A look back at a stormy navigation in the English Channel

“The schooner Tara is leaving the “five port city” (Lorient, in Brittany), foghorns sounding the charge against Aeolus and his forces. Indeed, the sea is far from calm. A few fishermen greet us in their eternal foul weather gear.

A yellow sky accompanies us, the water is gray, and the wave crest fades as we sail out to the open sea. After 2 months in dry dock, the schooner finds her marks again as she exits the harbor. Sails are flapping, the rope tension is being adjusted, winches are rattling, the whole structure is adapting until it reaches a high point: gentle breathing.

The captain wants to achieve wind/rigging symbiosis. He praises softness: “When you can feel the boat breathing, it means she’s a little loose”;. Regarding the rigging of booms, he says: “See there, it’s slack; now, it’s good”;. The whole crew is active: the chief engineer is casually strolling around the deck, wearing hearing protection; the first mate has lost his thermostat once again and is setting the sails; Monch is carefully coiling ropes in a figure-eight pattern; the cook is sharpening her knives, and the deck officer is inspecting the rigging. The captain is finally sailing away from mainland, his cap secured on his head, looking pleased through the igloo opening, sometimes asking around: “Are you happy?” Caring about everyone’s opinion, he often consults the other crew members.

The swell makes the schooner oscillate between two fictional points. Her beautiful female curves, rounded hips and wide hull make Tara a protective matriarch in the Ocean matrix. We are near the Glenan Islands, a pod of dolphins surfing ahead of the bow. Let’s seize the moment, resting on the yankee, the slow motion of the stern, the swell breaking into a constellation of ocean spray while we sail around Armorica, a peninsula stretching westward, a promise for dusk. We will lower Tara‘s masts and sail up the Seine. Lutetia awaits us to hoist them again.”

Tommy Jegou, sailor on board

Tara in Paris February 29 to April 13, 2020: the Ocean comes to town

Information COVID-19: Ashore and at sea, for the marine and scientific crew as well as for the public we meet, safety for all is our watchword. Until further notice, the visits of the scientific schooner Tara are cancelled to help limit the spread of the epidemic. Those who have already booked will be reimbursed in the coming days.
We sincerely hope to welcome you soon on board, but for now, it is in the warmth of your home that we suggest you this virtual visit of Tara.

From the estuary to the quays, the research schooner Tara will sail up the Seine, passing through its locks before mooring at the Port des Invalides in Paris. This is an opportunity for the Tara Ocean Foundation to share our research with the general public and students of the Paris area. In association with Initiatives pour l’Avenir des Grands Fleuves (IAGF) — an activist group committed to the preservation and development of major rivers throughout the world — and the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) — partner in the 2019 Microplastics Mission, the Tara Ocean Foundation will invite candidates in municipal elections to sign the Charter: “Mon territoire s’engage : rivière, fleuve sans plastique, océan protégé” to engage as future mayors in the fight against plastic pollution in rivers to protect the Ocean.

Sailing up rivers to change the course of events

According to the Tara Ocean Foundation and the CNRS, scientific observations are conclusive: to preserve the Ocean — major ecosystem sustaining our planet’s equilibrium — it is imperative to support more ambitious and sustainable management, from land to sea.

“As a river specialist, I strongly believe that the Ocean’s health greatly depends on that of rivers. In turn, the rivers’ health depends on the care provided by people who live nearby, in the heart of watersheds, and on what they discard into the environment. In other words, it all depends on the respect we show to rivers”, says Erik Orsenna, president of IAGF and sponsor of the Tara Ocean Foundation.

Pollution in the open sea originates in watersheds, from ski slopes to the coast. Management of water and waste has a direct impact on preservation of the Ocean and marine biodiversity. Rain running down roads and gutters into lakes, and water flowing in streams and rivers, are all vectors transporting to the Ocean the plastic litter produced by all of us and partially uncollected.

“Plastic and microplastic pollution of rivers must be taken into account in municipal water management programs to preserve rivers and the Ocean and their biodiversity. Is your future mayor aware of his/her responsibility to alert, educate and raise awareness among citizens about the challenges associated with this pollution?”, asks Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Ocean Foundation.

An event intended to awaken wonder and promote commitment 

TARA IN PARIS© Julien Girardot / Sea & Co

From February 29 to April 13, through visits of the research schooner, an exhibition and educational activities, the Tara Ocean Foundation will invite young people and adults to dream of adventure and discovery, and reflect on how to preserve our planet and its resources.

On weekdays, school children can come aboard Tara and visit the exhibition installed on the quay. “The schooner Tara and her scientific expeditions are great educational levers to raise awareness and engage young people in current environmental issues, so they become informed citizens. Time spent aboard the schooner, meeting with the people involved in these expeditions, is undoubtedly a rich and stimulating moment for students and their teachers”, says Pascaline Bourgain, in charge of the educational platform at the Tara Ocean Foundation.

Every weekend and Wednesday and Friday afternoon, starting on February 29, the general public will be able to access Tara’s upper deck and visit the exhibition “Tara, à la découverte d’un nouveau monde : l’Océan”. A unique and instructive experience for you and your family to discover how to care for the Ocean, on land and at sea.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

 Until further notice, the visits of the scientific schooner Tara are cancelled to help limit the spread of the epidemic. 

Quai de Seine (left bank), Alexandre III bridge, 75007 Paris
Between Pont des Invalides and Pont Alexandre III
Metro: Lines 8, 13 and RER C at Invalides / Lines 1 and 13 at Champs-Elysée Clemenceau

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Stopover partners

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Major partners

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Heading into a new year

Looking at the horizon for 2020, this will be the year of biodiversity and climate. To start off, the Tara Ocean Foundation will invite the general public to join us in Paris! Leaving the maintenance site in Lorient, Tara will sail up the Seine and dock in Paris from March 2 to April 12, to share with the widest audience possible our scientific expeditions and knowledge.
Also planned for 2020 is a major new mission. By the end of the year, the schooner will set sail on new adventures focusing on marine biodiversity, often invisible to the naked eye, yet essential to sustaining life on Earth. Discover the highlights of our commitments to the Ocean for 2020.

2020, the year of the biodiversity

Clown_Fish©Vincent_Hilaire_Fondation_Tara_Ocean©Vincent Hilaire / Tara Ocean Foundation

2020 UN Ocean Conference: a high-level conference on the ocean

Aboard Tara, the Tara Ocean Foundation will join a major international meeting aiming to preserve the seas and oceans: the second edition of the UN Ocean Conference, will take place in Lisbon (Portugal) from June 2 to 6, 2020. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14) and its implementation will be central. New commitments are to be expected (compared with the first edition of June 2017), focusing mainly on science and innovation.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress will be held in Marseille (France) from June 11 to 19, 2020

This world congress brings together a large network of stakeholders (policy makers, civil society, indigenous peoples, academics, economic players, etc.) to preserve nature in the face of the challenges posed by human activities and their impact on the planet. This is a key step in view of the UN Biodiversity Conference, to be held in October 2020. Docked in Marseille during the congress, Tara will support advocacy actions for Marine Protected Areas, especially in Antarctica and the Pacific Ocean, where France plays a key role at the regional level.

COP15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity – China

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), adopted by 168 countries at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, established an international legal framework for the conservation and use of biodiversity. In an international context increasingly aware of the challenges related to preservation of biodiversity, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15), scheduled to be held in China in October 2020, will provide an opportunity to redefine ocean protection goals, with a renewed ambition to implement Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In connection with the activities proposed in Marseille during the World Conservation Congress, Tara will support proposals for effective and well-managed MPAs, based on the best scientific criteria that particularly address the climate challenge.

Fourth session of the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ)

The fourth session of the conference will be held at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March and early April 2020. In the face of persistent disagreements, a postponement of the end of the negotiations, scheduled for 2020, is to be expected, leading to a delay in the approval of the treaty regulating activities in the high seas. Present as a UN Special Observer, the Tara Ocean Foundation will advocate an ambitious, universal and binding treaty with strong ambitions for international scientific cooperation.

COP26: first assessment meeting 5 years after the Paris Agreement

In keeping with the “Blue COP25” that took place in Madrid in 2019, political recognition of the ocean’s role in climate regulation now requires integration into national action plans. For the Tara Ocean Foundation, ensuring that science is recognized as the basis for informed and appropriate decision-making will remain our main challenge.

Around plastic: implementation of national commitments

2019_06_08_Ramassage_Dechets_Scolaires_Mains©Marilou_Bourdreux_Fondation_Tara_OceanCollecting plastic waste with students in St Malo  (2019) © Marilou Bourdreux / Tara Ocean Foundation

Following the vote by the National Assembly to ban the sale (and distribution) of single-use plastic packaging in France, the first provisions will be implemented on January 1, 2020, with the prohibition of non-recyclable plastic cups, disposable plates and plastic cotton buds, as well as the use of plastic water bottles in school canteens.
The ultimate goal of banning plastic has been postponed until 2040. It is unrealistic to believe that a single solution exists, immediately applicable to plastics in the environment. The use of plastic, its applications, volume and indispensability, as well as the complex issues related to using alternative materials, all imply that we must act at different levels, by applying solutions throughout the life cycle of plastic – from manufacturing to recycling and reuse – and changing our production and consumer habits.

Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Ocean Foundation
Etienne Bourgois, president and co-founder of the Tara Ocean Foundation
André Abreu, Director of International Policies, Tara Ocean Foundation

Tara is back in the Mediterranean Sea to track pollution from rivers

Tara is once again studying plastic waste in the Mediterranean Sea. The Tara Ocean Foundation’s long-lasting interest in plastics is fully justified. The issue has become so important that the word “continent” is often used when referring to the billions of tons of plastic fragments scattered in the oceans. Five years after Tara’s first expedition dedicated to plastic pollution at sea, research is still under way. The behavior of plastics and their impact on marine biodiversity are still poorly understood.

2014: Assessing the amount of plastic and studying its relationship with living organisms

For almost 10 years, Tara scientists have been investigating the problem of plastics at sea. After observing that plastic litter is absolutely everywhere, the 2014 Tara Mediterranean expedition revealed that microplastics in this semi-enclosed sea are 4 times more concentrated than in the North Pacific Gyre. Tara scientists also studied the living organisms associated with these tiny fragments.

Today, they define plastic material as “a new ecosystem because “some microorganisms that are a minority in the water column have found a new habitat where they feel particularly good and therefore proliferate”, explains Jean-François Ghiglione, a CNRS ecotoxicologist and scientific director of the new 2019 Microplastics mission.

2019_07_28_Hoedic_Huitre-plastique©Lucas_Blijdorp_Fondation_Tara_OceanA piece of polystyrene found inside an oyster © Lucas Blijdorp / Tara Ocean Foundation

2019: Studying plastic flux to combat its dispersion

Building upon the early work quantifying and qualifying microplastics from the Mediterranean Sea, the schooner has returned to study this semi-enclosed sea. Tara is, of course, navigating in the open sea, but also sailing up 3 major rivers that flow from Spain (Ebro), Italy (Tiber) and France (Rhone) into the Mediterranean Sea. Motivating the Tara Ocean Foundation’s new 2019 Microplastics mission is the fact that 80% of plastic material at sea comes from land and microplastics represent 60 to 80% of all plastic debris present in rivers.

DCIM101MEDIADJI_0007.JPGSampling of microorganisms and microplastics in the Ebro River (Spain) using a Manta net © François Aurat / Tara Ocean Foundation

Given the severity of plastic pollution and the lack of research on the problem, the urgency is all the more pressing. “Since the problem of plastics has no solution at sea, we need to understand the sources represented by rivers and identify the unique characteristics of each of them”, Jean-François Ghiglione says.

Scientists aboard Tara are taking samples of water, microplastics and plankton, at sea, in estuaries, as well as in key locations along the rivers to assess the impact of major cities.

“We will also investigate the microorganisms living on microplastic debris, and other organisms, such as mussels, oysters, sea urchins and bass, to understand the bioaccumulation of pollutants attached to plastics.” In addition to these measurements, a model will be designed on the scale of the Mediterranean basin allowing scientists to describe and compare the influences of these 3 rivers regarding plastic influx to the Mediterranean Sea.

Margaux Gaubert, journalist

Do corals resist heat from volcanic activity?

Tuesday, November 14 at 15:30 local time Tara arrived a few kilometers from Kimbe, capital of the province of Western New Britain. Along the northern coast of this island of Papua New Guinea, we completed the last few miles with no wind and the help of Tara’s engines.

Simon Rigal, Tara’s captain since Whangarei (New Zealand) will disembark here, handing over the helm to Samuel Audrain.

 Kimbe Bay — 110 km wide and 60km long — is considered the heart of the Coral Triangle. The scientific team, led by Rebecca Vega Thurber (from Oregon State University), has planned 3 new sampling sites.

 

photo 1_bateau-île_VH
Islands on the way to Kimbe © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

A succession of volcanoes, some still activeislands like boats with hulls of lava rock above which flourishes lush, tropical vegetation. During the last hours of sailing, the landscape kept telling us we were getting closer to the equator and Indonesia. Anchored tonight in a sheltered spot, Tara is only about 5 degrees south of the line separating our blue planet into 2 hemispheres.

We are not here by chance: Kimbe Bay is a major site for biodiversity: it alone includes 60% of the coral species present in the Indo-Pacific area. This heart of the Coral Triangle is also the place of origin of all corals. According to Alfred Yohang Ko’ou, our Papuan scientific observer (soon to disembark) “This is the cradle, the first nest of all Pacific corals. Ocean currents did the rest by scattering the mother stock.”

A first scouting and sampling dive has already taken place at the entrance to Kimbe Bay. It confirmed the extraordinary biodiversity and health of coral polyps in these very warm waters, averaging around 30° C. Another question of particular interest to the researchers on board here: Why doesn’t the coral undergo bleaching in such warm waters? Will Kimbe Bay corals offer us new elements to better understand why these colonies are resistant to such temperatures, linked to intense surrounding volcanic activity?

 

photo 6_le pays des volcans_VH
Papua New Guinea: the country of volcanos and corals © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

We are in a region with more than a hundred volcanoes visible from the boat. We’ve had the chance to sail safely by them, including the most destructive ones, Vulcan and Tavurvur, close to the new Rabaul. Fumaroles are still escaping from the Vulcan caldera, with the strong smell of sulfur. History reminds us that these partly dormant giants literally engulfed the old Rabaul in 1994  a Papuan Pompeii still buried under the now solidified lava.

Here coral lives in waters whose temperatures are influenced by a volcanic environment where thermal stresses combine. The upcoming dives in the context of the Tara Pacific expedition promise to be very exciting.

 

Vincent Hilaire

 

[Video] Manly beach: the Ocean in Sydney

Australia is the largest populated island in the world. The relationship of Australians to the ocean is therefore peculiar, it is part of their culture.

Surfing, beach volleyball, sailing, diving, walking etc. Many Australians live fully what the sea offers them.

How do they evoke their relationship with this element in everyday life? What does it bring them? How do they see the dangers that threaten their balance?

 

© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Kikaijima, between past and present

Arriving by boat offers a different way of getting to know a place: you have the time to discover it. First the profile, then colors and finally its geology. From far away, the tiny island of Kikai doesn’t reveal all its assets: limestone cliffs, a flat surface, fields of sugar cane, and a climate indicating arrival in the tropics. Anchored off the coast for 2 days, Taranauts had time to observe the island from a distance. 48 hours of waiting before stepping on land, or rather on coral debris. The time required for scientists to perform their sub-aquatic ballet, repeating the same gestures as on each coral reef.

 

At_sea_credit_Nicolas_FlochTara left the main Japanese island heading for Kikaijima  © Nicolas Floc’h / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

In Japanese, Kikaijima means “the island of pleasure”– just right to stir up the curiosity of a team of sailors! Located between the eastern China Sea and the Pacific, between temperate zone and tropical zone, Kikaijima is quite unusual. Each year the coral plateau constituting this small island rises a little more. Beneath the feet of its 7,600 inhabitants, tectonic plates are discreetly moving.

100,000 years ago Kikaijima was a coral reef like any other: a colony of animals building an oasis of biodiversity below the surface. Then, pushed by telluric* forces for millennia, the reef reached the surface and now rises 214 meters above sea level. No wonder this remote island in the Amani archipelago attracts the attention of geologists. The current speed of elevation is impressive: 2 mm per year — one of the fastest in the world, along with the Caribbean island of Barbados, or the Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea

Today life in Kikaijima has nothing to do with the frenzy of large Japanese cities. For the islanders living on these 53 square kilometers of limestone, daily concerns are more important than the geological originalities of the island. Landing on Kikai, you immediately feel the peaceful rhythm of life. Some fishing, some agriculture. Only one big supermarket, with a poster announcing Tara’s arrival. Two years ago a new structure was built on the fishing port — the Coral Reef Institute — conceived by Tsuyoshi Watanabe and Atsuko Yamazaki, whom the Taranauts met at a party organized in their honor at the Institute.

 

Comité_accueil_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2190107Warm welcome committee for Tara’s arrival at Kikaijima island © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Tsuyoshi Watanabe, specialist in paleoclimatology and geology, is a lecturer at Hokkaido University. “After traveling around the world, we realized that people here knew nothing about coral. In general, scientists visit a site, collect a few samples, and take them back to their laboratories. So we decided to establish this institute to share our knowledge. Now the children of Kikaijima are familiar with coral and this makes us feel proud.”

We have to delve into the past, look at the geology of the island or to take an interest in its geography to understand its uniqueness. “The coral shelf here has been through different climatic periods”, explains Tsuyoshi. “By studying it, we can go back in time and better understand the past ecosystem of coral, its palaeo-biodiversity…This could give us valuable information on the future of our environment. Kikaijima is situated on a border between past and present. It’s a unique island!”

 

Noëlie Pansiot

 

*telluric: concerning the Earth

Takeshi Kitano, Ambassador of Tara

A new chapter of Tara’s story is beginning in Japan. The Tara project radiates far beyond French borders and is now officially recognized as a public interest group. None of this would have been possible without the support of Tara’s friends and partners: agnès b., Véolia Foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and many others.

In the Japanese archipelago, the schooner is sponsored by a well-known personality — actor/film director Takeshi Kitano. As a young boy, he discovered Cousteau and developed a passionate interest in the ocean. For more than 2 years, Takeshi Kitano has been Tara’s Ambassador in Japan. Now he is finally able to discover the schooner on the occasion of Tara’s first visit to the archipelago.

 

Ogasawara, a unique environment to preserve

The Ogasawara islands have unique land and sea environments in the world, making them a true laboratory for studying biodiversity, but also an indicator of changes on a more global scale.
An ideal place for the first meeting of Tara with Japan, and the continuation of the study of the biodiversity of the coral reefs along the Tara Pacific expedition.

 

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

Questions and Answers with Tara Captain Martin Hertau

After boarding Tara this past October in Moorea, Martin has sailed Tara almost 8,500 nautical miles through 16 atolls, 11 islands, and 8 countries to reach Fukuoka, Japan in 5 months and a week. In the midst of his demanding schedule, he gave us some of his valuable time to tell us more about his experience as captain.

 

Martin Hertau rencontre le roi de WallisCaptain Martin Hertau  introduces Tara to the king of Wallis © Pierre de Parscau / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

How do you feel about visiting Japan for the first time and what are you most excited to experience?

I’m very excited to visit Japan. In college, I was involved in a film festival where the guest of the year was Japanese. Before that, I did not know much about the Land of the Rising Sun, but I met Japanese performers and saw many different movies. Ever since, I have been fascinated by the mix of modernity contrasted with the weight of tradition. I have always known I would visit Japan one day and luckily that day has come with Tara.

 

Where did you begin this leg of the trip, how long have you been aboard, and what were the highlights of this leg for you?

Scientists aboard have taken thousands of samples, we have completed hundreds of dives, dozens of scientists and crew have been aboard. Often it has been in unbearable heat, working/living on a ship built for the Arctic in the Equator. It has been a very rich experience filled with mixed emotions and an array of experiences. We have met with kings and chiefs, spent the night in a fale (traditional hut), we experienced an island church service, and ate pork cooked in a traditional oven.

 

Chief Scientist Didier Zoccola and Captain Martain Hertau hold an early morning press conference with NOAA in Washington DC_photo credit Sarah FretwellChief Scientist Didier Zoccola and Captain Martin Hertau hold an early morning conference with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA – US) in Washington DC © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions 

 

Patience has been key to navigating the Pacific. Long hours waiting in government offices stuck in bureaucracy meant we could talk to locals about their islands, way of life, and how they do or don’t protect the environment. I have spent countless hours on boat papers, obtaining clearance in and out of each port, and trying to obtain CITES permits for the coral samples. I met many people with an array of views on the impacts of climate change. In Tuvalu (waiting for permits), I asked an administrator about sea level rise. She said, “We don’t have a problem with that. God has a plan for everybody and so he has a plan for us”.

I was truly impressed by the Tuamotu’s lush tropical backdrop that fulfills every western Polynesian’s dream. We were often surrounded by humpback whales and even swam with them. The Wallis atoll was magical when we arrived after four days’ navigation, with incredible light illuminating the bright blue water contrasted with the green endemic trees. Before Futuna, 50% of the dives we did found bleached and dead reefs. The feeling aboard was we were witnessing the impending doom for coral reefs around the plant. However, dives off of Alofi Atoll were the best we experienced during the past 4 months – colorful and very alive. We were elated to discover a healthy reef in Polynesia. We have been lucky to do some gorgeous nights dives with sea snakes in Niue, and some tremendous wrecks dives in Chuuk.

 

Captain Martain Hertau and Chief Engineer Daniel Cron upon finding the boats telegraph on Fujikawa shipwreck_photo credit Pete WestCaptain Martin Hertau and Chief Engineer Daniel Cron upon finding the boats telegraph on Fujikawa shipwreck © Pete West / BioQuest Studios 

 

What is the most challenging part of being the captain aboard Tara?

Life onboard is intense. The mission of Tara is very ambitious and it is not always easy to coordinate the science, public relations, tight time schedules, and weather conditions. There is always another destination, each stop over is different, and you need to be in front of the situation for the success of the expedition. It is extremely interesting and there is always a challenge. Weeks have flown by in no time. In this job you are continually passing through so many new experiences and always focused on the next thing that needs to be done. It is only when you stop you have time to reflect and that you can take in the entire experience.

 

What is your plan after you get off the boat?

It’s not sure yet. I’m waiting for an answer about seaman certificate, I have two options that will lead to completely different paths. I will either return to my boat in Guatemala and get some rest or start an upper certificate to update my captain’s license and go to school for the next year !

To be continued….

Sarah Fretwell

Video:Pacific shipwrecks: toxic leaks into the Ocean

Chuuk Lagoon, in Micronesia, is famous to divers everywhere for the 52 warships that sank there during WWII, and the spectacular corals, marine life, and diving that has resulted.

What many people don’t know is that these “treasures” are leaking fuel, as salt water corrodes the fuel tanks. They also still contain unexploded ordnance. For the marine life and communities dependent on the ocean for their survival, the ships are now – literally – “ticking time bombs.” Someone must pay the millions of dollars to remove the remaining fuel, before tanks corrode completely, devastating the lagoon and the islands’ way of life…but who?

© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expeditions

Video : Marine biologist aboard Tara

Ever wondered what it would be like to work as a scientist in a far-off location, researching issues critical to the ocean?
Meet 27-year-old marine biologist Oceane Salles, who is currently working aboard the Tara Pacific expedition. She tells us more about her relationship to the ocean, the work she is doing, and her experience aboard the Tara schooner.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Sad news from Chuuk – Micronesia

In Chuuk, Tara scientists found considerable coral mortality and ongoing bleaching. Reports indicate conditions may be even worse in Guam.

With little published data before 2016 on the conditions of Chuuk’s coral reefs, the Tara team had hoped to find conditions better here than the high coral mortality they witnessed in Tuvalu and Kiribati.

Scientist Till Röthig from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) located in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, noted, “I was surprised to see corals as deep at 30 meters impacted by bleaching.” He describes visual evidence that suggests the bleaching has been going on for some time, “A colony of massive coral was partially dead on top, with algae growing on it, then further down the coral tissue was alive but bleached. At the bottom, the coral tissue still seemed healthy”.

 

Le Scientifique Till Rothig examine la proue incrustée de corail sur l'épave du Fujikawa Maru, vieille de 73 ans
Tara Scientist Till Rothig surveys the coral encrusted bow of the 73 year old Fujikawa Maru shipwreck © Pete West / BioQuest Studios

 

People in the Chuuk government state there was no temperature related bleaching before 2016, and this is supported by data from the NOAA coral watch site. NOAA data reaching back to 2000 indicates no major temperature anomalies before September of 2016. Then, the temperature increased for a three-month period, likely causing widespread coral bleaching and mortality in the region. What Tara scientists witnessed seems to be the aftermath of this acute bleaching event.

Tara will next examine Guam’s coral, following a 3-day, 580 nautical mile voyage. Tara is currently sailing under (Beaufort scale) force 6 winds, under partially cloudy skies, and facing 3 meters of swell. Everyone is learning how to live and work in very rocky conditions, but spirits are still high.

 

bleached anemone
An anemone – a close relative of reef corals – that appears translucent because it has lost its colorful algal symbionts: it has bleached © Till Rothig

 

Located right outside of the “coral triangle”, Guam is historically known for having an incredibly diverse coral ecosystem. However, The Washington Post recently quoted Laurie Raymundo, Coral Ecologist at the University of Guam: “For the past four years (2014-2016) we’ve had bleaching episodes, and we have not had them to this extent in recent history.” Describing her recent shock after dive to view the coral, she posted on Facebook, “I consider myself to be fairly objective and logical about science but sometimes that approach fails me. Today, for the first time in 50 years I’ve been in the water, I cried for an hour, right into my mask, as I witnessed the extent to which our lovely Tumon Bay corals were bleached and dying”.

Sarah Fretwell

Video: “If We Save Tuvalu, We Save The World”

It’s not a fiction, it’s a fact: Tuvalu is sinking. The impacts of climate change (extreme weather, sea level rise) are challenging Tuvaluan security and survival.
Interview with Prime Minister, on the future of Tuvalu.

©  Tara Expéditions Foundation

What future for Kiribati?

Aware that climate change scientists have given their island approximately 50 years before much of it is uninhabitable, the residents of Kiribati are still looking for any way possible to preserve their sinking island nation and their way of life.

 

Local children have thier run of the village and served as Tara tour guides on Abaiang Island, Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellLocal children have their run of the village and served as Tara tour guides on Abaiang Island, Kiribati  © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

As the Tara dinghy coasted to the white beach, a local fishing family sauntered down to greet it. A young boy scaled a coconut tree to harvest fresh young coconuts for the Tara crew.

As Tara’s scientists took in the surroundings of this lost paradise, a lump formed in the back of some of their throats. This island, this community and this family will not be here in 50 years.

Tara scientist, Martin Desmalades from CRIOBE Lab in Perpignan, France summed up the feeling, “You know the science and hear the different opinions about where and how (impacts of climate change) will happen here. Then when you stand on the island with the people and see their life, it is a feeling of disbelief. You hope they can find a way.”

 

Where the green plants and palm trees meet the beach marks the backyard of most residents of Abaiang Island, Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellWhere the green plants and palm trees meet the beach marks the backyard of most residents of Abaiang Island, Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

Located between Fiji and the Marshall Islands. the young island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-ee-bahs) is slated for the dubious honor of being one of the first nations in the world to lose its way of life to the ravages of climate change.

To get a local perspective, Tara’s team sought the opinion of Choi Yeeting, National Climate Change Coordinator to the President for Kiribati. Yeeting tells us a common saying instilled in Kiribati youth, “Nangoa Wagm Nte Tauraoi” – Be ready at all costs.

He says, “Now with the ice sheets melting, it may give us less time to build our adaptive capacity and resilience relative to when Kiribati may disappear. It is a big question mark. We may not have enough time to do that fully.”

 

Fishermen from Tabontebike village in Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellFishermen from Tabontebike village in Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

The inhabitants of Kiribati – I-Kiribati in Gilbertese – are already feeling the pressures of climate change. More severe storms lead to land disputes, as more and more people move inland after storms, encroaching on other people’s land.

Still, Yeeting says people are hopeful. “We have that fighting nature to stay in our country. You can kind of look at it like being the captain of the ship – you go down with your ship. It is about pride. It is about being who we are. Where would we go? Would we still be I-Kiribati after this? Personally speaking, that is how I see it for my country. I guess my first instinct would be I’m going to go down with it.”

 

Tara crew pose with the local children in Tabontebike village Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellTara crew pose with the local children in Tabontebike village, Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

Yeeting is not in denial about the stark reality of having to leave the land that his people and heritage are so closely tied to, to go live in another country, “Who are we if we move away from our country? Are we still I-Kiribati? Do our traditional values still count when we move to another country? Personally, I would like to remain I-Kiribati and still have my own traditions and cultural values. Aside from the science. Besides the scientific fact that we do have 50 years.”

When we asked best case scenario what his future will look like he replied, “I will have kids by then, I will be married, I will live here in Kiribati all my life. That is something that I envision for myself. That is the best-case scenario at this point. The worst-case scenario? The worst-case scenario would be having to evacuate Kiribati. I don’t see a good future for our people if that day really comes.”

 Sarah Fretwell

WALLIS HANGING IN THE BALANCE

In Wallis, Tara was fortunate to meet with Dr. Meyer who is conducting the first biodiversity study on Wallis and Futuna, and Atolotu Malau, manager of Environmental Services. Two fascinating encounters that showed us how committed this small island nation is to fostering biodiversity and properly managing waste to preserve its resources for the future.

 

Director of Research at the French Polynesian department of Research, Dr. Jean-Yves Meyer turned out to be the ideal seat partner on the flight from Fiji to Wallis.  When asked what issue is more pressing to Wallisians: combating climate change or preserving biodiversity, Jean-Yves responded, “If we don’t stop the direct and immediate threats to biodiversity, even if we mitigate the effects of climate change, there will be nothing left to protect in several decades“.  Wallis and Futuna are located about two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand. Wallis, a small Pacific volcanic island with a lush tropical backdrop of low-lying hills and crystal-clear water, is fringed with coral reefs.

 

atoloto-malau-manager-of-environmental-services-in-wallis-standing-by-a-vista-from-mont-lulu-fakahega_photo-credit-sarah-fretwellAtoloto Malau Manager of Environmental Services in Wallis standing by a vista from Mont Lulu Fakahega  © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

On December 27th, we met with Atoloto Malau. What are the top 3 challenges facing Wallis’s future? He responded: “Resource management, waste management, and global warming. We are trying to deal with all of it now”.  In the past few years, a new challenge has arisen: increased trash from imported goods – plastic, aluminum, glass, and hazardous waste.  Last November for the first time waste was shipped off the island, legislation was passed requiring reusable bags in the local shops and a plastic/aluminum/glass buyback program was launched.

 

nukuhifila-one-of-the-many-uninhabited-islands-just-off-of-wallice-that-has-experienced-coastal-erosion_photo-credit-sarah-fretwellNukuhifila, one of the many uninhabited islands just off of Wallice that has experienced coastal erosion  © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions

 

Atoloto noted that “the biggest challenges facing the marine environment – pollution, coral bleaching and depletion of fish stock – are interdependent.”  According to the Wallis environmental department, coral bleaching has been pronounced in recent years and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported a 10-centimeter rise in sea level here in the past 20 years. Currently in the midst of implementing a global strategy for sustainable development, Wallisians are trusting that, even in the face of climate change, cleaning up their environment and preserving land and ocean ecosystems are key elements to keep this island thriving for generations to come.

