some of the passengers were refugees or military personnel escaping the Israelite offensive in the Sinaï, which turned the Canal into a front-line for several years. The Canal is a line of fracture between many worlds, a strategic place, one of these points where man forces geography to ensure himself the rule of the planet; a watercourse carved in the desert near the mouth of the Nile.

Since this is a nationalized company, transport is free and I criss-cross from one end of the waterway to the other…at the end of the day on the ferry, the entire life of the port files past. People are going home with the ferry. In the cars, the children are tugging at parent’s sleeves as they pass balloon sellers; the lads are milling about in a corner of the barge to attract the eyes of the girls; an old fisher attaches his rod to the rear-view mirror of his scooter and as the ferry shoves off from the quay, the people relax, a moment, suspended in the middle of the river.

It is the end of the day, and the winter sun transforms the atmosphere into a soft, veiled light, while big ships and small wooden boats cross in the middle of the Canal amidst a cloud of hungry sea birds wheeling at the surface of the water.

We arrive at Port Fouad. In back of the mosque, the old quarter, built by the Suez Canal Company to house workers and engineers has a slightly faded charm. Its calm, dusty streets and the aligned old brick houses bring to mind English neighborhoods.

One becomes almost debauched by the calmness of Port Fouad, whereas we must leave and pass through the Canal to reach the Red Sea.

David Sauveur

Upon Lebanese waters and ground, were the last adventurers to be found.

“My life is sincere; my morals pure and my hands are clean.” Jean Giraudoux

Hope is Tara’s message: Nothing has been lost, but all is still to be done: an out of breath economy must be completely rethought. Sustainable development can’t be considered as a cost, but as tomorrow’s new economic model. It presents us with a choice: we can either board the train –or climb into the boat- or stay on deck. It would come as no surprise if this Lebanese man, claiming to be a representative of a marine and trading Phoenicia, was one of those new explorers, these precursors which will have conquered the new worlds before any others…

Nature isn’t a trend, Ecology isn’t a scarecrow and Lebanon isn’t powerless. In the land of all faiths, it is now time to believe. Time to believe in our country, where resources lay halfway in the intelligence of man and halfway in its unique nature: the sea, mountains, plains, freshwater, light, are all to be found within such a small territory. Becoming a whole once again, is what is at stake for Lebanon. Faith in the beauty of its nature can unite its people within the same religion. Protecting our sea, our water, is the most viable and federative political project for the Lebanese – who, more than anyone else, are attached to their land, which has already been bruised by many exiles.

Beirut is aware of this: it has given its medal and an important donation to the Tara Fund. The youth already feel it too, Tara’ staff was surprised at the curiosity and interest displayed by Lebanese high school students.

Lebanese scientists from the CNRS are also hard at work, onboard the Cana –their own scientific ship-, which allows fruitful exchange between researchers throughout Tara’s stopover.

It is now up to us to have faith and believe, as I do, that one day Lebanon will be able to deliver its message. Something must be restored to this paradise, something which, in the end, we have always been fighting for: the preservation of integrity.

By Lebanese citizen Yasmine Gemayel, after Tara’s stay in Beirut. 

Fishing for robots

Today, in the middle of the Mediterranean, we are fishing for robots. We are searching for a glider, which has activated its distress signal. It is waiting for us at the surface above the gyre, which we are going to be exploring in the next few days.

Our expert crew is experiencing an adrenalin rush; it’s true that these small technological jewels are vitally important. We are depending on them for the following weeks of expedition and to explore the marine gyre.

It’s early in the morning and the whole crew is on deck. After arriving at the gyre zone, the sails are hauled down. All of the sailors are busy readying the zodiacs for immediate embarkment. “We’re at war this morning!” exclaims Denys, who has just come on deck and sees us bustling about. The gliders carry a GPS, which gives us a fairly accurate direction, and while the sea is building up, we are heading due east, blinded by the light of the rising sun; to the rescue of our ship-wreaked, a small drone measuring one and a half meters lost in the waves.

We must find Pythéas ; which means “the liar”, the name given to a sailor from Marseille for his tales of having seen a country where the sun never sets and where ice wanders on the seas, no doubt either crazy or a liar….

Laurent arrives on deck. “There is another one!” We’ve just received information. This one is named Hannon, for an explorer of fortune, a Carthage general who was exiled by the reigning family for court intrigues. He left for the south with his ship, and after entering the Gibralter strait, the sailors tossed a sail into the water asking the gods for safe passage. Keeping close to the coast, he is said to have discovered a distant land inhabited by a strange people : Guinea.

In our inflatable boats, we are impatient to go after those ancestors afloat on the wave crests. We need several minutes to reach the first one. Fabrizio, who skippers the zodiac and Laurent, our glider expert, hoist up and return Pythéas to Tara. We expect to encounter Hannon later in the morning. “Tara is pretty good at collecting gliders!” someone quips –“We don’t have to make it a habit!”, responds jokingly our Captain, after having the patience and the talent to navigate Tara’s often times complicated route. It’s almost astonishing to see the precise navigation which has led us here at the foreseen time. Indeed, exactly on time. It is clear that Hervé knows how to hunt at sea.

Once on board, our ingenious engineers are looking after our two “wounded”. They are clamped down, washed and then transferred in the afternoon to the operation table which is in Tara’s mess-room. Laurent and Pierre are the electronic surgeons carefully dismantling our robots to discover the internal water leaks. There are very expensive components inside, but more than that, it is enough to see the operation to realize how much genius an engineer can pack into the metal tube.

At the end of the day, the gliders are on deck again and we can continue our route towards Cyprus. 

David Sauveur

The Oceanographers’ Robots

They are called “planeurs” in French and gliders in English. And in fact, gliders are remote-controlled submarine robots which slip through the water like penguins and dolphins. Well, maybe not as gracefully and certainly, with much less speed. In the open sea off Cyprus, six gliders will be reconnoitering for the expedition Tara Oceans.

By Lisa Garnier

“This is the first time that we are combining the use of so many gliders with classic water sampling methods such as the ‘rosette’ employed on the Tara.” explains Fabrizio D’Ortenzio, a researcher at the Laboratoire Océanographique at Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. The objectives are to determine the physical, chemical and biological structure of a marine eddy which scientists call a “gyre”. A quasi-permanent gyre exists to the south of Cyprus. It measures about 60km and has a life span between 7-12 months. “Normally, gyres are observable for 2-3 months. But, south of Cyprus, Eratosthene, a sub-marine mountain, acts like a gyre trap. The mountain’s height, peaking at about 2000m from a sea bottom depth of 2750m, suggests a mechanical role in detaining whirlpool waters.” An oceanographic phenomenon ideally suited for those wanting to study it.

“A week before Tara leaves Athens, the six gliders were sent off in parallel from Cyprus towards the zone to be studied. Since they will be transmitting data in real time, we can construct a 3-D map of distinct physical, chemical and biological conditions of the water column. When Tara then arrives at the gyre zone, we will know where to take more precise measurements with the equipment on board.”

The gliders are fitted out with numerous captors and can dive up to 1000m in depth, altogether very practical as robotic oceanographers. Dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature, depth, and phytoplanktonic fluorescence data is stored in memory and sent out via an antenna when the gliders surface. “This data is relayed by satellite,” explains Pierre Testor, an expert on the glider and CNRS researcher at the Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat in Paris, “and we can also send new instructions like changing a trajectory.”

One of the glider’s advantages is autonomy. Energy consumption is only 2 watts, roughly equivalent to two small lights on a christmas tree decoration, thus allowing a voyage of 2-3 months. “There is no propeller,” resumes Pierre Testor. “They move vertically in the water by modifying their ballast volume. On the surface, the volume is reduced with a piston, which tends to cause sinking. After reaching a pre-determined depth, the piston is activated and ballast volume is increased, resulting in ascension towards the surface.” This is why the glider does not move quickly. It travels about 30km per day and the trajectory follows a saw-tooth pattern.

But why couple these robots with Tara’s sampling techniques? The gliders will be able to pinpoint the gyre’s position. Researchers at CNRS have been studying the gyre for several years, part of an oceanographic campaign called BOUM1, but this time, the studies will go much further. We would like to know if the gyre represents a physical barrier to planktonic organisms. Is, for example, the gyre’s presence advantageous to a particular species in comparison to the surrounding periphery? This region of the Mediterranean is less rich in nutrients and planktonic species, and thus one supposes that the “eye” of the gyre may be particular. It may be more or less favorable to plankton growth. Often associated with water fluxes, gyres can possibly cause nutrient transfer up from the depths resulting in concomitant growth of especial fauna and flora at the surface. Tara’s panoply of instruments will be used to try to discern this growth.

“In the context of climate change, we want to know, if the ocean becomes desolated, can biologically small structures like gyres become tomorrow’s oases” explains Fabrizio D’Ortenzio. “Phytoplankton adapt to grand physical and environmental changes just like our forests and plants do. Mountain ecosystems differ from those near the coast for example. We want to know how this gyre, a small marine structure, reacts to the dynamics of the ecosystem.” Once this operation is finished, Fabrizio D’Ortenzio and Pierre Testor will deploy two gliders to the boundaries of the gyre. Two months have been set aside to gather precise data on its’ structure and to determine whether or not the gyre’s internal waters mix with those of the exterior. This might be a world’s first!

Lisa Garnier

Glider Data:

Length: 1.5m

Diameter: 20cm

Weight in air: 50kg

Weight in water: +/- 200g

Autonomy: 2-3 months

Average speed: 30km/day

Color: pink, yellow or red

This programme is the result of an international collaboration including many research groups and institutes from France, Cyprus, Italy and Belgium.

1) Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées (ENSTA, France, Paris)

2) Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche (LOV, France, Villefranche/m)

3) Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat (LOCEAN, France, Paris)

4) Division Technologique (DT-INSU/CNRS, France, LaSeyne/m)

5) Oceanography Centre of the University of Cyprus (OC-UCY, Cyprus, Nicosia)

6) Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS, Italy, Trieste)

7) University Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium, Liege)

8) Stazione Zoologica di Napoli (SZN, Italy, Naples)

Ctenophores are not jellyfish!

OK, They are transparent. Right, They are gelatinous. Yes, They may even have long tentacles. But really, they are NOT jellyfish.

Ctenophores, usually known as “comb jellies” may closely resemble jellyfish, but they form a completely distinct category. In Greek, their name means “comb bearer” (ktenos: comb, phoros: to carry). Why? Because they have 8 vertical strips bearing thousands of comb-like cilia running the length of their body. The cilia are used for swimming; their pulsating motion allows the animal to propel itself. And what dazzling colors these creatures display! The cilia of the ctenophores refract light in iridescent waves. Certain species are even capable of producing light, like fireflies of the sea!

To avoid confusing them with jellyfish, several simple criteria help identify them:

Unlike jellyfish, ctenophores don’t have any stinging cells. Instead, they are equipped with colloblasts, sticky cells which trap prey by squirting glue onto them. However, there is an exception to this rule: One particular species of ctenophores (Euchlora rubra) does indeed possess real stinging cells. According to specialists though, these cells should be considered more like a form of “recycling”, because the stinging cells actually come from the jellyfish the ctenophore eats.

Ctenophores also differ from jellyfish in that they don’t necessarily have tentacles; and when they do, these aren’t located at an extremity of the body, but are rooted to its center. Ctenophores such as Pleurobrachia pileus, nicknamed “sea gooseberry or cat’s eyes”, has tentacles which they can entirely retract into inner pockets of their body.

These tentacles, on which the colloblasts are located, enable them to move the food back to their mouth. Ctenophores are voracious predators, they feed on small crustaceans and other gelatinous creatures, sometimes eating prey even larger than themselves.

One last feature distinguishes them from jellies (which are either male or female): most species of ctenophores are hermaphrodites, simultaneously producing eggs and sperm which they release once they have matured. By doing so, they give birth to small larvae that grow and become adult ctenophores.

So please, don’t call them jellyfish

Christian Sardet and Sacha Bollet

Unloading Tara’s treasures

Unloading Tara’s treasures

Every 4 to 6 weeks, the precious samples collected by the scientists onboard Tara are delivered ashore and sent away to be analyzed in labs all over the world.
What follows is a recap from the exchange which took place during our stopover in Dubrovnik (Croatia) with Rainer Friedrich, the man in charge of the transfer and delivery of these hundreds of vials and bottles filled with plankton.
What journey awaits the samples once they are onshore?

Offloaded, the samples are sent to Frankfurt where they are sorted and shipped to their final destinations: partner labs such as Marseille, Banyuls sur Mer, Barcelona, and several labs in the United States. Leaving from Dubrovnik on a Saturday, the samples should reach Frankfurt by Sunday and be delivered to their final destinations of various labs two days later.

Why a stopover in Germany?

The main reason for this collective delivery is that the EMBL (European Molecular Biological Laboratory), a partner of Tara Oceans located in Germany, has a special status and can therefore accept samples without an import permit. Many non-European countries insist on such a licence, even when the samples simply contain concentrated sea-water; and this is why we ship all our samples to Germany in the name of the EMBL, before they are redistributed to their various final destinations.

How many samples are unloaded at a time?

One load equals hundreds of bottles and various containers of different volumes. I’d say 500 small vials and about a hundred of bottles of concentrated sea-water… but then again it depends on the station Tara was able to sample. After this drop-off, here in Dubrovnik, Tara will most likely sample 8 stations in the next 4 to 6 weeks, so our next offloading should take place in Djibouti.

Is shipping plankton complicated ?

The chief difficulty lies in the administrative formalities at the borders. The vessel Tara is considered to be French territory, and therefore a part of the European community…Croatia on the other hand is not European, which means we had to make sure the paperwork required for the transfer was ready, so as to avoid any type of problem at the border.
There is also the matter of having to manage and monitor three different temperatures. Some samples are stocked and shipped at -80°C, others between 2 and 8°C (they are refrigerated), and others call for a controlled ambient temperature (room temperature), between 15 and 25°C. In Dubrovnik, we stocked samples which required a temperature of -186° in liquid nitrogen. To do so, we use a thermo-container, a specific kind of trailer with a system of vacuum isolation allowing it to maintain a low temperature for 5 or 6 days.

Sacha Bollet

This week: Dubrovnik–Athens

This week: Dubrovnik–Athens

Scientific interest:

“This week we have 2 limitations, explains Fabrice Not, our new chief scientist. “The Adriatic Sea is divided into the territorial waters of Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.We have the right to do samplings only in Croatian & Greek waters. The second limitation is that we have to pass through the Corinth Canal at a precise time, reserved in advance Wednesday morning.

A first station was done yesterday in the company of three Croatian marine biologists. We went to an area 12 nautical miles north of Dubrovnik, with depths of 300 metres. It’s a spot where Croatian teams take samples every year. The data we collect can therefore be compared to information gathered in preceding years. This station especially interests Tara because it’s located in the middle of the current moving up from the Mediterranean towards the Adriatic, along the Croatian coast.

