Etienne Bourgois is the initiator and the president of Tara Expeditions. He shares responsibility for the project with Romain Troublé, secretary general of Tara. Both agree, they work together in “perfect harmony”.
Etienne, whose main role is CEO of agnès b, is involved in strategy and long-term vision for Tara Expeditions. He defines himself as an “agitator.” For Romain, Tara is his daily work.
We don’t usually interview you together. What links you?
Etienne Bourgois: We’re both passionate about the sea, adventure and the environment. Probably there’s also a touch of madness, since we’ve taken a lot of risks with this project over the past 10 years. That’s why we’re never bored, and the project lasts!
Romain Troublé: What links us is happiness. Thanks to Tara, we meet fantastic people, extremely competent, and so different at the same time. I think we’re both aware of this richness of experience..
Happy New Year! What can we wish you for 2015?
Etienne Bourgois: That the climate conference in Paris at the end of this year lives up to our expectations, and that on this occasion France will lead Europe in focusing attention on the environment.
Romain Troublé: I would add a wish: that the Ocean occupies more space in climate talks in coming years. And also that our partners – so important to us – remain as proud as ever of their engagement at our sides.
What will you be doing this year in the context of the Climate Conference?
Romain Troublé: We want to highlight the relationship between the Ocean and Climate through events, conferences and Tara’s stopovers. We are a member of, and spend a lot of energy on the Ocean and Climate Platform that brings together nearly 40 scientific organizations, universities, nonprofit associations, foundations, science centers, public institutions, and businesses, with the support of UNESCO. This truly collaborative platform aims to bring more visibility to issues linking the Ocean and Climate, before and during the Climate Conference in Paris in December 2015.
Tara has developed an increasingly activist stance in recent years.
Etienne Bourgois: Of course the boat is as important as ever – it’s our main tool and symbol. But we’ve been spending a lot of time at sea for the past 10 years. It’s also important to take time to share the fruit of our research and our experiences with the general public and decision makers. It’s essential for us to make the link between actors in the field and policy makers. This is why we’re focusing particularly on our environmental commitment, and on our presence at international discussions about the Ocean. We were present, for example, just a few days ago at the UN, working towards establishing a legal status for the High Seas. We’ve been fighting this battle for nearly 3 years. The nations have agreed to launch negotiations on the future legal status of the High Seas, which in fact accounts for half of the planet. For us this is a great step forward, announcing 5 years of negotiations.
What are the most important events scheduled for this year?
Etienne Bourgois: The highlight of 2015 will be Tara’s stay in Paris during the last 2 months of the year. We will take the Ocean to Paris. Before that, a main event will happen on June 8th at UNESCO, during the international “Ocean and Climate” conference organized by France, Monaco and UNESCO. On that day, scientists will make a strong appeal to policy makers.
Also on the program for Tara: we are co-producing a feature-length documentary on the subject of Ocean and Climate, to be broadcast at prime time in November.
Romain Troublé: Another important part of our program this year concerns plastic, and the followup to the Tara Mediterranean Expedition in 2014. After the observations, what can be done? To bring together a large number of activists in the Mediterranean region, we are organizing in Monaco on March 10th and 11th – along with Surfrider Foundation Europe, the Mava Foundation, and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation – the conference “Plastic in the Mediterranean: Beyond the observations, what are the solutions?”
And at the Tara Base in Paris this year we will organize a series of exhibitions, screenings and conferences on topics that are dear to us.
Tara is currently undergoing renovation in Lorient. In what condition was the boat on returning from the Mediterranean in November?
Etienne Bourgois: The engines came back from this expedition worn out from idling during so many scientific stations. They are currently being re-conditioned. 2 hatches were installed in the floor of the main cabin to remove the engines for this work. Before we had to cut and reseal the floor each time!
Romain Troublé: Today the boat is in dry dock. The crew is working on the hull, and on the electrical system. All the lighting – in cabins, on the deck, masts and machines – will be replaced by LEDs.
What is the program for the Tara expedition on coral, scheduled for 2016?
Etienne Bourgois: We began to work on coral during the Tara Oceans Expedition, between 2009 and 2012. This new expedition will be the occasion to go much deeper into the subject. It’s being conceived by some excellent scientists with whom we’ve worked before, and some new people.
Romain Troublé: Coral is the only animal that can be seen from space. Recent estimates indicate that about 20% of reefs have disappeared forever, 25% are in grave danger, and an additional 25% will be threatened by 2050. The Tara expedition on coral (2016 – 2018) is especially important in this context. We will work in collaboration with Asian laboratories. The research area will extend from Colombia to Indonesia, Polynesia, Japan, New Caledonia, Papua, Palau and Taiwan. We’re approaching the end of the scientific planning phase, and I can tell you that during this expedition, diving will be a new component of the Tara story. It’s very exciting!
Are there any plans for a new polar expedition for Tara?
Etienne Bourgois: We have big ambitions for the next Tara polar mission in 2019. We’re taking the time to prepare it. Above all, and this is a scoop, we’re also beginning to think about building a Polar Base, and a new boat – a kind of son or daughter of Tara!