 

Sarah Fretwell

Unique inventory of marine biodiversity in Futuna

Just a few days before Christmas, Tara finished the first complete inventory of marine biodiversity in the Wallis and Futuna archipelago — an undertaking partially accomplished for the last time  in 1990, before the impacts of warming. We also had a chance to review our 2 weeks of encounters and discoveries in the French territory furthest from the metropolis, where every enterprise depends on the agreement of the highest traditional authorities: the Kings.

About 20 people were gathered silently under the falé of the Palais de Wallis. A simple palm-roof beneath which the village chiefs and ministers awaited us, and in their midst, Patalione Kanimoa, the king of Wallis. Tara’s crew entered as if on tiptoe, under the gaze of the assembly, somewhat intimidated by the solemnity of the moment. Before starting to work in the waters of Wallis and Futuna, the schooner had to obtain the authorization of the ministers who have the power here to block any project. Kava, the traditional Pacific beverage made from the root of a shrub, was passed from hand to hand, while Serge Planes, the scientific director of the expedition, and Martin Hertau, Tara’s captain, explained to the King the reasons for our arrival in the archipelago. Following local custom, the crew came with some gifts, including a photo book recounting Tara’s Arctic drift odyssey: the images of the boat caught in the ice quickly captured the eyes of the sovereign.
Tara immediately obtained the green light and would soon set sail for Futuna, the sister island of Wallis.

 

L'équipage de Tara est reçu par le roi de WallisTara’s crew received by the King of Wallis © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

Since the beginning of the 1990s, no inventory of biodiversity had been carried out around this island which has very steep terrain. Led by Serge Planes, the scientists on board had only 12 days to collect as much data as possible on the species inhabiting the island’s coasts, between the surface and a depth of 20 meters — a multidisciplinary mission in search of fish, corals, coralline algae, ophiures and sponges. By mapping the species here, scientists hoped to fill the information gap in this region at the intersection of Melanesia and Polynesia. Beyond the known species, Tara’s mission was to try to discover rare and endemic species.

 

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The location of Wallis and Futuna © Fondation Tara Expéditions 

Divided into 2 kingdoms, Sigave and Alo, the island of Futuna regularly suffers the fury of the Pacific and its powerful cyclones. In 2010, cyclone Tomas left its mark, destroying many homes and fragilizing the coastal areas. At risk because of global climate change, these islanders may well be among its first victims. Tara’s mission began with this same cyclonic rainfall near the islet of Alofi, a land covered (about 80%) with  primary forest, with only one inhabitant. At the foot of the island’s cliffs and in the depths of its narrow lagoon, Tara’s teams discovered reefs that have been spared from bleaching and harbor a multitude of corals and sponges.

 

Tara entre dans la passe Sud de Wallis.Tara in the passage of Wallis  © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

Serge Planes and Jeff Williams (from the Smithonian Institution in Washington) studied fish populations in these waters for 2 weeks. Employing local methods of poisoning or arrow-hunting, they managed to identify nearly 400 different species. “This is about a third of the species that live here. Others live in deeper zones” explains Serge Planes. “This is the first time an inventory of this type has been carried out on Futuna and Alofi and it will be interesting to compare it with those made in Wallis, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia”.

These findings will serve as a point of reference for future research in these isolated islands and will inform local people about the marine riches surrounding them.

After the invitation to meet their kings, the Futunans shared a traditional tauasu with the crew. This is an evening ceremony during which the villagers gather around a kava to discuss everyday problems. It was also an opportunity for the locals to question Tara’s crew on the results of their investigation, and to share their concerns about the island’s future.  A few notes from a ukulele soon made us forget the pouring rain and an improvised dance floor opened before our eyes. Men bowed to invite women for a few dance steps while the kava continued its round in the assembly.

 

imagejournalOlivier Thomas prepares a species of sponge with its precious mucus © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Aboard Tara, Olivier Thomas is a very happy man. This specialist from Ireland had embarked to inventory the sponge populations in the archipelago. He did not expect the many discoveries awaiting him here. “I was quite surprised at the diversity in sponges around Alofi and Futuna,” he says. “Here one realizes that there are real ecosystems concentrating very diverse sponges. Under the reefs are areas where corals do not extend too far,  and where many new sponge species can be observed.” Some species produce a mucus rich in chemical molecules that are of particular interest to the drug industry, especially for certain cancer treatments. A valorization of these sponges (probably endemic to Futuna) could perhaps become a significant source of income for this island in need of resources. A new adventure that Olivier Thomas will follow closely: First he will analyze these new sponges before considering a possible synthesis of the molecules of interest.

Pierre de Parscau

ITW Maren Ziegler: overview of the sites studied between Tahiti and Wallis

It’s been 5 weeks since Maren Ziegler embarked from Papeete as Tara’s head scientist. In Wallis, we had a chance to take stock of this past leg of the expedition:  TARA has been exploring and sampling around the islands of Aitutaki, Niue, and Samoa, and just reached the archipelago of Wallis and Futuna.

 

p13108101Maren Ziegler off the coast of Moorea  © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

After 5 weeks of sailing between Tahiti and Wallis, what’s your report on the sites you have studied? 

The mission protocol is very well established:  At every site, we find the same species and follow the identical daily procedures done throughout the whole Tara Pacific expedition. The work is sometimes very difficult since weather conditions are not always good around the islands. We started at Moorea on fairly well-known coral-rich sites, but when we got to Aitutatki in the Cook Islands, we were very disappointed. We discovered that most of the reef was dead, and we had a lot of trouble finding sampling sites. Niue had been devastated by the tsunami in 2009, but we were surprised to find a lot of diversity, good coral coverage and damaged areas that are in the process of rebuilding. The encounter with sea serpents during our dives will remain a lasting memory.

But we were very depressed at our stations in Samoa because we explored 83 km of coastline and it was difficult to find good coral reef sites. The species we are studying had mostly disappeared. It’s a very isolated area, not well-known, and the islanders do not have many resources to access and monitor the coasts. I didn’t expect such a situation.

 

Repérage de site sur la côte de NiueSite scouting on the coast of Niue © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

How can the islanders change this situation?

I think it depends on individual cases. In Samoa we observed some sites where the coral seems to be recovering, and we are preparing a report to send to the local authorities. This could push them to protect these fragile areas by controlling fishing and human impact which has affected the water quality in this lagoon. Many things can be done locally, but on a much broader scale, these islands can do nothing in the face of increased cyclones, unless their voices are heard internationally.

 

What challenges have you faced in your position as head scientist on board?

It could have been a real challenge, but everyone worked together towards the same goal. The beginning was tricky because the scientists didn’t know what to expect and weren’t totally prepared, but in the end we managed to adjust, and it was a pleasure to work with the whole scientific team on board.

 

L'équipe scientifique "corail" en plein protocole d'échantillonnage après les prélèvements de la matinée aux Samoa. © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

You are currently working in Saudi Arabia. What are the differences between the coral reef situation in the Red Sea and the Pacific?

The Red Sea has long been considered an area that is highly resistant to climatic changes. But last year we had a sharp increase in surface temperature, sometimes over 34° C, and we observed an important bleaching phenomenon in the southern part of the Red Sea. The reefs were fully impacted, even very far from the coasts and human influence.

 

What is the next step for you regarding Tara?

I would love to come back on board and I hope there will still be a place for me on this expedition (laughs). I am very curious about all these Pacific islands and next year Tara will pass through Papua New Guinea and Indonesia — all of these places will hopefully be fantastic.

 

Interview by Pierre de Parscau

Video: Tara reports on the state of Polynesian reefs

Three and a half months after entering the Pacific, TARA has just finished an unrivalled expedition in the Tuamotu Archipelago, east of Tahiti. The scientific crews continue their work of taking coral and fish samples from the reefs. From counting operations, transects and operating the HyperDiver, an underwater scanner prototype, the ship deployed several devices under the watchful eye of Serge Planes, the scientific director of the expedition and researcher at the CNRS (the French National Center for Scientific Research). After numerous dives, the researchers’ findings were clear: the Polynesians reefs, which until now were thought to have been spared from the effects of climate change, have in fact suffered multiple deep disruption.

 

© Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video: Reef builders

After leaving Tahiti in early October 2016, the schooner sailed through the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. During this leg of the Tara Pacific expedition, scientists are studying an organism essential to the life of the coral reef: coralline algae. Aboard Tara, the biologist Laetitia Hédouin (CRIOBE) describes the close links between coral and these encrusting algae which play a key role in the formation of colonies, especially for the fixation of coral larvae.

 

 

© Yann Chavance /  Fondation Tara Expeditions

Video: Under the surface

During each stopover of this 2-year expedition in the Pacific Ocean, the scientific teams follow the same protocols to study coral reefs. From the Gambier Archipelago, in French Polynesia, the onboard correspondent invites you to discover these techniques on deck but also under the surface, using masks to communicate underwater.

First port of call in French Polynesia

At the beginning of this week, Tara left the Gambier Islands, the most easterly archipelago of Polynesia. In addition to completing the sampling protocols, the few days spent around the small mountainous islands enabled the crew to get a first glimpse of French Polynesia’s beauty and experience the kindness of its inhabitants.

As on every Pacific island along the schooner’s route, 3 sites were studied in the Gambier Archipelago, with dives to collect samples of coral, fish and plankton. To be as close as possible to the collection sites, the vessel had to sail the full length and breadth of the large lagoon surrounding the archipelago. After an initial mooring in a small cove in Taravai, the second largest island of the archipelago, Tara anchored near Akamaru’s shore, an island harboring a single village composed of 10 families living around a church. Finally, the schooner completed this stopover docked in the village of Rikitea, the largest of the Gambier Islands.

 

credits-yann-chavance-panorama-gambier-1-1From Mount Duff, overlooking the village of Rikitea, stunning views of coral reefs and pearl farms along the coast © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

This winding route between the different islands, motivated by scientific imperatives, was an opportunity for the crew to enjoy an overview of the Gambier archipelago. Far from others French Polynesian islands (Tahiti is 1,700 km away) and served by a single weekly flight, the archipelago’s stunning beauty remains inaccessible to most tourists. Few people can admire the incredible contrasts of these small islands, where white sand beaches and coconut trees give way to coniferous forests on the mountainside. To complete the picture, several small churches (and even a cathedral!) dot the amazing landscape.

 

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The coral team gets ready to dive to collect samples © François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

After collecting samples, Tara’s crew spent 2 days in Rikitea to meet the locals. About 120 children visited the schooner, listening carefully to scientists on the rear deck and sailors in the mess room. In the evening, at a conference in the town hall, the crew presented the research conducted aboard the vessel in the Pacific Ocean, as well as previous missions, including Tara Oceans. Tara had previously anchored in 2011 in the waters of the Gambier Islands to study coral reefs. It was therefore natural that the scientific team present the findings of this first visit: the discovery of 2 new species of coral, previously unknown. One has been named Echinophyllia tarae with reference to the schooner.

 

credits-yann-chavance-visites-gambier-1-1Dozens of visitors and school children visited the schooner while Tara was docked in Rikitea © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

Besides the conference, exchanges between the crew and the Gambier Islands’ inhabitants continued in a more informal way through chance encounters. Just walking down the streets, we enjoyed the hospitality and simplicity of discussions with the Polynesians. Coming across someone often means stopping for a few minutes to chat, talk about life aboard Tara or the islanders’ concerns. Friendly exchanges sometimes led to an invitation to visit a pearl farm or a gift of some fresh fruit. The 5 scientists who caught their return flight here, and the 11 Taranauts remaining on board to reach Tahiti in a few days, could not have dreamed of a better welcome in French Polynesia.

Yann Chavance

THE ROUTE TO THE WEST

Island after Island, Tara continues her course across the Pacific Ocean. This week, the vessel stopped in the Gambier Archipelago in French Polynesia. The schooner’s route draws a straight line from South America to Japan: a crossing from East to West, particularly interesting for scientists.

After the Panama Canal, gateway to the Pacific, and Malpelo, the Colombian interlude, the route to the West began in Rapa Nui (Easter Island), then continued to Ducie Island, and now to the Gambier Islands. Later on the schooner will pursue this path and sail towards Tahiti, Samoa, Wallis and Futuna, the Marianas and other islands, before arriving in Japan in February 2017. As a result, Tara keeps crossing time zones: since our departure from Easter Island, we have already changed the time 4 times, stretching days to 25 hours. And it’s not about to stop: when Tara arrives in Japan, the vessel will have crossed about 15 time zones since her departure from Lorient.

5-credits-yann-chavance-tara-gambier-1-3
The schooner is heading towards a mooring site, safe from strong winds and waves, in Taravai, the second largest island of the Gambier Archipelago © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Besides this race against the setting Sun, the route to the West presents a real scientific interest. « Pacific coral reefs have a very strong biodiversity gradient from East to West», explains Emilie Boissin, one of the scientific coordinators of the expedition. «The further West we go, the richer the reefs will get in terms of species diversity.» A statement already verified by the first divers’ observations: in Rapa Nui, the sea floor showed mainly 2 species of coral. In Ducie Island, the number of species had already increased and here, in the Gambier Archipelago, the first dive seemed to confirm even greater biodiversity.

The relative barrenness of the first islands visited has forced scientists to lower their ambitions: of the 3 coral species studied during the expedition, only 2 were observed in Rapa Nui and Ducie Island. The same is true for the 2 kinds of fish targeted: none was found in Rapa Nui and only one in Ducie Island. But, according to scientists on board, everything should change now: if all goes well, this stopover in the Gambier Islands should finally lead to the observation of all study subjects. Even in the absence of some species, this crossing from East to West is still very interesting. «We are studying the coral microbiome, all microorganisms living with corals», describes Emilie Boissin (CRIOBE). «One of the important questions is whether this microbiome also follows the same biodiversity gradient from East to West». Part of the answer surely lies within the thousands of samples in Tara’s fridges.

Yann Chavance

Below the cliffs of Malpelo

At dawn on Tuesday morning, after 36 hours at sea, Tara arrived at the island of Malpelo (Colombia) to begin a week of daily dives. The new team will be observing the biggest fish in the world – the whale shark.

After 2 days of calm navigation between Panama and Colombia with a small crew (10 people on board) everything speeded up when Tara dropped anchor in Colombian waters. We moored for only a few hours at Buenaventura, the country’s main port – just enough time to embark fresh food, diving equipment, and some new crew members. We spent a minimum amount of time on land. Given the city’s bad reputation (considered the most dangerous in the country) the team preferred not to dwell here for sightseeing.

 

CREDITS YANN CHAVANCE - Samuel Audrain - Buenaventura-1
Samuel Audrain, captain, preparing the route to Malpelo Island © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

The day after arrival, Tara revved up the engines again with some new faces on board, including Roman Troublé, director of the Tara Foundation. Among the newcomers, Tane Sinclair-Taylor, a marine biologist (KAUST, Saudi Arabia) who will do the tagging of whale sharks, one of our objectives here in Malpelo. Equipped with a speargun, he will attach to the base of each giant shark’s fin a small GPS tag that will transmit valuable information on the lifestyle and movements of the sharks.

Alongside him underwater will be Erika Lopez, Colombian diver, and of course Sandra Bessudo, the French-Colombian “soul” of Malpelo who initiated the protection of this site. In 1999 Sandra created the Malpelo Foundation and for 30 years has devoted her life to preserving the archipelago. Of course we’ll also take the opportunity to study the reefs of this underwater sanctuary: Laetitia Hedouin (CNRS researcher, Criobe) and Luis Chasqui (Colombian marine biologist at INVEMAR) will assist Emilie Boissin in making an inventory of Malpelo corals.

 

CREDITS YANN CHAVANCE - Départ Plongée - Malpelo-1
One of the two annexes leaves Tara for the first dive of the week in Malpelo © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

So, on Tuesday morning we all came face to face with the huge cliffs of the Colombian island, accompanied by the cries of thousands of seabirds nesting in the rocks. Just enough time to put the 2 dinghies in the water and anchor Tara below the cliffs, and the team had already donned wetsuits, ready to test the equipment and diving conditions around the island. We don’t know if the whale sharks will come here to meet us. Answer in a few days.

Yann Chavance

Scientific sampling across the Atlantic

The first leg of the Tara Pacific expedition — the Atlantic crossing — is a “can’t miss” opportunity for scientists from the Oceanographic Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer (France) and the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israël). This first period of sailing is put to use collecting as much data as possible and completing the already colossal data basis on plankton established during the Tara Oceans expedition. These new samples will allow further analysis of living organisms and the incredible biodiversity of plankton.

But the presence of plastic at sea is also revealed. The fragments collected will be analyzed, including the bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that colonize microplastics.
Discover a series of sampling instruments:
- A peristaltic pump, designed to avoid damaging the organisms collected
- A “high speed” net to collect surface water without having to reduce the speed of the schooner
- A bottle to collect iron (nutrient essential for plankton) installed at the bow of the boat in order not to be contaminated by the aluminum hull.

These operations are complemented by various automated and continuous samplings such as collecting atmospheric particles, and survey work made by the mass spectrometer in the dry lab.

 

Credits Maeva Bardy – Foundation Tara Expéditions

 

Video: “Ocean and Science days” at the Tara Pavilion

During these first days of the COP21, 40 scientists have took turns presenting their work on climate change, its impact on the Pacific Islands, the situation in the Arctic, and also the first inhabitants of the oceans: planktonic organisms.

© Y.Chavance/Tara Expéditions

COP21: small islands hold the place of honor at the Tara Pavilion

On Tuesday December 2, the Tara Pavilion devoted an entire day to the issues confronting small islands and their vulnerability to climate change, with a series of conferences and debates to highlight the challenges faced by islands nations at a time of climate change.

Kiribati, Maldives, Palau, etc. Island nations are the first victims of climate disruptions, in particular rising sea levels. Their representatives have been sounding the alarm since the end of the 1980s due to the reality of the threats to small islands. After a series of conferences highlighting the links between climate and ocean, it was logical that the Tara “Ocean & Climate” Pavilion organized a day dedicated to this issue.

Three conference cycles open to the general public were thus devoted to the impacts of climate change on coral reefs, solutions for a development compatible with climate risks, and challenges to be met in terms of adaptation and risk limitation. Among experts, scientists and NGO representatives addressing the conferences, were also policy makers who are in the front line of these upcoming changes – including Philippe Germain, President of the government of New Caledonia, and Tommy Remengesau, President of the Republic of Palau.

“The ocean is life. It’s central to our culture, economy and identity” reminded Tommy Remengesau to the Tara Pavilion’s audience. “Thanks to all these discussions, especially in small groups as here, we can truly propose realistic solutions to those who are the most affected by climate change.” And the 21,000 inhabitants of the archipelago of Palau are undoubtedly amongst the most affected, like any other island populations of the Pacific Ocean. For all these islands, the threats are often the same.

First and foremost is rising sea levels, consequence of the warming of the oceans which causes their expansion and the melting of glaciers. With an average elevation of 17 centimeters during the 20th century, low-lying islands have seen their lands gradually submerged by the ocean. Another already visible threat is ocean acidification and warming that especially endanger coral reefs. Tara will focus on this crucial issue during her next expedition in 2016, studying coral reefs in Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

The list of the consequences of climate change on small islands goes on: probable intensification of hurricanes, severe degradation of mangroves, viability of several populations called into question, etc. Climate change may remain somewhat abstract for many Westerners; on the contrary, island populations are already witnessing its first effects. “Although I’m on the front line regarding what’s happening with climate change, I’m also struck by the fact that small islands are a window on what could affect the rest of the world” said Tommy Remengesau. Indeed, if small islands are currently the most concerned, they may augur the future of most coastal areas on the planet.

Interview by Yann Chavance, correspondent aboard

 

Related articles:

- COP21: discover Tara’s program at the Paris Climate Conference

- Video: “Ocean and Science Days” at the Tara Pavilion

- 11 countries signed the “Because the Ocean” declaration at Tara’s Pavilion

VIDEO : Tara is in Paris!

The Tara team has been hard at work for a long time preparing to participate in the upcoming 2015 Paris Climate conference (COP21). To pass under the bridges of the Seine, Tara’s masts had to be taken down. Then for 3 days, the schooner went up the river. At quay, the masts were re-installed to get Tara ready for her opening to the public on Saturday, November 14. The Tara “Ocean & Climate” Pavilion will open on November 13. Discover this impressive feat and the hoisting maneuvers involved in video. The research schooner will be docked near the Pont Alexandre III until December 18.

Click here to discover Tara’s program

© N.Pansiot / Tara Expeditions.org

The Canary Returns from the Coal Mine – ITW Romain Troublé

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Josh Stride

Related articles:
- Join the Ocean Call for Climate on Change.org
Tara in London – pictures
Heading to the Paris Climate Conference (COP21)

Interview with Lisa Emelia Svensson – Ocean and climate, how to inform decision makers?

During a stopover in Stockholm, the Tara project members – in particular, Romain Troublé, secretary general of Tara Expeditions  had the opportunity to speak with local political representatives. A foretaste of what awaits them at the 2015 Climate Conference to be held in Paris this winter. Among them, Lisa Emelia Svensson, Swedish Ambassador of the oceans. Interview with a committed woman.

Can you explain your role as an ambassador?

I work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as an ambassador for the oceans, I defend the Swedish perspectives on the protection of the oceans. I’m focusing on the challenges facing the ocean, but also on how to raise this debate to more a political level. We have the knowledge, publications, and information, but we still need to raise public awareness about these challenges! How do we make a link so policy makers can actually use the information and do something about it? In the context of the United Nations climate conference and the post-2015 agenda, we have one clear goal – the ocean. So now the important thing is: how do we implement this goal?

In order to complete this challenge at the end of the year, what relationship must there be between private initiatives such as Tara Expeditions and public or political initiatives? What is the role of these initiatives?

Tara Expeditions has two dimensions. You are a scientific boat and also a private foundation. From our perspective, science should be the foundation of all decisions because it informs us on what’s happening, and on this basis we have to make policy decisions. These strategic initiatives cannot be made or should not be made without knowing how to act. Of course, it’s always a challenge: when do we have enough scientific knowledge?

What does science tell us? Sometimes it shows how little we know about a subject – for example, the ocean. But we have to take this precautionary principle before making any decisions. And of course when it comes to politics, there are also many other variables to take into account, such as economics, as well as social and political decisions. So when working with science, policy interface is crucial. Tara Expeditions is a science-based organization, but also serves educational and informational purposes, as for example today’s seminar.

What are your expectations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21)? What are our chances of reaching a serious agreement?

Obviously we all hope to reach an agreement, and I think it’s important we all agree upon the legal instruments to implement. It is essential to raise public awareness about the ocean’s status – both as a regulator of climate but also regarding the impact of climate change on this ecosystem.

Why aren’t the oceans taken into account on the climate issue?

I think our awareness about the health of the oceans is 30 to 40 years behind our consciousness of climate change. Tara has been working on plastics for 5 years, meaning scientists have been studying plastic waste in the ocean for 5 years. But that is currently the extent of our knowledge on the subject, whereas for climate change, we have access to long-term measurements. So we know more about climate change and have thus been able to disseminate information on this subject for a longer time. We have detailed reports and algorithms on climate, and its evolution is foreseeable. In contrast, for the first time this year, we attended a seminar presenting an assessment report of the world ocean. We are currently working on this collective report in preparation for the upcoming United Nations conference. The final report will come in December.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Related articles:

- The Ocean, the climate and the science

- Interview with Romain Troublé: “Let’s give the Ocean a voice at the COP21″

- ITW with Etienne Bourgois: Tara, from the Arctic to the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris

Sirius: Patrolling the far north

Tobias Kolhorn is a Sirius patrolman. For 2 years he has been criss-crossing the Greenland National Park for the Danish navy.

For 24 months he has not returned home nor seen his relatives. No telephone network, not even an Internet connection, Sirius patrolmen have no communication with the outside world. During this time, Tobias left the Arctic Circle only once: to have a mandatory dental check-up in Reykjavik, Iceland. When we were docked near the military base of Ella, the Taranautes were able to get acquainted with this young sergeant.

Base militaire danoise d'Ella, côte est du Groenland.

Danish military base Ella, east coast of Greenland 

Tobias is part of an elite unit of the Danish navy – the Sirius Patrol. A group of carefully selected young men who must meet very high physical and psychological requirement. There were between 50 and 100 candidates, but only 7 were selected to integrate an intense training program in Greenland. Like a  “Survivor” program without cameras. For 7 months, Tobias and his colleagues were introduced to survival skills in the Arctic and the handling of dogsleds. They now know how to deal with a pack, and can take care of the animals in case of injury. And of course they have mastered the use of guns  to confront a bear or other threat. The mission of Sirius is well defined: they must perform  reconnaissance patrols with sleds  over long distances, and enforce Danish sovereignty over this immense Arctic region.

Tobias Kolhorn was selected to join the elite unit of the Navy: the Sirius Patrol. Cut off from the outside world, he has been traversing Greenland by dogsled for 24 months

Tobias Kolhorn was selected to join the elite unit of the Navy: the Sirius Patrol. Cut off from the outside world, he has been traversing Greenland by dogsled for 24 months

This unit was established in 1941 during World War II to prevent the Germans from landing along the northeast coast of Greenland. At the time the enemy was seeking to establish secret meteorological bases in the area in order to obtain information necessary to support the U-Boats and predict weather changes in Europe. Today the unit is still operating in the region, from the west coast of Hall Land up to Kap Biot, north of Fleming Fjord. A distance of 2,100 kilometers as the crow flies, but actually spanning 16,000 kilometers of rugged coastline.

The young sergeant leads Taranauts on a tour of the Ella military base. From left to right:  Dominique Limbour, Tobias Kolhorn and Sylvie Duboué.

The young sergeant leads Taranauts on a tour of the Ella military base. From left to right: Dominique Limbour, Tobias Kolhorn and Sylvie Duboué.

Tobias is completing a 2-year contract and is about to return to Denmark where he worked as a carpenter before joining the unit. When asked what prompted him to get involved, he replied: “I wanted to live this experience, discover the nature of Greenland, and test my strength in an inhospitable environment.” Here, the young Sirius officer discovered a simple life, punctuated by winter patrols, life with dogs and military discipline. He learned about himself and was able to test his limits: “If you get the right training, you’re ready physically and mentally, you can face anything. Now I know how to discipline myself, manage my stress, and make the right decisions at the right time.”

The region the Sirius patrol crossed by dog sled.

The region the Sirius patrol crossed by dog sled.

In summer, the Sirius patrol sails through the fjords to refuel the bases and huts they will use during the winter. When the sun no longer rises during the long months of ice, Sirius criss-crosses the north of the territory: “We patrol from November 1st to  December 20th , then we spend the Christmas holidays at the Daneborg base. We leave between January 20th  and February 20th.  Two of us work together with  13 dogs, we camp in tents, sometimes in huts. The temperature can drop to -35 ° C.”

When on  a surveillance mission, the days begin at 8 am by a call to the Daneborg station. Then they must harness the dogs and go off for 6 hours. The ritual is always the same: drive the sleds in the cold, pitch the tent, feed the dogs, making sure that each one has its ration and so on.

The Sirius patrol  traverses northern Greenland, a small part of a territory the size of Europe.

The Sirius patrol traverses northern Greenland, a small part of a territory the size of Europe.

When he arrived in Greenland, Tobias was struck by the immensity of the landscape: “At first it was difficult to determine the distances: 5km or 25km, impossible to say. There’s nothing to see on  the horizon.”  He became familiar with the territory, and in summer he travels over it  running rather than walking.  What does he miss the most in Denmark? Tall trees, the smell of spring, his friends and playing soccer. The little things of everyday life that he doesn’t have here.

: During the winter, the sergeant is responsible for a pack of 13 Greenland dogs.

During the winter, the sergeant is responsible for a pack of 13 Greenland dogs.

What will he miss when he returns home? The simple life, with nothing superfluous, and of course the dogs, to whom he has become attached. Tobias doesn’t know yet what he’ll do back home. Probably travel for a while, then settle down, and why not join the police. He wants to work with people and thinks he can make a difference by becoming a policeman.

Noëlie Pansiot

In the wake of the Vikings

While Tara is currently sailing in the northern latitudes, let’s take a look at the history of the Vikings with Thomas Birkett, Professor at the University of Cork, Ireland.

Oxford graduate, this Welsh researcher specializes in medieval culture and the runic alphabet –  the first writing system used in northern Europe. In use between the 1st and 15th centuries in certain regions of Sweden, runes appeared on a wide variety of objects found from Turkey to Greenland: dolmens, coins, small pieces of wood or bone.

It seems that the name “Greenland” originated with the Vikings

Yes, several medieval Icelandic sources attribute this name to the Scandinavian explorer Erik the Red, who established a settlement in the newly discovered land after being exiled from Iceland for murder. The Sagas - a literary form that developed in medieval Iceland during the 12th and  13th centuries, consisting of legends, historical and fictional accounts in prose - tell us that Greenland was discovered accidentally some years earlier when a ship travelling to Iceland was blown off course by a storm. Erik named the country “Greenland” to encourage others to settle there. He believed that a promising name would attract many people.

Erik established his colony in the 980s, before Iceland adopted Christianity. In the following decades, 2 main settlement areas developed, known as the “east” and “west” settlements, but both situated on the west coast of Greenland.The Norse settlers adopted farming practices they had used in Norway and Iceland, rearing cattle and sheep. They supplemented their diet by fishing and hunting. There is some disagreement about the total size of the Norse settlements, but the population was certainly over 2,000 people, and may have been considerably larger. Several churches were built, and a bishopric was established at Garðar in the eastern settlement. The site of the cathedral was one of the first to be excavated in Greenland. The foundations can be seen close to the present town of Igaliku.

Did these settlers have links with other populations in the north?

The  settlers maintained close contacts with the rest of the Norse colonies. They remained dependent on Norway for their supply of merchandise: iron, timber, and most important, beer! In return, they traded in valuable walrus ivory and probably furs. As in Norway, the Greenlanders used runes, and the inscriptions tell us quite a bit about their way of life. Despite being isolated geographically, they reacted to developments elsewhere in the Norse world. The Sagas and archaeological excavations of more than 600 Norse farms shed light on the population. We know for example that the biggest farms had large halls that could serve as welcome centers: feasts were held, stories told, guests entertained, and business carried out.

One of the most famous of the Greenland Vikings was Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, who led an expedition to Newfoundland and was the first European to explore North America (around the year 1000). His adventures in the ‘land of vines’, including encounters with the Native Americans, are recorded in the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Erik the Red. In Greenland itself there seems to have been minimal contact with the Inuit peoples, who lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, though some trade probably occurred. In fact, the unwillingness of the Norse to learn from and adopt the practices of the Inuits may have contributed to the demise of their settlements.

thomas birkett credit Anders Jensen

Do we know the reasons for their departure?

It’s one of the big questions in Old Norse-Viking studies, and there’s no consensus on the subject! We know the western settlement was abandoned by 1350, and the eastern one disappeared sometime later, in the 15th century.

Some researchers see this as a direct result of climate change. Temperatures certainly  started to become cooler around the year 1300, leading to the ‘Little Ice-Age’ in Europe. Greenland was always a very difficult land for farming, so the climate change would have increased pressures on the colony. The western settlement farthest to the north was the first to be abandoned, which confirms the theory of climate-induced resettlement. But the cooling climate alone doesn’t account for the abandonment. The effects of human activities on the land may have been an important component, including soil erosion caused by overgrazing, and the destruction of what little vegetation existed. These human impacts on a very fragile landscape would have made the traditional agricultural practices increasingly difficult to sustain. There is also some evidence of a decline in the diet of the Norse settlers. Knife marks on a dog bone have been interpreted as a desperate action during a particularly bad winter.