The scientific team would also like to try sampling plankton in the current descending the Italian coastline. It’s a difficult operation to find the exact area, just a few kilometers long, located in between different territorial waters. We’ll be using onboard captors which systematically measure water temperature and salinity beneath Tara’s hull. We have to find a zone that’s suddenly colder and less salty than the surrounding waters.

The third station, Tuesday, will be less tricky. We’ll approach Greece to take samples above a depth of 2000 metres. “This point is located in the heart of a typical water mass extending between the Adriatic and the coast of Libya. We’re at the border between the west basin of the Mediterranean (cold, less salty, mixed by currents) and the east basin (warm, salty, and poor in nutrients).

Finally we’ll have the opportunity to cross the vertiginous Corinth Canal carved into the cliffs between the Peloponnese and continental Greece. We’re looking forward to a week full emotion!

15 people on board

-Fabrice Not. Chief scientist. Sampling of carbonates, pigments, oxygen…
-Sara Searson (New Zealand). Functioning of the CTD
-Chris Bowler (Great Britian). Protist filtration
-Christian Rouvière. Zooplankton & imagery
-Christophe Boutte. Virus & bacteria filtration

-Hervé Bourmaud. Captain
-Olivier Marien. Second captain
-Julien Daniel. Chief mechanic
-Fabrizio Limena (Brazil). Deck officer
-Denys Simon. General officer
-Shirley Falcone (Antigua). Kitchen

-François de Riberolles. Cameraman
-Jérôme Bodenes. Editor
-Sacha Bollet. Logbook

-Remi Hamoir. Painter


This week: Valletta (Malta) – Dubrovnik (Croatia)

This week: Valletta (Malta) – Dubrovnik (Croatia)

Scientific interest:

Three sampling stations are programmed this week. The first station on Sunday, where depths of 2000 meters are found, was off Italy’s coast.  The surface waters were still warm (satellite forecasted 22deg C on the 15th of November!).  The second station, situated in a bay on Italy’s southeast coast, on Monday, allowed us to compare similar waters but with depths only dropping to 400 meters. Finally, the third station on Wednesday is programmed in the middle of the Adriatic sea over 1000 meter depths.

The Adriatic sea is a cul-de-sac with an impressive mix of waters. A Mediterranean current  (warm and high salinity) runs up the Croatian coast while a cold and less saline current runs down the Italian coast in the other direction. This second current is influenced by fresh water influx from streams and rivers like the Po, which empty into the Adriatic sea.

In addition to the most up-to-date equipment on the Tara, an ancient instrument will be employed, the Secchi disk.  It is a round piece of wood about 30cm in diameter, painted with black and white quadrants, and is used to determine the transparency of the water. The technique consists of attaching it to a weight on a graduated line. Two people (for 2 different points of view) watch the descending disk and signal when the disk vanishes.

The clarity or transparency of water gives us information on its content.  The clearer the water, the less it contains suspended organisms and this is called ‘oligotrophic’.  Secchi disk data will be collected from waters around the world.

14 people on board

Mike Sieracki (US). Flowcam inventor, zooplancton filtration
Sara Searson (New Zealand). Oceanographer engineer
Johan Decelle. Protists filtration
Franck Prejger. Filtration of virus and bacteria
Alan Deidun (Malta). Sampling of nutrients and pigments

Hervé Bourmaud. Captain
Olivier Marien. Second captain
Julien Daniel. Chief engineer
Fabrizio Limena. (Brasil ).Deck officer
Denys Simon. General assistant officer .Customs inspector
Shirley Falcone (Antigua). Cook

Clément Gargoullaud. Cameraman
Mathieu Bretaud. Editor
Sacha Bollet. Log book

Interview with Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s skipper with a summary on the transect Malta-Dubrovnik

Interview with Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s skipper with a summary on the transect Malta-Dubrovnik.

And this week’s progress report?

We did 3 good sites. The first ended earlier than planned because we had a bit of drift, and there were some problems pumping up from 60 meters where chlorophyll was at its max.
The second site at the boot of Italy took longer than planned. We were blessed with the weather conditions this week with calm seas and no wind. That meant optimal working conditions for the number and quality of samples: the whole team was able to work without rolling from side to side. Afterwards, we moved into the Adriatic towards a new site where we will just now begin to spend the next 12 hours.

What were your first impressions on entering the Adriatic sea?

It has to be said that the voyage from Tripoli was a long north-south passage. We only stopped for 1 day at Malta to take on water and new crew members. We went from warm temperatures (about 22 deg celsius surface) to others much cooler (about 16 deg celsius) !
Yesterday, as we crossed into the Adriatic, we were met with dense fog; something which we hadn’t experienced since the beginning of the trip. This morning everyone put on an extra sweater and it was a weird feeling after spending so much time in the warm south. In addition to the fog, there was quite a bit of traffic and our navigation depended heavily on radar.  In other words, a rather phantom-like entry for Tara into the Adriatic.

After exactly 10 weeks after starting from Lorient, have the plankton samplings settled into their cruise rhythm?

Its been 2 weeks since the present scientific crew has been on board and I think they have admirably found their marks and rituals. They know exactly where they have to be at a certain time during the day…and this morning, they practically finished one hour earlier.  There is not a sound on deck, for everyone is busy.  We also had the idea of using the side-crane in addition to the one in the back to suspend the nets and to pump deep water to save time.

What are the plans for the next stop at Dubrovnik?

We have a month’s worth of samples which we will unload. They will be sent to the EMBL (European Molecular Biology Laboratory) in Germany and then dispatched to the different collaborating labs. It’s a bit like fishing; one empties the hold which contains our month’s catch. It’s also the time to replenish what has been used up, pipettes, tubes, liquid nitrogen…

Security Drill

Security Drill

Man Overboard ! Calm down now: this is only a safety drill. We left Malta for Dubrovnik at the break of day and have woken up to brilliant sunshine on a sea of glass. Olivier, the second captain, has called us all up on deck to test our reactions in case of  ‘Man overboard!’.  A large buoy bumper is playing the role of the victim. Olivier tosses it overboard in front of our dumfounded looks and then calmly asks, “There is a man overboard. What do you do?��?

It takes us a couple of seconds to realize what is happening. The buoy has already drifted away on the perfectly calm water. First reflex: Sound the alarm with “MAN OVERBOARD!��? “MAN OVERBOARD!��? Second primordial reflex:  Grab the nearest safety lifebuoy and toss it to the victim who has fallen overboard.  The victim can hopefully grab hold of it, for it is easier to see in rough seas than just a bobbing head.

Now inform the Skipper as quickly as possible. While he stops the boat, the red general alarm button in the signal-station will have been activated. All of Tara’s crew are now urgently alerted. Olivier has gone through everyone’s role depending on different situations and asks us to commit them to memory. Good practice for brain calisthenics!

Fabrizio, the deck officer, has launched one of the life-boat dinghys assisted by Julien, the chief mechanic and Shirley, the cook. All scientific personnel have now donned life jackets and are keeping the overboard victim in view. Meanwhile, the second captain has readied first aid equipment on deck.
Meanwhile, the victim-bumper has been ‘saved’ and brought safely on board. We won’t be testing this time mouth-to-mouth resuscitation nor cardiac massage on the buoy bumper! Olivier runs again through the list of procedures and ends our morning lecture. He will put us through later, during the Dubrovnik run, the procedure for abandoning ship in case of fire!

Sacha Bollet

This week: Tripoli (Libya)/La Valette (Malte)

This week: Tripoli (Libya)/La Valette (Malte)

Trials and Tribulations :

Our stop-over in Tripoli was extended for 2 days to allow the announced 30 knot winds to pass by.  We  also encountered at the same time diverse technical problems, i.e. the kitchen fridge suddenly went on strike, but more seriously, the desalinator pump failed, endangering our fresh water supply. Thus, during our stop-over, we took on 6000 liters of water, which unfortunately, turned out to be overly chlorinated and only suitable for boiling pasta. To compound our problems, the Thalassa satellite antenna used for daily communication failed to respond and the crew’s telephone satellite unit began to emit burnt odours requiring emergency shut-down. Internet and telephone were inoperable for 24 hours.

The good news ?  Everything is working again !
Julien, our chief mechanic, resuscitated both the desalinator pump and the fridge while awaiting spare parts to arrive. Our satellite communications were re-established and we were able to leave Tripoli at the break of day in rough seas and 20 knots of wind.
This week will be exceptional, for Libyan waters have only rarely been sampled by foreign scientists. We were able to obtain authorisation to sample at two different locations. The data obtained from the near coastal waters are not expected to be particularly rich in plankton, but, however, the data will be avidly appreciated by  the international scientific community. 
We will be stopping over at Malta on friday for a couple of hours to welcome a new scientific crew  before continuing on our journey to Croatia.

14 people on board

Mike Sieracki (US). Flowcam inventor, zooplancton filtration
Sara Searson (New Zealand). Oceanographer engineer
Johan Decelle. Protists filtration
Franck Prejger. Filtration of virus and bacteria
Alan Deidun (Malta). Sampling of nutrients and pigments

Hervé Bourmaud. Captain
Olivier Marien. Second captain
Julien Daniel. Chief engineer
Fabrizio Limena. (Brasil ).Deck officer
Denys Simon. General assistant officer .Customs inspector
Shirley Falcone (Antigua). Cook

Clément Gargoullaud. Cameraman
Mathieu Bretaud. Editor
Sacha Bollet. Log book

Rachel Moreau. Authorizations & Environment

A special camera for the tiny plankton

A special camera for the tiny plankton

It looks like a black box, 70 cm large, with a funnel on top, connected to a computer screen. The device is called a FlowCAM and it’s one of the scientific instruments on Tara. FlowCAM inventor, Mike Sieracki embarked for 3 weeks from Malta to Dubrovnik to install the machine, organize the protocols and teach scientists how to use it.

Mike works for the Bigelow laboratory in Maine on the east coast of the United States. In 1982 it was the first oceanographic research institute equipped with a flow cytometer. This machine can detect and quantify tiny organisms such as viruses or bacteria in a high pressure water flow. During an oceanographic campaign Mike used a « video plankton recorder » an instrument which take pictures of small jellyfishes, larvae, and copepods.  All are important components of planktonic food webs.

« At that time, there was a gap between the very small organisms the cytometer could detect and the big ones seen by the recorder » notes our ingenious researcher.  These organisms are mainly protists, unicellular organisms with a nucleus. Some get their energy from photosynthesis, some feed on tiny particles, and some do both. They can be chubby, elongated, shaped like a leaf, studded with small tips or look like horned tripods…the diversity of forms among protists is amazing.

So Mike imagined a machine that could take a picture and measure the size of small planktonic creatures in real-time. A 200 ml seawater sample is poured into a funnel and sucked down by a pump. The FlowCAM’s main attribute is a laser used to detect two pigments: chlorophyll and phycoerythrin which are present in red algae and some cyanobacteria. When an organism containing those pigments crosses the laser beam, it triggers a flash and the machine instantaneously takes a picture.

FlowCAM can distinguish and sort individuals and on the basis of their size and their aspect : large or small, more round or more elongated. In 200 ml of water there can be 1 to 10 thousands cells. Mike selects an area on the screen: « small and plump for example »… an image of black and white portraits appear: « mainly diatoms… ». When the picture is good it’s even possible to see the very refined silicate structures that microscopic protists produce.

 150 Flowcams have been sold worldwide, to Spain, South Korea, Norway, England… Tara purchased one of them. « It’s an automated instrument well adapted for the boat because vibrations don’t bother its operation: no need to mobilize a scientist»

Sacha Bollet

This week: La Valletta (Malta)/Tripoli (Libya)

This week: La Valletta (Malta)/Tripoli (Libya)

The scientific focus:

What an international team this week! After two months of French as the
main spoken language, English has imposed itself onboard. Our cross over to Libya is taking place in two stages. On Monday we circled Malta for a long day of sampling along the west coast of the island, in 800 meters of water. In that spot, the continental slope dives deeply at a sharp angle.
Another curious thing: even though we are in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, certain currents from the Atlantic Ocean following the African Coast, have managed to make it all the way here! Satellite maps show the Atlantic waters with relatively low salinity levels compared to the surrounding Mediterranean waters. Alan Deidun, a Maltese biologist joined us for this occasion. He was delighted to be offered the opportunity to “collect samples with Tara’s means, from this somewhat remote area.��? As he stated, “This site is quite particular: zooplankton characteristic of the Atlantic were found there!”.
On Monday night, we went back to La Valletta for shelter. We are expecting heavy winds on Tuesday, predictions announce 50 knots (approximately 90km/h). We’ll be going back to sea on Wednesday at dawn, heading towards Tripoli, our next stopover.

17 people on board

Mike Sieracki (US). Flowcam inventor
Colomban de Vargas (Switzerland).Scientific officer. Protists filtration
Sara Searson (New Zealand). Oceanographer engineer
Mattias Ormestad (Sweden). Imaging, Microscope
Johan Decelle.
Franck Prejger.
Alan Deidun (Malta).

Hervé Bourmaud. Captain
Olivier Marien. Second captain
Julien Daniel. Chief engineer
Fabrizio Limena. (Brasil ).Deck officer
Denys Simon. General assistant officer .Customs inspector
Shirley Falcone (Antigua). Cook

Clément Gargoullaud. Cameraman
Mathieu Bretaud. Editor
Sacha Bollet. Log book

Rachel Moreau. Authorizations & Environment

Tara and the United Nations Environment Program

Tara and the United Nations Environment Program

Malta’s stopover is an opportunity to work with one of Tara’s environmental partners. The united nations environment program (PNUE) is an organization integrated into Onu unlike UNESCO and UNICEF who remain detached from the United Nations. PNUE was created during the 70es  and the “regional seas became quickly one of their priorities.

A « regional sea » is at the same time a geographic and a symbolic entity. It’s about a sea which joins diplomatically different countries which form its seashore . There are 14 “regional seas throughout the world, from the Caribbean to the Japanese sea, passing through the Mediterranean or the Gulf of Guinea.

The Mediterranean  sea was the object of the first protection program implemented by PNUE. Malta’s stopover represents the opportunity to visit the PNUE regional centre, which coordinates  the monitoring of accidental marine pollution. To describe, in simple words, the mission of this centre, Frédéric Hébert, the director, explains  it was created in 1976  “during some big problems of grounding. Our main interest was: how to prepare to combat the big Marine pollution incidents such as oil slicks
Malta was chosen as a basis because of its position in the Mediterranean. At that time (1974), the island was leaving the Commonwealth to become an independent republic . Therefore it was important for Malta to be recognized by the other countries as a sovereign state hosting, for example, an international authority.
The main responsibility of the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) consists of helping the countries of the Mediterranean perimeter to be equipped with emergency measures. Some countries like Montenegro and Albania still don’t know concretely how to react in case of oil slicks. REMPEC offers technical assistance and helps to  coordinate the response. It  also coordinates the staffing. “We are also trying to convince everyone that a ship grounding not only involves the ministry of the environment, but it also concerns all the ministerial issues  from tourism to economy, Frédéric Hébert adds.