Other scholars believe that the settlement wasn’t as precarious as previously thought and that it was abandoned for other reasons. The Vikings’ departure may have been precipitated by attacks from the Inuit or European pirates, but there is little evidence to support this theory. An outbreak of the plague or a decrease in trade with Norway may also explain the decline. Another reason may be that the settlers continued to look back to the Norse homelands rather than to their nearest neighbours. The Vikings always refused to adopt Inuit practices – such as harpoon hunting. They stubbornly clung to European customs and traditions of animal husbandry. The decline of their settlement was perhaps not due to their incapacity to deal with an extreme environment – after all, the settlement developed successful strategies that enabled it to endure for around 500 years – but rather was caused by an inability to change their traditional behaviour in response to climate change, as well as their failure to learn from a people who had adapted over a much longer period of time and who were more resilient to change.

In the end, tradition seems to have been more important to the colonists than innovation and adaptation, and this made the collapse of the society inevitable – perhaps another important lesson for us.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Tara-Ecopolaris 2015: Logistics

Member of GREA, logistician of the 2015 Tara-Ecopolaris mission, and scientific assistant, Brigitte Sabard is also involved in the educational component of Tara Expéditions via the organization “Les amis de Tara”. For the first time a mission gives her the opportunity to wear her three hats at once. Brigitte discusses her relationship with Tara, as well as the organization of the mission that has just come to an end.

What is your role within the Tara Expeditions land team?

Ever since the Tara Arctic expedition, my friendship for this adventurous family and for Etienne Bourgeois motivated my involvement in Tara’s educational projects, in cooperation with several institutional and associative partners. This happens to fall within my professional skills (consultant in environmental education, science communication and project management at the University). I’ve been committed to Tara for more than 8 years now,  coordinating educational outreach. I create concepts and look for funding with Xavier Bougeard, who is in charge of implementing actions, developing and animating relations with teachers and researchers.

What criteria is the logistical success of an expedition based on?

Two parameters are essential: stay within budget and optimize the logistics-to-science ratio. This means carrying as many people as possible aboard the aircraft that flies to our study area in Greenland, and conversely, minimizing the weight of the equipment. This ratio must be optimal. Of course we need to know what to take and for how many people, what can be conserved or not. This year, we divided foodstuffs per fortnight and stored them in barrels.

Ecopolaris is supported by sponsors who trust us. The money we don’t spend on food or equipment can be otherwise invested, for example in very costly scientific material. The Paul Emile Victor Polar Institute finances 50% of our expeditions since we’re connected to the University of Burgundy. This year our sponsors have given us a real helping hand with food supply. For instance, Moulins des Moines and Intermarché gave us dry goods for the next 3 years, including the current mission with Tara. There are others: Vitagermine for fruit juices and compotes, les Jardins de Gaia for tea, the delicatessens Salaison Sabatier and Les Roches Blanches for cured meat products, Knorr for dried vegetables, Pomona for fresh produce and Columbia for our personal clothing.

All of Tara’s partners have contributed to making this mission possible. Thank you!

What role has Tara played during this expedition?

Beyond the rich scientific component, 11 years after our first collaborative mission, Tara is still offering us great logistical assistance, in line with her mission of supporting scientific research. Tara’s team knows that every year we have to transport a lot of equipment. All this has a cost, and GREA is a non-profit organization operating on its own funds. Tara has therefore proved to be an economical and environmentally friendly way to ship our material. Let’s consider, for instance, 1 kg of pasta delivered by air to our study area in Hochstetter at 76° North. In the end, it costs about 15 euros per kilogram. In France, we loaded nearly a ton of equipment on board, including fuel for camping stoves and boats, and batteries for solar collectors. Thanks to Tara’s logistical support, we’ve been able to send a 3-year supply of dry goods. Along our route we made 2 deposits of equipment -one for a future expedition aboard a dinghy, and the other for the next annual GREA expedition, the “Karupelv Valley Project”. It’s very important for us, because this will enable us to travel lighter aboard our dinghy next year, save fuel and cover a great distance from the Zackenberg scientific base in the north to Mesters Vig in the south, where we’ll be able to supplement the data we’ve collected with Tara this summer.

We had also planned to pick up Eric Büchel and Vadim Heuacker, two GREA ornithologists who worked this summer at Hochstetter and have finally joined us at Mestersvig to return to Iceland aboard the schooner.

To sum up, the assistance provided by Tara has 3 impacts: ecological, economic and scientific. When we charter an aircraft from Iceland to our study area, we are limited by the maximum weight allowed on the plane, which amounts to one ton. The less equipment we carry, the more scientists can come aboard. In general, a person is counted as 100 kg on board a small plane. Thanks to the drop-off we’ve just made with Tara’s logistical support, we’ll be able to bring more researchers on site to collect more data.

The ice conditions we encountered this summer are unique: patches of multi-year ice coming from the Arctic were very dense, and lasted late in the season. They prevented us from sailing up to Hochstetter. However, we did manage to drop-off a ton of equipment at the Mesters Vig military base, which is already a great accomplishment! Next year, we’ll have to find a way to transport our barrels further north, hopefully with the logistical support of the Danish military base at Mesters Vig.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Internet links:

Tara Expeditions website: Educational outreach,

GREA website (Research Group in Arctic Ecology)

 

Final hours in Greenland

Mesters Vig, Monday, August 6.

8am – The Tara-Ecopolaris mission is coming to an end.  All hands on deck now. No time to hang about, we have to empty the boat’s holds and load half a ton of equipment into the two zodiac dinghies. Food, gas cans, batteries… All the equipment that GREA (Arctic Ecology Research Group) will need for the next three years of ornithological missions will be carefully stored here. The sailors are busy offloading the canisters that have adorned the deck since the schooner departed from Lorient.

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

9:30am – Four crew members, already on land, wait on the dusty runway of this Danish military base for the plane that shuttles between Greenland and Iceland. The small plane will first make a stop at Constable Pynt before dropping off this group of Taranauts in Reykjavík. Among them are Christophe Cousin and Fitzgérald Jégo, the Thalassa film crew who’ve been following the mission for the last 15 days. We’re already missing their sense of humor. The scientist Gabriel Gorsky, nicknamed ‘Gaby’ and Romain Troublé, secretary general, are also leaving the boat. Gaby never finds it easy disembarking from Tara. The director of the Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer admits that he feels sad each time he leaves Tara.

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

3pm – On land, Olivier Gilg and Brigitte Sabard receive a helping hand from Kim Hansen, the military commander of the base. He has generously put a 4by4 at their disposal, enabling them to transfer their equipment from the port to a cabin which will serve as a depot. We have to clear everything away now and leave nothing to chance before departing. On board, the messroom has become a shelter as the warming sun’s rays shine through the protective bubble-like windows, and a delicious smell of chocolate emanates from the kitchen. Dominique ‘Do’, our wiz of a cook, is busy making dinner. On the menu tonight: bagel with salmon, cabbage & grapefruit salad, and chocolate birthday cake decorated with raspberries.

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

4pm – In the rear hold, Daniel Cron the chief engineer is busy at work: he has to change a cooling pump before departing tomorrow. The young man is patient and persistent: he’s been working on this part for several hours. The sound of his voice reaches us in the messroom, “Who’s the boss?” Intrigued by the commotion, we peer through the doorway leading to the workshop below, where a grinning Daniel can be heard exclaiming, “That’s what I like about this job – it requires a certain attention to detail!”

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

7pm – Everybody on the team is present; it’s time to relax now. Tomorrow the GREA members will conduct their last sampling day on this 2015 campaign. It’s already time to leave Greenland. A new crossing to Iceland awaits the Taranauts, and the maps are indicating a difficult passage through sheets of ice.

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

Noëlie Pansiot

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“Sky, Birds and Sea”

Author and documentary filmmaker, Christophe Cousin is primarily a storyteller. Camera in hand, he came aboard Tara 2 weeks ago. His next film, co-produced by Tara Expeditions and Via Découvertes, conceived for the TV program Thalassa, will recount the Tara-Ecopolaris mission.

Christophe has long been one of the “New Explorers” on Canal+, showing us the life of nomads around the world. “Traveling led me to photography,” he says, “at a time when I wanted to turn my back on a society that didn’t suit me, that was encouraging me to go around the world by bicycle.  After that  experience I wanted to prolong the encounter.”

©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

What did you know about Tara before boarding?

What vision of Tara did I have? A boat for scientific expeditions whose vocation is to highlight the future of the oceans and their marine ecosystems. I had no notion of the human dimension, and that’s what I was looking for.  Try to put into perspective the connections there may be between scientists  researching  plankton and the sailors who are on the boat all the time and make it move forward.

You’ve been filming the Taranauts for 2 weeks now. What will be the subject of your next documentary?

Last year while I was finishing a film, the production company with which I work, Via Découvertes, offered me a project – a continuation of the previous film. The producers wanted to make a documentary showing the role of the oceans in the climate system.

I must admit that initially the subject was unfamiliar to me. But after exploring it a bit, I felt this was a clear challenge. I’m part of the generation who were told that the “lung” of the planet is the Amazon, which is not necessarily wrong. But it’s not the only lung. Just 6 months ago I learned that the oceans play a role too, and my new awareness made me want to get involved in this project. I’m not a scientist, and I’m the first to be surprised by the subject, but I want to take up the challenge, popularize these ideas, and ensure that viewers fall in love with the Ocean, and with life. This deserves a story!

Everything began at a meeting between Romain Troublé (secretary general of Tara Expeditions) and the production company. We were reflecting on ways to express the relationship uniting “man, sky and  sea.”

Can you tell us something about “Once upon a time the Arctic”, your previous documentary?

I had this film in mind for several years. I wanted to tour the Arctic region, describe the geopolitical issues, but without interviewing politicians or economists, just speaking to the people living there or  traversing the area. The film incorporates 4 stories that echo one another: 150 Chinese millionaires go to the North Pole on the largest nuclear icebreaker in the world; Inuit men go hunting on the sea ice for their survival; Canadian soldiers deploy their force in the northernmost areas of the country; and finally, Nenets in Russia see their transhumance evolving to the rhythm of gas and oil pipelines. The film questions and challenges without judging. Describing the interdependence of ocean and climate  comes as a logical continuation of our goal – to make films that have an impact and real meaning.

N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

I’m aware that it will be difficult to reach a wide audience because ecology sometimes seems far removed from everyday problems. At the same time, the opportunity was too good not to take. The way I want to make this film different from the others by maintaining the human dimension. Science is one thing, but we must not forget that in the midst of all this are humans – their presence on Earth, and their impact. Humans are part of the whole, yet we tend to set them apart. I just returned from making a film in Malaysia with the Badjaus Laut (sea nomads). There’s a lot of talk about marine protected areas as a potential for recreating a dynamic biodiversity, except that people are left out of all this. The Laut Badjaus living from the sea can no longer go to their traditional fishing areas. And here we’re not talking about intensive fishing, we’re talking about a few families who need food.

What are you looking for through these encounters?

In every journey and encounter, in every population we meet and each issue raised, there’s a portion of everyone’s history. Let’s try to understand why we are here, what we’re doing here, where we’re going.  Finally what interests me in this multitude and in their differences is the universality of emotions.

How do you see your work in view of the upcoming climate conference next December?

The climate conference belongs to the people with power in this world, but I think we should all be concerned everyday by the notion of climate. Let’s worry about what we’re doing to the planet, and not just during a special meeting. If the fact that important people come together and manage to change things, so much the better.  But I think that the solution, if one day there is one, will depend on the masses, on large numbers of people rather than an elite.

This is why I think it’s important to communicate about climate, or at least to talk about climate by telling human stories. Because it’s thanks to these stories that we feel concerned, and we will eventually act.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

 

Stay alert

A short call was enough to bring all the Taranauts out on deck. We were preparing for landing when Sylvie Duboué, President of Friends of Tara, gave the signal: “Polar bear in sight!” Everybody rushed outside with binoculars to see the famous animal. A week ago we were hoping to see a bear on a patch of ice. But here they are roaming peacefully in the very area we want to explore on foot. After some questioning glances thrown at the boat, the animal finally took off, or at least disappeared from our field of vision, leaving some doubt about his presence. This bear was unfortunately too far away to be captured by our cameras – a pinhead lost in the middle of the tundra. None of our photos proved conclusive.

IMG_1253

Tara, lost in the landcape. ©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

After some consideration, the zodiac was finally launched and landed on the pebble beach at Ymers Island. Equipped with a rifle and flares to ensure the crew’s safety, we had to be vigilant and decided not to explore a canyon with glowing colors. The captain’s instructions were clear: stay together, scan the horizon with binoculars, and carefully choose your route to avoid finding yourself nose to nose with a bear hidden in a valley.

IMG_1072

Dominique Limbour (cook) and Mathieu Voluer (deck officer) check the horizon to avoid an encounter with a polar bear. ©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

As for GREA researchers Olivier Gilg and Brigitte Sabard, they took a much steeper path to reach the foot of a cliff, in search of a nest of gyrfalcons. They have been exploring this territory for nearly 25 years, accompanied by their son Vladimir. Sometimes they bring along a tent and camp out for several days. Brigitte recalls: “When Vladimir was 13 months old, I carried him on my back. At age 4 he was already climbing the cliff alone. Now 12 years old, this is his 13th Arctic mission.” The youngest of the Taranauts shows great maturity and a surprising analytical sense. “These animals are really beautiful to see, majestic, and they inspire respect. We observed 3 young falcons, then the adults came to feed them.”

IMG_4069

Gyrfalcon. ©N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

Eleven years after their first expedition with Tara, the GREA researchers continue their observations, returning to strategic locations day after day to take photos, count birds, and collect samples that will constitute an inventory of species. The schooner just headed out to sea again. It will take 17 hours of navigation to reach Myggbukta Bay further north. Brigitte and Olivier point out places on the map: “We’ll be passing many more beautiful landscapes, so stay alert.”

Noëlie Pansiot

Photos credits: Brigitte Sabard and Noëlie Pansiot

The Tara-Ecopolaris mission reconvenes at Scoresby Sund

It’s been 4 days since Tara left Iceland. The thick fog that envelopped the schonner has finally dispersed so we’re sailing at a good speed northwards, towards the largest fjord in the world: scoresby sund.

The Taranautes have all assembled on deck to enjoy the breathtaking landscape. So it’s not particularly easy for this onboard journalist, locked away in the computer room, to be writing this log. Computer on lap, with one eye on the keyboard and the other on the icebergs, the windows of this temporary office on the deck, overlook the stunning mountains of black rock mottled with white. The whole scene is perfectly reflected on the water…

Earlier, at lunch time, Tara made a stop in front of the basaltic cliffs of Cape Brewster, a much coveted object of desire for the two ecologists onboard. Armed with long zoom lenses screwed onto their cameras, the two researchers from GREA, Brigitte Sabard et Olivier Gilg, have been frantically ‘shooting’ one of the east coast’s largest colonies of sea birds. These photos will be assembled later, enabling us to count one by one the thick-billed murres and the black-legged kittiwakes. Olivier, half smiling, jokes about the work that awaits them when they return from this mission: “there’ll be some long winter nights in Burgundy…

Face au mur de glace

Faced with a wall of ice. ©N.Pansiot/TaraExpeditions.org

These researchers don’t seem to be scared easily by the endless days of work, as was demonstrated yesterday criss-crossing the frozen island of Dunholm for 13 hours in search of waterfowl. With a bag full of provisions on one shoulder and a rope perched on the other, they were on a mission to capture a dozen eider ducks – a species of sea duck – in order to take a series of samples and measurements. Huddled over their nests, the female eiders are perfectly camouflaged. Only a trained eye could distinguish these birds whose feathers blend into the rocky surroundings. Once spotted, the bird must be captured with a rope and this task doesn’t prove to be easy.

This is a new part of our scientific program” Olivier explains. “In 2004 we were happy to simply collect eider down to study pollutants. We’ve repeated that operation which will allow us to determine levels of contaminants, including mercury, but we’ve also conducted blood tests on a dozen birds. This is a first, and we quickly realized the difficulty of the task. These new samples will provide us with an additional way to measure the levels of not just mercury, but also hydrocarbons – pollutants which are likely to increase with the development of maritime traffic in the region. These contaminants are anthropogenic: pollution from  regions inhabited by humans is carried by wind and ocean currents. There is little or no source of pollution here. So by sampling locally, we can measure the circulation of pollutants around the planet.

Mathieu Voluer, deck officer, and Dominique Limbour, cook, watching a colony of thick-billed murres at Cape Brewster. ©N.Pansiot/TaraExpeditions.org

It’s 4pm already, and a few Taranautes have gathered in the large messroom, others are taking a break to recharge their batteries for the next night shift. The schooner is far from the coast and sailing at over 7 knots to reach a safe place. The captain studies the maps: “We’re heading north and it’s a bit of a gamble. A gale is expected during the night of July 29 to 30, so we have to get a move on if we want to cover 200 miles in 35 hours.

Noëlie Pansiot

 

Related items:

- Media: photos, videos, documentaries…

- The fjords: a bird’s eye view

- En route to Paris Climate: destination Greenland

THE GATES TO GREENLAND SEEM TO HAVE OPENED

Tara repeats her attempt and for the second time sets North on course for Greenland. The schooner left the port of Akureyri yesterday hoping to find calm sea at the exit from the icelandic fjords.

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The sailboat is motor-sailing peacefully, so the stomachs of our recently-boarded crew have nothing to fear from this swell. Everyone takes their marks and gets on with their respective tasks. Among them is Gabriel Gorsky, director of the Oceanological Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer, who is working on deck, accompanying documentary filmmaker, Christophe Cousin. Gaby needs to be fitted with a lapel microphone as filming is about to begin.

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9:40, the cameras are shooting as our first Manta net is launched with help from the sailors. This scientific protocol is well established, a series of actions carried out with ease, repeated so many times before in previous missions. Beneath the bubble-like window that caps Tara, our wiz of a chef is already preparing a meal for 15 Taranautes.  The smell of those lovely little simmering vegetables reaches all the way to the communal computer room where captain Martin Hertau is checking his emails. A native of Saint-Malo, Brittany, the captain opens up the precious NASA satellite map and says, in an upbeat tone, to Olivier Gilg, researcher from GREA (Arctic Ecology Research Group): “Look at this, you’re going to like this! That confirms it, the movement of ice we were hoping for seems to have begun. Perhaps the gates will open in the next few days. We just have to keep our fingers crossed!” For Martin, it’s already time to go back up on deck to help raise the first Manta, as our 30 minutes of sampling time have elapsed.

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Still in front of the computer, Olivier continues his careful analysis of the maps: “We’re halfway between Iceland and Greenland. So we’re going to try and pass through the south of Scoresby Sund where there’s always a bit less ice. There are strong currents at this site which prevent ice from forming throughout the winter. Here the ice can be pushed away, and that’s what we want. On the other hand, depending on the wind, we could get trapped and be pushed towards the fjord. That’s what’s been happening over the last 10 days, forcing Tara to back-pedal. This time though, it seems like we have quite favorable winds. So for the next 3 or 4 days our passage might be completely open. We’re going to head for Brewster Cape, home to a large colony of birds that we’d like to count.

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Christophe Cousin and Fitzgerald Jego, head cameraman of the 110-minute documentary being made for France 3, are busy filming on deck with a handheld video camera. We need to capture some scenes of the net before arriving at the ice this evening at which point we won’t be able to use it.

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On the large outdoor worktable a small white drone equipped with a camera sits alongside precious samples teeming with microorganisms. The device is about to take off on its first tour to film a whale from overhead. Before that, we have to hoist the sails and show off the schooner in her best light. Tightrope-walking sailors enter the scene: our first-mate Mathieu Voluer steps along the boom to release the sail. Everyone is at their post. “Silence, camera, action!

Noëlie Pansiot

Articles associés :

- Greenland ice forces Tara to be patient

- Library : check our photos, videos…

- En route to Paris Climate: destination Greenland

THE FJORDS: A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

On the way to the east coast of Greenland, Tara’s crew must exercise patience and prudence. Brigitte Sabard and Olivier Gilg, two Greenland specialists, are waiting to complete their observations on this little known coast of the great white continent.

Sea ice has significantly reduced access to the Scoresbysund fjord for more than fifteen days, thus delaying the Tara-Ecopolaris mission, conducted in collaboration with the Research Group in Arctic Ecology (GREA). Looking at a map of Greenland, ornithologist Oliver Gilg explains how he plans to conduct his research.

“Since Tara’s expedition eleven years ago, no one has gone back to this place, located far from civilization, to see how its overall situation has evolved. This is the purpose of our mission. We will try to reach the south coast and sail along it to Cape Brewster, located at the southern entrance of the fjord. In theory, there should be less ice there, since it is somewhat protected from the northeast winds and since sea ice tends to drift straight down.”

“This is where the largest colonies of common eider live with more than 500 nests on some islands. Originally, we had intended to capture birds to take blood samples. However, we’re still planning to recover bird down from their empty nests for the first scientific phase of the Tara-Ecopolaris program, where work will focus on pollutants, mercury in particular. We intend to collect bird down from a dozen nests per colony, in five or six different colonies. We had already done this in 2004, so the comparison will be interesting.

“There is a large colony on Cape Brewster which includes black-legged kittiwakes and thick-billed murres. Scoresbysund fjord is usually free of ice early in the season and the counting of this colony has been performed for almost a century. This will allow us to monitor trends. Thick-billed murres are decreasing in number, both on the east and west coasts. This is most likely due to hunting as Inuits consider this bird to be a delicacy. Conversely, the number of black-legged kittiwakes has significantly increased in Greenland. The more the sea ice melts, the greater the population grows. We also observed in 2004 some Atlantic puffins, a very rare species in this region. We are not certain that they nest on the east coast of Greenland. It would be interesting to find some nests or burrows.”

“Then, we would like to sail up the Scoresbysund fjord, where we had identified the presence of great and lesser black-backed gulls, two species that eleven years ago had just arrived in Greenland. The goal is to be able to confirm that the population has indeed established itself, and know if it has increased. Everything will depend on weather conditions since it takes a full sailing day to reach the far end of the fjord” (Editor’s note: Scoresbysund is one of the longest fjords in the world, with a length of nearly 300 km).

“Finally, we hope to sail further north along the coast in order to count the two other colonies of black-legged kittiwakes and thick-billed murres. In other fjords, there are a lot of different species. There are several hundred arctic tern nests on the small islets, as well as dozens of glaucous gulls, the two most common species in the fjords. As there are no disturbances, no hunting or fishing, these population trends will be interesting to study. They will be compared with GREA data collected for more than 30 years. However, many scientific question marks remain. Going on a mission with Tara allows us to closely approach the shore, make our way through the ice and get ashore aboard a dinghy. This would be impossible otherwise. It will all depend on the ice cover.”

Interview by Dino Di Meo aboard Tara

 

Tara, icebound in Iceland

After three long days of waiting in Akureyri (Iceland), sea ice that drifted from the North Pole along the Greenland coasts is still blocking the entrance to the Scoresbysund fjord where Tara had planned to deliver supplies to the Ecopolaris expedition, dedicated to the study of fauna and directed by the GREA (Research Group in Arctic Ecology).

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According to satellite observations and ice charts provided by the Norwegians, weather conditions haven’t improved, thus preventing Tara from entering the fjord and reaching Constable Pynt where the GREA researchers are currently stationed. Winds have abated in this area of the Arctic Ocean, but a return of northeast winds has been forecast for next weekend. This should push the ice even more toward the entrance of the fjord and therefore restrict its access for some more time.

Captain Martin Hertau seemed quite pessimistic after consulting weather maps, especially since the navigator Isabelle Autissier, with whom Tara is in contact, has been trying to find a way through the ice to reach the small village of Ittoqqortoormiut located at the mouth of the fjord. She was having a hard time progressing 60 km off the coast when Tara had to turn back last Saturday.

Isolated in a base camp near Constable Pynt, Brigitte Sabard and Olivier Gilg (GREA) finally returned to Akureyri yesterday afternoon to patiently wait for weather conditions to improve. With their logistics equipment aboard Tara, it was impossible for them to begin their mission in good conditions. The winter has been very cold this year and even the west coast of Greenland was blocked by ice longer than usual, despite the influence of the Gulf Stream. Aboard Tara, we are waiting for a favorable period of weather before sailing back to the mouth of the fjord. A decision will be made on Thursday morning, after consulting weather maps, ice charts and discussin the actual on-site situation with Isabelle Autissier.

Dino Di Meo

Greenland ice forces Tara to be patient

At this season in the Arctic’s high latitudes, the great white continent has not yet freed its coasts of ice. Patience and prudence are the golden rule in navigation. Tara’s voyage to Greenland will take a little more time than anticipated.

The schooner, engaged in the Tara Ecopolaris mission with members of the Arctic Ecology Research Group (GREA), will facilitate the study of birds living in this very isolated polar region.

D.Dimeo/Tara Expéditions

D.Dimeo/Tara Expéditions

Just as they did 11 years ago, Etienne Bourgois and Jean Collet (first captain of Jean Louis Etienne’s boat in 1989) arranged to meet aboard Tara in Iceland. In 2004, the gray schooner had just become the property of Etienne Bourgois and agnès b. This was the beginning of a series of expeditions on the east coast of Greenland in the company of Olivier Gilg and Brigitte Sabard, French experts on Arctic ecosystems.

This time around the 2 ornithologists left their belongings on the boat, docked at Akureyri, and flew last Wednesday to Constable Pynt, one of the only places on the remote east coast that has a small airstrip. The next day, Tara left the port of Iceland’s second biggest city and made her way north to retrieve the two GREA scientists. But the Scoresbysund Fjord, which according to satellite maps provided by NASA still seemed accessible, was completely blocked. Strong north winds have pushed the ice towards land, closing the passage.

After a very rough crossing, Tara had to slalom among the first pieces of ice that showed up 80 miles offshore. The boat then traversed a second ice barrier, but the third one proved to be more resistant. The battle with the giant blocks turned to the advantage of the elements. Winds 35 to 40 knots northeast were predicted.

For obvious security reasons, the decision was made to head back to Iceland. Friday, July 10 at 7 pm, after hours of zigzagging in the freezing cold among numerous blocks of ice, Tara managed to get to safety, a little further out to sea.

With binoculars in hand and a lookout perched at the top of the mast, the crew turned the boat back south. “We were hoping for a change, but the weather reports don’t foresee one before 3 or 4 days,” said Captain Martin Hertau. Nothing dramatic in the polar situation this year. The dominance of north winds for weeks has pushed the ice to the south, and even the west coast of the continent is still in the grip of ice.

Sunday July 12 around 10 pm, after a downwind crossing, Tara arrived in Akureyri. Moored in a small fishing port, Tara must await the green light of the ice maps before doing the crossing again in the other direction.

Dino Di Meo, correspondent aboard Tara

TARA in Iceland, in the wake of the whales

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This Monday, July 6, 2015, TARA entered Icelandic territorial waters through the long fjord connecting the North Atlantic to Akureyri, the second largest city of the country. A stopover of a  few days to allow a crew rotation, as well as the discovery of local culture in spectacular scenery. Among the many attractions of this territory made of ice and fire, the observation of marine wildlife is one of the most popular activities and represents a large part of the Icelandic tourist economy. Thanks to cold and therefore more oxygenated waters, the Icelandic coasts are rich in krill, herring and plankton, therefore providing an amazing food supply for many marine mammals. Indeed, between May and September, more than twelve species of whales and sperm whales gather in these food-rich areas, thus enabling tourists and scientists to study more closely these giants of the sea. From TARA’s deck, the crew has actually been able to observe within a few cables’ length from the port of Akureyri the ballet of a humpback whale breaching.

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Measuring nearly fifteen meters long and weighing twenty-five tons, humpback whales are among the most common species in Iceland, as well as the more readily observed. Arriving from the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, where they spent the winter, these whales do not hesitate to travel far upstream into the fjords in search of food. Humpbacks can feed on more than two tons of krill a day to build up their fat reserves for the next winter. For a long time, their curious behaviour regarding ships made them an easy target for whalers. It now represents a major asset for scientific studies. Their tail flukes are easily observable when they dive and show specific patterns that allow researchers to quantify them and follow their migration across the oceans. Like a fingerprint, these patterns are specific to each whale and thus constitute a valuable source of information.

North of Akureyri, the city of Husavik is home to the main whale observation centres and therefore attracts thousands of tourists in its fjords every year. Visitors are invited to send their photos to local researchers in order to build up a data base allowing the annual monitoring of individuals on this area. Visual surveys are often supplemented with an analytical method, well known of taranauts: a portable hydrophone that enables underwater listening and recording of whales’ vocalisation that can last up to several days in a row. Professor Herve Glotin at the University of Toulon, who has recently provided TARA with an on-board underwater recording device, conducted research on these vocalisations during the project called Baobab. These recording sessions performed along the coasts of Madagascar led to a first analysis of populations in the southern Indian Ocean. They now could be supplemented during TARA’s campaign in Greenland.

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However, the relationship between Iceland and whales is far from unanimous on the international scene. Indeed, despite many collected signatures, Iceland launched a few days ago a whaling campaign. A traditional commercial fishery prohibited in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that has yet been resumed in Iceland since 2006. Alongside Norway and Japan, Iceland is one of the last countries to refuse the IWC moratorium on whaling for commercial purposes. A quota of 154 fin whales and 229 Minke whales was thus set for the 2015 campaign for a meat mainly intended for tourist consumption, as well as for export to Japan despite a sharp decline in demand.

A paradoxical situation for this whale sanctuary that has made Iceland the target of criticism from the international authorities, until public opinion places contemplation ahead of traditionalism.

 

Pierre de Parscau

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Listening to the Ocean

François Aurat (second capitaine) et Louis Wimotte (électricien) testent l’hydrophone avant sa mise à l’eau

François Aurat (first mate) and Louis Wilmotte (electrician) test hydrophone before launching

After sailing along the English coast for several miles, TARA took advantage of a 20-knot wind from the south to cut her engines and let the hull roll on soon-to-become Scottish waves. A climate conducive for encounters, as was the case yesterday with a pod of 5 Risso’s dolphins that came to greet the bow in turquoise waters. Tara has often observed these animals, but during the upcoming nordic campaign, we will listen to them for the first time. To do this, in Rouen the crew took aboard a special device: a hydrophone. A waterproof microphone, 50 meters of cable and a recorder: a rudimentary kit already tested by a duo well known to Taranautes: Louis Wilmotte, electrician aboard, and Douglas Couet, oceanography student. Having accomplished the MareNostrum adventure together, they were reunited aboard Tara during our route along the Brittany coast.

Arrivée de l'équipage MareNostrum à Istanbul après 14 mois de mer

Arrival of the MareNostrum crew in Istanbul after 14 months at sea

“It was a real challenge to voyage between Gibraltar and Istanbul by kayak” Doug told me as we passed the Cotentin Peninsula. “We were totally autonomous for 14 months, traveling these 8,500 kilometers of coastline, and participating in research on the marine environment.” MareNostrum carried aboard their kayak a type of hydrophone developed by Professor Hervé Glotin at the University of Toulon. “As soon as we could, we immersed the hydrophone to a depth of 30 meters and recorded sounds for a few minutes. Not many studies have researched this, neither cetaceans nor anthropogenic noise, that is, noise produced by man under water”. Thanks to this technique of sound observation, scientists are able to identify all so-called “vocalizing” species — over 60 cetaceans and certain molluscs and shellfish. Unlike surface observations, the hydrophone has a more extensive surface and depth range — up to several kilometers –  in registering certain frequencies. Occasional sounds are very recognizable, like the click of  the sperm whale which Doug let me discover with headphones. “This large animal, over 20 meters long, which hunts squid at great depths, will emit only this very small sound to communicate and locate itself underwater.” On the sound wave displayed by this signal, the 3 closely-spaced peaks definitely betray the presence of one of these sperm whales in the area being analyzed.

Dauphins de Risso rencontrés par TARA au large de l’Angleterre

Spinner dolphins encountered by TARA off England’s coast

These recordings have resulted in an unprecedented survey of underwater sounds throughout the northern Mediterranean. Thanks to the sound signature of each species, scientists were able to identify different populations present along the route of the 2 kayakers, and also quantify noise pollution in the marine environment. “Noise pollution, depending on level and frequency, disrupts inter-individual communications and thus reproduction,” explains Professor Glotin. “The sounds produced by man also disrupt their hunting and therefore feeding.” The example of dolphins found stranded in the Adriatic with pierced eardrums also highlights physiological effects possibly related to overly loud noises. The impact of man-made noise on the marine population is still under study, but certain elected officials have begun questioning the state of their coasts. The municipality of Villefranche-sur-Mer has commissioned Professor Glotin and his team to analyze the sounds of the port to better understand the effects of development on life in the depths.

Chaque lieu d'enregistrement est soigneusement inscrit dans le carnet de bord de l'hydrophone

Each recording location is carefully noted in the hydrophone’s logbook

To extend these analyses, TARA will make new recordings during the campaign in northern latitudes. “With these sound samples, we hope to analyze the song-structure of humpback whales in the area, and collect data on the behavior and status of other species we’ll detect.” A scientific adventure that promises to mobilize TARA’s crew during the coming weeks — listening to the world of silence.

Pierre de Parscau

Five Spinner dolphins surfing TARA’s waves

June 30, 3.22 pm / coordinates 54°50′ N / 0°11′ E

Air temperature: 15.3°C

Water temperature: 14.6°C

While on the way to Greenland, TARA was sailing along the east coast of England when five grey and white torpedoes cut through the turquoise water. A group of particularly playful Spinner dolphins entertained the crew for an amazing quarter of an hour. Pirouetting under the surface and surfing waves, the five marine mammals, more than 2 meters long, dazzled with their speed (above 9 knots) and the ease with which they moved in the crystal-clear water. One last dive and they disappeared, leaving Tara’s crew on deck, happy to have felt like children again.

Pierre de Parscau

 

Dauphins Risso au large de la côte Est de l'Angleterre

Dauphins Risso au large de la côte Est de l'Angleterre

Dauphins Risso au large de la côte Est de l'Angleterre

Dauphins Risso au large de la côte Est de l'Angleterre

Pierre de Parscau

Ocean Day, D-Day for the big blue

It’s a few months before the COP21 summit to be held next December in Paris. Today at UNESCO headquarters people concerned about climate change met on the occasion of World Oceans Day.

En direct du bateau, les marins soutiennent l'Appel de l'Océan pour le Climat. #OceanForClimate

Political leaders, scientists and the general public convened to discuss the future of our oceans and the impact of climate change on the “blue lung” of the planet.

The Tara team was present alongside Laurent Fabius (Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development) and HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco to bear witness to the impact of global warming on the world’s seas and their inhabitants.

This ecosystem is becoming increasingly fragile but its slow deterioration is not even on the agenda of discussions planned for the COP21.This alarming situation was recently reinforced by the latest Tara Mediterranean expedition devoted to micro-plastics: the first results underscore the impact of man on the marine environment. Given the scale of climatic events and public and scientific mobilization, Laurent Fabius announced that an entire day would be devoted to the issue of the oceans during the COP 21.

To emphasize the importance of oceans even more in future debates, and to convince world leaders participating in the COP21 to take firm decisions, TARA today participated in the Ocean’s Call for the Climate launched by the Ocean & Climate Platform at #OceanForClimate. Partners, associations and individual citizens have expressed their solidarity and support for the Ocean through social networks.

On this occasion, TARA’s crew participated in the event from the quay in Lorient.

Follow their example and send us your photo holding the #OceanForClimate sign. You may be lucky enough to be selected to appear on the home page https://www.change.org/p/together-let-us-give-the-ocean-a-voice-OceanforClimate where you will find the Ocean’s Call for the Climate, as well as the proposals which will be presented to policy makers at the COP21.

Related articles:

- Read the article about Tara, Member of the Ocean and Climate Platform
World Oceans Day at UNESCO
- Ocean and Climate, tools for understanding

ITW of Etienne Bourgois and Romain Troublé : “There will be a before and after Tara Oceans”

Begun nearly 6 years ago, the Tara Oceans expedition on marine plankton that ended 2 years ago is yielding its first scientific results. And they are major! For Etienne Bourgois (President of Tara Expeditions) and Romain Troublé  (Managing Director) this is a fundamental moment for the Ocean, for science and for Tara.


What is the main fact that we learn from these results?
Romain Troublé, Managing director:  Tara Oceans scientists have uncovered a totally unknown world: we have identified several million new genes that will transform the way we study the oceans and perhaps the way we assess climate change. For the first time a link is clearly established between the temperature of the Ocean and the composition of the ecosystem living in its upper layers.

In what way are this expedition and its followup innovative?
Romain Troublé: This is the first study of the planetary plankton ecosystem. Tara Oceans is scientific ecology based on 12 different research disciplines. The strength of this project is that the scientists involved have been working together all over the world since 2008 to achieve today’s results, and they will continue in the future.
Etienne Bourgois, President: This expedition is also a story of men and women, scientists mobilized by Eric Karsenti, institutional and private partners who have followed us from the beginning, and of course sailors. There’s a “Tara spirit” that continues in the laboratories, and is transmitted at each stopover. We received wonderful welcomes in ports-of-call throughout the Tara Oceans expedition.

Is this the most important thing that’s happened since you created Tara Expeditions?
Etienne Bourgois: Scientifically, yes. This is the first time we’ve gotten such results from Tara. I’ve been expecting them for a long time, since the boat accomplished this expedition between 2009 and 2013! We’ve proven that on a 36-meter sailboat, we can do top-level science that complements what is being done on larger vessels. This also offers enormous perspectives on upcoming results. One can imagine that we know everything about the Earth, but actually very little is known, particularly about the oceans. I am quite proud that Tara Oceans scientists from the CNRS, CEA and EMBL are contributing very important elements of knowledge to the scientific community, but also to the general public. History will tell, but there will probably be a “before” and an “after” Tara Oceans.

We are in “Climate Year,” and in planning stages for the 2015 Climate Conference in Paris. Do these results establish a link between plankton and climate?
Romain Troublé: Yes. Temperature influences the composition of the planktonic ecosystem, on the surface and down to a depth of 500 meters. The Tara Oceans results prove this link, but there is still much research to be done on the data which is now in the public domain. What we knew before the expedition began, and what everyone agrees upon, is that plankton stores over 25% of the CO2 we emit. Plankton is the world’s main supplier of oxygen. I hope we will soon have further details.

Are other results expected?
Romain Troublé: Yes, of course. The scientists are not going to stop now. This is just the beginning, and it’s very exciting! Especially as next year, we will lead a two year expedition in the Pacific ocean with some of these scientists and with an international (and partly Asian) team…

Related articles:
- The scientific objectives of the expedition
- Onboard scientific equipment during Tara Oceans expedition
- The best videos of the expedition between 2009 and 2012, then in 2013 in the Arctic (part 1 and part 2)
- The logbook between september 2009 and december 2013
- Christian Sardet’s website “Plankton Chronicles” (scientific coordinator of the Tara Oceans expedition)

From the Mediterranean Sea to Maine: Itinerary of a Taranaut

In the Haëntjens family, there is the father Cyril, whose business France Collectivités SAS collaborates with Tara Expéditions, and the son Nils, engineer and versatile trainee aboard the Tara Mediterranean expedition. Both are enthusiastic sailors. Nils personifies quiet strength. Cheerful and friendly, he fits the profile of the perfect sailing partner. For this young engineer, the Tara adventure has extended far beyond the Mediterranean basin where it began.

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While the schooner spent the winter in Lorient, Nils was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, on the east coast of the United States, not far from the Canadian border. Thanks to an encounter aboard Tara, he is now pursuing his scientific career in a laboratory at the University of Maine. During a Skype exchange with journalist-correspondent Noëlie Parisot, Nils explained the link between Tara and the NASA-funded project on optical measurements of the oceans he’s currently working on. Here is the summary of their conversation:

« The snow has finally melted! » After a few minutes of discussion on Skype, his words came across full of emotion. Settled in Maine since January, Nils discovered a harsh climate nothing like in France. Though he enjoyed skiing on the 40-km of cross-country trails surrounding the university, spring offers new perspectives for exploration, and Nils has already exchanged his snowshoes for a canoe.

Sitting at his desk in his student room on the campus, Nils presents his project for the next two years: «I’m studying for a masters degree in oceanography in Emmanuel Boss’s scientific laboratory at the University of Maine.» They met during the Tara Mediterranean expedition while sailing from Cyprus to Malta. Emmanuel, a professor of marine science specializing in optical data, was looking for a scientist to entrust with several on-board instruments, as well as to perform field experiments on a Hyperspectral Tethered Spectral Radiometer Buoy (HTSRB) and a CTD instrument package used to measure the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth of seawater. Nils got the job. Later on, Emmanuel offered him a position in the United States to work on a newly-funded project. Nils didn’t hesitate one second!

Asked about the work he’s performing in the laboratory, he answers: « The goal is to study the mass and distribution of phytoplankton in the ocean using optical tools. I’m focussing on a particular project. We receive satellite data on plankton distribution that require calibration. To do this, we send out buoys, sort of like the CTD aboard Tara, except in this case they are autonomous tools that transmit data to the laboratories via satellites. We are going to create new, more precise buoys equipped with hyperspectral radiometers that will help calibrate the next generation of satellites, operational in 2020 ».

Do we know why the actual measures are biased? « Yes, we do. When satellites take a picture, the light they receive is modified by the atmosphere. This is a first factor, but there are others that need to be taken into account. For instance, when we place a sensor in the ocean, it generates its own shadow, therefore modifying the environment we intend to measure. My job is to apprehend how this sensor is going to affect its environment, by how much, and then determine what corrections should be applied in order to get the right measurement, as if the sensor wasn’t present. To do this, I perform Monte-Carlo simulations. »

Nils seems to have been infected with the science virus and his computer-engineer skills allow him to analyze a huge quantity of data.

Well integrated in his new environment, he is even beginning to look for words in his native language! He spends his free time exploring the coast: «So far, I love it, it’s so completely different from Paris. Living in the countryside, I practice many outdoor activities, such as hiking and mountain biking. The coast is really beautiful, serrated and fringed by pine woods. No two bays look alike.»

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Nils’ loved ones organized Tara’s stopover and visits in their fief, Penerf, in Brittany last April. Tara is a full member of the Haëntjens family, and Nils’ time aboard seems to have opened a new professional path for him.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

 

Tara is sailing again after several months of renovation.

After the public outreach mission in Penerf, Tara headed back to Lorient. On the way, the 2 engines, Brigitte (port-side) and Thérèse (starboard) had a few problems – not surprising after 4 months of renovation. The 1,2-ton giants have been in service nearly 30 years, moving Tara’s 140 tons across the seas of the world.

Brigitte had several worrisome drops in speed, maybe a problem of fuel supply. The first mate Daniel Cron went down to the engine room when Thérèse started showing the same symptoms.

Finally, Brigitte held up until Lorient, thanks to regular purging of the fuel filter to remove the air bubbles responsible for her hiccups.  As for Theresa, more fear than harm. A leak came from a failure of the cooling pump. With the engine shut off, the pump was repaired in time for arrival. Tara sailed calmly through the Lorient channel powered by 2 engines, thanks to the perseverance of the 2 mechanics, Loic and Daniel, who spent most of the journey in the engine room.

Tara must be ready for future missions. This summer, Greenland; next year the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The secret? The crew’s constant work to keep the boat in good shape. Almost daily maintenance is required. After long missions, Tara returns to Lorient, her home port, for a complete overhaul – 4 months this winter (including 2 months in dry dock) were required to verify the fuel tanks, valves, and propeller shaft. The engines were also overhauled: gaskets, pistons, etc. – a necessary step in getting the boat back into optimal form. Considering Tara’s age, efforts are increased, each element of this proud ship is pampered, and all parts showing signs of wear are carefully checked.

This voyage was the opportunity to test repairs and fine-tune certain adjustments. In one month Tara will be totally ready for her next adventures!

Maéva Bardy

 

Tara’s fete

Tara arrived friday evening in Penerf. An SNSM* boat helped the aluminium giant manoeuvre in the narrow channel – between oyster beds and shallows – to reach a mooring where the schooner stayed until monday.

We were greeted with great fanfare by the inhabitants of Penerf and Pencadenic, two villages located on opposite sides of the Penerf River. Bagpipes and bombards sounded aboard the SNSM boat and made us forget the gray weather of this late afternoon.

Tara celebrated all weekend. People from the region were here to meet us, and even some visitors came from Paris, Toulouse, etc. Some are just curious, but others have been following Tara for many years and a little rain won’t stop them! Over the weekend, more than 600 people took the shuttle boat to come and visit the legendary schooner. Everybody is fascinated by the history of Tara and her crew, and on this level, they got what they came for! Of the 7 people on board, including 5 sailors, a cook and a journalist, most have already been on long expeditions with Tara (Tara Arctic, Tara Oceans, Polar Circle, or Tara Mediterranean) and are full of anecdotes to tell.

At the Oyster House, the room was packed for a screening of “Journey to the Heart of the Climate Machine.” Vincent Hilaire, correspondent aboard the Tara Arctic missions, came to sign his book «Voyage autour du pôle à bord de Tara». He answered questions, many of which reflect current concerns about climate change. Tara has a magnetic effect, captivating the attention of visitors of all ages.

Saturday night, near Pencadenic, the rain finally stopped. We ended the day in style with oysters offered by the local oyster farmers, an all-you-can-eat Eco-soup, and a rock ‘n’ roll concert – the occasion for everyone to spend an evening talking about the experiences of these adventurous sailors.

Maéva Bardy

* Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer

 

Etienne Bourgois and Romain Troublé: “Linking environmental activists and policy makers”

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!

 

 

Beyond the adventure …

When Taranautes welcome visitors on the boat’s deck, they share her story, explain the science and respond to questions from the curious. The same issues often come up: life on board, the schooner’s design but also the crew recruitment process. The Tara adventure makes for dreaming, inspires vocations, and team members are envied. Actually, there is no normal recruitment process for extraordinary expeditions. Team members were hired for their profile, skills, or from encounters.

Children’s questions are often very different from those of their elders. They don’t ask about recruitment or CV.  Rather, they want to know about the crew’s daily life. The youngest are invited to visit the interior of the boat and can hardly wait to discover  the sailors’ cabins. Even if they rave about the photos of the boat locked in the Arctic ice, their questions are down to earth and logistical: How does one make food on board? What does one eat? The sailor in charge of the visit then turns to Marion Lauters or Dominique Limbour, Tara’s excellent cooks. And one or the other stops making lunch for a few minutes to answer the questions. Children will also avidly ask about the coexistence of 14 people for several months in such a small space. Since they themselves spend their days confined in a classroom, they tend to bring up this important point.

A catalyst for unusual characters, the boat welcomes scientists, explorers and artists — individuals who, for the most part, don’t know each other before they board Tara. They come from a variety of professional backgrounds, with very different lifestyles and temperaments. They come together for several weeks or months to work on a boat that is only 36 meters long. They share their cabins, meals and work together all day. Their paths perhaps would never have crossed without Tara.

Nevertheless, on board, some kind of magic happens: team members do their best to live and work together in a friendly atmosphere. This micro-society is organized according to the same principles as on land. Except that everyone is particularly careful to cohabit in harmony. Friendships develop rapidly as the days pass at sea, and during the privileged exchanges of night watches. People find common interests, discover they share the same values, admire the professionalism of their fellow crew members, or rave about their past exploits. Whether diver, cook, scientist, sailor or journalist, the team members become Taranautes and relish the time shared on board. Fleeting moments each person tries to savour every day, despite the fatigue from work or close quarters.

When a public tour of the boat comes to an end, it is not uncommon that a visitor remarks to the guide, “How lucky you are to take part in such an adventure!” Aware of his privilege, the Taranaute nods in agreement, then replies with a big smile, “The Tara adventure is also, and especially, a human adventure.”

Noëlie Pansiot

Related articles:

– The best of science during the Tara Mediterranean expedition.

Tara Mediterranean: the best of life on board and ashore.

– Subscribe to our newsletter to follow all the news of Tara!

“We already have an informal type of recycling in Tangier”

“Soyez les bienvenus”. For two days, the Taranautes have been discovering what welcome means in Tangier. Yesterday, it was the crew members’ turn to receive local environmental associations. AMED, the Moroccan association for a sustainable development, is one of them, and our partner in this stopover. Amed’s President Lofti Chraibi presents their field of action.  

What are AMED’S objectives?

Our association aims to educate citizens, young and old, by involving them in practical workshops. We believe that people learn through practice, by getting involved.

Our goal is to show the components of sustainable development to the public. As part of an annual plan of action, we develop seminars and workshops to raise awareness about environmental issues, about the changes in behavior we must adopt. Here in Morocco, we are still in a phase where we need to educate and explain the need to change behavior. People are learning about recycling and waste management in order to reduce waste. We also introduce the use of renewable energy, opening up new horizons.

Every year, we organize the Sustainable Development Days. Next year, on the occasion of the 7th, we will work on the theme of water.

Tara Mediterranean is endeavoring to study plastic pollution and promotes public awareness of this issue. What is the situation here in Tangier?

Plastic is a problem. We try to instill awareness, to get citizens to ask questions. What is our mode of consumption? What becomes of this bottle after use? Like all modern societies in the 21st century, Moroccan society consumes a lot of plastic. Moroccans love to drink soda, and most are packaged in plastic. But when it comes to awareness, it’s not just to educate citizens. We must also educate politicians and policy makers to accelerate the establishment of an industrial  platform for sorting plastics. And in Tangier, we’re not there yet! We see that there’s a real desire to implement strategy, but on the ground, there’s no visible impact.

What is interesting in Tangier, and what we’re doing at AMED, is to think and encourage reflection on the form or the concept of recycling to be implemented. Why? Because we already have an informal type of recycling here: Certain people make a living by collecting plastic to re-sell. Plastic bottles for example, are re-used by dairy men for the transportation of milk. We need to imagine a platform or a recycling solution that will integrate all these people. But this must be done while following certain standards and better conditions of hygiene. We need to think about mechanisms to implement which will integrate these workers. For the moment, we are still in a phase of advocacy with townships and institutions.

 

You are partners with Tara Expeditions for this stopover. What is the schedule for the coming week?

We just organized a tour of the boat with members of environmental groups active in Tangier. Young members of AMED also came to do a reportage on the work done by the Tara team. Our association will participate in Tara workshops on Wednesday November 5th, and on this occasion we will present our educational activities.

Today, thanks to Tara, I discovered a new dimension of plastic. When we address the issue of plastic pollution, we imagine bottles or trash visible to the naked eye. On board I realized there are also tiny plastic particles. This theme could be part of our association’s outreach program in the future.

This afternoon, we have planned a tour of the medina and the kasbah with the crew. We want to show them the reality of our city and its human dimension. They will be able to observe the lifestyle of the people of Tangier. In the heart of the medina there are no big supermarkets, but there are grocery stores, and I think we’ll see a lot of plastic on this visit.

 

Interviewed by Noëlie Pansiot

Sound and picture: Aiming Vesuvio

Last Sunday, Stéphanie Petit, Matthieu Oriot and Noëlie Pansiot left the ship for a few hours, to go on shore. Without any guide, they decided to climb the Vesuvio volcano. 

 

 

© N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

“Let’s eliminate single-use plastic!”

Saturday, the crew welcomed aboard for lunch Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditons, and Gabriel Gorsky, scientific director of Tara Mediterranean. It was an occasion to discuss the problem of plastic pollution, and imagine the future.  

An on-going discussion, difficult to transcribe in full. Here’s an excerpt:

Gabriel Gorsky: There have been so many wake-up calls that didn’t get anywhere. I’m a little pessimistic. Regardless of the urgency of certain situations, we must initiate appeals for actions that are achievable! 8% of oil is used to make plastics, the majority in packaging that sometimes ends up in nature. Tara has launched an appeal to reduce the use of these plastics. Let’s begin right away by eliminating single-use plastic!

Etienne Bourgois: Apparently this seems to be well on its way.

Gabriel Gorky: “This is where you need to focus! We have to proceed step by step. Then we need to decrease plastics in the 2nd and 3rd categories: plastic bottles, and other plastic products that are not essential. At each stage we must involve industry, to find means of production that are as cheap as oil and can create many jobs. Otherwise, our calls for action will have no effect.

Noëlie Pansiot: We also need to raise general awareness about the problem.

Gabriel Gorsky: Of course, and Tara does this very well! Tara uses the necessary communication tools and the media.  It’s time for scientists to emerge from their ivory towers where experts talk only to other experts. Because ultimately there’s no response, no understanding or follow-up.

Noëlie Pansiot: Why do you think people need disasters to react?

Gabriel Gorsky: It’s human nature. Communication, the educational activities carried out aboard Tara, this closeness to people is very important. We realize that many people are already convinced. I think this is where Tara and other NGOs that raise awareness have succeeded – because ultimately people will speak out – they are already speaking out.  It’s time to take action, and involve the voting process. We need to elect people who will fight for ecological causes. It will be a long struggle, but certainly doable. The problem is that a lot of damage has already been done, and we must not fool people. We won’t be able to improve the state of the Earth overnight.

Noëlie Pansiot: As for plastic pollution, we can already try to stop it.

Gabriel Gorsky: Yes, we can stop it, especially in the smaller basins, such as the Mediterranean where most floating plastic eventually ends up on the shores and can be collected. In such places, if inputs are reduced, we can do something. It seems more difficult in the large gyres where we can’t get rid of the plastic so easily, because it covers extremely large areas. But of course, we must first reduce the use of plastic, since in many cases it’s not essential.

Etienne Bourgois: What about the Mediterranean – is the situation better than 30 years ago? ”

Gabriel Gorsky: Cousteau was wrong! The Mediterranean is alive and relatively well. I would say that nature is doing well. We now have new species, biodiversity has actually increased, but for humans things aren’t going so well. For example, plastic disseminates opportunistic pathogens such as Vibrio, which could cause cholera if conditions are right. There are a lot of pathogenic species that roam everywhere around the Mediterranean. For example, the tiger mosquito is now in Marseille.

 

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

 

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The Tara Mediterranean expedition: stopover in Marseille

From September 20-29, 2014 

 The schooner Tara is on expedition in the Mediterranean from May to November 2014. This mission includes both a scientific component at sea, on plastic pollution and an educational component ashore about the many environmental issues facing the Mediterranean Sea. 

From September 20-29 Tara will stopover at Marseilles, docking first on the Quai d’honneur at the Old Port and then on the J4 esplanade near the Villa Mediterranean.

Marseille Stopover 

On this occasion, the scheduled program includes: a press conference, an exhibition “Our Ocean Planet,”  an interactive environmental awareness exhibition “From the Mountains to the Sea” hosted by Surfrider, a conference, tours of the schooner for the public and school children,  and a workshop/meetings with local associations.

Tara will be from September 20-22 at the Quai d’honneur (in the Old Port in front of the City Hall) and from September 22-29 at the J4 esplanade near the Villa Mediterranean. This stopover is part of the program “September at Sea.”

Program: 

-Tara arrives at the Quai d’honneur in the Old Port: Saturday, September 20 at noon.

-Public tours of the schooner with a crew member guide, and an animation on the dock for young adults conducted by the Surfrider Foundation: Saturday, September 20th from 14:30 to 18h; Sunday, Sept. 21 from 10am to noon and 14:30 to 18h; Wednesday, September 24 from 14:30 to 18h; Saturday 27th and Sunday, September 28 from 10am to noon and 14:30 to 18h (free, subject to availability, reservations:  first-come-first-serve).

-Exhibition: Our Ocean Planet: open to the public at the agnès b. boutique from September 9-29, Monday to Saturday from 10h to 19h (33 Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, 13001 Marseille).

The ocean is the cradle of life and covers three fourths of our blue planet. It is vital for the health of our ecosystems and for us, essential for the balance of climate and for the global economy. To ensure the transition towards a model of sustainable development, our societies must better understand and manage more effectively the treasures of marine biodiversity!  Exhibition panels will let you discover the marine world.

-Workshop meetings with local citizens on key environmental issues in the Mediterranean: Thursday, September 25.
-Conference for the general public ”Environmental Challenges in the Mediterranean”: Saturday, September 27 at 18h at the Villa Mediterranean. To participate, click here.

-Tara departs from the J4 esplanade: Monday, September 29 in the morning.

PARTNERS OF TARA’S STOPOVER IN MARSEILLE 
City of Marseille, September at Sea, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Villa Mediterranean

TARA-MEDITERRANEE-MARSEILLE-BAT-40*60-V5

 

A Stopover in Tunisia

Tara’s visit mobilized Bizerte citizens on all fronts, from oceanography to recycling plastic. 

Tara arrived on Monday, September 1 at the Marina in Bizerte (Tunisia) in heavy seas and a steady wind of 35 knots. This didn’t stop Bizerte’s Nautical Sports Club from welcoming the crew with their dinghy and kayak.

The stopover’s program was rich and varied, conceived in close collaboration with local associations and institutions, including We Love Bizerte. Researchers, leaders of local and national institutions, environmental protection associations and plastic recyclers, and several prominent local citizens mobilized to welcome Tara opposite the beautiful old port.

From the first day of the stopover, the Bizertans hastened aboard Tara to discover or take another look at the schooner which had already visited here 5 years ago, at the beginning of the Tara Oceans expedition. Over 300 children and 600 adults came to see the boat and learn more about pollution on beaches and waste management, thanks to the Association for the Protection of the Coast which held an educational workshop on the dock.

At Bizerte, plastic pollution is a big issue, considering the almost total absence of sorting of garbage, and the impressive number of plastic bags visible along Tunisian roads. But the desire to change — to organize and reduce pollution in the Mediterranean — is definitely present. After all, the sea is the main resource of the country! The initiative to clean the beach of the Corniche, organized in collaboration with local associations was a success, with nearly 150 volunteers and more than a ton of waste collected! In the end, a demonstration of different materials and a lively debate on selective sorting culminated in a moving testimony of a waste collector, who stressed the importance of public awareness for sorting — almost non-existent in Tunisia.

The Tara team was welcomed on Thursday, September 4th by the dean and researchers from the Bizerte Faculty of Sciences for a full day of scientific conferences. Eric Karsenti, scientific director of Tara Oceans, gave a presentation of the results from that expedition for the oceanographers and researchers who were involved in the project 5 years ago. The Tara Mediterranean program was then presented by scientist Marie Barbieux, with details about the research being performed on microplastics and marine organisms. Tunisian experts then presented local work on issues important to the southern shore of the Mediterranean, such as the proliferation of jellyfish, and pollution of the lake and the Bay of Bizerte.

Tara also organized a workshop on local and regional environmental issues where major players on the local scene met for a lively debate about the pressures, obstacles, needs and ways of cooperating to reduce pollution and the impacts of human activities on the sea and coast.
The mayor of Bizerte, North Bizerte’s representative, and the cultural attaché from the French Embassy in Tunis came to visit the boat, in the presence of the media. Bertrand Delanoë (former Mayor of Paris) also came to visit the Tara team here in the town where he grew up.

Thank you for this exceptional week in Bizerte. We leave now for the island of La Galite, a Marine Protected Area since 1995, for a brief stopover before Algiers.

André Abreu and Nils Haëntjens

Video: François Aurat, a sailor and artist on board

François Aurat, deck officer, is the sailor who spent the longest time aboard Tara over the last few years. Whenever he can, François got into the habit of taking his camera to enjoy the vast range of subjects offered by the schooner’s journeys around the world. Enough adventures to bring back thousands of pictures taken during the stopovers, from the top of the mast, or even with a drone cam, our newest arrival on board.

Y.Chavance/Tara Expéditions

From one stopover to another

Tara left the Beirut Marina Tuesday morning after enjoying a week of Lebanese hospitality. We were originally supposed to continue our route south towards Israel, but the situation there forced us to change our plans. 

With armfuls of gifts and lots of fond memories, Tara’s crew left the small Zaitouna Bay Marina in the Lebanese capital. The huge anonymous crowd that greeted us one week ago when we arrived has become a small group, but this time with familiar faces: local partners or Beirut citizens met by chance during excursions, all showed us generous Lebanese hospitality. So, after a stopover rich in meetings of all kinds, it’s with regret that we leave the land of cedars and head due west towards Cyprus.

The small island was not one of the initially planned stopovers for the schooner. We had originally planned to spend a week in Israel, with 2 stopovers in the cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. But the political situation changed our plans. “These stopovers were intended to welcome aboard young science students — Arab-Israeli, Palestinians and Israeli,” recalls Romain Troublé, the secretary general of Tara Expeditions.“Given the context and how it has  evolved since the beginning of July, the conditions for hosting students and for the security of the boat and crew could not be met. The president Etienne Bourgois, the chief scientist of the mission and myself decided to cancel the visit.”

Tara had already stopped once in Lebanon, in 2009 during the Tara Oceans expedition, but   Israel was not yet on the long list of countries visited by the schooner. This meant that the decision to cancel the long-planned stopover was not taken lightly, and the land-based Tara team was left waiting until the last moment. “We wanted to see how the conflict would evolve, and were hoping for a rapid return to peace,” explains Romain Troublé. “By mid-July it was increasingly clear that we would have difficulties stopping over and safely hosting on board the hundred expected students. So, on August 1st, we took the decision to cancel and to stopover in Cyprus.”

We’re now sailing west in Lebanese waters, facing 4 days at sea and a busy scientific schedule, despite a reduced team. Anthony Ouba and Juliette Maury debarked in Beirut, and only Christian Sardet, plankton specialist and habitué aboard the schooner, has come to help Amanda Elineau (chief scientist until Malta) with the sampling of microplastics. As for the sailors, there’s Nils Haëntjens, a versatile intern who has joined the team to help with everything related to computers, electricity, electronics, and many other domains. We’re on course for Cyprus, where some newcomers are expected at our next stopover, Larnaca, in 4 days.

Yann Chavance

Beirut’s Warm Welcome

On Tuesday, August 5, Tara arrived in Beirut – the easternmost stopover of her Mediterranean route. Our entry into the marina of the Lebanese capital was accompanied with great fanfare, and the presence of local and international media.

After 2 days in the waters of Cyprus without the possibility of sampling, the scientific team took advantage of our arrival in Lebanese waters to carry out 2 long sampling stations. After a short night, on Tuesday we came into view of the first buildings of the Lebanese capital. Shortly before 6 pm, boats bearing the colors of the Lebanese flag began to join the schooner, turning into a real escort to the Beirut Marina.