Where does the money for financing this emergency measure come from?
REMPEC doesn’t provide funding, but “utilizes existing funds in countries , and these measures are not always very expensive. For example, the countries which host an oil terminal managed by a private operator have to impose this enterprise to finance and emergency response protocol.

REMPEC also organizes exercise operations. For example 15 days ago Spain and Italy jointly lead an air surveillance operation  to catch in flagrante delicto any ships trying to empty their waste engine oil to the sea instead of unloading it on land as the law obliges them. Two of these environment pirates were caught (“they were two passenger ships, and we always incriminate tankers….

Finally, REMPEC has to act in  the event of an emergency. The last occurred in 2006 during the Israel bombing of a power station in Lebanon, which supplies Beirut with the electricity. The  station burned  for 3 days, releasing almost 5000 tons of fuel oil into  Mediterranean waters. “There was  huge political pressure, considering the war situation. Some neighboring  countries were demanding sanctions against Israel and we had to make them understand that we are an organization tasked to defend environment.

REMPEC experts gave advice to Lebanon by distance for first emergency response, and they had to wait until the cease-fire before they could intervene and help the government set up a plan to address the pollution.
REMPEC is a specific example of the most global action of  PNUE, United Nations Environment Program. Tara acts as a partner and ambassador to promote the environment to the public and to make the children, we meet during our stopovers all over the world, aware of it.

Sacha Bollet

Naples / La Valletta (Malta) : Good weather again for Tara

Naples / La Valletta (Malta) : Good weather again for Tara

After two weeks of rough weather, we finally found the sun and a calm sea. The scientific team was able to carry out three sampling stations off the coast of Naples and around Sicily.

Colomban de Vargas, Tara Oceans scientific coordinator and protist specialist, was the scientific officer of this sailing. ” The first day, we weren’t very in shape, we have to take the time to get used … should we maybe plan to start sampling on the second day at sea…? In the list of positive aspects, Colomban is very satisfied of the at -depth pumping: “ We have a pipe which sucks up sea water down to 200 m and everybody told me we wouldn’t have high enough flow: but it works very well!.

Regarding to the organisms, Jean-Baptiste Romagnan, on Tara for Zooplankton filtration, mainly collected in his sieves some copepods (which resemble microscopic prawns), some small crustaceans and some gelatinous animals. He also transmitted some nice pteropods samples and Mattias Omerstad, the imaging specialist on board, took some micrographs of them.

The only rub of this week  was the loss of the collector which is located at the end of our nets. The stiches of the mesh became loose allowing the metallic clamp which attaches the collector to move during the experiments.When the net came back on board  the collector untied and it sank under Jean-Baptiste’s powerless gaze.

A tide of big golden jellyfish accompanied us during our last sampling day south of Sicily.  While we dove  to take some snapshots, we had the pleasure to spend several minutes on the surface with a turtle.
A week with good weather conditions, all the scientific equipment now on board … what else  could the expedition wish for? ” Ideally, during long sailings, we will have a second  engineer on board like Sara Searson, who is managing the physical data. This individual will be in charge of the biological work part and will assure  continuity between changes in scientific teams this is what Colomban wishes but unfortunately there’s no enough space on the boat.

Sacha Bollet

Siphonophores : The biggest animals in the world !

Siphonophores : The biggest animals in the world !

Cousins of jellyfish, siphonophores are gelatinous animals composed of a
multitude of individuals linked together to form a long, chain-like
colony.  The whole colony behaves like a single organism, but each
individual unit has a specialized function.  Some individuals are armed
with stinging cells to capture prey. Others are equipped with mouths to
ingest the prey. Still others take care of reproduction, or act as
flotation devices.

More than a hundred different species of siphonophores are known
throughout the world.
They have extremely varied forms, but are generally visible to the naked
eye. So far, Tara’s nets have most frequently collected Chelophyes (see
photo), which belong to the order Calycophorans.  This name comes from the
Greek kalyx  meaning ‘goblet’, in reference to the shape of their
transparent flotation bells.

The biggest siphonophores have a long, transparent filament that can be
the length of a  football field! Attached all along the filament are
groups of specialized individuals. If the colony breaks up while floating
through the currents, each fragment is able to regenerate the entire

Christian Sardet and Sacha Bollet

Charybdis and Scylla

Charybdis and Scylla

6h. The sun is dawning and it unveils the Stromboli crater. In its loneliness. No hills sloping down gently, no plains or adjacent valleys. Just a volcano in the middle of the sea. At the top, north-west side, some smoke feebly escapes heading toward the sky. Stromboli is sleepy at the moment but, during its fits of fury, the eruptions can follow one after the other every twenty minutes.

It is the most active volcano in Europe. The crew have just had breakfast on the deck, warmed by this nice October sun. We are reading the volume about south Italian coast nautical instructions and we are learning that vineyards and olive trees are cultivated on its basaltic sides. Through the binoculars we are trying to catch sight of the old steam mill of Ginostra, the small village uncomfortably built at the volcano’s feet.

Stromboli moves slowly away and the strait of Messina is already at the horizon.
This narrow natural channel winds along the Italian coast and Sicily. It’s only 3 km
wide at its narrowest points. “ It’s a passage crossed by many merchant ships because it’s a shortcut explains Hervé Bourmaud, the captain, “ there’s a waterway which separates the ships for safety measure. You have to notify in advance at the signal station which regulates the traffic.

Messina is also a dangerous  strait and a mythological place where the terrible creatures Charybdis and Scylla are reigning. The first one, the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia (the Earth) made the mistake to steal Hercules’ cattle. Zeus, as a punishment, hurled her into the sea and turned her into a marine monster who had to gobble up the unfortunate sailors who were passing by.
Scylla, less voracious than Charybdis, was a nymph of a great beauty. A jealous magician turned her into a creature with twelve feet and six heads.
The nymph, so desperate, leaped into the strait, where she kept devouring, with her six mouths, everything passing by too closely.
We have scanned the waters, without catching sight of these marine monsters, but Charybdis and Scylla exist in the form of two strong whirlpools well known since the ancient times.

Sacha Bollet

This week : Naples / La Valletta (Malta)

This week : Naples / La Valletta (Malta)

The scientific focus:

This week we really hope to return  to the sampling rhythm we had on Tara before the storm (cf. the sailing between Nice and Tunisia). There are 3 stations planned.
“ We are going to modify  our sampling station protocols. From now on we will execute a short protocol, then long, then short again in order to reduce the work on board, explains Hervé Bourmaud, the captain. Between Naples and Malta three sampling sites were chosen each with very different salinity levels.

The first station took place on Sunday off the coast of Naples in a low  salinity zone . The sea was too rough to plunge the big rosette with its sensors, but we could anyway carry out a light range of samplings and filtrations.

The second station is planned out of Messina Strait, in a high salinity zone (this strait is a zone full of fish, valued by fishermen).Finally, we are going to pass Sicily   on its west coast for the third medium salinity station where we will sample down to 500 m below the ocean floor.

Hervé has planned “ the hardest work on Tuesday with a 12h sampling station, a feat we haven’t attempted for several weeks. We will filter at many different depths in order to acquire a  set of samples  representing the entire water column.

14 people on board

- Colomban de Vargas (Switzerland).Scientific officer. Protists filtration
- Sara Searson (New Zealand). Oceanographer engineer
- Nigel Grimsley (England). Virus and bacteria filtration
- Jean-Baptiste Romagnan. Zooplankton, pigments, carbonates and nutritive salts  filtration
- Mattias Ormestad (Sweden). Imaging, Microscope

- Hervé Bourmaud. Captain
- Olivier Marien. Second captain
- Julien Daniel. Chief engineer
- Fabrizio Limena. (Brasil ).Deck officer
- Denys Simon. General assistant officer .Customs inspector
- Shirley Falcone (Antigua). Cook

- Clément Gargoullaud. Cameraman
- Mathieu Bretaud. Editor
- Sacha Bollet. Log book

Change of batteries

Change of batteries

What a nice arrival at Naples bay! The sun is just an orange halo which outlines the Vesuvio silhouette.

We arrive very early for a long working day. All the boat service batteries have to be changed. They are 30 and they weigh more than 80 kg each. It’s not a game to remove them from their cavity in Tara’s entrance hall! Julien, the chief engineer and Fabrizio, the new deck officer, have to get in it in a squatting position, in order to lift the blocks one by one and pass them to Sam, the second captain and to Mathieu, our editor, who is lending a hand to the manoeuvre. They are all kitted out with a rope around their shoulders and they are lifting the battery going up the stairs step by step. The old batteries are quickly unloaded on the quay by means of a small crane fixed to the stern of Tara.

« These batteries are not very old, they are only 3 years old ��? explains Romain Troublé, the expedition logistic director, “they should normally last 8 years, but they were employed during the Artic expedition. They braved 40 sub-zero degree temperatures…��?. Some problems with the charger also made these batteries wear out prematurely.
The -80°C freezer, an energy- consuming machine, taken on board for stocking the test-tubes, managed to shorten our batteries life. “ The new ones should last the whole expedition��? this is Romain Troublé’s wish “ because this represents no less than 7000 euros��?.

The old batteries are now aligned on the quay, they are going to be sent to France in order to be recycled by the provider. The same operation has to be done in reverse order to load the new ones on Tara. Lifting them with the winch, carrying them down the stairs, going down to the cavity, positioning them… and finally connecting carefully again this precious energy source, so important for the electric ignition of our engines.

Sacha Bollet

This week: Bizerte (Tunisia) / Naples

This week: Bizerte (Tunisia) / Naples

The scientific focus:

We leave Bizerte with one day delay in order to avoid to be at sea with a strong storm. We are, however, pressed for time: we must reach Naples on Wednesday to download 30 old batteries from Tara and load the new ones on it.

We can’t, therefore, realize a complete sampling station during this week. It’s planned to plunge the probe CTD (conductivity, temperature, pressure and salinity) only on Tuesday afternoon.

The scientific team on Tara is obviously disappointed because they can’t collect any other samples for now. On the other hand, these days at sea represent the occasion for working hard on the scientific protocols in order to simplify the following sessions.

13 people on board

- Marc Picheral. Scientific officer. Zooplankton filtration
- Sara Siarson (New Zealand). Oceanographer engineer
- Francisco Miguel Cornejo Castillo (Spain). Bacteria and virus filtration
- Floriane Desprez de Gesincourt. Bacteria and virus filtration + pigments
- Pascal Hingamp. Protists filtration and giant virus

Sailors :
- Hervé Bourmaud. Captain
- Samuel Audrain. Second captain
- Julien Daniel. Chief engineer
- Mike Lunn. (New Zealand). Deck officer
- Marion Lauters. Cook

- Anne Gouraud. Thalassa columnist
- Clément Gargoullaud. Cameraman
- Mathieu Bretaud. Editor
- Sacha Bollet. Log book

A rough week

A rough week

We are looking out towards the Tunisian coast, apprehensively, since early morning, waiting for the authorization to finally reach the port of Bizerte.

No engine but the Gennaker (large foresail) is full with the wind.

The boat is rolling from one side to another, but all the crew are now seaworthy, having already spent a rough week. We take advantage of the pause to clean up, vacuum, and general tiding from the quartermaster to the cockpit through the companion ways. Tara must be presentable for every stopover.

The first sampling station took place on Sunday without incidents, off the coast of Nice, in parallel with one of CNRS oceanographic ship. But bad weather approached the day after. A big storm came from the north west bringing with it  60 knots of wind and very large swell. The crew was shaken: therefore impossible to work with these conditions.

The day after the wind died down, but the rough state of the sea remained. The boat was rolling so much that Hervé, the captain and Marc, the scientific officer of the week consulted and they finally decided to cancel the sampling station of the day.

Even if a bit disappointed Marc joked: “I’m not superstitious but…we were running after station 13 that we were supposed to have on Tuesday 13th.

Among the most weathered, Margaux, the youngest of the scientists, no longer has enough energy to resist the constant rocking. “In normal conditions I already suffer from seasickness , so you can gather with gusts up to 70 knots, I’m already out of my depth. Today Margaux regained energy, but Hervé decided to cut short her trip earlier than expected, offloading her in Tunisia instead of Malta.  Margaux doesn’t regret anything: “ The wonderful experience of the storm, its strong winds and big waves…. I think I deserved anyway to be seasick!.

Some material damages occurred during the storm. The heavy compressor for our diving bottles jumped out of its place and we had to fix it strongly against one of the fridges located in the front hold. One of the lifeline which surrounds the boat was pulled out of the hull.

Finally, in Samuel’s (second captain) opinion, “…we took on board lots of water… and it’s not very good for the equipment and above all for the batteries.

Bizerte stopover will be the opportunity to check if anything else has been damaged on board.

To conclude the week, a third sampling station was attempted just south of Sardinia; unfortunately, due to the swell yet again, this was too risky for the new rosette.

Floriane, on board for the virus and bacteria filtration, remains philosophic: “ It’s October in the Mediterranean. When the weather is so bad, we can’t permit ourselves to loose such expensive pieces of equipment such as CTD rosette that we have just taken on board in Nice. We must take care of it.

The scientific team has managed, nevertheless, to collect samples with a smaller probe in order to know the salinity, the temperature and the pressure of  the sampling site. The other sampling experiments (with nets, pumping…) have been cancelled. Safety is not a factor to be overlooked.

Today we’re looking out, both impatiently and curiously, at the gentle silhouette of the Tunisian coast. Within a very grey sky various shafts of light shine through.

We imagine more than we can see the long awaited renowned white Tunisian buildings.

Sacha Bollet

Transition day

Transition day

The wind is 10 knots today and we are trying to put some order on the boat after the storm turned it upside down. As the sea is still rough, Hervé Bourmaud, the captain and Marc Picheral, the scientific officer of the week, decided to cancel today’s sampling station.
It is a day of transition, in which everyone takes his time to find again one’s reference point… While you’re waiting for Tara’s new adventures, let us introduce to you one of the organisms brought to the surface by our nets .

The Chaetognaths : the micro-crocodiles of the oceans

They have long transparent bodies and they may appear like worms, but if you look at them closer, the Chaetognaths have a big triangular head with jaws.
From both parts of the mouth, project long curved whiskers which can tear mercilessly at shrimps and small Crustaceans : the favourite diet of these microscopic predators.
Their big whiskers give the name to them: Chaetognaths comes from Greek language Chaete (long bristle) and gnatos (jaw).
The Chaetognaths belong to the zooplankton. 120 species are known in all the world (for the time being !), from the Spadella neglecta,  which measures only 1/4 millimeter, to the 10 cm of the giant Krohnitta Subtilis.

Eating and be eaten… the Chaetognaths are all over the oceans of the planet and they abundantly feed fish, jellyfish and squid.

The way in which these mini -crocodiles can reproduce themselves is impressive. Every hermaphroditic subject carries at the same time masculine and feminine gametes in their voluminous gonads. To mate, the Chaetognaths  place themselves head to tail to exchange a big quantity of sperm.
Then the spermatozoids move along the body of the opposed subject and go up until they reach the female reproductive organs to inseminate them. It’s possible to observe the whole phenomenon in the living animal because it’s really transparent!

Christian Sardet and Sacha Bollet

Tara in the storm

Tara in the storm

We are off the Corsican coasts, westwards from Ajaccio and we suffer our first strong gust since we left from Lorient, 6 weeks ago. The weather is fine, the sun is shining, but wind is blowing 50 knots (90km/h) with wind gusts of 60 knots (110 km/h). Force 10 by Beaufort scale.

We have no time for breakfast, we have to go to set the sails on the deck. Life jackets for everybody. We manoeuvre as best we can, hooking the tether to the rings of the deck or to the shackles not to be carried away by the heavy big wave which is running through the deck.
The swell wave, long and flecked with white horses, breaks on the flank of the boat. We follow, imperturbably, our route towards the next sampling station, westwards from Sardinia.
Every now and then, a wave, bigger than the others, crashes on the cockpit glasses.
Some people are taking some fresh air, quietly sitting on the benches at the back.
Clément, our new cameraman on board, is filming Hervé, the captain.
A tremendous wave overflows the hull of Tara, invades the deck and beats down on the precious video equipment. Marion, the cook, jumps on it attempting to protect it a little.
The sea wave hits her and her life jacket triggers after the shock. The video camera is sodden and the wave proceeds towards the interior part of the boat, rushes into the stair and it almost reaches the cockpit.
There’s nothing to do with a weather like this. We only have to wait. Waiting for the wind to die down and for the swell to smooth. Wait and wish that weather conditions get better for our sampling station of tomorrow.

Sacha Bollet

Interview of Gaby Gorsky, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans

Interview of Gaby Gorsky, scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans: “Measuring the vertical water column, from 0 to 2000 m, taking samples every 20 cm.

One month after Tara’s departure, the boat is in the port of Nice.
This is the opportunity to take on board a new machine for scientific measurements:  the CTD rosette… and to take stock of the situation with Gaby Gorsky, oceanographer at Villefranche laboratory and scientific coordinator of Tara Oceans.

What’s your assessment after one month?

G Gorsky-  “At the beginning I was quite pessimistic about our capacity of taking proper samples, I mean well calibrated and good quality ones, in a laboratory like the one which is installed on Tara’s deck.
Now I think we are not only going to demonstrate that it is possible, but also that expeditions on small boats like Tara, represent an essential part of the 21st century science with satellites, balloons, planes, oceanographic ships.

Which things should be revised, or modified?

“There are 200 scientists who want to go on board, but there’s space only for 5 every week. We realized that our protocols were heavy, but also that we can’t do the same range of measurements like if we were on a big oceanographic ship with 30 scientists and 30 sailors. On the other hand, we are the only ones who are leaving for 3 years all over the world.
In one month we have also found how to sample a big quantity of water in small spaces, in motion, combining biology and physics.

What is the rosette which has been installed today on Tara ?

Gaby Gorsky- “ It’s a platform for scientific measurements which is employed in the most advanced laboratories of the world. It has been tested only three times before Tara. It is a metallic structure with the shape of a cage which contains a panoply of sensors for physical (pressure), chemical (oxygen), geochemical ( fluorescence) and biological (nitrates…) parameters. It allows us to measure the properties of a vertical water column, from 0 to 2000 m, taking samples every 20 cm.
If we work properly, we could be able to collect data at a world wide level for several future generations. We are collecting references data which will be compared with future samples all over the oceans of the world.

When can we know the first results?

Gaby Gorsky- “ The first ones are already online! Salinity and temperature data, which are permanently measured on Tara, are published on LOCEAN laboratory website. Soon we will add 3D physical and biological results. In this way the whole world will be able to judge.

Interview by Sacha Bollet

How is a collecting session carried out ?

How is a collecting session carried out?

Sampling sessions always follow the same pattern. We must first determine the collection area. For this purpose,  on-land scientific coordinators send us satellite maps showing currents, salinity, temperature and chlorophyll concentration throughout the various areas of the Mediterranean.

Session locations are determined in order to return to areas where previous collections were made. In this way data can be compared, or we can focus  on a particular interest (the Gibraltar gyre, the distance from the coastline, etc.). Depending on navigation imperatives, the skipper, Hervé Bourmaud, the onboard scientific team and the on-land scientific team agree on one or several locations.
When we reach the chosen location, the first operation consists in letting down the CTD probe (Conductivity/Temperature/Depth: depth + chlorophyll) from the winch at the stern of the boat.

These first data  enable Hervé Le Goff, the Tara Oceans engineer, to identify, in the column of water over which the boat is sitting, the depths where the maximum plankton is concentrated (in general the areas richest in chlorophyll).
Without waiting for the return of the CTD probe, a flexible pipe connected to a pump is lowered into the sea on starboard. It travels a few metres under the surface to collect water and send it to the various filtration systems.
We systematically sample the surface, independently from the data collected by the CTD probe at the maximum chlorophyll concentration depth. It should be emphasised that we refer to that depth as “surface��?, although we actually pump the water approximately 5 metres from the surface. The actual surface of the sea is an area of poor significance, since the ultra-violet rays of the sun make life difficult for the plankton.

Once Hervé Le Goff has determined the maximum chlorophyll depth (or depths), the crew lowers the pipe to these specific area(s) and pumping resumes. The water is stored in large drums, then gradually forwarded through the filtration systems installed in the wet laboratory on the deck of Tara. The mesh of these filters varies from 0.2 to 10 microns (1 micron = 1/1000th of a millimetre), depending on what is to be retained: viruses, bacteria, protista, etc.
At the stern, the activity around the winch is ongoing: sampling bottles are lowered to various depths to collect seawater, etc. These PVC tubes are cleverly designed to close at 400/300/200/75/etc. metres. They give an overall picture of the whole vertical column of water. Volumes collected are then transferred to test tubes or bottles for later assessment of carbon particles, nutritive salts and pigments (chlorophyll, beta-carotene, etc.).

Last to be involved are the nets. They look like large mesh funnels. Some are single-meshed, others double-meshed, called “bongos��? because they resemble the so-called tom-toms. At the narrow end of each net is a PVC collector: a small stoppered tube, which collects the trapped material.
Nets are weighted, lowered to a depth of 400 metres, and dragged behind the boat at low speed for ten minutes. They are then lifted out and on their way up to the surface collect all animals and organisms. Contents of the collector are then emptied, filtered and transferred to small bottles.
Plankton dies and decays within hours into a fetid soup. In order to preserve the samples, a fixation agent must be added — formaldehyde, ethanol, etc.  Then we carefully label each bottle, tube, or test tube, a crucial task to identify and classify the thousands of samples collected over just a few weeks.

Samples are ultimately disembarked from Tara every 8 weeks, and sent to the various laboratories — Genoscope for molecular sequencing, Roscoff  biological station for counting and identification of protista, Villefranche station for zooplankton, etc.).

Work onboard is not yet completed. Nets must be carefully rinsed to eliminate any remaining traces of organisms. They are then set to dry on the boat deck and stored until the following session. A full day of collecting rarely ends before 11:00 pm.

Sacha Bollet

Algiers-Barcelona: first microscopic pictures

Algiers-Barcelona: first microscopic pictures

Last week, we were joined onboard by Christian Sardet, one of the scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans, with all his microscopic photography equipment.
Our first ever plankton pictures taken on board Tara!

During the week, we had three collecting sessions. Every time the nets are lifted out, the largest plankton organisms are collected and regrouped in a test tube. These samples are delicate, and can only be kept (alive) for a very short time at room temperature. The valued test tube is carried down inside Tara to the dry laboratory.

First stage: scrutinise with the naked eye on a backlighting table. These organisms are often transparent and jelly-like, with only a few coloured spots. The light enables to identify and select them better.

Second stage: one by one, the samples are sucked off and captured using a refined pipette, and transferred to another container of sea water. This water has been previously filtered to eliminate as many particles as possible, which may cloud the picture.

Third stage: place each sample on a glass slide with a drop of sea water. A second slide is then placed on top to prevent the lively plankton from moving disorderly. The main snag is to hold the small animals without crushing them. For this purpose, titbits of plasticine™ can be inserted between the two slides.

Fourth stage: scrutiny through the microscope. We actually use a “macroscope��?, i.e. an apparatus that enables the examination of animals ranging from one hundredth of a millimetre to several centimetres. In order to improve the quality of the image, one must fiddle with the lighting, the colours, the contrast, … as is the case in photography!

Copepods, chaetognaths, siphonophores: tiny shrimps, sea worms with jaws and jelly-like ogives take shape and come to life before our eyes. The plankton becomes more accessible to our human retinas, thanks to the magic of image!

Sacha Bollet

From Barcelona to Nice

The scientific significance:

What an international team this week! French, Spanish, English are spoken along the Tara alleyways. Any sentence can be started in one language and ended in another… the most important being to ensure one is understood.

This crossing will be very short: it will only take two days to reach Nice. We will still make time for a collecting session. This will involve a more specific sampling since Silvia Acinas, the scientist in charge this week, comes to collect samples every year exactly from the same point. We will only be 25 metres above the sea bed, which is far less than our other sessions, but will allow to compare the data from our samples with those collected by Silvia and her team over many years.

16 people on board

- Silvia Acinas (Spain). Head scientist. Bacteria and virus filtering.
 - Uros Krzic (Slovenia). Macroscopy and imaging.
- Judit Prihoda (Hungary). Flow cytometer.
- Hervé Le Goff. Ocean engineer + in charge of onboard power supply and telecommunications.
- Margaux Carmichaël. Phytoplankton filtration.


-    Hervé Bourmaud. Skipper.
-    Samuel Audrain. First mate.
-    Julien Daniel. Chief engineer.
-    Mathilde Ménard. All-round second officer.
-    Mike Lunn. (New-Zealand). Deck officer.
-    Marion Lauters. Kitchen.

-    Anne Gouraud. “Thalassa��? columnist.
-    Bertrand Manzano. Editor.
-    Christophe Castagne. Cameraman
-    Sacha Bollet. Logbook.
-    Nadia Loddo. (Italy). “Metro��? journalist.


Algiers-Barcelona: first microscopic pictures

Last week, we were joined on board by Christian Sardet, one of the scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans, with all his microscopic photography equipment.
Our first plankton photos & videos were taken on board Tara!

During the week, we had three collecting sessions. Every time the nets are lifted out, the largest plankton organisms are collected and regrouped in a test tube. These samples are delicate, and can only be kept (alive) for a very short time at room temperature. The precious test tube is carried down inside Tara to the dry laboratory.

First stage: Observe with the naked eye on a backlight table. Organisms are often transparent and jelly-like, with only a few coloured spots. Lighting enables us to identify and select them better.

Second stage: One by one, samples are sucked off and captured using a pipette, then transferred to another container of sea water. This water has been previously filtered to eliminate as many particles as possible, which would otherwise  cloud the picture.

Third stage: Place each sample on a glass slide with a drop of sea water. A second slide is then put on top to prevent the lively plankton from moving around. The main challenge is to hold the small animals without crushing them. For this purpose, tiny pieces of plasticine™ can be inserted between the two slides.

Fourth stage: Observation through the microscope. We actually use a “macroscope”, i.e. an apparatus designed for the examination of organisms ranging from one hundredth of a millimetre to several centimetres. In order to improve image quality,  we have to adjust the lighting, colour, and contrast, just as we do in photography!

Copepods, chaetognaths, siphonophores: tiny shrimps, sea worms with jaws and jelly-like ogives take shape and come to life before our eyes. The plankton becomes more accessible to our human retinas, thanks to the magic of imagery!

Sacha Bollet

From Barcelona to Nice

The scientific significance:

What an international team this week! French, Spanish, English are spoken along the Tara alleyways. Any sentence can be started in one language and ended in another… the most important being to ensure one is understood.

This crossing will be very short: it takes only  two days to reach Nice. We will still make time for a collecting session. This will involve a more specific sampling since Silvia Acinas, the scientist in charge this week, comes to collect samples every year from exactly the same point. We will only be 25 metres above the sea floor, which is far less than our other sessions, but will allow us to compare the data from our samples with those collected by Silvia and her team over many years.

16 people on board


- Silvia Acinas (Spain). Head scientist. Bacteria and virus filtering.
 - Uros Krzic (Slovenia). Macroscopy and imaging.
- Judit Prihoda (Hungary). Flow cytometer.
- Hervé Le Goff. Ocean engineer + in charge of onboard power supply and  telecommunications.
- Margaux Carmichaël. Phytoplankton filtration.


-    Hervé Bourmaud. Skipper
-    Samuel Audrain. First mate.
-    Julien Daniel. Chief engineer.
-    Mathilde Ménard. All-round second officer
-    Mike Lunn. (New-Zealand). Deck officer
-    Marion Lauters. Kitchen

-    Anne Gouraud. “Thalassa” columnist
-    Bertrand Manzano. Editor
-    Christophe Castagne. Cameraman
-    Sacha Bollet. Logbook
-    Nadia Loddo. (Italy). “Metro” journalist

Last week’s summary and this week’s agenda

Last week’s summary and this week’s agenda
Tangier, Algiers: At the heart of the currents
Scientifically speaking, this week was exciting, the Gibraltar Straits is a complex area, where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet by generating high currents.
First, we must know that evaporation is important in the Mediterranean, which explains the concentration of salinity of its waters. Very salty waters are denser, heavier, and sink into the depths of the sea. One part is drained to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar. At the same time, Atlantic water enters into the Mediterranean since the level has dropped due to evaporation. This water is less salty and penetrates above the Mediterranean waters.
Two opposing currents are therefore created, causing a whirlpool, called by scientists “gyre”.

The satellite images have revealed to us the presence of a mass of water trapped in the heart of this whirlpool, with very different properties of neighbouring water masses. This seemed colder, salty, and poor in chlorophyll. We have been able to spend a day on plankton sampling at the heart of this whirlpool and a second day further north to collect different samples.
Finally, just before arriving in Algiers, we even had the time to complete a third stop. The interest of this “meshing” of the Mediterranean is to have a maximum of “pictures” of species present in different areas.

Sacha Bollet

This week: Algiers-Barcelona

The scientific interest: 

We will try to make three stops in open waters, i.e. far from the coast, away from the Balearic Islands to study the plankton drifting in these areas. This week will be under the theme of the microscopic image, since Christian Sardet took onboard at Algiers a whole array of cameras, lights, and special lenses to capture the image of tiny things that are promenading inside our test tubes.

We also welcome Anne Gouraud, a Thalassa journalist.