Docked at the quay where Tara will stay all week, we were immediately submerged by Lebanese warmth. First, a garland of flowers was hung around the neck of each crew member, then “Welcome to Lebanon” echoed from all sides. A steady stream of journalists poured over the bridge, grabbing the attention of sailors and scientists.

Television, magazines, newspapers and news agencies – Lebanese (TV Lebanon) and international (Reuters) – the media were present in large numbers on deck. Adding to the merry hubbub that engulfed the bridge for over an hour were our local contacts: the group Solidere who organized our welcome; our scientific counterparts such as the Lebanese CNRS; and also local NGOs, for example, the Association Big Blue that has been fighting coastal pollution for 25 years.

Once the bridge emptied of guests, the crew recovered from this warm welcome at a cocktail party organized in our honor at the exhibition hall where Tara’s scientific adventures are on display. A welcome break before starting this week’s long program, including exchanges with local institutions and scientific structures, and of course, the visits of school children and the general public. Hundreds of people are expected on deck during the 7 days of our stopover – a week in Lebanon before starting the return journey westward to complete, by the end of the year, 7 months of sampling in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Yann Chavance

 

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Invisible borders

If the location of the sampling stations are chosen according to scientific needs, they are also determined by the local legal restrictions: each country boasts, off their coasts, an Exclusive Economic Zone. Before undertaking water samples, Tara’s team first needs to be issued an authorization, which sometimes arrives at the last minute. 

Yann Chavance © Tara Expéditions

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Direction Lebanon

Since departing from Mykonos (in the Cyclades archipelago, Greece ) at the beginning of the week, there are only 10 of us aboard Tara continuing our route towards Lebanon. Voyaging with a small group greatly changes the atmosphere on the schooner.
We were 15 in Cala Gonone, Sardinia, and 14 in Vlora, Albania, and finally 12 after Zakynthos, Greece. The downsizing continued after the crew rotation took place during our last stop in Mykonos. Today we’re only 10 Taranautes including 5 sailors. The Breton Martin Hertau, who will become captain in a month, is currently chief mechanic, the former position of Rodolphe Gaudin, who is now first mate. Captain Samuel Audrain, Marion Lauters, the cook, and François Aurat, deck officer, are continuing their journey started several weeks ago.
 
As for the scientists, Lebanese Anthony Ouba has joined Amanda Elineau and Juliet Maury, who have been doing the sampling stations for the past month. The presence on board of the Lebanese PhD student working at the Oceanographic Observatory of Villefranche-sur-Mer means 2 extra hands during the stations, and thanks to his nationality, gives us the right to take samples in Lebanese waters. Finally, the painter Emmanuel Regent will be artist in residence for this leg of our Mediterranean trip.

As always with a reduced team, the ambiance aboard Tara changes, becoming more relaxed and less noisy. In the large air-conditioned dining area there’s no more juggling for a place to work, have discussions, or plan a station. At meals, everyone feels free to talk with neighbors, and discussions become more personal. Although the teams responsible for household chores had to be adapted, each person willingly participates. (The cook, normally spared, given the huge task she accomplishes, had to join one of the 5 teams.) This Tara family is smaller, but more unified.

On the other hand, the “non-sailors” will no longer be able to sleep through the night. We’ll be taking turns almost every night, every 3 hours, assisting the sailor in his night-watch –  another opportunity to get better acquainted with our cabin mates. The next sampling stations will take place in this more familiar atmosphere. We have one week before reaching our next stop – Beirut –  and then we’ll spend a week in the Lebanese capital. 

 

Yann Chavance

 

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H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco aboard Tara

Sunday, July 27, 2014.  Prince Albert II of Monaco came aboard the schooner for a visit, highlighting his Foundation’s support of Tara’s mission

On July 27, 2014, during Tara’s stopover in the Cyclades (Greece), Romain Troublé Secretary General of Tara Expeditions, and the crew of the schooner had the honor of welcoming aboard H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and his delegation for a few hours. One of the main partners of the Tara Mediterranean expedition, the Albert II of Monaco Foundation has been supporting Tara’s missions since 2006.

This visit allowed H.S.H. Prince Albert II to fully appreciate the implications of Tara’s scientific expeditions by seeing first-hand the work accomplished for years with our partner laboratories and institutes. H.S.H. Prince Albert declared, “I am extremely happy to be on board. I had seen the boat at dock without actually sailing on it, so this is a real satisfaction to share at least a few hours with Tara’s crew. I think that by having this opportunity to talk, we can now envisage other ideas and other adventures.”

H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco was able to discover the boat in the conditions of an expedition – the occasion for the Prince to highlight the interest of the Tara Mediterranean expedition: “This campaign – to study pollution by plastics – is also a way to alert our contemporaries and make them understand that the situation is serious. I think Tara is really an example. This is a great adventure, environmental and maritime of course, but above all, human.”

The visit of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco aboard Tara underlines the commitment of his Foundation to protect the oceans, and his support for the Tara Mediterranean mission. This expedition has a scientific component – to better understand the impacts of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem, and an educational component – to raise public awareness of the many issues related to the Mediterranean. This includes the promotion of efforts to develop Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

“This entire day spent aboard Tara with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco and his Foundation’s team gave us the opportunity to support the launching of the Gyaros MPA, and strengthen ties with H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. For over 7 years he has been supporting and encouraging Tara’s quest for knowledge,” says Romain Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions.

Also present on this day were the members of associations involved in a major program of conservation of the monk seal on the island of Gyaros. H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco considers vital the program – run by his Foundation and local partners – to preserve this endangered species.  “It was important to try to save one of the last monk seal habitats on the island of Gyaros and other surrounding islands,” he said. “We are very happy to be a partner in this program, via my Foundation. I think we will not only better protect the monk seal and its habitat, but also the fauna and flora of these extremely fragile ecosystems.” These conservation actions and scientific studies are accompanied by a determination to work with local partners. “Projects like these only work if everyone feels involved, when everyone meets around the same table,” explains Prince Albert. “We must be able to work with the local population, especially with the fishermen, to show that it’s in their interest too, in the long run, that monk seals and fishermen coexist.”

 

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VIDEO – Tara sails across the Corinth canal

July 23rd, 2014, Tara crossed over the Corinth canal, which separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland. This shortcut allowed us to reach the Cyclades without having to sail around the Peloponnese. The canal is more than six kilometres long, but only twenty metres large and is overhung by impressive 50 metres high cliffs. 

The Tara Méditerranée expedition is on its way to Mykonos!
©Y. Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Sazan : a Franco-Albanian Preservation Project

The island of Sazan can be seen from the quay where Tara is docked, at Vlora, Albania. Sazan is the center of a preservation project uniting French and Albanian environmental agencies. This collaboration was officially signed on the deck of the schooner during a 3-day stopover in Vlora.

During 10 years of expeditions on the high seas, Tara has been alternately a platform for scientific research, a place for seminars and policy discussions, and a vehicle for raising public awareness about the oceans. During our stopover in Vlora, Albania, for a few hours the schooner became a highly symbolic site for the official signing of an important contract, establishing a common conservation policy between the French and Albanian Coastal Protection Agencies. At the center of the agreement is Sazan, the largest island of Albania, facing the bay of Vlora.  It is essential to preserve this rich natural area in a country where political strife has long deterred ecological awareness.

In 2010, the coastline around the island was declared the  Karaburun/Sazan Marine Protected Area — Albania’s first and only MPA. This initiative prompted the French Coastal Protection Agency to begin a collaboration with their local counterparts on issues concerning the island. “We had already worked (until 2006) with the Albanian groups, including conservation policies on lagoons,” recalls Céline Damery, Policy Officer at the European and International Department for Coastal Protection, which manages the Albanian case. “We returned here in 2011, taking advantage of  the dynamic that came with the creation of the MPA to provide our institutional and technical assistance, and support them in the implementation of a policy for coastal management.”

In 2012 and 2013, the French Coastal Protection Agency launched its PIM initiative (“Petites Iles Méditerranéennes) which included studies of the biodiversity of Sazan. Surveys quickly revealed the natural wealth of the island, including some 300 species of flora, 40 bird species and 10 new insect species unknown until now in Albania This rich inventory, followed by an ecological evaluation, and an assessment of land-based pollution, resulted in a management plan for the island. Until now, Sazan has been only partially affected by the newly established MPA. “The waters surrounding the island are part of the MPA, but the land area is owned by the Defense Ministry, and presently has no protection status,” explains Céline Damery. “We want to work on this project, because it can be an exemplary site for Albania, with integrated management of land and sea.”

Since the beginning of this year, French and Albanian agencies have been working to establish a Protected Land Area. This collaboration became official with the signature of the convention aboard Tara, in the presence of cameras and local politicians. “This is a new stage in cooperation with the Albanian authorities in terms of exchange of know-how and sharing experience on issues of coastal management,” exclaimed the French project manager. The whole Tara team was proud to host this signature. It was also an opportunity to highlight this kind of local initiative so that our scientific mission in the Mediterranean becomes a relay for the positive actions we encounter along our route.

 

Yann Chavance

 

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Escale sarde

Huit jours après notre départ d’Antibes, Tara est arrivé ce samedi 5 juillet en vue de la petite ville de Cala Gonone, en Sardaigne. Une escale de quelques jours durant lesquels le plancton et l’expédition Tara Oceans (2009-2013) seront à l’honneur.

Malgré les nombreux changements de programme pour adapter notre route et surtout nos prélèvements de plastique aux conditions météorologiques, nous sommes arrivés à l’heure face à la petite ville sarde. Un hameau de moins de deux mille âmes, perché sur une côte sauvage criblée de grottes aux eaux turquoises. Si tous à bord sont impatients de mettre un pied à terre ou la tête sous l’eau, ce n’est pas une escale farniente qui nous attend.

Tout juste arrivés, une partie de l’équipage part en ville pour une conférence de presse : ils reviendront accompagnés d’une quinzaine de journalistes venus visiter la goélette. A peine repartis, le va-et-vient du zodiac reprend de plus belle, déversant sur le pont de nouveaux arrivants encombrés de valises, quand d’autres, arrivés au terme de leur voyage, font les leurs. Tout cela au cœur d’un planning chargé, comme toujours.

Dimanche verra ainsi se succéder une conférence donnée en italien sur le plancton et les expéditions de Tara, une réunion de travail sur les recherches scientifiques menées dans la région – qui réfléchit à la création d’une station biologique et d’une aire marine protégée – ou encore une réception à l’aquarium de Cala Gonone, partenaire de cette expédition en Méditerranée.

En marge de ce programme, cette escale en Sardaigne sera surtout le théâtre d’un important séminaire pour Oceanomics, le projet titanesque visant à exploiter les données et prélèvements effectués lors des expéditions Tara Oceans et Tara Oceans Polar Circle. Durant cinq jours, les chercheurs impliqués dans ce projet à travers le monde se retrouvent ainsi à Cala Gonone pour échanger sur leurs premiers résultats.

Lundi et mardi, les scientifiques d’Oceanomics concluront ce séminaire par deux jours d’échantillonnage au large de la Sardaigne, l’occasion de former certains aux protocoles de prélèvements et de mieux comprendre d’où viennent les données qu’ils analysent depuis maintenant plus d’un an. De quoi conclure en mer cette escale ensoleillée avant notre départ mercredi pour l’Albanie, après un bref passage par la petite île d’Ustica.

 

Yann Chavance

 

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Entre la Corse et la Sardaigne

Depuis quelques jours, le programme de cette étape Antibes-Cala Gonone est une question d’adaptabilité, notre parcours se décidant au jour le jour, changeant parfois même d’heure en heure, en raison de conditions météorologiques compliquées.

Samedi 28 juin, soit deux jours après notre départ d’Antibes, le planning de prélèvement prévu par Gaby Gorsky, le directeur scientifique de l’expédition, avait jusqu’ici été suivi sans accroc. Nous avions comme prévu passé  la nuit au mouillage à l’île d’Elbe, quand les dernières données météorologiques nous firent changer nos plans : un fort vent d’Ouest se profilait autour de la Corse, alors que nous devions justement effectuer de nombreux prélèvements en longeant la côte Ouest de l’île de beauté. Dimanche nous avons donc rebroussé chemin, direction Bastia, côte Est, pour passer la nuit au mouillage. La précaution ne fut pas inutile : même protégé du vent par les montagnes corses, Tara fut ballotté toute la nuit par des vents montant jusqu’à 45 nœuds, sous un ciel déchiré par une multitude d’éclairs.

Le lendemain matin, alors que nous nous préparions à lever l’ancre, un dernier BMS (Bulletin Météorologique Spécial) changea une nouvelle fois nos plans. Un fort coup de vent allait souffler toute la journée dans notre zone, brassant la surface et empêchant ainsi nos prélèvements. La décision fut donc rapidement prise : nous resterons sur place une journée de plus, mettant à profit ces quelques heures sans science à bord. « Cela permet de récupérer un peu de la fatigue des derniers jours et de s’occuper un peu plus du bateau » explique Samuel Audrain, le capitaine. L’occasion aussi pour les marins d’aller à terre pour acheter du petit matériel pour entretenir le désalinisateur, le frigo ou encore le système électrique du bateau.

Du coté scientifique, cette journée au mouillage est aussi une aubaine. « On fait le bilan de ces derniers jours et aussi un peu de maintenance sur les appareils, détaille Stéphanie Petit, la responsable scientifique de l’étape. Pour ma part, j’ai mis à jour toutes les fiches de prélèvements et réglé un problème avec l’azote liquide. C’est donc loin d’être une journée perdue ! ». Cet arrêt forcé fut également l’occasion de faire le point par mail avec le directeur scientifique de l’expédition pour décider de la suite du programme. Après avoir évoqué la possibilité de retourner vers l’île d’Elbe, décision fut prise d’échantillonner un peu plus au large. Mais le soir même, après avoir levé l’ancre et s’être éloignés de la côte, le premier coup de filet ne remonta presque rien : peu de plancton, presque pas de plastique.

Avec la houle et une mer brassée par 24 heures de vent, la surface semblait désertée. « Même quand on ne récolte rien, c’est intéressant, relativise Stéphanie. Cela nous permet de mieux comprendre les facteurs qui influencent la répartition du plastique ». Il aura fallu attendre encore plusieurs heures et quelques miles de route vers le large pour que les filets, se succédant jusque tard dans la nuit, remontent à nouveau chargés en particules plastiques. Mais ce mardi, les bulletins météo annoncent à nouveau des perturbations à venir sur notre route. Difficile donc encore aujourd’hui de savoir où nous échantillonnerons dans les jours qui viennent. A l’heure actuelle, une seule chose est sûre : nous serons samedi prochain à Cala Gonone, en Sardaigne. Sans trop savoir quelle route nous prendrons pour l’atteindre.

Yann Chavance

 

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De la terre à la mer

Depuis notre départ d’Antibes jeudi dernier, Tara a changé de visage. Nouveaux arrivants et habitués du bateau profitent maintenant d’une autre vie, celle en mer, bien loin du rythme effréné des escales.

Lors de notre petite semaine à Antibes, comme à chaque nouvelle escale, le ventre de la goélette s’est rempli de Taranautes de passage : les passations entre « débarquants » et « embarquants », quelques membres de l’équipe de la base Tara à Paris, des scientifiques réglant les derniers protocoles de prélèvement, des techniciens venus installer du nouveau matériel de navigation ou encore régler les problèmes de communication satellite… Le pont et le grand carré n’auront quasiment jamais désempli durant ces six jours à Antibes, plongeant la goélette dans un brouhaha incessant, rythmé par le passage régulier de groupes visitant le bateau. Des visites publiques, mais aussi des groupes scolaires et des centres de loisirs, pour lesquels les marins se relaient, expliquant inlassablement l’histoire du bateau et les raisons de notre venue en Méditerranée.

A terre, les journées sont donc soigneusement organisées, comme l’atteste le planning complet trônant  dans le grand carré. Visites scolaires, heures des repas, arrivée des officiels, réception avec un des partenaires de l’expédition, conférence publique, etc., tout est inscrit dans les moindres détails. Un planning minutieux qui tranche avec la souplesse dont nous devons faire preuve une fois en mer. Une fois au large, ce sont souvent les conditions météorologiques qui dictent notre programme. La houle faiblit ? L’équipe scientifique en profite pour faire un prélèvement de plastique avec le filet Manta, décalant alors l’heure du repas. Si les stations de prélèvement ont été soigneusement prévues à terre, une fois sur les flots, la Nature nous force tout de même à quelques ajustements.

Ce changement de rythme une fois en mer entraîne également une ambiance plus calme favorisant les échanges humains. Alors que quelques jours auparavant, nous voyions en permanence de nouvelles têtes, nous ne sommes aujourd’hui plus que onze à bord, vivant 24 heures sur 24 ensemble. Entre deux remontées de filet ou pendant les repas, chacun a maintenant le temps d’apprendre à connaître ses compagnons d’étapes. Car si on retrouve des têtes bien connues sur le bateau, comme Samuel Audrain, le capitaine, François Aurat, chef de pont ou encore Marion Lauters, la cuisinière, pour beaucoup, cette expédition en Méditerranée est une grande première.

Le second capitaine de ce début d’expédition, Aloys Le Claquin, est bien un marin confirmé, après 15 ans passés dans le milieu de la course au large, mais le breton fait ses premières armes sur le pont de Tara. Idem pour Rodolphe Gaudin, à qui incombe la lourde responsabilité des machines. Du coté scientifique, Thomas Leeuw en est à son deuxième embarquement. Ce chercheur américain spécialiste de la couleur de l’eau complètera ainsi les prélèvements de plastiques menés par Stéphanie Petit, chercheur en écologie microbienne à Villefranche-sur-mer, secondée par Juliette Maury, jeune étudiante en biologie en stage sur Tara. Après avoir embarqué sur la précédente expédition, Noé Sardet retrouve le pont de la goélette pour y tourner un film sur le plancton. Enfin, dernier Taranaute à bord pour cette étape, l’artiste américain Spencer Lowell traîne sur le pont ses différents appareils argentiques pour immortaliser tout ce qui s’y passe. La vie commune en mer se met donc progressivement en place, et chacun aura encore quelques jours pour apprendre à mieux se connaître avant notre prochaine escale, Cala Gonone en Sardaigne, prévue pour la fin de semaine prochaine.

Yann Chavance

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« J’ai grandi en tant que scientifique avec Tara »

Les marins ont quitté le navire, le temps d’une escale à Villefranche-sur-Mer. Invités à visiter l’Observatoire Océanologique, ils ont arpenté la station zoologique créée en 1884, l’ancien bagne des rois de Sardaigne, un lieu charmant organisé autour d’une jolie cour arborée. Les bâtisses du bagne et de la Vieille Forge abritent un dédale de laboratoires, de bureaux, une animalerie et une bibliothèque. Le fameux bâtiment des Galériens sert quant à lui d’entrepôt : bouteilles Niskin, bien connues des Taranautes, kayak de mer, matériel de plongée… Et la mer n’est pas loin, le terrain de jeu favori des océanographes se situe à quelques mètres de là, au bout d’une avancée en pierres. Au fil de la visite, l’équipage a croisé, par hasard, plusieurs scientifiques ayant embarqué à bord de la goélette. Parmi eux, Jean-Baptiste Romagnan, ingénieur spécialisé dans l’étude et l’analyse du plancton à travers des outils d’imagerie, qui travaille toujours sur l’analyse des données de Tara Oceans (2009-2012). Une aventure scientifique d’envergure, à laquelle il a participé à deux reprises. Focus sur les données collectées durant cette mission.
 
A quel moment as-tu embarqué pendant Tara Oceans et pour quelle mission ?

La première fois, c’était pour ma thèse, en octobre 2009 entre Naples et Malte, la seconde fois, à l’automne 2011 entre l’île d’Ascension et Rio. Lors de mon premier embarquement, nous étions encore dans une période de mise en place, j’ai plutôt pris en charge la collecte de zooplancton avec les filets et j’ai travaillé sur le pont aux côtés de l’ingénieur Sarah Searson. Et à l’automne 2011, j’ai à nouveau participé à l’échantillonnage au filet et au déploiement des instruments avec l’ingénieur de pont.

Lors de cette mission, beaucoup de données ont été prélevées, comment sont-elles traitées ?

Effectivement, nous avons collecté beaucoup d’échantillons, des tubes contenant du plancton, lors de Tara Oceans, puis Tara Oceans Polar Circle (2013) et nous allons encore en collecter dans les mois à venir en Méditerranée. Lorsque ces tubes sont ramenés au labo on peut en tirer des informations de plusieurs manières : certains scientifiques font de la génétique, d’autres les analysent à l’aide d’outils d’imagerie. C’est ce que je fais sur les échantillons de Tara Oceans, avec le Zooscan, un scanner à plancton, et grâce à la participation de nombreux stagiaires, depuis presque 5 ans. Nous avons traité environ 75% des données collectées. La procédure est toujours la même : il faut retirer le formol, prendre une partie de l’échantillon pour le placer sur le Zooscan, afin d’obtenir des images, des petites vignettes de chacun des objets, a partir de la grande image scannée. Ces images sont analysées, puis à partir de mesures sur vignettes de plancton, nous faisons de « l’apprentissage automatique », en d’autres termes, nous demandons à l’ordinateur d’identifier le plancton, avant de valider les identifications manuellement. Avant on faisait ça à la loupe binoculaire, ça prenait du temps et ça demandait beaucoup d’expertise. A présent, nous avons développé des outils qui nous permettent d’aller plus vite et d’analyser un grand nombre d’échantillons.

Un lot d’échantillons représente combien de données archivées ?

Des milliards ! Le Zooscan est un outil qui a été développé pour répondre à plusieurs besoins. Le premier : pouvoir générer des données issues de campagnes océanographiques rapidement après la collecte, parce que dans le passé il fallait plusieurs années pour analyser des données planctoniques comme celles-ci. Le deuxième, répond à un besoin de stockage : les échantillons en tube ne sont pas éternels, ils peuvent s’abîmer, ils sont à la merci d’un accident. L’archivage numérique nous permet de stocker nos données à plusieurs endroits, dans une logique de conservation. Le troisième besoin répond à des problématiques scientifiques comme la mesure de biomasses, la mesure de biovolume, la mesure de taille ou de spectre de taille. En fait avec les images, nous pouvons mesurer automatiquement chaque organisme et obtenir des mesures précises et homogènes. De ces mesures, nous tirons des informations sur le fonctionnement des écosystèmes. Le plancton peut être observé à travers la « loupe de la biodiversité », ou bien à travers la loupe de la « structure en taille » pour répondre à différentes questions : combien y en a-t-il, pourquoi, où sont-ils, etc.

Que dire d’une expédition à l’échelle globale comme Tara Oceans ?

C’est une expédition exceptionnelle ! Tout comme Tara Oceans Polar Circle. Il s’agit de deux expéditions inédites, le genre d’aventure scientifique qui n’avait pas été réalisée depuis plusieurs décennies, voire plusieurs siècles, elles sont à classer parmi les grandes expéditions naturalistes comme celles de Darwin ou du Challenger. L’idée de départ était d’échantillonner tout le vivant planctonique, uniquement le plancton, mais tous les organismes : des virus et des bacteries, jusqu’aux plus gros organismes du plancton gélatineux. Le but était donc de mettre en place un échantillonnage de toute la biodiversité et de toute la complexité du plancton pour réaliser un état des lieux « photographique »  de la biodiversité du plancton à l’échelle globale. Après des expéditions comme celles-ci, il y en a pour des décennies de travail. Les analyses sont en cours, comme ici, ou encore à la Station Biologique de Roscoff, un laboratoire partenaire, ainsi que dans d’autres laboratoires.

Quelle a été votre expérience sur Tara ?

Mes embarquements étaient géniaux ! Une campagne océanographique sur un bateau si petit, c’est un gros bateau, mais en comparaison des bateaux océanographiques habituels, il s’agit d’un petit navire et la mise en œuvre d’un échantillonnage complexe et complet sur cette goélette est une belle prouesse. C’est une autre approche de l’océanographie, c’était assez intense. Finalement, nous travaillons en groupe, nous interagissons avec les partenaires du consortium Tara Oceans nous nous réunissons plusieurs fois dans l’année et nous essayons de faire de la science ensemble et ça, c’est vraiment intéressant. Cette communauté est très attachante. Et puis personnellement, j’ai grandi en tant que scientifique avec Tara, ça a été un projet formateur et je continue à travailler sur ces données.

Propos recueillis par Noélie Pansiot

Launch of Ocean and Climate Platform 2015 at UNESCO to mark World Ocean Day

World Ocean Day will be celebrated on 8 June under the banner of “Together we can Protect the Ocean”. At UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters, the event will be marked on 10 June with the launch of the Ocean and Climate Platform 2015, which will bring together the research community and civil society with the aim of placing the ocean at the heart of international climate change debate. The platform is being launched ahead of the next Conference of Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Convention (COP21), which will take place in Paris in November 2015.

A press conference will be held at 9 a.m. on 10 June at UNESCO Headquarters (Room 3), to explain how the Platform* will work, what it aims to achieve, and outline the collaboration underway between UNESCO and the French Government to prepare COP21.  Participants will include UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova; France’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Philippe Lalliot; Roman Troublé, Secretary-General of Tara Expeditions and representative of the non-governmental organizations involved in the Platform; and Françoise Gaill, Research Director at the French National Research Centre (CNRS).

The ocean is the main source of oxygen in the world, making it as important as forests in serving as “lung” for the planet. It also absorbs over one quarter of the carbon emissions produced by human beings, which means it plays a crucial role in regulating climate change. But increasing CO2 emissions, which are acidifying the ocean, along with the over exploitation of marine resources and pollution, are reducing the capacity of marine eco-systems to adapt to climate change.

Launched jointly with several research bodies, NGOs and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the Platform will inform COP21 debates on the vital interaction between climate and ocean. The fact that climate change also means oceanic change must be taken into account in the negotiations. Yet, until now, climate talks have focused mainly on carbon emissions from human activity, the role of forests in capturing and storing CO2, and climate change adaptation measures. The ocean has only been given marginal consideration.

COP21 will take place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. It will seek to achieve a new international agreement on climate, aimed at limiting keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

*Founding members of the Platform: Agence Française des Aires Marines Protégées (France); Association Innovations Bleues (France); CNRS; French Committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Green Cross France and Territories; Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation; Oceanographic Insitute, Foundation Albert I, Prince of Monaco; Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI); Institut Ecologie et Environnement (France); Institut Océanographique Paul Ricard; NASF; Nausicaá –Centre National de la Mer (France); The Pew Charitable Trusts; Network of marine protected area managers in the Mediterranean (MEDPAN); World Ocean Network; Surfrider Foundation Europe; Tara Expeditions; UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO).

Interview with Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions

Interview with Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions

A new expedition, a new base for Tara in Paris, a new website, the  launch of an Ocean and Climate platform on the occasion of World Ocean Day – Etienne Bourgois provides an update on all the exciting news about Tara during the month of June.

The expedition is launched and the scientific part of Tara Mediterranean began this week…

Tara is primarily a research boat, so this is a good thing! I am especially pleased that the scientific aspect of the expedition has expanded in recent weeks with more universities and institutes getting involved  under the direction of Gaby Gorsky, director of the Observatoire Oceanologique de Villefranche sur mer.

Let’s not forget that we are also devoting 50% of the time on this mission to raising awareness about environmental issues. We also aim to publish a “blue book” at the end of these 7 months in the Mediterranean.

A few days ago we welcomed an artist aboard. In all, there will be 11 artists-in-residence with carte blanche to do their projects. This is a unique experience for them, but also for the scientists and sailors they will cohabit with aboard Tara!

What message do you especially want to transmit?

A message of determination concerning the environment. Unfortunately the wheel of time is turning quickly, and the reactions of politicians are slow. We need to act now and adopt strong orientations.

Have there been any special moments since you’ve been in the Mediterranean?

Yes, I went aboard Tara in Port-Cros in early May during the study of deep coralline led by Laurent Ballesta’s team and the Agence de l’Eau. Laurent showed me extraordinary photos proving that the establishment of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) has had excellent results, and the Mediterranean ecosystem is extraordinary. The MPAs often lack resources and are still too few to cover 10% of the sea by 2020, the goal set by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the very professional crew–motivated, cooperative, modest, etc.

June 8 is World Ocean Day. How is Tara’s outreach program progressing on a political level?

This year’s World Ocean Day – June 10th – will be the occasion for a series of events targeting young people and the press, held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, with the launch of the Ocean and Climate Platform 2015.  Spurred by a small group of founders including Tara, the platform will bring together active citizens and scientists committed to a major goal: strengthening the role of the Ocean during  international discussions on climate, particularly with the COP 21 coming up next year in Paris.

Another source of satisfaction: the UN has just released the first version of a text concerning goals for sustainable development. “Conservation and sustainable use of marine resources” are on the list, along with 11 other goals. André Abreu, Tara Expeditions’ project manager, was involved in this effort at the UN.

 Tara’s new website is on the program for mid-June…

Yes, we needed a new interface, more adapted to new technologies, for better communication of our messages. The new site, created in partnership with Agence 76, will be easier to use, more visual, and will be organized around the 4 major missions of Tara Expeditions: science, environment, education and art.

Tara Expeditions also has a new space: the Base Tara…

Yes, it’s the rear base of Tara. The land team, led by Romain Troublé, has offices there. This is a magical place near the Bastille, full of light. We can host exhibitions, conferences, meetings for school groups, projections, etc.

The first exhibition, “The Secret World of Plankton” just started on Monday, and will remain open to the public until June 26. With his experience as an artist-in-residence aboard Tara, Rémi Hamoir, Professor at the Ecole des Arts Deco, proposed to teachers and first-year students to work on a creative project  around the theme: “Tara and the secret world of plankton.”

A damper on your current actions?

Despite the support and commitment of agnès b from the beginning, the budget is still not complete. It’s  a constant stress that prevents us from better preparing the medium term. This can sometimes be discouraging.  I wish to repeat here that no donation is too small!

In this regard what are your future projects?

We are preparing a project that requires a two-year budget. It’s a major scientific program about coral reefs. It requires at least 12-18 months of preparation, and we’ve already been hard at work for 3 months.

Is Tara’s 10th year a milestone, or the beginning of a second life?

We are in continuity. Over the last10 years we have done 10 expeditions, and all of them had real meaning. This is our treasure. Our projects have the distinction of being initiated by individuals who form a group, and not by companies or institutions.
I hope that other projects like Tara will be born in the world.

What can we wish you?

To complete our funding as soon as possible, and encounter favorable winds in the Mediterranean!

Pelagos : an international marine sanctuary dedicated to the protection of cetaceans

Pelagos : an international marine sanctuary dedicated to the protection of cetaceans

Interview with Alain Barcelo, head of the scientific department of the National Park of Port-Cros, responsible for the French section of Pelagos.

Each time a marine mammal appears near the schooner, the Taranautes rush out on deck to observe and fully experience a unique moment. The crew made the acquaintance of a Risso’s dolphin between Oran and the Balearic Islands, and more recently, a group of bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Port-Cros.

This year the Tara Mediterranean expedition will traverse the Pelagos Sanctuary several times. An international marine space dedicated to the protection of cetaceans, the area comprises 87,500 km² inhabited by 8 species of marine mammals. Alain Barcelo, head of the scientific service of the National Park of Port-Cros, in charge of public relations for the Sanctuary, describes the importance of the Pelagos Agreement.

Where is the Sanctuary located?

Pelagos forms a large triangle extending from Sardinia northwards to Hyères, and Italy. It includes all the waters surrounding Corsica. It’s an immense Marine Protected Area dedicated to marine mammals in the Mediterranean.