15 people on board

- Christian Sardet. Scientific Officer. Zooplankton filtration. Imaging.
- Margaux Carmichaël. Phytoplankton filtration.
- Julie Poulain. Bacteria and viruses filtration.
 - Hervé Le Goff. Oceanographer engineer + in charge of on board electricity and telecommunications
- Jarred Swalwell. Physicist engineer, in charge for the establishment of a plankton-measuring device on Tara


- Hervé Bourmaud. Skipper.
- Samuel Audrain. Skipper’s mate
- Julian Daniel. Chief engineer
- Mathilde Ménard. Versatile lieutenant
- Mike Lunn. Bridge officer.
- Marion Lauters. Kitchen.


- Anne Gouraud. Thalassa columnist
- Bertrand Manzano. Editor
- Christophe Castagne. Camera operator
- Sacha Bollet. Logbook

Summary of the previous week and what is expected for this week

Summary of the previous week and what is expected for this week


This week we have not gone far in terms of distance as the crow flies. We run the gateway to the Mediterranean off Spain and Morocco, to produce two new plankton-sampling stations. Good sea, a few passing off drops… and water at 22° into which we did not take the time to bathe.
Our fridges are beginning to fill up with small specimens. They must be stored carefully because we shall not be able to unload them on shore before Barcelona. The more we move forward, the more the boat becomes of scientific value!

This week saw also the opportunity to test the protocols developed by the scientific coordinators. Calling at Lisbon was very short, and the relief team had to decode the notes left by the previous. “For how long must we leave this net? To which depth? How many millilitres of fixative shall I place into the test tube?”…

We crossed some whales! Even with the guide of marine mammals, there is nothing more difficult to identify than a dorsal fin. After many debates and discussions on board, we agreed on a minke whale, unless it is a Rudolphi whale… if a cetacean specialist was kind enough to look at uploaded photographs!

Sacha Bollet



The scientific interest:

A seasonal “gyre” (a vortex) forms behind the Gibraltar Straits. We arrive just in time before it disappears. At this location, the Atlantic waters overlap with those of the Mediterranean over a hundred meters to the surface. We will study the combination of the salinities, the temperature, and the plankton species that can be found in this strange vortex.

15 people on board

- Stéphane Pesant. (Canada). Scientific Officer. Zooplankton filtration
- Margaux Carmichaël. Phytoplankton filtration
- Julie Poulain. Bacteria and viruses filtration
- Hervé Le Goff. Oceanographer engineer + in charge of on board electricity and telecommunications
- Jarred Swalwell. Physicist engineer, in charge for the establishment of a plankton-measuring device on Tara

- Herve Bourmaud. Skipper
- Samuel Audrain. Skipper’s mate
- Julian Daniel. Chief engineer
- Mathilde Ménard. Versatile lieutenant
- Mike Lunn. Bridge officer
- Marion Lauters. Kitchen

- Loïc Etevenard. Thalassa columnist
- Bertrand Manzano. Editor
- Christopher Castagne. Camera operator
- Sacha Bollet. Logbook

The conferences of Tangiers

The conferences of Tangiers

You may be wondering what is the use of our harbour calls… to get our fill of fresh food and fuel of course, but also to promote awareness to the general public, the youth and the scientists on the issues of our expedition.

While the crew prepared the overalls and the fire extinguishers for an onboard fire drill, our little scientific delegation made the big difference between two very different audiences…
In the morning, they presented the goals of our expedition to their Moroccan counterparts from the National Institute of Fisheries Research. Very specific discussions among scientists, while the afternoon was dedicated to the students of the “Regnault et Berchet��? establishments. An audience aged 6 to 11!

At first, there was certainly some apprehension: how to talk about these fascinating but so complex and invisible creatures that inhabit the oceans with very simple words?
A large room lighted by old windowpanes, well-prepared questions with the teachers beforehand, and attentive students: the conference went very well and even ended by an autograph session!

Notice to motivated classes: all Tara’s crew is ready to repeat the experience in other school establishments in our next harbour calls!

Sacha Bollet



I am on my 2 to 5 morning quarter shift with Julien, the chief engineer. Not that I love waking up in the middle of the night to go and watch over the deserted and dark sea, but in fact I am glad that the captain included me in the guard quarter shifts. I feel I belong to the crew.

When we meet with Julien, we lean on the boat’s sea charts software to see where we are. We are heading towards the Straits of Gibraltar, the peak of sea passage. For the moment, we are alone on the sea
The echo of a ship is outlined on the radar screen. A small point, at 6 or 8 miles ahead of us, on port side (more or less fifteen kilometres). Out on the cockpit, only a few lights can be seen. The ship is approaching us in the night, without any size and nameless.
The radar indicates that the ship is approaching in our direction at 14 knots (about 25 kilometres/hour, and that is too much in the sea!), and that it is going to brush against us at 0.2 miles in 23 minutes. Since we are going ahead by sails, it is up to the other ship to manoeuvre. Julien switches on the bridge spotlights to highlight our great white sails. I scan the radar. No reaction, the vessel maintains its course.

18 minutes. 0.3 miles.
We shall have to change direction. The problem is that the wind is behind us, the sails are installed by “scissor effect”. One sail is at port side and the other one on starboard held up by the spinnaker pole, a large metal arm 8 meters long. In this position, it is not possible to manoeuvre easily the rig.
15 minutes. Julien goes down in the engine room to start the engine.
We try again to illuminate the deck and the sails, to make that blind fellow understand that he must shift off. Either he does not see us, or he would not give a damn. By fixing insistently the radar set, I even feel that he purposely wants to charge us head on.
10 minutes. 0.35 miles. Julien changes our course by a few degrees. The genoa bends, then slams, blocked by the spinnaker pole. All we have now is only one sail to tow us
6 minutes. 0.45 miles.
Julien grabs the high frequency radio and attempts a message in English. “This is Tara, the sailboat with the bridge floodlights switched on. Calling the ship heading straight towards us. Do you see us?��?
A spotlight lights up and sweeps the sea towards our direction. A soft voice crackles on the radio’s loudspeaker. “Hello Tara, I had not seen you, I will manoeuvre to shift off to starboard.��?
The nameless vessel shifts off and passes at 0.6 miles from us. On the seas, this is the minimum legal distance in areas of high navigation. With relief, we see it draw away, and we return to the silence of the dimly lit cockpit.

Sacha Bollet

What are we seeking ?

What are we seeking?
We are seeking the tiny and the overlooked, the basis of the global food chain: the species that make up the plankton.
Yes, because the plankton is not a species by itself. This term comes from Greek planktos, which means: “drifting”. Plankton is a group of animals, plants, viruses, and bacteria that leave themselves to be drifted in ocean currents.

On board, we are equipped with several plankton traps: nets and filters that can sort out the organisms according to their size and collect them separately.
We focus on 4 categories:

- Phytoplankton. Generally they are unicellular organisms (only a single cell!), which develop by transforming solar energy into living matter through photosynthesis, just like plants!
-  Zooplankton. Multi-cellular animals that feed on phytoplankton.
-  Bacteria. Unicellular organisms that decompose all wastes, corpses, and debris from other organisms floating in the sea
-  Viruses. These are the most mysterious. The scientific community is even divided on the fact of whether to classify them as living beings or as minerals. They can infect all organisms from the smallest bacterium to the largest of fish.

The plankton specialists already know hundreds of species in each one of these categories, but with the new technologies of gene sequencing, they believe it possible that millions of unknown species are yet to be discovered!

Do not wait each week the announcement of a new bacterium having been discovered by Tara. It is a long and painstaking work to be done in the laboratory ashore.
Tara plays the role of “Reaper of the Seven Seas��? by collecting on its passing concentrated loads of specimens and storing them in small test tubes placed in the refrigerators.

Sacha Bollet

When Tara meets the whales

When Tara meets the whales

We are 36 degrees north, almost at the latitude of Tangier, off the Portuguese coast. The day has been dedicated to sampling (the third one after our departure from Lorient). Now the sails are lowered, the engine is reduced to minimum and we drift over of the ocean depths (4000 m today).
The Scientists use a wide range of nets and pumps in order to collect large volumes of sea water for filtration to obtain plankton samples which will be analyzed on land at a later point.
Among these tools, there is a pump connected to a big pipe which was plunged from the right side of the boat. We had just installed it at 25 m depth when the first dorsal fins appeared to us. Small, curved…the cautious whales seem to enjoy the temperature of the air from the extremity of their dorsal fin.
Great excitement on deck! Tell the ones at the engine room! The whales are here!
I thought it was indifferent to the sailors because they see them all over the oceans of the world. But it’s not true. Mike, our deck officer and Christophe, the cameraman of the expedition, were filming it from the dinghy.
Hurray and shouting. There are two, maybe three. It’s difficult to tell. We are all crowding at the bow of the boat as the cetaceous attempt to slide their backs of the water.

Sacha Bollet

Day 7

Day 7

We leave Lisbon only after two and a half days of call!

- 2 days to give a scientific conference to the Franco-Portuguese Institute on the aims of our expedition.
- 2 days to meet with the French Ambassador in Lisbon and visit the embassy’s valuable “porcelain room”, acrobatically suspended from one of the ceilings.
- 2 days to give some news live on Thalassa from the just past week.
- 2 days to solve an oil problem in one of the engines.
- 2 days to get fresh supplies of fruits and vegetables
- 2 days to eat “bacalhau��? (Portuguese for cod!) in the narrow steep streets of Lisbon.

We leave towards Tangiers to collect new scientific samples!

Sacha Bollet

Day 4 and 5

Day 4 and 5

Gaby Gorsky, an oceanographer at Villefranche, is in a very good shape; this morning: “we’ll do things of an overwhelming beauty, and it is for the good of mankind.”
What is exiting with enthusiasm so much Gaby Gorsky, our Czech scientist coordinator, is the CTD probe test. This device, which looks like two pipes in a metal frame with a sensor like a big round eye, measures the water temperature, its depth, and its conductivity.

Why conductivity? Well, I spoke to you yesterday about salinity, a key parameter in climatology… Today we shall climb another notch in the complexity of the explanation!
We know that the conductivity of fresh water is very poor, and that the more water is salty, the more it is conductive. The CTD probe then measures the spreading out of electricity between two electrodes to determine how much salty is the water.
At the end of the procedure, the collected data will feed the huge tables for calculating the world’s climate forecasting.

For this day of testing, we shall limit ourselves to a depth of 400 meters to make sure that everything works. The probe is lowered using Tara’s winch, ballasted down with heavy weights.

Day 3
The large metal coconut tree

I’ve climbed on top of Tara’s mast!
Forgive me, my enthusiastic scientist and valiant sailor colleagues, but this page of the logbook will be devoted to us, the journalists of the seven seas!
Christopher Castagne, the expedition’s camera operator preceded me in climbing to the crow’s nest. Without hesitation and properly harnessed, he climbed up the mast to shoot the boat from above.

Seeing Christophe come down with a light pink and cool countenance, I immediately asked skipper Hervé if I could imitate him. He smiled. The others instead laughed outright when I put on my deck trousers and my watch jacket… well yes, it will be cold up there!
I started my climb, secured through a harness connected to Samuel, the skipper’s mate. He made it clear that he was not there to pull me up, but only for safety issues,…
Tara’s mast is equipped with aluminium rungs spaced at a distance of a man’s arms and legs, not for a 1.60-meter tall girl. I had to cling to anything that came under the foot or under the hand: spreader, radar, satellite antenna dish… Hervé Le Goff almost ate his whiskers.

The wind blows at 18 knots. Above all, do not look down, do not slow down either, or you will weaken. Instead, I look up, persuaded to have reached the top, but I am only half-way up this cursed crow’s nest. The boat lurches over the waves and I am being shaken on my big coconut tree. (I must remember to wait several months before telling this experience to my mother…)

Finally, here I am at a height of 24 meters. I secure a first buttock on the plank of the crow’s nest. I secure the second one too! I lift myself through the bars of the cage and I finally dare have a look under my feet. I am a bit dazzled by the white belly of the whale and its sails, which contrasts with the dark blue of the sea. I take out my camera with extreme care and I frame almost anything with the only concern not to let it fall 20 meters below. Phew! I crouch in my watch to catch my breath. I retry a volley of shots, somewhat steadier, this time.
No need to wait for the wind to strengthen up. “Sam, let me down!”

Sacha Bollet

Day 2 sampling

Day 2

Gaby Gorsky, an oceanographer at Villefranche, is in a very good shape; this morning: “we’ll do things of an overwhelming beauty, and it is for the good of mankind.”
What is exiting with enthusiasm so much Gaby Gorsky, our Czech scientist coordinator, is the CTD probe test. This device, which looks like two pipes in a metal frame with a sensor like a big round eye, measures the water temperature, its depth, and its conductivity.

Why conductivity? Well, I spoke to you yesterday about salinity, a key parameter in climatology… Today we shall climb another notch in the complexity of the explanation!
We know that the conductivity of fresh water is very poor, and that the more water is salty, the more it is conductive. The CTD probe then measures the spreading out of electricity between two electrodes to determine how much salty is the water.
At the end of the procedure, the collected data will feed the huge tables for calculating the world’s climate forecasting.

For this day of testing, we shall limit ourselves to a depth of 400 meters to make sure that everything works. The probe is lowered using Tara’s winch, ballasted down with heavy weights.

Day 3
The large metal coconut tree

I’ve climbed on top of Tara’s mast!
Forgive me, my enthusiastic scientist and valiant sailor colleagues, but this page of the logbook will be devoted to us, the journalists of the seven seas!
Christopher Castagne, the expedition’s camera operator preceded me in climbing to the crow’s nest. Without hesitation and properly harnessed, he climbed up the mast to shoot the boat from above.

Seeing Christophe come down with a light pink and cool countenance, I immediately asked skipper Hervé if I could imitate him. He smiled. The others instead laughed outright when I put on my deck trousers and my watch jacket… well yes, it will be cold up there!
I started my climb, secured through a harness connected to Samuel, the skipper’s mate. He made it clear that he was not there to pull me up, but only for safety issues,…
Tara’s mast is equipped with aluminium rungs spaced at a distance of a man’s arms and legs, not for a 1.60-meter tall girl. I had to cling to anything that came under the foot or under the hand: spreader, radar, satellite antenna dish… Hervé Le Goff almost ate his whiskers.

The wind blows at 18 knots. Above all, do not look down, do not slow down either, or you will weaken. Instead, I look up, persuaded to have reached the top, but I am only half-way up this cursed crow’s nest. The boat lurches over the waves and I am being shaken on my big coconut tree. (I must remember to wait several months before telling this experience to my mother…)

Finally, here I am at a height of 24 meters. I secure a first buttock on the plank of the crow’s nest. I secure the second one too! I lift myself through the bars of the cage and I finally dare have a look under my feet. I am a bit dazzled by the white belly of the whale and its sails, which contrasts with the dark blue of the sea. I take out my camera with extreme care and I frame almost anything with the only concern not to let it fall 20 meters below. Phew! I crouch in my watch to catch my breath. I retry a volley of shots, somewhat steadier, this time.
No need to wait for the wind to strengthen up. “Sam, let me down!”

Sacha Bollet

Day 1: Stories of satellites

Day 1: Stories of satellites
Our first awakening at sea!

For some of us the night was fragmented, because the monitoring quarter shift system began. For others, the night was a good occasion for becoming seaworthy, to settle their body on Tara’s rolling.
This morning we are in the middle of the Gulf of Biscay and the weather is fine. As soon as our oceanographer engineer Hervé Le Goff wakes up, without even taking time for breakfast, he carries out the launching of a drifter surface buoy.
Specifically, it looks like a 50-centimetre diameter black ball. It is topped by an antenna, which allows it to transmit data to the Argos satellites network (which relay them to the scientists). Underneath, there hangs a sort of fabric parachute. It is the floating anchor, which slows down the buoy’s drift to keep it as long as possible at sea and prevents it to run aground too quickly on the shores.

Hervé tells me “the buoy has a battery with two years autonomy, but the problem in such a heavily fishing area is that our buoys often end up being caught in the trawls within months.” He originally planned to drop it at sea at 5 o’clock in the morning, but by checking the radar, Tara was surrounded by fishing trawlers. “Hervé (the Skipper) called his fishing buddies to ask them about their position and we finally decided to wait 3 hours to drop it a little further along.”

This buoy makes part of the calibration system of another satellite, SMOS (Salinity Moisture Ocean Soil), soon to be launched around the earth. This newcomer will be (in particular) able to know the salinity of the sea surface. For this purpose, the satellite observes the colour of the water, the brightness, the radiation… it is therefore necessary to give it indications of what those optical observations correspond to.
This type of drifter buoys act to continuously record temperature, salinity, atmospheric pressure, so that the satellite recovers the data.
Nevertheless, and apart our buoy, what is the use of knowing the marine salinity?

The salinity and the temperature of water masses change over time and space (for example, the Mediterranean is saltier than the Atlantic…). These variations explain the circulation of the oceans of the world, that is to say, the sea currents. These very currents determine the global climate. The data collected by SMOS will finally be incorporated in the climate forecasting large models.
Sacha Bollet


D Day

On the horizon, dozens of boats at the harbour entrance in our wake! Thousands of spectators were watching us from the quays, the dykes, and the beaches! We were given one last goodbye by all those hands waving and all those foghorns roaring to us!

I almost want to pinch myself to make sure that I am on Tara’s deck. It is amazing, after weeks and months of waiting for some of us, we are finally leaving. Tara has ceased to be that houseboat, that place of work attached to a pontoon, to become once again a sailboat, with a deck that sways and its sails growing under the thrust of the wind.

On board we try to capture in our minds every minute of this extraordinary convoy. The smiles of our families on the accompanying shuttle, the handshakes of our mates who will come aboard later, the banners of encouragement prepared by those who came to see this mythic aluminium boat plunge once again into new adventures.

The parade of ships accompanies us to the island of Groix. The SNSM launch then gently clings to our side. We gather, standing solemnly for the blessing of the boat. Whether one is religious or not, it is a beautiful moment. All holy comforts are important for the traveller who starts on a long journey around the world.

Suddenly comes the moment when we are all alone onboard. Fifteen small humans on this huge metal “mammal”. I am surprised to feel a form of relief, of satisfaction: after all the festivities, the rejoicing, it is now that the travelling and the scientific work begin.

Sacha Bollet

TARA OCEANS, a unique expedition

A unique expedition

On 5 September 2009, at noon, the Tara boat has departed from Lorient for a three-year expedition on all the world’s oceans.

The oceans produce half the oxygen that we breathe. If the forests are the planet’s first lung, the oceans constitute the second lung. These plankton and other microorganism prairies constitute, by their photosynthetic activity, a huge oxygen pump. Moreover, these sea organisms are also an important well of carbon dioxide. For these reasons, our future depends on the safeguard of the oceans.

Unfortunately, this complex ecosystem remains one of the least explored fields of oceanography. This invisible world is one of the lesser known by man while the wealth of its biodiversity is considerable.

At present, the sea life is threatened by the major ecological upheavals that we know, climatic warming, and pollution. Will marine ecosystems survive these upheavals? Are we heading towards a transformation of the oceanic life?
Faced with the need to act now, world-renowned international scientists, led by Eric Karsenti, the Unit Manager at EMBL, have joined arms to help the team of the Tara Funds and its President Etienne Bourgois.

Tara Oceans is an exceptional expedition that will cross the seas of the globe. The urgency of the situation, the scope, and characteristics of this expedition will make an extraordinary journey around our blue planet to understand its origins, the present and preserve its future.

From the tropical coral atolls to Antarctica, from the isthmuses of the Middle East to the Northwest Passage, such a study of the globe’s marine environment with today’s technologies has never been accomplished. Tara will thus perpetuate the pioneering spirit of the great explorations.

Tara Oceans’ programme brings together a unique international and multidisciplinary scientific team. More than 12 research fields will involve oceanographers, biologists, geneticists, and physicists, from the most prestigious laboratories.

Just as for its previous expeditions, Tara Oceans will cover a major program of promoting awareness and education.

On 4 and 5 September 2009, Lorient is celebrating Tara’s departure with a festival. The festivities will take place on the outdoor exhibition space of the Eric Tabarly “Cité de la Voile��? (see below)



Only two days left to complete the remaining work on Tara. Today, I turned my attention on the men in blue overalls, those that attack the boat early in the morning, scatter on deck, and leave at the end of the day. They are hired by a Lorient shipyard company (Timolor) and their skills are indispensable on an almost complete aluminium boat, such as Tara.
They are welders, coppersmiths, and pipefitters who have contributed into bearing the boat and renovate it gradually. Samuel Buissneau remembers when work started on the shipyard site, 6 months ago: “The people on board removed all the timberwork and insulation and we were probing the thickness of the metal fuel tanks. Jerome Lebobinnec goes on: “on a 20-year boat such as Tara there is a natural wear due to electrolysis. In some places the sheet only measured 2 mm instead of 6!”

On Tara, work has been particularly hard. “We worked through conduits under the deck-board that were 60 centimetres high!” The men in blue overalls had to go down into the fuel tanks. An operation that can be dangerous and requires “degassing”, that is to say, to empty and air out the tanks to remove the highly toxic fumes.
“Then, we cut out the parts that were too damaged and we substituted them,” explains Samuel. They have applied a variety of aluminium patches by welding them. “On the main tank, which measures 7,000 litres, we applied more than 17 inserts, from the toilet to the forward hold. “It is a pleasure to work off on Tara”, concludes Jerome, “without that atmosphere, it could have degenerated! Hervé, the skipper understood well the difficulty of our task – adds Samuel – “he gave us his support, instead of pressing us.”
This evening, the crew organises a big aperitif party in their honour in front of the pontoon at the foot of the boat. A small casual reception: not more than 50 people.

“We can say that it was very hard, but when Tara will leave we will shed a little tear… 6 months’ work in a year certainly means something!” Bruno Ledoeuff approaches us “as Hervé said, we are a bit the second crew of the boat. As far as I’m concerned, there will come a day when I shall leave with the boat!”


What is brewing up on Tara?

A young spider weaves its web in the mast tower… a dome shaped metal structure hat stands up straight on the pontoon… a procession of trucks that invests the “Cité de la Voile”…
One might think that an amazing sea circus is being set up!

Tara is at the centre of everyone’s attention. Curious onlookers, journalists, camera operators capture the image of the boat under every corner.
Onboard, we try to remain impassive and to complete the final work of cleaning. To remove useless materials, arrange the hoses, pipes, oil drums piled in the aft hold, stock taking of the foodstuff… Despite focusing on our tasks we must admit that the excitement gradually overwhelms us. At noon, we only speak of the great festival being built up under our eyes. Another crew comes by to greet us briefly: it is the crew of Thalassa and Captain Pernoud. They will open the ball tomorrow night.

Do you want some entertainment? Well, here’s a little preview: this afternoon we moved the boat from one side of the pontoon to the other side… a simple manoeuvre that immediately takes a lot of style with Tara.
All hands on deck! Release the fore mooring lines! Pull on those in the aft! Transferring huge fender buoys!

At the time I am writing, the excitement begins to slow down on deck and onboard. Before the festivities, the departure, the joy, the emotion… we take one last breath of peace among us in the quiet of the boat’s lounge.

Sacha Bollet


J- 3
The floor to the Lorient people

At three days from departure, I take leave from the boat for a little trip downtown Lorient. The idea is to know what people think of our boat and our future expedition.
First stop: the La Base restaurant, which contemplates Tara from the “Cité de la Voile��? quay. Nicolas, the bartender, does not know much about the scientific goal of the expedition, “but all my colleagues told me that it is super interesting…”

Heading towards Place Alsace-Lorraine where the Lorient crowd flocks in this late sunny afternoon. Adeline and Laurent, aged 24 and 23, enjoy a cup of coffee on the terrace. “Tara does not look like any other sailboat. It stands out in the roadstead.”
In another corner of the square, septuagenarian Jeannine also enjoys the good weather. She is only sorry that the boat “cannot be visited. Otherwise it is really important to worry about nature like that… well, at least not for us, we are old now, but for you… tomorrow!”
Skin-tight jeans and long lock, the new generation is somewhat slow to become aware of the climatic urgency. Amaury, aged 15, remembers only about “a girl who came to talk about it at my school. Tara was an expedition on the icepack.” Floriane, at the end of the bench on which they all sit, suddenly stands up: “I am volunteering to go with them around the world!”

Finally, a short tour around rue Lanveur. Dr. Farel casts an appreciating eye on the boat’s course: “not bad your circumnavigation journey! All these big boats made us dream, we the now elderly members of the nineteen sixty-eight protest movement. There is a whole myth of the sea. For your generation there are fewer opportunities for dreaming. So, it’s a good thing that there are such human adventures as Tara, without competition.”

One thing is for sure: the Lorient people are devoted to the boat and are familiar with it. It is now almost 4 years since Tara has established its base camp in this Brittany Morbihan city, in particular thanks to the will of Norbert Métairie, Mayor of Lorient and President of the Cap l’Orient agglomeration. In recent years, all the schooner’ important work was carried out with the competence of local companies. The choice of Lorient as connection harbour was strategic: in a 50 km radius there are 70% of the Breton nautical companies: deck gear fittings, sail making, electronics, rigging, masts, safety… all at the service of the Pôle Course au Large, a race of European standing which takes place off Lorient.

It is a strategic choice but also an emotional choice. By sharing with the inhabitants of the town, and especially with the schoolchildren, its scientific and human adventures in the service of protecting the environment, Tara has taken the heart of the Lorient people.



The mystery of “alicotage��?
I had promised you the return of scientists aboard Tara.

To answer my questions about their schedule for the day… they explained to me of having applied “alicotage��?. What could this “alicotage��? mean??!
First reflex: check Internet. Here, either my search engine is outright zero, or scientists have spent the day making mashed potatoes with garlic, an Aubrac specialty.
Second method: to question the crew…, without any better success. The white Burgundy Aligoté, well, yes, that one!… everyone knows it, but, as far as “alicotage” that’s where the greatest of mysteries lingers.

The answer was finally given to me by Fabrice Not, a researcher in marine biology at Roscoff. “Alicotage��? is to distribute chemical products in small quantities to avoid having to handle large cans. Formaldehyde and fixatives were brought onboard to preserve the plankton that we will harvest without altering their structure. Our outstanding scientists have therefore poured these liquids into smaller containers to prepare their experiments.

By the way, I would like to make amends. Yesterday, I have more or less qualified the laboratories as untidy. To say the truth, they organise themselves very quickly. In the wet lab, for example, the left wall is dedicated to toxic chemical products. Opposite the entrance, there are the molecular biology and genetic analysis instruments. On the right: microscopy and chemistry.

A new precision by Fabrice Not, my expert of the day: “we do not carry out all these specific tests onboard! It concerns preparing appropriate samples so that they may be used according to these specialties.��?

After being collected, filtered and conditioned in small test samples, these precious samples will be stored in the boat’s bow, some in the freezer, some in the refrigerator or even at room temperature.

A VERSATILE LIEUTENANT. (Working at the bridge and the machine). Responsible for the safety equipment and the pharmacy).

Her head is stuffed in the closet of the infirmary. A headlamp screwed on her forehead, a notebook in hand to detail the medical marvels that she could unearth. Nevertheless, as soon as she starts talking, Mathilde cannot work any longer. She is entirely taken by her story.
“You’re not obliged to tell about it, but basically I saw an article on the Fleur de Lampaul when I was about 12. It made me dream of navigating around the world with other children and discover sailing, cetaceans, unfamiliar cultures… I prepared my file 3 times but my parents were not at all sure whether it was a good idea…”

An only girl among 5 brothers, stubborn Mathilde therefore waited to pass her end of secondary school diploma exams to join the Ecole de la Marine Marchande (Merchant Navy School) in Marseille. She sailed for some time on such classical ships as ferries, container carriers, and “log trucks” that carry cereals and sugar to Africa and return to Europe filled up with timber logs. On the latter, she was lucky to see the last vestiges of the traditional French Merchant Navy. “We still stopped for long harbour calls��?.

In 2007, Mathilde embarks on a decisive adventure. She becomes second mate on the bridge and at the machine on Bel Espoir and Rara Avis. These are the sailboats on which for more than fifty years father Jaouen tries to disclose to young men and women in difficulty the secrets of the sails and give them back the taste of life.
“Drug-addicts, alcoholics, simple passengers… what’s good is that you do not know the past of everyone arriving onboard. Despite everything, we soon come to understand. Nevertheless, even those who have no serious problems, and who come aboard just for the trip, always have something to settle in their minds. It was extremely interesting.��?

Mathilde blushes slightly by leaving herself to be overcome by enthusiasm. In 2008, she leaves her position to new young sailors. “I wish everyone a ride like that!” Canaries, Cape Verde, Carib, Canada… She met several people who have sailed on Tara. Their stories make her dream; she thought at first that the boat was “inaccessible. I did not even know where to apply!”

During the boat’s call in Paris, she finally managed to put a steady foot onboard and virtually never disembarked since.
Mathilde has finished her story. She turns on her headlamp and plunges into the darkness of the infirmary closet.

Mathilde’s time onboard, “On the boat, you start many things simultaneously, which overlap and progressively become more and more difficult to solve. I love when they start being solved and you can see the shipyard progressing. Even if you have slaved for a long time, you are super happy and you know that soon you’ll be able to move on to something else.”

To live onboard with Mathilde: “I feel great when everyone participates a little bit on everything. Housework is also important.��? On Tara, in addition to one’s professional work, a task is assigned to each one every day. The lunch dishwashing and that of the evening, carrying out the housework services, a good sweep by vacuum cleaning or cleaning the bathrooms and toilets: everyone gives a hand to the general cleaning.

You will follow Mathilde’s adventures up to: Barcelona or Nice


J – 5

It is Sunday, so the only work to do is putting in order. wiring, repairing, stacking, connecting, degreasing, unblocking, loading, cleaning, sorting out, sweeping, painting, washing, varnishing, bolting, screwing, etc., nothing at all!!!