Taking full effect in 2002, the Pelagos Agreement was signed by France, Monaco and Italy in November 1999. It aims to protect cetaceans and make their presence compatible with all the activities taking place in this space. This is a huge Sanctuary, unique in its kind, and includes regions of the high seas.

Eight species of cetaceans are regularly present in the Sanctuary: the fin whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, pilot whale, common dolphin and beaked whale. Other species occasionally cross this area – humpback whales, for example. The numbers vary depending on the season: let’s say tens of thousands of striped dolphins, and a few hundred fin whales.
What are the main threats to these animals?

These animals are threatened by human activities, which are numerous in the Sanctuary. Maritime traffic can lead to collisions between ships and large mammals such as the fin whale or the sperm whale. Our goal is to develop methods to protect marine mammals and make their presence compatible with these activities. There are lots of pleasure boats and nautical activities in the area – sources of disturbance for the animals.
Among the threats to these species, the Sanctuary’s website also lists chemical pollution. What about plastic pollution ?

Ongoing studies show that pollutants attach themselves to the plastic and are ingested by organisms throughout the food chain. A wide range of common chemicals are found in very high levels of concentration at the top of the food chain in marine mammals. We know that comparing a species of toothed whale present in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean whale concentrates the most chemicals in its tissues. Macro-plastics are troublesome in themselves, but even worse, they degrade and become the micro-plastics that we find throughout the food chain.

What are the measures implemented by Pelagos?

We have tools for communication and raising public awareness. By going to the Pelagos website in two or three clicks, visitors have access to the “Become Ambassadors” page. Simply read the code of conduct, agree to respect it, and make it known to boaters. The public can thus share the goals of the Sanctuary and make every effort to protect the species encountered: be alert for signs of disturbance, respect the zones and distances for approaching the cetaceans, etc.

Faced with problems of collisions, the Association“Souffleurs d’écume” partnered with a private company to design a computer program for commercial navigators: the REPCET system. This device allows boats to identify in real time the position of marine mammals, and alert other vessels equipped with the program.

Finally, for 2 years Pelagos has been developing partnerships with coastal towns and cities. 30 municipalities have signed a charter engaging them to contribute to the conservation of marine mammals. These municipalities relay the message of conservation to the general public.

Other measures are aimed at operators of whale-watching boats (for which we are developing a certification), but also maritime traffic, protection activities, and professional fishing. We have lots of ideas for encouraging the presence of these majestic animals that live so close to our shores. It is essential to talk with seafarers, because all of them share our goals.

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Watch the video presentation of the Pelagos Sanctuary

 

No Tobacco Day: 400 butts picked up on the beach by Taranautes

No Tobacco Day: 400 butts picked up on the beach by Taranautes

Saturday, May 31, the crew answered the call of the Surfrider Foundation Europe. Equipped with garbage bags and gloves, the Taranautes walked the beaches of Charmettes and Le Cros in Six-Fours (Var) collecting trash.  This “Ocean Initiative,” the second this month, allowed them to collect 200 liters (20 kg.) of rubbish. Plastic was clearly present in all its forms, but cigarette butts  especially caught the crew’s attention. Volunteers collected the cigarette butts one by one for two hours, participating in their own way in the World No Tobacco Day.

Responsible for education at Surfrider Mediterranean, Benjamin Van Hoorebeke said with a big smile,  “The tobacco industry had a good idea in making the filters yellow: they show up really well in the sand!” It’s true, the color draws attention. When you bend down to pick up a butt, you quickly realize it’s not alone. Sometimes 3 or 4 others are lying near the first. Brigitte Martin, a volunteer for Surfrider for almost 3 years, is particularly disturbed to find the butts lying right next to a trash bin on the beach. “Tossing a cigarette butt is an automatic gesture. You even see it done in the movies.”

Sunbathers lay down their towels between the crushed and abandoned butts left on the beach by careless smokers. These small pieces of cellulose acetate – plastic in fiber form – are excellent travellers. A cigarette butt thrown on the ground in the city will float in water washing the sidewalks, flow into the road, and finally end up on a beach, as they do here, arriving via a rain water spillway. “The butt will then break up into micro-plastics.” Benjamin Van Hoorebeke adds, “The main impact from butts is the toxic substances they contain: nicotine, cyanide, mercury. A single butt discarded in the environment can by itself pollute between 300 and 400 liters of water. On the ledge there, I walked 10 meters and I found 56 butts !” Organizer of this event, Benjamin Van Hoorebeke regrets that smokers who throw cigarettes on the ground often do not even realize they’re polluting.

Each year, 4,300 billion cigarette butts are discarded in the streets – 137,000 per second! – enough for a never-ending trash collection. Surfrider’s campaign to raise awareness is essential. According to Benjamin Van Hoorebeke, “Awareness is the first step toward accountability.” Partner of Tara Mediterranean, Surfrider will be present at the schooner’s stopover in Nice in 10 days. A great opportunity to become consciousness-raisers, and educate the public about the issues of pollution.

Noëlie Pansiot

Tara is in its initial running-in period

“We are at the stage of setting up protocols”
Interview with Samuel Audrain, captain of Tara

Since last week, there’s been excitement on board: the captain’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing, the crew expects deliveries, and many groups take turns visiting the boat during this stopover in Toulon. In chief mechanic Martin Hertau’s workshop, adjustments are being made on the sternposts. Paul Dufay, a talented electronics trainee is optimizing the electric panel wiring. There are final purchases to be made and parts to be found for minor repairs. The deck officer, François Aurat, has the shopping list: hydraulic bladder, plumbing for the dry lab, ampere-meter clamp, cyalume stick. All crew members are busy preparing the boat, leaving nothing to chance for the expedition. Samuel Audrain is aboard Tara again, captain for this leg.

Tara has been docked at Toulon’s “Quai d’honneur” for the last week.  The crew welcomed nearly 1,000 visitors aboard in just three days. Outside of visiting hours, what is happening onboard?

I recently embarked and this stopover lets us speed up preparations of the boat. We are still in reach of our French suppliers, making it easy to order parts. We have to anticipate the up-coming seven-month expedition (with stopovers in many foreign countries).

We carried out a safety check and tested each of the life jackets for buoyancy. We’re making sure we have all the necessary equipment on board before departure. As for the machines and motors, there’s always something to do on a daily basis.

We’ll be in the Mediterranean and it will be hot, so we’re looking for fans. All these things take time. Yesterday, technicians came aboard to check the air-conditioning in the dining room. Our stopover in Nice will be as long as here in Toulon and will let us finish installations. We have to advance every day and not wait until the last moment. And all of this while welcoming visitors — the general public and schools groups. But I really enjoy starting the expedition and sharing our experience with the public during stopovers.

Who are the embarking scientists?

For the last couple of days, Hervé Le Goff, CNRS engineer, has been responsible for setting up the dry lab for the Mediterranean mission. Jean-Louis Jamet, professor at the University of Toulon, has just boarded and is scientific coordinator for this leg. He is in contact with Gaby Gorsky, scientific director of the TaraMedPlastic project and designer of our entire scientific program. We are all discussing the implementation of protocols for data collection and sampling.

In short, many things are being finalized and this stopover is rather intense. We are in a phase of setting up protocols, and want to be efficient from the very start, i.e., from the 2-9 of June.

 

Noëlie Pansiot

Tara Mediterranean expedition

From April to November 2014

After more than four years sailing around the world and the Arctic, Tara will be on mission in the Mediterranean from May to November 2014, with two objectives: to accomplish a scientific study concerning plastic pollution and to promote awareness for environmental challenges in the Mediterranean Sea.

450 million people live along the Mediterranean coasts in 22 bordering countries. Due to its geography and climate, the Mediterranean Sea hosts close to 8% of global marine biodiversity, although representing only 0.8% of the ocean’s surface. Today’s cities are saturated and almost 30% of the world’s maritime traffic is concentrated in the Mediterranean. Problems related to pollution from land are increasing, putting pressure on the marine ecosystem essential for the people of the region, and for life in general. Among the pollutants is the growing presence of micro-plastics. These are most likely incorporated into the food chain, and thus into our diets. It is therefore urgent to find concrete solutions such as water treatment, waste management, biodegradable plastics, promotion of sustainable tourism, and the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – solutions proposed decades ago by the Barcelona Convention, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and also by the European Union.

This expedition, the schooner’s tenth since 2003, is an opportunity for Tara Expeditions to promote the efforts of local and regional associations* on many environmental issues concerning this almost-closed sea.

A scientific study on plastic will be conducted aboard Tara coordinated by the Laboratoire de Villefranchesur-mer (Université Pierre et Marie Curie and CNRS) and the University of Michigan (USA). The accumulation of plastic debris in nature is “one of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet…” (Barnes et al, 2009), and one of the major environmental concerns of our time. Yet we know too little about what happens to these plastics and their role in ecosystem dynamics to predict their future impacts on the oceans of our planet and on humans.

To fill this gap, scientists board Tara will undertake an interdisciplinary mission to better understand the impacts of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem. They will quantify plastic fragments, and measure their size and weight. They will also identify the types of plastic (and adhering organic pollutants) found in the sea, and study the dynamics and function of microbial communities (bacteria, protozans, micro-algae, molluscs, crustaceans) living on the plastic. Included in the latter are questions about the probable entry of these molecules into the food chain – a subject virtually unexplored in the Mediterranean.

A traveling exhibition and films will be shared with the public. We will also welcome classes aboard at each stopover. Artists will be in residence on Tara for the duration of the expedition.

THE PARTNERS
agnès b., Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Veolia Foundation, Serge Ferrari, IDEC, UNESCO-IOC, MedPAN, Surfrider Foundation, Lorient Agglomeration, Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development of Energy, IUCN, CNRS, AFP, RFI, France 24, MCD.

THE SCIENTIFIC PARTNERS
Oceanography Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer, CNRS, University of Michigan, University of Maine, NASA, Free University of Berlin, Pierre and Marie Curie University, IFREMER, Oceanological Observatory of Banyuls, University Bretagne Sud, Toulon University South University Aix Marseille Université de Corse.

*LOCAL AND REGIONAL ASSOCIATIONS INVOLVED TO DATE:
Expedition MED, Mohammed VI Foundation for the Environment, Acquario di Cala Gonone.

UNDER THE HIGH PATRONAGE OF JANEZ POTOČNIK, MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION (IN CHARGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS)

Discover the map of the expedition

Click here to see the highlights and planning of the stopovers

Artists-in-residence during the Tara Mediterranean expedition

Tara Expeditions organizes scientific, artistic and educational missions with the schooner Tara.  Similar to expeditions in the 19th century, scientists and artists meet aboard Tara and share in a unique human experience.

In 2013, on the 10th anniversary of Tara Expeditions, the exhibition Tara’s 10 years, Visions of 20 Artists  was held at the agnès b. headquarters, showing work done by artists-in-residence aboard. A new exhibition will be organized at the Tara Base in 2015, when the current Tara Mediterranean expedition is over.

agnès b., owner /sponsor of Tara but also clothing designer, collector and gallery owner for 30 years, supports artists through her Galerie du Jour in Paris, and her personal art collection. It is natural for agnès b. and Etienne Bourgois to regularly invite artists aboard Tara. Their presence is a way of bringing environmental awareness to a much wider audience. To this effect, the selection committee met this year to choose from the many submitted projects for 2-3 week onboard residencies during the Tara Mediterranean expedition.

10 artists from 4 different countries were selected to give their impressions on the expedition:
- Yoann Lelong (video): Embiez to Monaco
- Spencer Lowell (photo and video): Antibes to Cala Gonone
- Carly Steinbrunn (photo): Cala Gonone to Athens
- Lorraine Féline (video): Cala Gonone to Athens
- Emmanuel Régent (drawing and installations): Athens to Tel Aviv
- Christian Revest (painting and engraver): Haifa to Bizerte
- Lola Reboud (photo/video): Bizerte to Marseille
- Katia Kameli (video): Algiers to St Tropez
- Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques (3D photo): St Tropez to Calvi
- Malik Nejmi (photo/movie):  Genoa to Tangier

In early 2015, following the Tara Mediterranean expedition, a group exhibition of these artists will be held at the Tara Base, the new center for Tara Expeditions. The 400m2 space on the Port de l’Arsenal à la Bastille (11 Boulevard Bourdon, 4th arrondissement, Paris) will  present free screenings, tours and lectures starting June 2, 2014.
A first exhibition by students from the School of Decorative Arts will be presented there until June 26: The Secret World of Plankton.

Environmental issues in the Mediterranean

Urban and industrial development raise many challenges today in the Mediterranean region, including management of waste and pollution, more than 90% of which originates on land. Besides the challenge of reducing pollution, essential elements in ongoing efforts for the ecological health of the Mediterranean are the sustainable management of maritime transport, oil exploration, industrial fishing and tourism.

We must also  support the creation and management of protected marine areas in order to restore the most affected ecosystems, maintain fish stocks, and preserve certain endangered ecosystems. Beyond just observing the situation and sounding the alarm, we are working to promote innovation and solutions for the future of plastics. We want to make concrete progress in the ongoing political processes – on a regional, national and international level.

 

TO STIMULATE DEBATE: WHAT SOLUTIONS?

> Reducing pollution at the source: education, recycling, promotion of a circular economy.

> Integrated watershed management: cleaning of canals and rivers.

> Green packaging: producer responsibility.

> Bioplastics: derived from renewable biomass sources, biodegradable, oxo-fragmentables. What real impact will they have, and which ones are a real solution ?

> Reduction of chemical pollution at the source: international regulations.

> Research and innovation: plastic and micro-organisms. Which organisms can break down what types of plastic?

> Prohibition of single-use plastic bags: France could become an example in this area. Europe has already adopted (in May 2014) a text setting goals for member countries to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags. Tara considers this text as a step forward, but it is insufficient.

 

TWO FORMS OF PLASTIC POLLUTION AT SEA

> WASTE AND PLASTIC DEBRIS: Bottles, bottle caps, scraps. About 6 and a half million tons of waste are dumped annually in the oceans and seas of the world. 80% is plastic, or 206 pounds per second.

> MICROPLASTICS (< 5mm): granules, beads, microbeads, textile fibers – complex, invisible pollution difficult to treat. While macro-waste directly impacts fish and seabirds, microplastics have an impact on marine microorganisms and therefore the entire food chain.

 

THE MEDITERRANEAN IN NUMBERS

> 450 million people live in coastal areas of the Mediterranean, in 22 countries.

> In just 30 years, from 1970 to 2000, the overall population of the Mediterranean countries grew from 285 to 427 million people, with two collateral phenomena – coastal development and urbanization.

> The Mediterranean Sea is home to nearly 8% of marine biodiversity, although it represents only 0.8% of the ocean’s surface.

>  We have now identified 925 invasive species in the Mediterranean. 56% of these are here to stay, according to a study by the Blue Plan (UNEP).

> The Mediterranean concentrates 30% of global maritime traffic, via the Suez Canal.

> There are about 60 offshore oil rigs for exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean.

> An estimated 90% of pollution in the Mediterranean comes from land.

> The Mediterranean region is the world’s largest tourist region, attracting about 30% of international tourism.

Tara Expeditions and Surfrider Foundation united against plastic waste

Twenty volunteers rolled up their sleeves on Saturday, May 17th to clean up the beaches of Port Cros. For this “Ocean Initiative” event, volunteers combed the Fausse Monnaie  and Port Man beaches looking for undesirable waste. A small team of divers also joined in the fun in Port Man bay.

The Tara Expeditions team joined members of the European Surfrider Foundation to promote awareness about plastic pollution. Yesterday’s “Ocean Initiative” in Port-Cros was initiated by the Surfrider Foundation. This type of event provides a compelling educational tool: volunteers assess the pollution themselves. A large quantity of detritus drifts onto the beaches of Port-Cros, even though it is a protected site, regularly cleaned by National Park officials.

 
After the collection was finished, participants gathered in Port-Cros harbor to do an inventory by sorting. Plastic was unfortunately rated among the most abundant waste: one hour of collection was enough to fill a 100 liter-bag with plastic garbage of all kinds, including 200 sticks from cotton swabs.

Marion Lourenço, a member of the foundation accompanying the group explained, “In fact, people throw them in the toilet — a completely inappropriate gesture!” But the presence of these sticks is nothing exceptional, since “80 % of the waste we find on our beaches comes from land.” Waste travels downstream, carried along by rivers that end in the ocean. Taranautes have observed the same phenomenon of pollution on every expedition: In January 2011, an onboard study revealed the presence of plastics even in Antarctic waters.

During this year’s Tara Mediterranean, scientists aboard the schooner will try to understand the impacts of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem. And more precisely, the impact of micro-plastics — very fine particles in colossal amounts that travel by ocean currents. Researchers will try to collect, quantify and identify these micro-fragments.

Faced with this problem, Marion from the Surfrider Foundation reminds us that the best waste is one that is not produced. This is the 4R rule: refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle !

 

 

Noëlie Pansiot

Interview : Romain Troublé about Tara Mediterranean expedition

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

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

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

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

Why address this issue ?

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

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

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

In what ways is this expedition innovative ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last word

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

Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

Stopover in Port-Cros

Port Cros – one of 4 islands off the coast of Hyères – was the first Marine Protected Area to be established in France (in 1963). Tara will dock there from May 5 to 19 to collaborate on a study of the island’s coralline with biologist/diver Laurent Ballesta and his Andromède team.

A very particular environment exists here at a depth between 50 and 90 meters, where there’s not much light. Calcareous algae form the base. When the algae dies, they leave behind calcarous skeletons. Over the years, limestone accumulates, serving as a support or hiding place for coral, fish, sea urchins, etc. More than 1,700 different species have been observed here. This very rich environment is vital for biodiversity in the Mediterranean, but has been studied very little because access is so difficult.

Specific diving equipment is necessary to go down to these depths. The Andromeda team is experienced in diving with air recyclers, and perfectly familiar with techniques of underwater inventorying. The team has been commissioned to conduct a study that will help the Park Manager better protect the environment.

Tara will serve as a logistics platform, moored very close to the study sites. This stopover will also prepare us for the next Tara coral expedition, scheduled for 2015.

 

Noëlie Pansiot, correspondent aboard.

 

Articles you might like:

-More information on Marine Protected Areas via our partner, MedPan

-Discover this region’s beautiful panoramas in our photo library

-Learn more about Tara’s future projects with the ANDROMEDA divers

Gibraltar

Gibraltar

This famous Strait is a true knot in the center of four cardinal points: Europe to the north, Africa to the south, the Atlantic to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. Tara entered the Mediterranean on April 25 – our new field of investigation for the next 7 months.

Gibraltar is also a city – since 1704, a British enclave in Spain, now a free zone, a “pied à terre” in the Mediterranean for the English, and a place for monitoring maritime traffic – a rock evolved into a real naval base.
Arriving from the Atlantic, you first see Tarifa, a port well-known to windsurfing and kite-surfing fans. Given the number of windy days in the year, this city is an ideal place for wind-sport aficionados. Tarifa is nestled at the water’s edge, below hills topped with hundreds of wind turbines. Winds blow alternately from west to east or east to west, depending on the season.

40 km long and 8 km wide, the Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow stretch between Spain and Morocco, through which a huge part of global maritime transport – goods and raw materials – passes. Its particular location makes this a site for all kinds of trafficking, including drugs and refugees: Gibraltar represents the ultimate test, the final stop in the odyssey of Africans who have paid their rite of passage with money saved by their families for years. Their goal is to reach Europe, an eldorado crystallizing dreams of success and better lives, but the outcome of their voyage is often tragic.
This strait is a naturally-formed opening into the Mediterranean. Today Tara is passing through, amidst bustling activity, to start her next mission.

A salute to the rock guarding the entrance, Tara dons her complete wardrobe – mainsail, foresail, yankee and staysail– and takes advantage of Gibraltar’s venturi effect, gliding into  warmer, saltier waters.

This is a reunion for Tara. In 2004 and 2009, the schooner already sailed this sea, taking samples of plankton during the Tara Oceans expedition.

Martin Hertau

Encounter with a basking shark

Encounter with a basking shark

Wednesday, April 23. Late afternoon. Tara is sailing south along the Portuguese coast. The sea is beautiful and a gentle swell rocks the boat.

We’re enjoying the late afternoon sun when Christophe Tissot sees a shape in the water. At first he thinks it’s a pilot whale, with a rounded head. Quickly, the crew on the bridge sees two fins on the surface of water. A shark? Two sharks together?

Martin Hertau, our captain, goes into manual control mode, and Tara gently heads towards the fins so we can see this strange aquatic ballet up close.

It’s actually a single shark, and a very special one indeed: a pretty basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) measuring around 3 meters. A rare encounter. We spend time observing.

In Britanny, this shark is known to live near the Glénan Islands during a certain period of the year. In fact, just a few days before our departure, we had heard about the presence of one of them near the island of Groix.

The basking shark is a harmless giant that feeds on plankton. It can reach several meters, and weigh several tons !

We observe the shark swimming just below the surface with its mouth wide open. This fish is a true plankton net, and the collector is its stomach!

This specimen is beautiful with a pointed nose, slender body, imposing size, and slow movement. For a few minutes it stayed by our side, just a few meters from Tara.

For many of us, this sighting is a first. During these few minutes, our years of work on plankton (the Tara Oceans and Tara Oceans Polar Circle expeditions) take on all their meaning. Animals are directly dependent on plankton, the basking shark among them. It is important to understand the basis of the marine ecosystem to better understand the lives of species dependent on plankton.

Mathieu Oriot, deck officer aboard Tara

Upcoming departure for Tara-Mediterranean

Departure for Tara-Mediterranean expedition

Saturday, April 19 at 11 AM, the schooner Tara left Lorient, her home port, for a seven-month expedition in the Mediterranean. The crew will conduct studies about plastic, and raise awareness about the many environmental issues related to the Mediterranean.

450 million people live along the Mediterranean coasts in 22 bordering countries. Due to its geography and climate, the Mediterranean Sea hosts nearly10% of global marine biodiversity, although representing only 0.8%  of the ocean’s surface. Today’s cities are saturated and almost a quarter of the world’s maritime traffic is concentrated in the Mediterranean. Problems related to pollution from land are increasing, putting pressure on the marine ecosystem essential for the people of the region, and for life in general. Among the pollutants is the growing presence of micro-plastics. These are most likely incorporated into the food chain, and thus into our diets. It is therefore urgent to find concrete solutions such as water treatment, waste management, biodegradable plastics, promotion of sustainable tourism, and the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) — solutions proposed decades ago by the Barcelona Convention, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and also by the European Union.

The Tara Mediterranean mission includes several components, including:

1. A scientific study concerning plastic found in the sea will be carried out, coordinated by the Laboratory of Oceanography of Villefranche-sur-Mer (Pierre et Marie Curie University and CNRS) in France and the University of Michigan in the United States, in collaboration with the University of South Brittany and other universities in France.

2. An educational component to promote the efforts of local and regional associations on the many environmental issues concerning this almost-closed sea:
- Promotion of Marine Protected Areas in collaboration with the MedPAN network of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean
- Promotion of solutions for waste reduction
- Sharing of the first analyses of data obtained in the Mediterranean during the Tara Oceans Expedition (2009-2012)

Duration: 7 months = 115 days at sea,  and 115 days in ports of call
Number of stops: 22
Number of countries visited: 11
Distance to be covered: 16,000 km
The team on board consists of 5 sailors, 2 scientists, 1 journalist and 1 artist

UNDER THE PATRONAGE OF Janez Potočnik, EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER – RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
THE PARTNERS
agnès b., Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Veolia Environnement Foundation, IDEC, Carbios, UNESCO-IOC, MedPAN, Surfrider Foundation, Lorient Agglomeration, Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development of Energy, IUCN, CNRS, AFP, RFI, France 24, MCD.

THE SCIENTIFIC PARTNERS
Oceanography Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer, CNRS, University of Michigan, University of Maine, NASA, Free University of Berlin, Pierre and Marie Curie University, IFREMER, Oceanological Observatory of Banyuls, University Bretagne Sud, Toulon University South University Aix Marseille Université de Corse.

*LOCAL AND REGIONAL ASSOCIATIONS INVOLVED TO DATE:
Expedition MED, Mohammed VI Foundation for the Environment, Acquario di Cala Gonone.

Discover the map of the expedition

Click here to see the highlights and planning of the stopovers

Science during the Tara Mediterranean expedition

Tara Mediterranean expedition
From April to November 2014

AFTER MORE THAN FOUR YEARS SAILING AROUND THE WORLD AND THE ARCTIC, TARA WILL BE ON MISSION IN THE MEDITERRANEAN FROM MAY TO NOVEMBER 2014, WITH TWO OBJECTIVES: TO ACCOMPLISH A SCIENTIFIC STUDY CONCERNING PLASTIC POLLUTION, AND TO PROMOTE AWARENESS OF ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION.

A scientific study on plastic will be conducted aboard Tara coordinated by the Laboratoire de Villefranchesur-mer (Université Pierre et Marie Curie and CNRS) and the University of Michigan (USA). The accumulation of plastic debris in nature is “one of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet…” (Barnes et al, 2009), and one of the major environmental concerns of our time. Yet we know too little about what happens to these plastics and their role in ecosystem dynamics to predict their future impacts on the oceans of our planet and on humans.

To fill this gap, scientists board Tara will undertake an interdisciplinary mission to better understand the impacts of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem. They will quantify plastic fragments, and measure their size and weight. They will also identify the types of plastic (and adhering organic pollutants) found in the sea, and study the dynamics and function of microbial communities (bacteria, protozans, micro-algae, molluscs, crustaceans) living on the plastic. Included in the latter are questions about the probable entry of these molecules into the food chain – a subject virtually unexplored in the Mediterranean.

More details coming soon

UNDER THE HIGH PATRONAGE OF JANEZ POTOČNIK, MEMBER OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION (IN CHARGE OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS)

Discover the map of the expedition

Click here to see the highlights and planning of the stopovers

THE PARTNERS
agnès b., Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Veolia Environnement Foundation, IDEC, Carbios, UNESCO-IOC, MedPAN, Surfrider Foundation, Lorient Agglomeration, Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development of Energy, IUCN, CNRS, AFP, RFI, France 24, MCD.

THE SCIENTIFIC PARTNERS
Oceanography Laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer, CNRS, University of Michigan, University of Maine, NASA, Free University of Berlin, Pierre and Marie Curie University, IFREMER, Oceanological Observatory of Banyuls, University Bretagne Sud, Toulon University South University Aix Marseille Université de Corse.

*LOCAL AND REGIONAL ASSOCIATIONS INVOLVED TO DATE:
Expedition MED, Mohammed VI Foundation for the Environment, Acquario di Cala Gonone.

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

Observation of polar bears during the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition

Observation of polar bears during the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition

During the 7-month Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition in the Arctic (May to December 2013) sailors and scientists aboard Tara repeatedly sighted polar bears – a total of 14 individual animals. Their observations were recorded on special data sheets designed by the association “Pôles Actions,” a group that retrieves data for a study of the polar bear population throughout the Arctic basin. At the request of Pôles Actions, we added this modest mission of observation to our primary objective of studying planktonic ecosystems.

This technique of participatory science is currently booming. It consists of organizing the collection of scientific data by volunteers. The data entry sheets are easy to complete, and greatly increase the number of observations available to scientists who can not be everywhere, thus broadening their field of study. And the volunteer has the pleasure of making a small contribution to knowledge of our planet.

During this expedition, 12 data sheets corresponding to 12 separate sightings (one bear was reported on two different data sheets) and a total of 14 bears were noted by our cooks, Celine Blanchard and Dominique Limbour, who volunteered for the job.

For 2 sightings, sailors observed a female with her young. In the first case, on August 17, 2013, there were 2 cubs less than one year old. The sighting took place in exceptional circumstances since the animals were observed for 40 minutes. The mother bears were lying on a piece of drifting ice. The cubs suckled, swam and played around – an unforgettable spectacle! In the second case, on August 20th, the mother bear had only one cub. They were too far from the boat for us to observe specific behavior.

Of these 12 sightings, 5 were made ​​in the Russian archipelago Franz Josef at 80° North. This place is difficult to access because of climatic, geographical and political obstacles. Tara had the chance to sail there for a few days. The data is of particular value. Some of these islands are home to very large colonies of seabirds, and also walruses and seals. Marine life is very rich here, and provides a wide variety of prey for polar bears.

Five sightings concern bears on the ice pack, or on pieces of floating ice. During the Arctic summer,  bears have to travel great distances at sea or on the ice pack to hunt seals. This favorite prey is difficult to capture during the summer. In other sightings, bears were walking around on land close to the sea. In fact, the polar bear’s Latin name – Ursus maritimus – means ‘sea bear,’ and it is indeed a remarkable swimmer with great endurance. In these icy regions, most elements of the food chain are of marine origin. The bear gets most of its food from the sea.

The multiplication of sightings will allow scientists to assess the state of bear populations in the period of climate change we are currently experiencing, particularly in the Arctic. The polar bear’s  environment is undergoing very profound and rapid changes. In summer, the ice pack’s surface area and overall volume decrease. The water gets warmer. Will the bears be able to adapt? We do not know yet, and all the information collected will help us learn more.

Xavier Bougeard

Head of educational programs

To learn more, join us at  the conference “What future for the polar bear?” organized by the Association Pôles Actions, March 28th and 29th in Paris. Lectures will take place at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. Programmed at the Geode: an afternoon for young people, and Les Nuits Boréales, with film projections at both events. Roman Troublé, secretary general of Tara Expeditions, will give a presentation about the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition on Friday, March 28, at 8pm.

Conference program and registration: More information

Reservations for Les Nuits Boréales at the Géode: More information

And in 10 years time?

And in 10 years time?

2013-2023 : In the next ten years important decisions are going to have to be made concerning climate change. For the team working on tara expeditions, the coming decade is full of promise and discoveries are to be expected. Let’s take a look at the challenges.

After a decade of intense activity, there is plenty of work left to be done for all the teams and scientists working at sea and on land within the framework of Tara Expeditions. « There is no question of us stopping now », insists agnès b., the Tara’s number one supporter. « And more sponsors need to get involved if we are to broaden the Tara’s scope! I say to our potential partners: Join us on this voyage ! »

An ambitious scientific challenge

The foremost challenge has to be scientific. In terms of research, the coming decade will provide us with an increasingly detailed analysis of the complex data gathered by the Tara Oceans expedition. « Our intention is to describe the world’s planktonic system, of which surprisingly little is known when you consider that it is the pulse of our planet. We shall also assess its biotechnological potential », says Éric Karsenti, scientific director of Tara Oceans.

The discoveries made by Team Tara will be as much in the realm of research as in scientific ecology, in particular within the framework of the Oceanomics programme which runs until 2020. Tara Oceans collected 28,000 samples of plankton ranging from viruses to animals. Thanks to Oceanomics, scientists succeeded in establishing a combination of sequencing and high-speed imaging protocols with which to extract the information contained within the samples. The result will be the first detailed view of plankton biodiversity.