Just one week before departure, every single day is precious. The dry and wet labs for the moment look like queer crammed closets full of equipment.

Green beans, corn, spaghetti, vegetable stew, peach syrup, etc. Marion, our cook makes sustainable provisions by stacking the cans under our beds like a Tetris food market.

To follow on Monday: the return of the scientists onboard

Hervé the Skipper, today is absent, Samuel, prickly beard and blue eyes, calmly dispatches the tasks of the day. He came back to Tara 2 months and a half ago, in the shipyard site while the boat was being reconditioned. Onboard, everyone is fully aware of the short time left before departure, and no one balks at the task. Samuel therefore does not seem to play the role of a leader but rather that of unifying and organizing the crew.

Samuel can work at the bridge just like at the machine, in rigging and even in scuba diving. His first steps into the world of expeditions date back to 2004 in the eastern Pacific with Clipperton, the biodiversity mission-inventory. Consequently, Samuel holds a sailing licence and the sailing master 200 status.
This is when he heard about Tara and joined the boat on the following year for a first expedition to Georgia. It is at this time that he obtains the professional scuba diver’s diploma.

A new year, a new expedition and a new qualification: Samuel joins Tara in the drifting project on the icepack by previously taking time to train on the machine (750kW mechanic) and becomes second mate and later chief engineer.

For Tara Oceans, this time Samuel is one of the members of the crew who know best the boat. He becomes enthusiastic about the scientific goals of this world tour: “It is a little known universe! There is a huge life in the sea for which we have an equally huge responsibility!”
He pushes the versatility to the extent of replacing, between two adventures, his parents who produce near Nantes the goat cheese that we so much enjoy onboard.
“Of course I don’t have a very classical path, but what pleases me is to learn something different every time!”

Samuel’s best time: His scuba dives under the Arctic ice are among the most fascinating souvenirs he brought back from his wanderings. “We were about to inspect the boat’s hull. There is a staggering contrast between the white world’s surface, the black of the depths and the play of light, which by crossing through the ice makes architecture full of colours. In addition, we wear real cosmonauts’ space suits to dive down there!”

To live with Samuel onboard: “There are tremendous forces exerted in the rigging of Tara’s sailing. We, the sailors, are accustomed to work with gloves, safety shoes, etc., but for everything to turn out well we cannot try to help without knowing what to do exactly. We must find a harmony in all this!”

You will follow Samuel’s adventures up to: Naples.

Tara at Groix Festival

Tara at the Groix festival

Under the sound of the unfolding anchor chain, Tara lets go her anchor at some short distance from Port Lay on the north coast of Groix Isle, which was for many years the refuge and rigging harbour for tuna sailboats. Some yellowed by time postcards relate the history of those times when it was possible to cross the harbour by stepping from one boat to another. This is where the Groix insular film festival used to be held, whereby through films, discussions embellished with music coming from all the islands in the world, topics on the islands were addressed.

Outside expedition periods, Tara remains a regular customer of this appointment and before starting in its new adventure it was a pleasure to go say “hello��? to our Groix resident friends. For the occasion, a tight rope acrobatic number was carried out by Matthew from the Fratellini circus school. He made several trips on the so-called Moroccan cable connecting the two masts. He went through this style exercise while moored at the Eric Tabarly “Cité de la Voile��? to reduce the movement of the boat, shoot, and project the images on the opening night of the festival.

Despite these moments of relaxation, the work for assembling and testing of the scientific equipment is in full swing. The wet lab on the deck is being completed with various pumps and filters, making this part of the boat even more futuristic.

Next week will also be loaded with work since the first two days will be spent on meetings, which will allow coordinating, but also meeting many of the scientists who will participate in the expedition. We will also make one last point with the crew to define the navigation protocols of this 3-year mission.

We are currently in the loading phase, and already are looming up the problems of available space on board for storage. In despite of the schooner’s 36 meters of length and 10 meters of width and its volumes, we will use every available space for the spare parts equipment both for science and for the smooth running of the boat as well as the one-month supply of provisions of foodstuff for 15 people onboard.
Time passes quickly and we look forward by counting the days that separate us from the start, in a fortnight from now…

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s skipper

Setting into operation of the first measuring devices

Setting into operation of the first measuring devices

At the side of the prestigious Pen Duick fleet, Tara, moored at the Eric Tabarly Cité de la voile pontoon continues its preparation under the watchful eyes of interested visitors. They are often surprised to see on the aft of the boat the wet laboratory modifying somewhat the shape and futuristic aesthetics of the polar schooner.

This week has been for us an important moment because it was the first positioning of the scientific equipment for continuous data taking. Installed in the dry laboratory inside, it was positioned and tested. Sacha, the Italian scientist specialised in the study of plankton and Hervé Legoff of CNRS adjusted the precision of the devices and therefore of the data during the sea outings. The positioned devices will be used to study the fluorescence of plankton and to take the characteristics of density, temperature, and salinity of sea water throughout Tara’s journey. 

Colomban de Vargas of the Roscoff laboratory (CNRS) and his team began fitting the filtration laboratory located on the bridge and have tested the large peristaltic pump which will pump water from a depth of 10 meters. This water will then be filtered in sieves smaller and smaller to take samples which will be stored in the -80 ° C freezer and then shipped to laboratories around the world and this at every port of call.
After 3 weeks from departure, there is a lot of activity on board. Welders from Timolor Company are completing the positioning and work in synergy with the scientific teams for the last modifications that can now be brought about after the tests during the sea outings. The difference in the type of trades and professions which combine on board, represents really the diversity which characterises Tara.

Next week we will continue with the installation of EMBL’s European laboratory. The time of departure is approaching fastly and everything is carried out to ensure that Tara leaves on 5 September its port of registry for many months under the best conditions.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s skipper


First trials at sea

First trials at sea

Like a mirror, the water of the Keroman fishing port reflects the image of Tara. Fate has moored us to the “Pourquoi pas?��? wharf, named after the great polar exploration ship of the early 20th century under Charcot’s command, a forerunner in the uncovering and understanding of the extreme regions of our planet.

For the moment, precedence is given to starting up the propulsion engines as well as the generators. Simultaneously, the safety equipment, duly overhauled, is relocated where it belongs. The new sails are battened and installed. Due to the last modifications, the welders work to the end in order to put the finishing touches to the welds on the deck so that we can paint it. The colour selection for this task is crucial. If it were to be too white, it would be too aggressive under the sunshine. To ensure a non-slip surface, it is mixed with sand, which makes manoeuvring operations on the deck safer.

This weekend, and after completing tests on the engines new cooling system, the time has come to carry out the first trial in the Lorient fairway, the weather conditions preventing us from going further in the roadstead. Escorted by the linesmen’s vessel as support in the event of a mechanical failure, we have been able to test the propulsion engines, and therefore confirm their reliability. The following day, as they travelled from Germany, we welcomed the EMBL scientists. On this occasion, they brought with them more equipment, which will supplement that already fitted on board, and we are soon expecting the scientists representing the other national and international laboratories.  

Next week, trials will involve the rigging, which has also been checked, some components having been changed. These outings will also give us the opportunity to train the new crew members to work the boat in sailing conditions. After this week of tests at sea, we will return to the Eric Tabarly “Cité de la Voile��? wharf in order to partake in the Figaro race nautical event, and organise visits on board open to the public during the weekend.

Gradually, we are being reacquainted with our life as seamen, the boat becoming again the living area we well know. Belongings are returned to their appropriate location within the entrails of the whale, which is brightened up by this surge of energy generated by the soon-to-come departure.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara skipper

And Tara returns to its element…

And Tara returns to its element…

After 4 months on dry land, the 120 tons of Tara were lifted last Tuesday by the travel hoist of the Keroman technical area for the short journey to the launching dock. These operations, after a long technical break, are always very emotional as well as tense moments for the crew, and equally for the metalworkers who have intervened on the hull.

The reason for this is that, despite the chilling carried out after each welding under the water line, the risk of a leak cannot be totally ruled out. This means that the boat remains in its straps for some time, while a thorough inspection of the hull is carried out from one end of the boat to the other.
Last year, a faulty welding forced us to lift her up back on the careening area for repairs. This time however, and after a few hours in the straps, the happy faces of Laurent Riou, the Timolor head works supervisor, and of Jackie, Sam and Bruno, enthusiastic welders, speak for themselves. And despite the intricacy of some of the welding operations, there is no leak.
On board, what a thrill to see the boat afloat again after all the time spent surrounded by dust and noise. We are thoroughly delighted to again have our meals and sleep on board. Another page has been turned, and the main objective is now the trials at sea, which will start in a few days. Tara will be sailing again, but there are many details still requiring the finishing touches. For instance, refilling the cooling circuits requires that the appropriate adjustments are found.
Therefore, our first “journey��? is limited to berthing a few yards away from the launching dock, in order to complete the restart of the main engines and of the generators. With help from the inflatable raft attached to the classic Fleur de Lampaul sailing boat, and from the submarine base harbour master’s office, the grey hull is slowly pushed towards the quayside where it is moored.
Now therefore, the priority is to fit out the boat to carry out the first tests, and to validate the work undertaken with the scientists. Within one week, the first scientific equipment delivered by the EMBL European laboratory will be fitted, as well as the -80ºC freezer in which the samples used for the database will be kept.
The sails, resembling white wings, are now in their place, and the engines are also ready for operation. On board, the complete crew is working harder than ever to meet the requirements of the last stage of the preparations before the expedition gets on its way as scheduled on September 4th…

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara skipper

D-15 before the launch

D – 15 before the launch

The launch of Tara is scheduled for July 6th. Many details still remain to be checked over fifteen days. Gradually, the fixtures fill the empty spaces freed by the dismantling required for the complete refurbishment of the boat, hence bringing it back to life. Last week’s milestone was the installation of the rear generator set dedicated to the operation of the oceanographic winch, but also to the electricity supply on board.

There is now really a feel of adventure around Tara with, among others, the fitting on the starboard of the boat, of a large seawater collecting pump designed for filtration for science purposes. A damp laboratory has also been installed on the aft deck; it will be used to filter, analyse the unicellular sea-world of the oceans. Fairly bulky, it affects, for the right reasons, the elegant profile of the polar schooner.
The team is working relentlessly to put back in place the elements of this giant jigsaw. The welders are finalising their operations on the hull. Priority is given to the submerged part of the hull and to the interior refitting, in order to allow us to return to life on board once it is back on the water after 4 long months of work.

An important press conference, as well as a coordination meeting of the project managers of the various laboratories, were held in Paris last week. In addition to the official announcement to the public of the expedition, these meetings have enabled the Tara Oceans team to sort out the last adjustments for the installation of the scientific equipment on board. The schedule of the various outings at sea has been set, and they will allow us to train and refine the setup of the equipment as well as of the boat. The whole crew is impatient to be at sea, and to witness the outcome of hundreds of hours of work by a team motivated by this exceptional project.

Hervé Bourmaud, Captain of Tara

The boat is 20 years

A token by Michel Franco, engineer-designer of Antarctica in 1988

” Antarctica, a far-reaching programme: it was in my head since my first navigation in the Antarctic in 1983 on Graham: a 12 m steel sloop sailing ship designed to go to Greenland in summer and which we had modified to guarantee our autonomy and our safety in the ice. At that time we (meaning Philippe Cardis, Christian de Marliave, Luc Fréjacques, Henri Rossier, and Olivier Carré) knew nothing about polar navigations. All we had to do was just go and find out. Our knowledge on this subject was limited on books, in particular on Jérôme Poncet’s wonderful voyages, first with Janichon (10 m in pressed wood) and then with Sally (winter lay-up in Marguerite bay on her famous Damien) and the English nautical instructions: the Antarctic Pilot.

We found ourselves stuck in the Cristal Sound pack in the Antarctic Peninsula during an attempt to surpass the Gullet. The wind had shifted and the floes were pressing against the shore and beginning to corner us. We managed to disentangle ourselves by a thread.
This is when I thought that a hull in the shape of an olive nut would be a modern and subtle defence to escape the ice pressure.

The things unchained as by magic. From this expedition we brought back a film (Pourquoi pas Graham, A2, which obtained the special jury’s award at La Plagne festival and a book, Terre de Graham, Arthur 1984) which got the Académie de Marine award. Not bad for mountaineers!

On the following year, I met Jean-Louis Etienne at Chamonix at common friends. One year later (spring1986) he was asking me to help him with his lonesome march to the North Pole.

In summer 1986, on departure of the BOC Challenge there was a whole team of friends to help Titouan Lamazou in his preparations for his single-handed race around the world. On departure we had hired the Jonque Elf junk (La Dame de Canton).
On board, there was Jean-Louis Etienne, and also naval architects, Luc Bouvet and Olivier Petit. After departure, we spent the evening gulping down a drink too many and I remember having jotted down the first sketches of the planking of the future Antarctica, under the amused eyes of the sailors.
In 1987, we (meaning Christian de Marliave, Jean-Louis Etienne and Bernard Prud’homme) were rallying the Magnetic North Pole with 16 adolescents.
During summer 1987, Jean-Louis Etienne told me that he had an ambitious project and that he would need me. I therefore left to reload my batteries in the Algerian Sahara with Christian de Marliave for 2 months. On my return, Jean-Louis Etienne told me about his project for crossing the Antarctic using dog sleigh with Will Steger. It was natural that the Polar Sailing Ship was part of the project: I can still remember Jean-Louis telling me: “OK, you deal with the boat.” Which was done.

A long time later, I can also remember having read on the log-book bequeathed by Sir Peter Blake, that it had been in the neighbourhood of a cyclone and that it had not escaped but that it had gone right into it and found the Seamaster’s incredible behaviour under heavy stormy weather.

I remained on board of the construction until the end of the first navigation in the Antarctic! (16 months).

On board and before leaving for the trip around the world, I met Jean Collet, Gildas Flahault, and Thierry Braud, among others… all people of value that I still see to this day. “

No break…

No break …

A smell of freshly cut wood flooded the library and the communications room. In the clanging noise of saws Baptiste and Stéphane are cutting the wooden planks that will be used for the fittings. It is a long and meticulous carpentry work giving a soul to these parts of the ship.

In all the holds of Tara, the crew is working hard to reassemble the different circuits and other installations. Plunged into the bowels of the vessel to lay cables and hoses, everyone learns more about the specifics of this out of the ordinary ship. We know that time is short to accomplish Tara’s start up. In fact, during summer it must carry out trials off Lorient to implement and test the on board scientific equipment as well as the protocols. But the team’s energy and enthusiasm are instrumental in the creation of this site with a style of challenge.

For obvious reasons due to the electricity consumption of the scientific equipment and that specific to the ship, electricity is an important point. To help us out in this work, Herve Legoff, on assignment by CNRS, who has already spent on board part of wintering on the Arctic Ocean, will help us to create the electricity needs required by the different sensors and devices dedicated to science. Everything is carefully studied and the information, analysed and then implemented, is springing out from all sides. Everything is built in an effort not only of accuracy but above all of efficiency.