2015-2018: En route for the Asia and the Arctic

Another polar expedition is probably in the works. « It could happen between 2016 and 2018 », confirms Romain Troublé, general secretary of Tara Expeditions. What will make it special? « Our first Arctic drift was Franco-European », continues Romain. « The next time we want it to be international, with perhaps 8 crew members, scientists and sailors from different countries ». Étienne Bourgois, president of Tara Expeditions, picks up the theme: « We’re already looking closely at doing another drift. But for now we are planning an expedition in 2015 to study coral reefs at the surface and at greater depths in collaboration with f ilm director Luc Jacquet and his association Wild Touch. The expedition will take the Tara to the Pacif ic and south-east Asia where she will make port calls in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China and Japan. From there the ship will set off to start her drift through the Bering Strait. »
« The Asians are showing great interest in the Tara », says agnès b., « in Japan, Hong Kong and China. They are listening, truly interested. » Eloïse Fontaine, director of communications for Tara Expeditions confirms the foundation’s desire to broaden its outreach: « In the last ten years, thanks to the interest and support shown by the media, we have managed to reach out to a wide audience in France, Europe and other French-speaking countries. We must continue our efforts on the international stage. Our aim is to reach out to people elsewhere in the world. »

Capacity builiding and negociation power

Following on from previous collaborations with numerous private/public laboratories and organizations, Tara Expeditions intends to encourage scientific dialogue between « developing » and « developed » countries. « Only six or seven countries have the capacity to conduct maritime expeditions », says Romain Troublé. It is time for us to share our knowledge with less-privileged countries. We must do this if we are to arrive at a consensus about the Ocean which covers 71% of our planet. The agreement signed on 27 June 2013 between Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, and Étienne Bourgois stipulates that UNESCO and Tara Expeditions « shall undertake common projects to further scientific research, international cooperation, the sharing of data and raising public awareness. » So that’s the humanitarian side taken care of, but what about the science? « We can look at that too », says Romain Troublé. « Fundamental research in international waters has to be given special status, in the interest of all peoples. » André Abreu of the Tara Expeditions team is already active on several fronts: international waters, ecosystems and pollution, the Arctic and climate. « We structure our actions around the big issues. Since our success with the Tara at the Rio+20 conference we are now part of the discussion process which includes climate conferences, United Nations negotiations, the Barcelona Convention and so on. Our objective is, of course, to make progress in concert with others. We are doing it, step by step, and shall continue to do so ».

Focusing on education

Over the next ten years, Tara Expeditions intends to pursue its education initiatives aimed at children. In total 19,000 school classes followed the Tara Oceans expedition. « Sharing knowledge with the younger generations will be more of a priority », says Xavier Bougeard, responsible for education initiatives. It’s important work raising awareness among children and teenagers of the major climate issues, their future.

Promoting responsible citizenship

« It’s time to take stock », adds agnès b. « And we need to be objective. We need to trust our gut feelings. What have we done well? Where have we been successful? And less successful? What can we improve? » Romain Troublé agrees: « What’s more, with the Tara, there’s the question of citizenship. We felt it when we launched, in collaboration with Catherine Chabaud, the Appeal for the high seas which was supported by dozens of campaigners, enterprises, organizations and had the direct support of the United Nations and its secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. » « The Tara is a platform for science and education, and that’s good », says agnès b. «But there is also this issue of responsible citizenship and that is inevitably political. Climate change is a political issue! Politics has been so denigrated that we, the citizens, have to invent another way of engaging. We’re lucky that we do not have to rely on being elected or lobbying, and there’s no media pressure on us. The Tara’s strength is her independence! »

Michel Temman

EXHIBITION: TARA’S 10 YEARS – VIEWS of 20 ARTISTS

December 16, 2013 to January 10, 2014 , Monday to Saturday, 10am-7pm
At agnès b. 17 rue Dieu, 75010 Paris, metro République
- Free entrance

On the occasion of Tara Expeditions’ 10th anniversary, the artists who embarked during the scientific expeditions aboard Tara are exhibiting their work at the agnès b. headquarters in Paris, from December 16, 2013 to January 10, 2014. In chronological order onboard Tara :

Ariane Michel. Pierre Huyghe. Xavier Veilhan. Sebastião Salgado. Loulou Picasso. Laurent Ballesta. Francis Latreille. François Bernard. Ellie Ga. Vincent Hilaire. Rémi Hamoir. Benjamin Flao. Julien Girardot. Guillaume Bounaud. Aurore de la Morinerie. Mara Haseltine. Giuseppe Zevola. François Aurat. Christian Sardet. Mattias Ormestad. Cedric Guigand.  Alex Dolan. Ho Rui An.

Invited by Agnès Troublé and Etienne Bourgois, the artists had carte blanche to chronicle their experiences on board during voyages in the Arctic, Antarctica, Patagonia, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and the Galapagos Islands. For Tara Expeditions, the presence of artists on board is an essential way to promote environmental awareness to a wider audience.

Ten years ago, with the leadership of Etienne Bourgois and support from Agnès Troublé, the Tara Expeditions project was conceived to increase our knowledge about the oceans, and encourage their preservation. Over the past decade, 6 short campaigns of several months each were conducted (between 2004 and 2006) from Greenland to Antarctica, before the launch of 3 exceptional missions: Tara Arctic (2006-2008), Tara Oceans (2009-2012) and Tara Oceans Polar Circle (2013) devoted to climate and marine biodiversity. In the tradition of 19th century expeditions, scientists and artists converged aboard Tara to share the same experience.

agnès b. — patron and collector for 30 years — supports artists through the Galerie du Jour in Paris; her personal art collection; the gallery shop at 50 Howard St. in New York; the gallery bookshop in Hong Kong; and the “Point d’ironie”, a free newspaper conceived in collaboration with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and the artist Christian Boltanski.

www.tara-gallery.com

The artists and exhibited works

- Ariane Michel : Greenland Expedition 2004
Video: On Earth, 13 min, 2005
On a wild shore, in quiet so absolute that water ripples like oil, deep breathing resounds. Out of time, far from the mundane world, a sleeping walrus appears old as stone, barely disturbed by an intruder’s approach.

- Pierre Huyghe : Antarctic Expedition 2005
Video: A Journey that Wasn’t, 25 min
Courtesy of the Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
Navigating between fact and fiction, Huyghe’s artistic practice is based on the idea that because reality is so incredible,“it must be turned into fiction in order to tell the truth.”
Huyghe merges 2 events he initiated: an expedition to Antarctica to find an albino creature, rumored to exist on an unknown polar island that emerged during the retreat of the ice; and a reconstruction of the expedition in the form of a concert and complex light show that took place in Central Park in October, 2005. It’s simultaneously a documentary about nature, a science fiction movie and a musical. The cinematic experience is somewhere between exploring a sublime landscape and an orchestrated show — leaving us to decide what to believe. As the title suggests, perhaps the journey never occurred.

- Xavier Veilhan : Antarctic Expedition 2005
Book: Voyage en Antarctique
Xavier Veilhan came aboard Tara with Pierre Huyghe in 2005 with lots of ideas, but no concrete intention, no clear plan for the type of art that would emerge from this amazing expedition. He took more than 1,000 photographs, then published this rare book, tracing a unique adventure.

- Sebastião Salgado : Antarctic Expedition 2005
Photos from the Genesis exhibition: Antarctic Peninsula, Drake Passage, Deception Island.
Sebastião Salgado traveled the world for 8 years, photographing people and nature untouched by civilization. In 2005, he voyaged in Antarctica aboard Tara, taking photos that became“The South Edge” chapter of his major exhibition Genesis, an hommage to the fragility of our planet, currently exhibited and published worldwide.

- Loulou Picasso: Expedition in South Georgia, 2005.
Paintings: Voyage to South Georgia

- Laurent Ballesta : Patagonia Expedition 2006
Photos: Cape Horn

- Francis Latreille : Tara Arctic Expedition 2007
Photos: Arctic
Polar specialist and photographer, he sailed several times aboard Tara to the Antarctic and during the Tara Arctic and Tara Oceans expeditions, capturing his vision of the poles.

- François Bernard : Tara Arctic Expedition 2006
Photos: Settled in the ice, After wintering in the Arctic
Polar specialist and mountain guide, François Bernard is also a photographer very familiar with the polar regions, having traveled there extensively for over 20 years.

- Ellie Ga : Tara Arctic Expedition 2008
Photos: Fissures. Tara Collection Fund
Fascinated by the successes and failures of past explorers in their documentation of the “unknown”, Ellie Ga began cataloging and archiving the Arctic world. She boarded Tara for the Arctic expedition in 2008. Mixing narrative genres — memoirs and travel journal — the artist pushes the limits of photographic documentation and uses different media in her performances and installations. Her work explores the distinctions between documentary and fiction, public and private stories, writing and visual inscriptions, still and animated images.

Cards: Reading the Deck of Tara
With a deck of cards made ​​from images of her trip to the Arctic, Ellie Ga highlights our relationship with the uncertain. After drawing a card, the viewer shares an experience in which the immediate future depends on weather forecasts.

Videos: A Hole to See the Ocean Through, Probabilities, At the Beginning North Was Here
These videos plunge the viewer into the intricacies of richly varied research, oscillating between documentary and fiction, archival and ephemeral, reality and prediction. The boat’s engine, the creaking of breaking ice, and the infernal tick-tocking of a clock are the sounds accompanying each story.

- Vincent Hilaire: Tara Arctic Expedition 2008
Photo: The whale
Journalist-correspondant aboard Tara, Vincent Hilaire’s photographic eye and his passion for black and white photography accompanied the Tara Arctic and Tara Oceans expeditions for several months.

- Rémi Hamoir : Tara Oceans Expedition 2009
Watercolours: The Greek Islands, a Greek island, Tara at dock, Navigation
Artist-painter, Remi embarked on a short and intense voyage in the Mediterranean, from Dubrovnik to Athens. Good weather conditions allowed him to paint at different times of day, to capture variations of light and atmosphere where the boat itself is sometimes the object.

- Benjamin Flao : Tara Oceans Expedition 2010
Travel diaries and drawings
Illustrator, Benjamin Flao boarded Tara in the Indian Ocean during the Tara Oceans expedition to make a travel journal.

- Julien Girardot : Tara Oceans Expedition 2010
Photo: The bloom
Tara surfing on a plankton bloom* in the Arabian Sea (*a rapid proliferation of micro-plankton).

- Guillaume Bounaud : Tara Oceans Expedition 2010
Photo: Das Boat noze
Guillaume is a photographer on film sets and makes ​​portraits of actors. He boarded Tara in 2010 in Argentina during the Tara Oceans Expedition between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia.

- Aurore de La Morinerie : Tara Oceans Expedition 2011
Salpe, Estampe: digital prints of monotypes on Japanese paper, 2013
Aboard Tara in May 2011 between the Galapagos and Ecuador as a guest artist, Aurore’s  research is oriented towards abstraction, giving infinite forms to the depths.

- Mara G. Haseltine : Tara Oceans Expedition 2011
Sculpture: Coccolithophore
Her passion for natural sciences is evident in the sculptures of Mara G. Haseltine. Even the most abstract forms are actually ​​enlargements of microscopic images, or are inspired by amino acid sequences.

- Giuseppe Zevola : Tara Oceans Expedition 2012
Digital photos on photographic film: Tara.

- François Aurat : Tara Oceans Polar Circle Expedition 2013
Photo: Polar Circle
Deck officer and passionate photographer, François spent many months aboard Tara since 2009 and gives us his view of the expeditions.

- Collective of photographers (Christian Sardet, Cédric Guigand and Mattias Ormestad): Tara Oceans Expedition 2009-2012
Photos of plankton: Photographing the invisible
Christian Sardet is director of research at the CNRS and author of numerous scientific publications. As co-founder and coordinator of Tara Oceans expedition dedicated to the global study of plankton, he initiated the project “Plankton Chronicles” that combines art and science to share the beauty and diversity of plankton.
Cédric Guigand is a biologist and oceanographer at the University of Miami. His main interest lies in the development of new imaging systems to study the distribution of marine plankton and their behavior.
Mattias Ormestad is a photographer and scientist. In 2009, he collaborated with Tara Expeditions on various legs of the Tara Oceans expedition.

- Alex Dolan : Tara Oceans Polar Circle Expedition 2013
TARA 1 (scopolamine and ropes)
Alex Dolan, artist (b. 1990, USA ) is based in Portland, Oregon. His work uses a variety of media to express the influence of contemporary tension factors, for example, global warming, technology or the internet. He was selected to board Tara by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets for 89plus.

- Ho Rui An : Tara Oceans Polar Circle Expedition 2013
Corpus
Ho Rui An (b. 1990, Singapore) is an artist and writer who works at the intersection of various fields: contemporary art, cinema, philosophy, and fiction writing. He sees himself as a researcher and an “intermediary in the social, cultural and institutional lives of aesthetic things.” He was selected to board Tara by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets for 89plus.

Lorient, the day before Tara’s arrival

Sailboats in the port of Lorient have donned their festive lights. All around the city, posters announce the return of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. As if to herald this event, a “polar” cold has invaded the area. Despite this, Tara and her crew will receive an extremely warm welcome.

For over a month, the Tara Expeditions team has been working with Lorient Agglomeration on preparations. For Myriam Thomas, head of events, each return to Britanny is a special moment for Tara and her public: “As Taranautes, on land and at sea, we live a very strong adventure during the months of expedition, and even more so when the mission takes place in a polar environment. For us, the goal of the festive events in Lorient organized for Tara’s return, is to communicate this emotion with the public – to keep the link between Tara and all the people who follow the scientific adventures of the schooner.”
Since there’s no party without lights and music, festive illuminations appropriate for the holiday season will scintillate Saturday night, starting at 17:30. La Pétarade de Brest will be on the dock,  joining in the celebration of Tara’s 10th anniversary. Mulled wine will be served to all, and the people of Lorient can raise their glasses in honor of this return from the North Pole, before going to l’Espace Courbet to relive Tara’s expeditions on the big screen.

Seats are still available for the film screenings. Don’t hesitate to sign up.

Anna Deniaud

Wind at 40 knots, and a huge wave

About 300 miles from the Belle Isle Strait, northern entry to the St. Lawrence River, we’re confronting a constant wind of 40 knots. The boat’s taking it, and inside Tara the meal is very animated. We have only a vague idea of the wind’s force.

Of course from time to time a wave crashes onto the curved windows of the schooner and a brusk movement obliges you to hold onto your glass, but overall everything is relatively calm inside the boat. However, as soon as you step up the gangway, you discover a raging white-capped sea whipped by winds at 40 knots.

The sea is very regular which facilitates the passage of the slightly rocking boat, slipping between the waves and only jostled occasionally by big, mischievous waves. Everything seems easy for this ship built for extremes. She seems indestructible, and we’re doing more than 10 knots with very little rolling on the port side. The boat is under 2 main sails with one reef and a staysail. We are at the limit of taking up a second reef with occasional winds up to 45 knots. If you want to go on deck, the full force of the elements makes for an acrobatic stroll.

Nevertheless, the engineer Marc Picheral decides to change the silk of the CPR, the Continuous Plankton Recorder that’s being towed behind the boat since leaving Nuuk (Greenland). Outside it’s like war: the sailors shout to be heard, the spray is flying, and the sea is smoking in the wake.

The first challenge is to enter the St. Lawrence before the arrival of a gale from the southwest, predicted for November 1st. So, the more miles heading southwards the better, and at this speed, we’re sure to get there. Some believe that there’s nothing to do at sea, but in fact the days fly by. The mind is alert all the time, trying to identify the sounds and movements of the boat. Looking at the sea, you try to sense if it’s easing up or getting stronger, if the sails are set correctly, if the speed corresponds to the trim of the sails. Of course we’re helped by many electronic devices, including weather reports that give wind strength and direction every 3 hours. The captain, Martin Hertau, is totally attentive to the boat and crew. He never stops moving, all senses on alert.

Suddenly, well after dinner, when everyone is asleep except for those on watch and Martin, a huge crash shakes the whole boat and jolts us out of sleep. Everyone arrives at the gangway. François Aurat, Vincent Hilaire and Baptiste Regnier go check out the deck, while Martin turns on the floodlights. We change direction to calm down the boat’s movements, so that the men are not at risk. The shock was very violent port side, and I thought we’d hit something, or that the staysail exploded. Everyone’s a bit stunned by this sudden blow.

A huge wave had swept the deck, twisting the plate covering the winch, exploding the support of the port side dinghy, bending safety rails supports, unsoldering a jerrycan holder and unwinding the yankee whose edge appears to have suffered. It’s amazing, the power of the sea. How could a wave have twisted this re-enforced sheet-metal to a 30-degree angle? How could a wave have detached the end of the furler wound around a cleat ?

No, the expedition is certainly not over yet — the sea can still surprise us between here and Lorient. 

 

Jean Collet*

Jean Collet* was the first captain of the former Antarctica, today known as Tara. More recently, he was in charge of preparing the boat for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. During this leg between Greenland and Canada, he gives us his impressions.

In the Uummannaq fjord

Since late Friday afternoon, after crossing the Baffin Sea without incident, Taranautes are relishing the thousand wonders that make up the beauty of the Uummannaq fjord (Greenland).

In this fjord which opens on the west coast of this icy giant island, on Saturday the scientific team will carry out a long sampling station at the surface, and to a depth of 400 meters.

At the center of this landscape surrounded by high snowy mountains, lies the island of Uummannaq. Covering an area of 12 km2, it is dominated by a rocky peak 1,175 meters high and is named after its shape. Uummannaq means heart in Greenlandic.

This is another one of those places that make you love life and appreciate the chance to “be here”. This is what we wish for people we love who for some reason or other can not travel. A gift of nature which, besides the purely visual pleasure, nourishes your soul.

This is what the 14 aboard felt after traveling the first few miles. There are colors, sculptured icebergs, and snow-capped mountain chains, often with steep cliffs taking on reddish hues at dusk.

This Saturday morning after a good night spent drifting among the icebergs, the scientific team returned to the task in splendid sunshine. This fjord is full of diverse little treasures&nbsp; which Lars Stemmann, chief scientist, intends to identify. To begin with, the mysterious “brines” * — these very cold surface waters from the previous winter which sink until they meet water of the same density.

Multiple rosette immersions have located them between 100 and 120 meters at temperatures of 0.8° C. The scientific interest is, of course, to find out which micro-organisms live in these “brines”. Are they a particular habitat for plankton? This is one of the main questions for sampling station no. 206.

We will remain at this scientific station in the fjord until tomorrow afternoon, a few miles from Uummannaq. Several hundred wooden houses of all colors are miraculously clinging to the rock. 1,400 Kalaallit** live here along with some Danish immigrants. It’s a paradise for dog sledding, and people say the best Greenland drivers are here in Uummannaq Bay.

At the base of this majestic bay also reigns the Qarajaq, one of the world’s fastest glaciers. It produces most of the icebergs that we’ve been admiring for the past 24 hours.

Vincent Hilaire

* Brines: Salt water with a higher concentration of salt.
** Kalaallit: Inuit inhabitants of Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat)

All Calm in Beaufort Sea

Tara and the 15 current crew members of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition just entered the smooth waters (with a slight swell) of Beaufort Sea. At the same time we left international waters and entered the exclusive economic maritime zone of the United States.

When Emmanuel Boss, chief scientist of the mission between Pevek (Russia) and Tuktoyaktuk (Canada) came into Tara’s main cabin with a smile even more radiant than usual, we knew he had received an email with good news. “We’re allowed to sample in U.S. waters because our business doesn’t generate any economic benefit!” For several days he’s been waiting impatiently for a response from Washington, to know if we’re permitted to take samples in this zone situated between 12 and 200 nautical miles* from the coast of Alaska.

Tara continues her journey East after yesterday’s long station in the ice, the fourth of its kind since the expedition began. Six members of the scientific team worked amidst the ice, under the distant gaze of some lascivious walruses. For a good part of the day we enjoyed generous sunshine that little by little de-iced the bridge. For the last time during this expedition, scientists explored the waters of the Chukchi Sea. Two sampling depths were on the program – the surface area, and the 40-meter zone at the DCM **, both at the edge of the ice.

The first samples revealed rich planktonic life, with lots of seaweed. Nichtia – very long, thin diatoms were coming up in great quantities in the collectors, and also those appropriately named creatures, the Sea Angels – angels that float gracefully in the liquid sky of this icy Arctic Ocean.

Our next scientific objective is to explore the waters of the Beaufort Sea and perhaps those of Barrow Canyon, located near the famous Point Barrow. The deeper layers of this “small” sea (450,000 km2) come from the North Atlantic, and are therefore particularly interesting for our scientists on land. This new one-day station should take place within 48 hours.

We are one step closer to the Northwest Passage, because the Beaufort Sea opens to the east on Amundsen Gulf which is the western entry to this labyrinth.

Vincent Hilaire

*From 22 to about 370 km.

** DCM (Deep chlorophyl maximum): Depth at which the level of chlorophyll is at a maximum.

A challenging station in the Laptev Sea

A change in the weather signaled the end of the latest sampling station aboard Tara. Within a couple of hours, the wind and the waves turned the Laptev Sea (Russia) into a vast battlefield, with drifting ice floes. Fortunately, the scientists had time to do all the planned sampling, and everyone did their best to succeed.

“For me, it was not only a struggle for each sample but also a victory!” recalls Margaux Carmichael, responsible for protist sampling and victim of seasickness. “It was very tough, especially on the second day when the sea was very rough. I’ll always remember my trips to the forward hold to stock my samples in the freezer and refrigerator. “Nevertheless, I am very pleased to have completed this station because it was one of the areas that interested us the most on this leg,” concludes Pascal Hingamp, chief scientist between Dudinka and Pevek (Russia).

Tara’s scientists carried out this sampling station in the Nansen Basin, a region of the Arctic with particularly deep waters, accessible by boat during the summer. The seabed is over 1200 meters below sea level. The rosette CTD was launched down to 1000 meters on the first day of sampling. On the second day, the research team focused efforts on sampling in the 300 meter mesopelagic layer. In the Nansen Basin at this depth, water masses originating in the Barents Sea and the Atlantic come together.

But at the end of the second morning, instrument immersions had to stop. “I ended up with my feet in the water because of the waves, and despite an anchor deployment we were drifting at more than 2 knots. It would have been risky to continue – for us and the instruments,”said Claudie Marec, the oceanographic engineer on board.

The scientists were proven correct in their weather assessment. In the early afternoon, winds exceeded 35 knots, and wave troughs more than 5 meters. Tossed by the waves, avoiding the dancing chunks of ice, we headed east, more specifically towards Pevek in the far northeast of Russia – the next stopover for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition. Exhausted by the sampling station, chased into their bunks by seasickness, some of Tara’s teammates resembled the survivors from Géricault’s painting “The Raft of the Medusa.”

Unfortunately, nightfall gave us no respite. Kitchen utensils, workshop tools, picture frames in the corridor – everything was tuned to accompany the sad song of the creaking boat. Embarked against our will on a hellish rollercoaster ride, all of us, from the bottom of our bunks, hoped that the boat’s tossing would cease. But our request was not heard. No doubt it was drowned out by the engine noise. The next morning, in a still turbulent Laptev Sea, we had our breakfast. Rested demeanors and smiles failed to appear with the morning call.

But tomorrow is another day. Hopefully the Laptev Sea will be a bit kinder to us.

Anna Deniaud Garcia

Tara’s situation on August 22

For a week Tara has been waiting to go through the Vilkinsky Strait (Russia) and pass Cape Chelyuskin – the northernmost point in Asia, and a strategic place in the Northeast passage.

This year the ice is particularly dense along a 400-mile strip in the Strait. So, for 7 days Tara has been positioned alongside other small ships near the ice block, in good weather conditions. An anticyclone has been dominating the region for a while.

At present, maps and satellite information show that the ice is melting in Vilkinsky Strait, but not fast enough for the schooner to pass through without the help of a Russian icebreaker and the expertise of its crew. The Yamal, which assists ships in the area, will be able to open the way for Tara as well as the other boats, sometime during the day tomorrow.

Roman Troublé, Secretary General of Tara Expeditions favors this solution, and is in constant communication with local contacts and Tara’s partners. “We are confident that the situation will evolve in a positive way in the next 24 hours,” he confided this afternoon.

The Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition is therefore a few days behind schedule. After the next 24 hours, part of the scientific program will probably be shortened in order to reach Pevek, our next stopover, on time, and continue the mission to Canada.

Tara and the Northeast Passage

August 15th was the date Tara had planned to go through the Vilkinsky Strait (Russia) and pass the famous Cape Chelyuskin (point A on the map), northernmost point in Asia and strategic point of the Northeast Passage.

The strait is strategic because ice conditions here vary from year to year. This year the ice present along a 400-mile strip is particularly dense at this point, and Tara can not make the passage on her own. For 5 days Tara has been positioned near this “plug” of ice, waiting to see how the situation will evolve.

At present, a total melting of ice in the Vilkinsky Strait seems highly unlikely, and the schooner will not be able to pass through without the help of a Russian icebreaker with an experienced crew. The Yamal, already in this area, could eventually open the way for Tara as well as other vessels of similar size waiting in the zone.

So the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition will be a few days behind schedule, but as it looks now, this will not be a problem for the future. Part of the scientific program will probably be shortened in order to arrive on schedule at our next stopover, Pevek, and then continue the mission in Canada. Stay tuned for further news.

Patience is the primary quality of polar explorers.

Birds of Tikhaya

To the portside of Tara, dilapidated wooden shacks dot the shore. To the starboard rises a cliff. From afar it’s just a simple gray brown cliff covered with green and orange lichen, very beautiful indeed, but common in this region. But as the schooner approaches the rock, chirping resounds in the air.

Armed with binoculars, we discover the perpetrators of this cacophony. Thousands of birds are nestled on narrow rocky ledges. Every spring in Tikhaya, penguins and seagulls join their breeding colony. They will remain here throughout the summer, until their offspring can fly with their own wings.

“I’ve spotted six species!” says Vincent Le Pennec, first mate and enthusiastic birdwatcher. On the cliff facing us there are fulmars (Arctic petrels), and also black guillemots and thick-billed murres – 2 species of Alcidae among the 22 that exist. There are also gulls, kittiwakes, ivory gulls, and little auks, (dovekies) – another seabird, like the murres, that belongs to the Alcidae family. To learn more about the little auks – their lifestyle and migration patterns – scientists have come to spend the month of August at the base of Tikhaya: Jerome Fort, marine ecologist, and David Gremillet, marine biologist.

Tikhaya was the first polar meteorological station, established by the Soviets in 1929. For 20 years, scientists took turns manning the station on the shore of Guker Island, before abandoning it. Today there are still vestiges of past years: 2 airplane carcasses, a baby’s cradle, old rolls of film. There are also the wooden huts – some dilapidated, some restored. The 2 French scientists are spending the cool summer nights in one of these renovated houses.

During the day, the 2 men are out in the field, a 20-minute walk from the base, studying the little auk. Their mission has received the support of the IPEV*, the French Polar Institute. Under the supervision of an armed guard (because bears are prowling around), Jerome and David measure chicks, study the food given and taken by parents, collect blood samples and feathers. They also pose geo-locators on the seabirds, with the goal of learning about their winter migration, and blood pressure recorders, which will provide information about their behavior.

A small black and white bird, measuring between 21 and 26 centimeters, the little auk is among the world’s most abundant seabird species. Its global population is estimated at 40 to 80 million individuals. The bird is an excellent diver. “Here Dovekies can dive 600 times per day, to a depth of more than 20 meters. And in Greenland, our colleagues have observed dives down to 50 meters,” says Jerome. This Dovekie study is not only confined to the region of the Franz Josef archipelago. In Greenland and Spitsbergen, Russian and Norwegian scientists are performing the same research protocols done here by the 2 Frenchmen.

When the scientists are not working, they share daily life with the men at the station. Unfortunately, the banya* of Tikhaya is no longer functioning, but sometimes foreign tourists come to visit. “One morning, I woke up because I heard a noise. Our door had been opened, and I glimpsed a group of Chinese tourists who were taking pictures of us in our sleeping bags,” says David. Even on this bit of land so isolated from the rest of the world, men can’t sleep in peace!

To the chagrin of the ornithologists, people are not the only victims of the camera flashes. Birds also suffer from this intrusion. “On a video, we saw an icebreaker approach less than 3 meters from the cliff, just so tourists on board could take pictures,” says David. Every summer, between 3 and 8 icebreakers come to Guker Island, bringing more than 150 tourists for a visit. Until now, the area has been accessible only to the very wealthy. But the guards of Tikhaya are already fixing up paths in anticipation of the development of tourism in the Franz Josef archipelago.

Anna Deniaud Garcia

*IPEV:&nbsp; Institut Paul Emile Victor

*Bania: Russian sauna

Bibliography: Les animaux des pôles, by Fabrice Genevois&nbsp; Guide des oiseaux de mer, by Gerald Tuck and Hermann Heinzel.

A Dolgan chum

Between 2 blocks of buildings in Dudinka, a chum has been set up. The chum is a tent made of reindeer skins and wooden poles, a kind of teepee from the far north of Siberia. Despite the heat, Vaciliy has donned a traditional Dolgan coat. This surreal scene, organized in our honor, brought smiles to our faces. We were both touched and intrigued. What kind of folklore did the cultural center of Dudinka arrange for us? It was enough to cross the threshold of the chum to forget the concrete, and move into another world – the world of the Dolgans, an indigenous people of Siberia.

One by one, we slip inside the chum. Benches arranged in a circle invite us to sit down. Despite the small space, about 20 of us gather inside the tent made of animal skins, with an opening in the top to let in sunlight. Many dishes were set out on the tables: fish, bread, biscuits. With her colorful, flowery dress, Olga starts by serving us tea. With a large ladle, Kseniya stirs the fish soup she had prepared especially for us. As a welcome, Evgeniya sings a Dolgan song, accompanied by Vaciliy on the mouth harp. The first sound is enough to carry us from  Dudinka to the tundra, from the city to the snowy plains. Just close your eyes and you see the hordes of wild reindeer, musk oxen, and all those images of the Siberian far north that make us dream.

The Dolgan are among the “small people of the North,” a name which includes 26 ethnic groups in the northernmost part of the former USSR. Formerly, these natives of Siberia moved constantly across the tundra following the migration of reindeer, hunting and fishing. Nomadism in extreme conditions, with temperatures falling in winter to minus 60 degrees.

But these days, as a result of the settlement policy in place since the 1930s, “the last ice nomads”* are rare. Fewer than 10 percent of the aboriginal population of Russia has resisted the call of the city. Like Vaciliy, children are often obliged to come to the cities to attend school, to learn Russian. “When I first came to school, I couldn’t communicate with others because I didn’t speak Russian. At first it was difficult, and then little by little I learned the language,” says Vaciliy.

Since 1982, dialects are also taught at school. For nearly 9 months, with the exception of the Christmas-New Year holidays, the children of nomads are separated from their families. They return home to the tundra during the long summer vacation and can once again participate in berry picking, mushroom hunting, and ‘fishing’ for wood floating in the rivers.

Songs continue inside the chum, their lyrics evoking Dolgan culture, but also stories of love and   broken hearts. Then it’s our turn to sing and share a bit of our culture. Samuel, the captain takes out his accordion and the melody of “My Love in Saint-Jean” fills the air.  Our lives suddenly seem much less distant from each other than they look! After telling us legends of the Taimyr Peninsula, and showing us the Dolgan language teaching manuals, our hosts introduce us to “games of the tundra.” Wooden sticks that you throw and catch, pebbles also, and numbers you have to recite without breathing. Despite the language barrier, we manage to understand each other, with the help of gestures, mimicry, smiles. And like love, laughter is universal!

 

Anna Deniaud Garcia

Bibliography: Dolgans, Last Nomads of the Ice by Francis Latreille – Indigenous peoples – Siberian issues.