Moreover, last week there was an opportunity to meet BTS (Vocational Training Certificate) students who came for their final course project which involved the installation of solar panels and wind power system on board Tara. For two days, they were able to take measurements on the production of electric power on board with renewable energies.

Another visit was very welcome. In fact, Grant Redvers, Tara Arctic’s expedition leader, while travelling through France on the occasion of the release of his book on the Arctic expedition, came to visit us at the Lorient shipyard. And finally, during this very busy week, we can report with pleasure the setting up of the “Tara à Lorient��? exhibition in the Cité de la voile “Eric Tabarly��? site.

Next weekend, the “whale” will celebrate its 20 years, although it does not look it, and in a few weeks Tara is to resume its journey after a really thorough refurbishment.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s skipper


Tara changes places

Tara changes places

On Monday morning, the lifting crane of the fishing port comes to hoist Tara’s 110 tons, to place itself, after a knowledgeable manoeuvre, in front of the “cathedral” just around the corner from the Timolor shipyards. The ship is keel-laid on the tins keels down by the crane operators of the technical area. Tara is positioned lower than previously, and in order to secure its stability, four pillars are placed on each side of the ship.

Tara seems tiny compared to the unbelievable volumes of the vessel known as “the cathedral”. A heritage of French shipbuilding bygone times, this vessel has seen the construction of many ships. Inside, on bulkheads marked with history, the names of the units constructed within these bulkheads are written in letters eroded by time.
Once the ship is keel-laid, the work continues on board. After the end of welding in some parts of the ship, it is time to reassemble the fittings and electrical installations, and also the generators. This is not the easiest part because it is often necessary to readapt and modify. At the same time, with the sunny days of June, we begin preparing the exterior paints and those of the deck. Particular attention will be for the deck with a good slip resistant paint made up with a mixture of paint and graded sand.

In the interior too, the work is proceeding well. In the library, the deck floor was redone and the communications room will be refurbished. While sailing, this part of the ship is a focal point for the running of the ship because it is not only the place for communications with the world, but also the centralization point of scientific data. New facilities will allow teams of journalists and cameramen to set up on board subjects to be sent for distribution. To keep this room, where a lot of informatics equipment is located, at a proper temperature, a system of forced air will be installed.

Gradually, Tara takes its style of expedition sailing ship. Just as in the previous 3 shipyards, a race against time has just started to be ready for the tests in mid July.
Daniel and Jean-Luc are very familiar with this kind of challenge since many a time they have worked to implement the tasks of welders and metalworkers of Timolor Company on board Tara during its technical stops. For them, this will be the last shipyard because after more than thirty years of service in the shipbuilding industry, it is now time for retirement. Many thanks to them for the work they have carried out on board. Despite the sometimes difficult conditions, their kindness and their smiles were always present.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s skipper.

An insulation matter…

An insulation matter…

As a polar ship, Tara is soundly insulated.
Designed to resist the powerful pressure of ice and extreme cold temperatures, particular consideration was given while she was being built to the insulation of the deck and planking. The insulating material under the deck is some 60 cm thick (2 ft.). The insulation of the planking is just an example of what had to be implemented in order to compensate for the polar temperatures.

However, and after twenty years of fair and trustworthy service, some areas were slightly damaged, in particular in the workshop, the engine room and the library, leading to insulation weakness.
Breizh Insulation, a company specialising in the installation of such materials, took on the task of fitting new insulation. The former insulation had initially to be removed, a long and tedious job because the workers were challenged by the impossibility to remove some of the fitments, as well as by the wiring in some areas of the ship.
Then, the large insulation sheets had to be previously cut out in the company’s premises before being fitted on board, and finally the finishing touches had to be put to the joints as well as thin aluminium sheet reinforcement in some areas of the workshop.
In the latter part of the ship, very substantial insulation was fitted in order to maintain appropriate temperature. As for the engine room, a major constraint had to be complied with: the sound insulation of the main engines area to prevent excessive noise in the wardroom when, due to lack of wind, the ship must sail under motor power. This sound insulation is made of lead sheets, which absorb the noise, pressed between two layers of thermal insulating material. Similarly, the refurbishment of the daily tank, which is located under the library, has enabled us to improve the sound-proofing of that area from the engine room.
The heat insulation of the exhausts, damaged by the high temperatures it has to withstand, was also replaced. This as well will reduce the heat dissipation in the fittings.
One of the major challenges we will have to face during the first year of the expedition will be, this time, to fight the environmental temperature because we will be travelling through the warmest areas of the Gulf with, among others, sailing in the Red Sea (water temperature 30ºC-86ºF / air 50ºC-122ºF). therefore, we will have to find ways of keeping a decent temperature inside the ship, and especially with the large number of heat-sensitive elements of scientific equipment. For these, several means will be implemented to improve air circulation inside the ship, thus reducing the greenhouse effect resulting from the large Plexiglas panels of the wardroom, by fitting, for example, insulating awnings. Also planned is the fitting of removable vents made of fabric, manufactured by “Dé à coudre��?, the Integration Support through Work Association in Lorient.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara captain

Industry style

Life at the shipyard…

When a boat is in dry-dock for careening purposes, the pace of our lives as seamen changes. Used to the world of departures, harbours, to the noise of the water against the hull and of the wind surfing over the surface of the sea, such periods of preparation mean that we put down our bags and resume our landsmen life.

Days on site are very much the same, but each one is a step towards returning the boat to its element, and work on board Tara is very diverse. Day after day, in a noisy and dusty environment, the boat is refitted, rebuilt, modified thanks to the combined skills of different professionals involved and of the crew.
For some of the crew, this is their second or third involvement at the shipyard. The boat has no secret for them, and they know each and every detail about it. A very atypical vessel, Tara is essentially a passion, and requires a lot of persistence. Thanks to Dave, Yoann and Baptiste, the longer serving crew members, work is progressing swiftly. The shipyard site is also about sharing acquired knowledge with the new team members.
As the captain, my prime responsibility is to coordinate the work, and days are often too short; one has to run around, phone to organise the work, issue the orders and outline with the designers the specifications. Drawing up the new systems or installations we are fitting requires very special thoroughness. They must indeed be approved by the Classification Society as well as by the Directorate for Shipping and Maritime Affairs. Official representations are also time-consuming, and I am assisted with these by Mathilde and François. In addition, we are about to welcome Michael, a seaman from New-Zealand.
Due to its design and environmental vocation, Tara is a boat that cannot leave anyone unconcerned, and there is a lot to be learned on board. Sooner rather than later, we will see the outcome of the work carried out towards the realisation of the “Tara Oceans��? programme.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara captain.

A turning point in the shipyard

A turning point in the shipyard

In the time trial we have set for ourselves, each week counts and brings its lot of bad news and fulfilments. The preparation of Tara for its new operation as an oceanographic laboratory is going full steam ahead.

We are at the rebuilding stage, which includes the fitting of the standby generator in the bow hold. These new generation engines, less polluting, will replace the older ones. Their smaller overall dimensions have a significant impact on the available space, each area being used to store the numerous samples to be collected during the course of our next operation, Tara Oceans.
Moreover, these additional generators will enable us to produce electricity alternately with sustainable energy supplies.
The fitting of the masts of Tara is completed. Indeed, the forestay and re-winder, checked and refurbished at the manufacturer’s, have now been re-fitted. The forestay is the cable linking the head of the mast to the stem of the boat, and is therefore crucial to the longitudinal pitch of the rigging; it requires very special care. Its fitting was particularly tricky due to its dimensions: it is roughly 92 feet long, and is an all-in-one piece. It was hoisted using halyards and, during the operation, traffic was temporarily stopped at the gates of the Keroman technical base.
At the same time, tirelessly, the welders and metal workers of Timolor cut, cut out, replace and fit some infrastructures designed to accommodate the scientific equipment.
We were also visited this week by Eric Karsenti, the scientific leader of the project, together with Romain Troublé, the Tara Operations manager. Their visit on board was an opportunity to appraise the progress of the work and to finalise some ongoing developments. In addition, two newly recruited crew on board: two mechanical engineers, to support the existing team with the works.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara captain

New stages: inspection of the dagger-board casings and interior refurbishment

New stages: inspection of the dagger-board casings and interior refurbishment

The hoist gently travels over the 130 tons of Tara and lifts her a few metres so that both dagger-boards can be lowered. Then, the boat is secured in its raised position by two heavy wood blocks called “tins��?. This operation will enable us to check the inside of the casings, and re-paint them to help protect these difficult to reach areas.

Using a small disk grinder, one after the other François, Mathilde, Yoann and Baptiste will take in turn to carry out this task. Stuck in the small space of the dagger-board casing, wearing masks and goggles, they sand down the aluminium to clean the surface, which will allow it to be painted and thus prevent corrosion. An air extractor has been installed to make the working conditions slightly less difficult.
Within the hubbub generated by the machines used and the hammering, Guénael and Christophe of Breiz Insulation carefully carve insulation boards to fit the made bright partitions of the engine room and workshop. It is a job that requires great care and patience, because the sound and thermal insulation on board the ship is crucial since it will be sailing in the most extreme conditions around the world.

Over the past 20 years, great improvements have been made in this area, which allow significant energy savings in the construction and building sectors. The same techniques, adapted to maritime standards, are implemented on board Tara, and the same results are achieved now with much thinner insulations boards. It also means that more storage space is made available.

The rhythm on the work site is always at its peak, and we are now moving to another stage: the inside refurbishment. Discussions and subsequent drawings reveal the new design of the boat, and its adjustment to the scientific research necessities linked to the Tara Oceans mission. We are already eager to see our “whale��? ready to go to sea.

The workers of the material

Tara’s big aft mast, hoisted up by a 55 ton and 40 metre boom crane, is accurately positioned on the deck. After three week’s work on the rig, Tara, the proud polar schooner is recovering its travelling bird’s wings. To draw the sea gods’ favour, a coin is placed under the mast’s mainsail pad, an old tradition originating from the times of the sails navy.

Nevertheless, time for departure has not yet come; there remains several works to de done still before hoisting the sails to run towards the horizon. The men of Timolor enterprise are at work in the most inaccessible parts of the boat to repair and modify it in view of the next expedition. For 4 years now, this site makes part of our main works supervisors. A whole team is always available to our service, attentive to our needs and ready to execute the modifications.

The design engineers of the technical office design any modification or new installation. In the hard-working environment of their den, the material is modified and modelled on the computer screens. This is where, on plan, problems get their solutions. Backed by their long experience, Olivier and Guillaume, who know well the structures of the boat, try to find the technical solutions to our often-complex specifications.

Later, it is up to the field project manager to budget the works and place the order of materials for the execution of the work. Erwan and Laurent hold the position of carrying out a – not always easy – connection between the plans and the real thing. They are also the practical specialists of the boat, who can find out the time-damaged plates and who are hunting details that can hide a flaw. Generally hard to catch, running from one boat to another, they are precious advisers for solving the technical problems.

With his cap well set on his head and always smiling, Daniel is another important gear of Timolor. He will set up the works onboard with his teams of cutters, welders, pipe layers. Sam, Bruno, Reynald, Jackie and others shall work the materials and transform them in the turmoil and dust of aluminium. They assess the bottom of the ship to be welded and ground, going to all the most secluded and difficult to access angles.

A spacious site that knows Tara at present is not an accomplishment of only one team, but of several, all working jointly towards the same aim: setting it together in an as much as possible effective execution.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s Skipper

Tara is back in the Atlantic Ocean

Tara is back in the Atlantic Ocean after spending two months on the Mediterranean sea. We received a most warm welcome in Monaco, Hyères, Embiez and in Marseille.

Around 3000 school children and 2 800 persons were able to visit Tara and the travelling exhibition. Each one was able to realize what were the living conditions and work accomplished during the Tara’s expedition in the Arctic.

From Marseille, we then joined Barcelona within the Blue Armada, a great initiative that aims to gather French boats that carry a message to save the ocean and biodiversity.

We thus found our friends of WWF-Columbus, la Fleur de Lampaul of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation for Nature and Mankind and le Garlaban of the Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute.

In Barcelona, we participated in the World Conservation Congress along a great number of European boats of all sizes. Each one was able to present their different missions and the serious findings on the impact of human activity on ocean biodiversity but also on nature in general. This congress gathered more than 800 personalities of the first rank representing the public sector, governments, companies and NGOs. During 10 days, they debated on the best answers to bring to challenges regarding environment and development. Many participants came to visit Tara.

Since then, we have sped toward Gibraltar, carried by a strong North East wind, we are now rocked by the Atlantic swell and will reach Lorient, our home port by Friday evening or Saturday for a short technical call.

The captain, Simon Rigal


On Thursday morning, on the pontoon of the Sub Marine base of Lorient, one can distinguish the slender shaped trimarans in the mist. At the end of this floating pontoon at the opposite of these fine racers, the imposing massive Tara who has found her place once more since the 23rd of April, stands out.

Her putting back in the water that was several times delayed is a long story. First supplies of several parts that enable the watertightness of the propeller’s shaft of utmost importance arrived late.

Putting the boat back in the water is always a crucial moment that validates the repair work done under the water line. The welding accomplished in the yard are certified for the navigation norm but sometimes in places that are difficult to reach for the welders, a few welding are not completely waterproof and this is what happened at the level of the sounding tube during the water launch.

Protocol for launch manoeuvring is generally the same for all types of ships. Strapping the boat as well as lifting it is accomplished by special crane drivers in the careenage. They know the boat’s structure and the best lifting points. The ship is then moved with the help of a lifting wheel towards the harbour basin, like a bird or another surrealist creature flying above the tarmac. The descent toward the water is slow and measured. Then comes the moment when the crew climbs on board by stern. At that moment everyone has a determined place. While the onboard chief mechanic triggers the generator that enables to use the windlass in front as well as the main engines.

Part of the crew inspects all the bottom of the ship as well as the hulls gates. The others prepare the different hawsers to moor the ship. It is at this moment that we discovered the leak on the hull of the welder. The ship is immediately hoisted above the water to allow for swift reparations but upon her return in the water the leak is still there. We manage to spread this little water channel in the air chamber, but decide to put back Tara on the quay to accomplish a lasting repair. It is 10 pm; Tara is tied with straps above the water waiting to find her place once again on the quay the next day.

After a day of reparation, Guy Sallant, responsible of careening for water launch decides it will be on the 23rd of April in the morning. There is a short moment of stress when the ship touches the water but nothing, not a single drop, neither in the bottom, nor at the level of the welders. After the launch of the propulsion and generator engines, we are testing the proper operations of the propellers shafts and their watertighteness. This time all is well. Tara can sail with the two rubber dinghies of the BSM, the pilots that help us manoeuvre in the harbours.
At 11 pm, the boat is anchored and the crew very happy to be on the water again.

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s captain