News of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition

Pursuing scientific and educational objectives, Tara is currently undertaking a 7-month, 25,000 km voyage across the Arctic via the Northeast and Northwest passages, The boat and its crew entered the heart of the Arctic this week. Scientific sampling is now in full swing at the edge of the ice pack. Daylight is constant, temperatures are negative, and polar animals have made their appearance.

79° 29.0′ N / 66° 10.8′ E

Since departure from Lorient on May 19th, the first part of the expedition has been very successful, with all sampling systems working smoothly, including the devices added since the last Tara Oceans expedition.

After leaving Brittany, Tara zigzagged voluntarily in the Atlantic Ocean, making short stopovers in Tromsø (Norway) and Murmansk (Russia). These past 2 months the weather has been incredibly mild. The team even had 30°C in Murmansk! These conditions have enabled us to accomplish about 20 short and long sampling stations of high quality.

Since the last stopover in Murmansk at the end of June, Tara has sailed straight northeast. In 24 hours of navigation, the team of 14 sailors and scientists currently on board went from Atlantic waters to polar waters, and therefore from summer to winter!

Earlier this week, the first scientific station at the edge of the ice pack took place for more than 24 hours. The crew collected extremely abundant plankton in the midst of an ice field. On this occasion a polar bear and a seal made their appearance! The content of the marine ecosystem is very different from one scientific station to another, which makes the work particularly interesting.

But at the poles, nothing is ever predictable. The rest of the sampling will depend on the weather, and the melting of the ice.&nbsp; “’The real work has begun!” says Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions. The next major step in the expedition will happen when Tara passes Cheliuskin Cape (Russia). This is the place the farthest north on the Eurasian continent – most often blocked by ice in the Northeast Passage.

“In any case, the scientific sampling we are doing, and we will continue to do in this part of the world, is truly innovative and will contribute to the knowledge of this ocean at a crucial time! The Arctic is a direct indicator of climate change on our planet,” says Etienne Bourgois.

The position of the boat and ice from day to day can be followed on Google Earth. The main objective of Tara Oceans Polar Circle is to better understand the Arctic ecosystem, starting with little-known plankton species, and trying to decipher their interactions with the environment.

To follow the expedition, in addition to the website:

-For educational material

-Social networks

-twitter/taraexpeditions

See Tara Arctic Live with France TV Nouvelles Ecritures: every day 4 videos of the expedition sent by Anna Deniaud, correspondant aboard: www.francetv.fr/tara

Partners

Endowment agnès b., Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, City of Lorient , CNRS, EMBL, CEA, Genoscope, ENS, KAUST,&nbsp; Takuvik (LAVAL & CNRS), Shirshov, NASA, OCEAN consortium of laboratories, etc.

All partners

The Kingdom of Ice

The horizon has changed color. A white border covers the vast blue. Is the Novaya Zemlya effect playing tricks on us again ? “Ice in sight!” calls the sailor on watch. Euphoria spreads among the crew. Since our departure from Murmansk, we’ve been dreaming of the intoxicating whiteness of ice. Neither the chilling cold nor the constant daylight managed to convince us that we were sailing in the Arctic. Now, here we are! Without hesitation Tara moves at a brisk pace towards the white wall that rises on the horizon. The schooner seems eager to see this old friend who welcomed her for several months during the Arctic drift.

For 3 days the temperature had already dropped below zero. Snowflakes showed up at the last sampling stations, obliging people and instruments to protect themselves against the cold. The scientists decided that we should we go further east, beyond the island of Novaya Zemlya, hoping to collect samples at the edge of the ice pack. Like children, we were eager to play with the ice. But the first alert ended in a big disappointment: Two unfortunate ice cubes battling on the horizon. They looked ridiculous. Global warming couldn’t be this bad! Despite the ice charts we’ve been receiving everyday attesting to the presence of the icepack only a few nautical miles from our position, we had almost lost hope of entering the white realm. And then on Saturday night, while our minds were distracted by Claudie’s birthday party, a new world opened up to us.

It’s 11 o’clock at night, but we’re not sleepy. On the deck of the schooner, we can’t stop admiring the panorama unfolding before our eyes. Total silence and a jumble of ice blocks floating on a smooth sea. It looks like a post-apocalyptic setting. For some people, it’s their first time here, for others it’s a reunion. In any case, we are all overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. “It’s nice to find the ice!”exclaims Samuel the captain, with a wide grin. “It’s beautiful …” whispers Joannie with emotion. This cold beauty knows how to play its colors and forms to seduce us. In the intense blue of the Kara Sea, spots of pure white contrast with the turquoise blue of the submerged part of the ice. The geometric shapes of certain plaques mingle with the curves of worn-down ice, subtly decorated with rows of transparent stalactites. Slowly, Tara zigzags between these natural sculptures. At the helm, we must be very vigilant.

After a night spent listening to the crackle of ice breaking under Tara’s hull, we’re in the white kingdom. It was not a dream, or even a mirage! And then reality takes over. We’ll have to sample here, plunge nets into the icy water, endure the cold for hours and hours. Tomorrow a long station will begin at the edge of the sea ice. Is life in the deep sea more animated than on the surface? What microorganisms are crazy enough to take up residence in the polar region? Thanks to scientific sampling, the kingdom of ice will gradually become familiar to us.

Anna Deniaud Garcia

The Barents Sea

Sampling stations continue in the Barents Sea to explore the depths between the Norwegian and Russian coasts, the Svalbard, and the archipelagos of Franz Joseph and Novaya Zemlya. In this shallow region of the ocean, the continental shelf is situated about 230 meters below the surface. Tara scientists are doing a series of samplings to better understand the organisms that live where Atlantic and Arctic water masses mix. A thorough investigation is necessary in this sea favored by explorers and investors.

“The Barents Sea is one of the best-studied seas in the world! Between 1801 and 2001, Russia, Norway and other countries have done a total of over 220,000 scientific stations in this area,” says Sergey Pisarev, Russian scientist aboard. Since the 1870s, Russian military ships and Norwegian fishing boats have been carrying out regular observations in the Barents Sea.

Then, in 1899 the Russian government launched a research program aboard the icebreaker Yermak. As part of the first “International Polar Year” (1882-83), weather stations were set up around the Barents Sea, including Malie Karmakuli on the island of Novaya Zemlya. More than a century later, their data provide a basis for studying climate change in the Arctic. “We must not forget that 130 years is not a very long time on the scale of natural climate variations,” says Sergey during his presentation for the Tara crew.

But to understand the history of the Barents Sea, we must go back 3 centuries more. In 1594, the Dutch navigator and explorer Willem Barentsz departed from Amsterdam with 2 ships in search of a north passage to reach eastern Asia. He eventually turned back at the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya, the island that now belongs to Russia. Willem Barents tried again twice in the following years to cross the Northeast Passage – in vain. He died during his third mission, leaving his name to this sea in the Arctic Circle.

Besides its position on the northern sea route, and the free access it provides throughout the year to the southern edge of the icepack, the Barents Sea is also coveted for its natural resources. The area has long been known as an immense reserve of fish, and since the 1970s, as an area rich in gas and oil. Tara scientists are studying the plankton and the physical and chemical properties of these waters to complete their data base about the world’s oceans.

But other research missions in the Barents Sea aim to define fishing zones, or identify potential sites for the extraction of oil or gas. Because of these economic interests, the Barents Sea was the center of a recent political dispute between Norway and Russia. Each country wanted to get exclusive rights in the economic ‘gray zone’, the maritime areas where ownership was not clearly defined. Finally, an agreement was signed by the 2 countries,&nbsp; dividing the territory equally – 50% for Norway, 50% for Russia.

Without doubt the future of the Barents Sea will be agitated – by researchers seeking knowledge,&nbsp; especially a better understanding of global warming in the Arctic; by others obliged to clean up nuclear waste; and by all those dreams of exploiting natural resources.

Anna Deniaud Garcia

Etienne Bourgois: “SERIOUS WORK IS BEGINNING NOW IN THE ARCTIC”

This is the first interview with Etienne Bourgois, President of Tara Expeditions since the launch of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition.

- Naturally it’s too soon to talk about assessments, but how was the first month and a half for the expedition?

The whole team is very satisfied with this first stage of the expedition. The experience acquired during Tara Oceans 2009-2012 paid off because everything came together as planned, including some new protocols. The scientific equipment is working well as are the automatic and continuous sampling instruments, thanks to the involvement of the CNRS engineer Marc Picheral.

The choice of sampling stations by the team Tara and the laboratories on land (a total of 9 stations so far) has been optimal because the weather conditions were favorable. The weather has been very calm during these past weeks. We were able to do an important station at the centre of a plankton bloom*.

But make no mistake, serious work in the Arctic will be starting now.

- What are your concerns for the coming months?

The schedule is tight. Having been to the Arctic several times, I know that nothing is ever certain in the polar environment. Everything will depend on the weather and the state of the ice. What matters most to me is the safety of the men and women aboard Tara, and also the safety of the boat. But we have experts on board, including Russian scientist Sergey Pisarev who participated in the previous Tara Arctic expedition and will contribute his enormous expertise. The current captain, Samuel Audrain spent 9 months aboard Tara during the ice drift in 2007 – 2008. Samuel is an excellent sailor who has been on other polar expeditions. It’s very motivating for the team to have him as captain since he has held all the posts on Tara before taking command.

- What is the present state of the Arctic ice?

It’s exciting to follow the daily evolution of the ice on the site. What’s indicated on the maps is not necessarily the reality on the terrain, and it is not always easy to calibrate between the real situation and the maps received on board.

During Tara’s stopover in Murmansk (Russia) last week, they had record temperatures of 30° C. But the melting of Arctic sea ice is actually a week later than last year. All this can and will change very quickly. We can make bets but it is still too early.

What is also interesting this year is the IPCC’s publication of the first part of a new report just as we cross the Northwest Passage. This report will update the forecasts of melting ice and we will be there to observe it.

- What are your hopes for this expedition?

What we’re doing and will do scientifically in this part of the world is truly innovative and will contribute to the knowledge of the ocean at a crucial time! The Arctic is a direct indicator of climate change on our planet. It registers changes much more rapidly than elsewhere, and all of us are concerned – Arctic inhabitants as well as the world’s population.

- You signed a partnership with UNESCO last week. What meaning does this have?

This is the result of our work with the United Nations since the Rio+20 conference and with informal collaborations that we’ve carried on for some time with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. We are proud that Tara carries the UNESCO banner.

Education, science and culture are at the heart of our two institutions and for me, it’s a partnership that has real meaning.

- Tara Expeditions launched the Paris Appeal for the High Seas in April. Can you tell us something about it?

As an avid sailor, of course I cherish freedom. But freedom should not lead to excesses on the High Seas. We need to defend a status for the High Seas and this is the reason for the Paris Appeal. As citizens people can send messages to our leaders and change political choices. Signing this Appeal is a simple and easy gesture to try to save the ocean. Everyone is affected by the ocean, because the Earth is a single ecosystem.

These issues must be discussed at the UN by the end of 2014 and not be postponed indefinitely. We are currently mobilizing to bring together at the UN those countries that share our view.

Read and sign the Appeal on www.highseascall.org

* Area of ​​high concentration of planktonic microorganisms.

SCIENCE, from MURMANSK to DUDINKA (RUSSIA)

72 ° 32 North and 44 ° 06 East.

This is the spot where the scientists on the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition decided to shut down the engines, and begin the first long sampling station of the Murmansk-Dudinka leg. Here water masses coming from the Atlantic enter the Barents Sea from the south, and meet masses of polar water. In this area defined as a ‘polar front’, scientists and sailors plan to perform 22 samplings in 2 consecutive days. A scientific marathon which will be repeated 3 more times during the month of navigation between the two Russian ports.

7:30 Monday morning on Tara’s deck – the crew is ready to begin the first long station since leaving Murmansk.The sun is shining as if to encourage the troops, and a stowaway – a Guillemot – cousin of the small Arctic penguin, has joined the group. As usual, the rosette equipped with its CTD, is the first to take the plunge. Its 10 Niskin bottles descend into the 7.5° C water to bring back the first samples that will define the profile of the water column.

“We found a DCM, a Deep Chlorophyll Max -– the depth where there’s the most chlorophyll, therefore phytoplankton, about 40 meters below the surface. We expected to find a deeper, less-pronounced DCM because of the Atlantic water masses and the late summer season, but I think we’re still seeing the influence of coastal waters,” says Stéphane Pesant, co-chief scientist on this leg.

“The samples quickly reveal that the environment is not very productive here, at least at this time of year. “There aren’t many diatoms*, but I saw a lot of dinoflagellates** and they’re really beautiful!” says Joannie, emerging from the dry lab. Dinoflagellates are mixotrophic microorganisms that can survive with or without light. Diatoms, in contrast, can not live without light or nitrates.

Maneuvers continue on deck. The rosette, several nets including the manta (a special net for collecting plastic) and also the high-flow pump, all take turns exploring the ocean depths, providing constant work for the scientific team. Each sample must be filtered and put into a vial labeled with a bar code, then stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

The scientific marathon continues. The advantage of sampling in the Arctic at this time of year is that we don’t have to do night watch! The sun constantly illuminates the sea, and plankton doesn’t make daily vertical migrations. It’s 7:30 p.m. Monday night on Tara’s deck, and sampling is still in full swing. This long station will be followed by daily short stations. By comparing the different sampling stations, the scientists can determine to what degree the first long station was representative of Atlantic waters.

The objective of this leg between Murmansk and Dudinka is to collect samples in the different water masses characteristic of the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea. Having sampled the water masses from the Atlantic, south of the polar front, the scientists will conduct a second long station, north of the polar front, plunging their instruments in the Arctic waters free of ice.

“This second station will allow us to compare the planktonic ecosystems to the south and north of the polar front,” says Stéphane Pesant. Then Tara will reach the edge of the ice pack, hoping to arrive before the ice retreats. In these high latitudes, the scientists want to study the ecosystems associated with sea ice. The fourth and final station before arriving at Dudinka will be influenced by the fresh waters of the Enisej, nearly 12 nautical miles from the coast.

A vast program awaits us, with increasingly difficult conditions. For now only the presence of the Guillemot tells the Tara team that we’re really in the Arctic.

 

Anna Deniaud Garcia & Stéphane Pesant

* Unicellular micro-algae surrounded by a single shell made of silicon.

** Unicellular micro-algae with 2 flagella, a cellulose casing, and chloroplasts enabling them to carry out photosynthesis.

Teenagers in Tromsø


Summer holidays have begun. In the city streets, high school students are enjoying their first few days of rest. Daniel and John, both seventeen years old, are on their way to the public library. They’ll have to occupy themselves until the end of August. A few steps away on the market square there’s Wictoria, but she’s not bored. She’s helping Ole sell souvenirs to tourists. Encounter with these teenagers from the Arctic Circle:

“I like to go fishing with my brothers. Either we fish from the dock, or borrow my grandfather’s small boat to go out to sea. We bring back salmon and trout.” Daniel was born and raised in Tromsø in a large family with six children. Like many kids in Norway, he loves fishing, but also mountain trekking and of course skiing. Outdoor activities are not lacking here. But for everything else, it’s a different story. “Life is boring here – it’s a small town and not much happens,” says John with a resigned voice common to adolescents. He dreams of going to the capital, Oslo, and becoming a lawyer. In the meantime, he’ll enjoy the summer, although according to these young people, the winter here is not so bad. “There are lots of lights in the city, and also the aurora borealis. It’s a different atmosphere, really nice.

Today it’s barely 13°C and raining. But two weeks ago the temperatures soared to 30°C, a record for the city, which made headlines in the local newspapers. “What do we think about global warming? Who cares? People here don’t care. The melting ice will most likely provide economic opportunities,” declared the two young men.

Wictoria is far from sharing this opinion. “It’s raining more than ever before, and the land is often flooded. I am really worried because I wonder what’s going to happen.” For the girl and her family, nature is paramount. They own a herd of reindeer. “How many reindeer? I don’t know. It’s like asking someone how much money he has in his wallet. It changes all the time, but we have more than a thousand.” Here in Norway reindeer meat is sold for consumption as a snack, Wictoria nibbles pieces of smoked meat. In addition, reindeer skins are used to make rugs, like the ones sold in the market. And Ole, the artisan with whom she works, carves the antlers as souvenirs for tourists. When she’s not at the market or at school learning to be a mechanic, Wictoria goes around with friends. “In the winter, I love to take long rides on the snowmobile, and I also do ice fishing.

Unlike John, Wictoria does not intend to someday leave her homeland. In fact, she’s never even been to Oslo.

Anna Deniaud Garcia 

Beneath the midnight sun

The sun has been hidden by fog for a few days, but we can still tell it’s no longer setting over Tara’s deck. Rather, it slowly descends towards the horizon, then immediately rises again in the sky. This permanent daylight, called polar day or midnight sun, is due to the complex motions of the Earth around the sun.

To understand the phenomenon, imagine a light bulb attached to the ground representing the sun. Now take a spinning-top transpierced by a metal rod from top (north pole) to bottom (south pole). This represents the Earth, revolving around the light bulb in an almost perfect circle. It will take 365 days to go around the sun, and at the same time turns on itself every 24 hours. At every moment, only half of the top receives light, while the other half remains in darkness.

The length of day can be explained by another analogy using the top. The metal rod, which corresponds to the Earth’s axis of rotation, is not perfectly perpendicular to the ground. In other words, the top is slightly tilted – at an angle of about twenty degrees.

At a certain moment during the rotation around the bulb (at the summer solstice), the upper part of the top is pointed towards the light: it’s summer for the northern hemisphere and the days lengthen. Six months later (during the winter solstice) the lower part of the top points toward the sun: winter days get shorter in the northern hemisphere, but south of the equator it’s summertime.

Finally, during the summer solstice, when the northern hemisphere is pointing toward the light, let’s observe the area around the metal rod emerging from the top (the North Pole). Because its rotation axis is slightly tilted, we see that this area is constantly in the light, even when the top turns on itself: this is what we call “polar day”, when the North Pole never gets dark. At the same moment, the area around the metal rod at the bottom of the spinning-top (the South Pole) is constantly plunged in darkness – “polar night”.

At the two poles, the polar day lasts six months, while the night extends the other six months of the year. The farther we move away from these extreme latitudes, the less time the phenomenon lasts. The Arctic Circle is defined as the lowest latitude where the sun doesn’t set for at least 24 hours (the day of summer solstice), and doesn’t rise on the day of winter solstice. In the other extreme case – at the equator – each day has the same length throughout the year. During most of this expedition, Tara will be navigating inside the Arctic Circle, and the polar day will be chasing the night for many weeks.

 

Yann Chavance

Tara Oceans Polar Circle is launched!

Over a year has passed since the previous Tara Oceans expedition ended, and Tara is finally heading out to the open ocean. Sunday afternoon May 19 the schooner cast off from Lorient to begin a nearly seven-month voyage around the Arctic. The Tara Oceans Polar Circle Expedition has begun.



All the sailors and scientists aboard had been anticipating this moment for weeks, or even  months. At 3pm, before a crowd of onlookers and friends from all over France, Tara left her home port of Lorient, and will return here only in December. Meanwhile, Tara and her crew will have traveled 25,000 kilometers around the North Pole, first along Russian and then North American coasts.



But Tara did not begin this journey alone. All around the schooner, dozens of boats, from the smallest dinghy to the largest sailboats, symbolically escorted Tara on this new scientific adventure. Over twenty people were on deck: journalists, Tara’s land team, and even the next crew. As the sea became rougher, the number of escorting boats decreased. 

At Groix Island, off Lorient’s coast, Tara followed tradition and the boat was blessed by the island’s priest. Then a second departure began: one after another the accompanying people  piled into dinghies, until only fourteen remained on board. Fourteen people who will share two weeks of life at sea before the Faroe Islands, our first stop.



Yann Chavance

Which scientific equipment will come on board for the next expedition?

Interview with Marc Picheral and Céline Dimier, scientific engineers.

Based at the Laboratory of Oceanography, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Marc Picheral coordinates the installation of some scientific equipment aboard Tara, including everything for the “Dry Lab”. Engineer at the Roscoff Biological Station, Céline Dimier is managing the equipment destined for the “Wet Lab”. We asked them about the material that will accompany the boat for the “Tara Oceans Polar Circle” expedition.

Besides the equipment already present during the Tara Oceans expedition, what will be added ?

Marc Picheral: For the equipment on deck, we’ve modified the Rosette – an instrument that collects underwater samples and measures oceanographic data. We’ve added an underwater sensor that measures illumination, important for photosynthesis. We’ve also added an acoustic sensor (AQUAscat) that can count in a volume slightly larger than optical systems, small objects such as plankton or certain particles suspended in water.

Céline Dimier: In the Wet Lab, the material is basically the same and consists mainly of pumps of different sizes and types (air pump, water, peristaltic, etc.) and filtration units of all kinds (25 mm, 47 mm, 142 mm, tripods, ramp filtering, etc.). With Steffi Kandels-Lewis (logistics engineer) we also calculated, based on the sampling plan, the numbers of tubes, flasks, filters, and boxes needed for a 6-month assignment. And then we also calculated the volume required to store the samples according to their required temperature: RT (room temperature), 4°C (refrigerator), -20°C (freezer), -196°C (liquid nitrogen). All this equipment is used to collect and store the samples of bacteria, viruses and protists destined for genomic analysis or microscopy.

Will other instruments be added to this list ?

Marc Picheral: We’ll be using a continuous plankton recorder from Murmansk to St-Pierre-et-Miquelon. This instrument has been in use for decades, mainly in the North Atlantic. It is towed by merchant ships and continuously collects plankton on rolls of silk. 

In addition to this, our surface optical sensor used to characterize solar irradiance during stations, will be replaced by the C-OPS (Compact-Optical Profiling System), a similar sensor, but which can take profiles down to 100 -150 meters. We’ll be able to characterize illumination on the descent and ascent.

Will you also make some additions to the Dry Lab ?

Marc Picheral: Yes, we’ll be adding more light sensors, connected to instruments in the Dry Lab and the forward hold, that will function 24h per day.

There will be one continuous CDOM (Colored Dissolved Organic Material) sensor, and another (Ultrapath) which determines more precise CDOM levels in samples taken with the Rosette bottles at depth.

We’ll have new sensors placed in the forward hold, but controlled from the Dry Lab, i.e. the ALFA (Aquatic Laser Fluorescence Analyser) optical sensor, and the FlowCytoBot, an imaging sensor for identifying microorganisms. In addition there will be the SeaFet, a pH sensor, because of sea water varies according to the CO2 content.

How will you protect the equipment from the cold ? 

Céline Dimier: We have to adapt the boat for polar conditions. We’ll provide heating for the Wet Lab and insulate pipes to prevent freezing. We’ll also test the containers for cold resistance (this depends on the type of plastic used). The water purifier will be equipped with water cartridges that function with very cold water (5°C). We’ll also ensure that the reagent solutions can withstand low temperatures.

Marc Picheral: Some sensors resist the cold, while others can not tolerate freezing. We’ll therefore use tarpaulins, electric blankets and hot water systems to protect our sensors when they’re out of the water. 

But for equipment maintained inside the boat, the problem is not the cold but condensation. Surface water in the Arctic can be -2°C, and then it passes through our instruments at 20°C. This causes condensation, which will prevent optical imaging. Some instruments will have to be set up in the forward hold, though we’d prefer to put them elsewhere in the boat. This is a question still to be resolved.

Interview by Anne Recoules

PARIS APPEAL FOR THE HIGH SEAS

Last week, Tara Expeditions organized with the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, the international conference «The High Seas, heritage for all Humanity : what governance for sustainable ocean management?»

The highlight of the day was the reading of the Paris Appeal for the High Seas. Because the High Seas belong to none, they must be managed in the interest of the public good as a shared “common heritage for all humanity”. With this Appeal, we declare our commitment to mobilize all active forces in civil society, to call on our governments, economic partners and networks to obtain an ambitious agreement during the United Nations General Assembly in 2014.

We need you ! Sign the Paris Appeal for the High Seas on www.lahautemer.org

PARIS APPEAL FOR THE HIGH SEAS

The High Seas lie over the horizon, beyond the reach of States. While these international waters cover half of our planet, they are less familiar to us than the surface of the moon. Yet we could not survive without them. They feed us, provide half of our oxygen, regulate our climate, capture most of our greenhouse gas emissions, and enable almost all trade in goods. They inspire poets and nourish children’s dreams. If such a treasure were to belong to a single nation, it would be its most cherished possession.

But the High Seas belong to none; they must be managed in the interest of the public good, as a shared “common heritage for all humanity”. This status was partially acquired in 1982 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, through a framework that defines rules and authorities for the exploitation of the seabed’s resources and for deep seabed mining, but not for the water column. With the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Nations took a crucial, necessary step towards the peaceful governance of the sea. Crucial but insufficient, as we have come to realize 30 years later, since the protection it offers is insufficient to safeguard a gem that continues to surprise us each day with new riches.

Today parts of the High Seas have become lawless places, their intimate depth plundered, their resources exposed to pillaging and trafficking, with generalized pollution reaching the farthest seas. The immensity is dying, its life is wilting, emergency is at our door and the price of indifference is looming.

There is hope yet : civil society is mobilizing everywhere, and moving nations. There are solutions. An appointment has been set for the United Nations General Assembly to initiate negotiations towards an international instrument for the protection of biodiversity in the High Seas within the framework of the Convention on the Law of the Sea as early as 2013, and no later than the fall of 2014. But some are reluctant, and resistance can mobilize.

Recognizing that this unique global commons’ natural resources can only be safeguarded and managed sustainably through shared, transparent, democratic, international governance, We, the signatories of the Paris Appeal for the High Seas :

- Declare our commitment to mobilize all active forces in civil society, to call on our governments, economic partners and networks to obtain an ambitious agreement during the United Nations General Assembly in 2014;

- Request that a clear mandate be given to the United Nations General Assembly, so that the negotiations cover the following: the preservation of High Seas’ ecosystems, access to and sharing of benefits related to the exploitation of marine genetic resources, marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, research support and marine technology transfer;

- Propose that the International Seabed Authority participate in managing High Seas resources, especially marine genetic resources (and to provide means for the operational execution of these missions) ;

- Recall the importance of meeting the objective to cover, by 2020, 10 per cent of the ocean with marine protected areas as established in Nagoya in 2010 in the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity ;

- Consider that civil society should be fully involved in international processes relating to the use and governance of the High Seas. Through these resolutions, we declare that the High Seas are not solely the business of specialists and professionals, but that they are at the very heart of the survival of humanity and, as such, concern us all. We believe in all seriousness, with confidence and determination that they provide a space for peaceful and exemplary co-construction of States, which lust propose an innovative “blue economy” for future generations, based on the respect of ecosystems and human rights. Rebuilding humanity’s relationship with the High Seas is essential for human development, for the resilience of the planet and the climate. It is a pressing and urgent ambition.

All life comes from the ocean, and a living ocean is what we wish to pass on to our children.

Signatories:

Prince Albert II de Monaco,Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, Yann Arthus Bertrand, Hubert Reeves, Luc Jacquet, agnès b., Jean Jouzel, Nicolas  Hulot, Jean-Paul Delevoye - CESE president, Catherine  Chabaud, Patricia Ricard, Isabelle Autissier, Erik Orsenna, Jasmine et  Philippe Starck, Natacha Régnier, Romain Troublé, Etienne Bourgois –  Tara Expeditions president, Maud Fontenoy, Maud Fontenoy Fondation, Jacques Rougerie, Serge Orru, Anne Hidalgo, Françoise Gaill, Eric Karsenti, Jérôme Bignon, Allain  Bougrain-Dubourg, Lady Pippa Blake, Jean-Louis Etienne, Claude Lévêque, etc.

International Conference: The High Seas *, what governance for sustainable ocean management ?


The Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC) will be held on April 11, 2013 in Paris

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Watch it live:

In recent years, many activists have been mobilizing for a sustainable management of the oceans. The Rio+20 summit organized by the United Nations (UN) in 2012 proposed concrete goals and timetables. As the second largest maritime nation in the world with 11 million square kilometers and a presence in all oceanic regions of the world, France can play a major role on this issue. To achieve this, it is necessary to mobilize the political, industrial and associative worlds, civilian society, to persue the commitments announced at Rio+20 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and by French President, François Hollande.
This is the ambition of the conference organized by the ESEC with Tara Expeditions.



The conference proposes to clarify the issues of high seas management. A full day of lectures and debates will bring together French and international participants in a positive and realistic approach to the subject.

Different members of the steering committee will formulate at the end of the day an ‘appeal’, relayed to institutions and politicians in view of the important negotiations on the governance of the High Seas, coming up in 2014 at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. 


Conference participants: Delphine Batho, Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy; Nicolas Hulot, Special Envoy of the President of the Republic for the  protection of the planet; François Gabart, winner of the Vendée Globe Challenge 2012; Jean-Michel Cousteau, President of Green Cross France and Territories; Gilles Boeuf, president National Museum of Natural History, etc…



Participation in this event is free and open to all. Prior registration required. SIGN UP NOW !

Conference venue :

Economic, Social and Environmental Council

9 Place d’Iena 75116 Paris

Subway: Iéna (line 9)

Bus Stop: Iéna (lines 32, 63 and 82)



Consult the day’s program.

Live Twitter feed at:  #hautemer
Stay connected on Facebook for the High Seas ‘appeal’



Initiated by : the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, and Tara Expeditions

Partners : MACIF, Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute

Support : French Maritime Cluster, Nausicaa, the French Institute of the Sea (IFM), Ifremer, France Shipowners

Members of the Steering Committee : Marine Protected Areas, Armateurs de France, Economic, Social and Environmental Council, French Maritime Cluster, Com’Publics, EPHESE, Foundation Albert II of Monaco, France Nature Environnement, Green Cross, IDDRI, French Institute of the Sea, Paul Ricard Oceanographic Institute, Maud Fontenoy Foundation, Marine Nationale, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Nausicaa, General Secretariat of the Sea, Surfrider Foundation, Tara Expeditions, UNESCO-IOC.

* The “High Seas” in international law are maritime areas that are not under the authority of any State, beyond the coastal areas managed by each country. This marine area covers half the globe’s surface and 64% of the oceans.

Interview with Etienne Bourgois, president of Tara Expeditions

After Tara’s long stopover in Paris, and before the next Arctic adventure, Etienne Bourgois gives us the latest news about Tara Expeditions.

The schooner Tara was in Paris for 4 months this winter. What are your conclusions?

It’s always magical to see Tara at the foot of Pont Alexandre III with the Eiffel Tower in the background. I was especially pleased to present to the general public our exhibition which clearly explains the two previous expeditions, Tara Arctic and Tara Oceans. I also think it’s  very important to welcome young people on board. Almost 5,000 school children came on Tara’s deck and asked questions as diverse as “Why and how does a boat float? “or “Why is it important to discover plankton?”.

During the evenings of screenings and discussions, the many questions raised by the general public added a new perspective to the exhibition.

Finally, I was very honored to receive such personalities as the late Stéphane Hessel, Jasmine and Philippe Starck, Nicolas Hulot, Yann Arthus Bertrand, Elsa and Jean-Louis Etienne. We also welcomed three government ministers, two ambassadors, the President of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, and many scientists with whom we collaborated.

I have only one regret — that we underestimated Nature, and were blocked for 15 days by the flooding of the Seine not being able to pass under the bridges. We were really looking forward to sailing in the Mediterranean, but we had to cancel due to lack of time.  Stopovers in Toulon, Marseille, Nice and Monaco will certainly happen sometime in the future. Tara is in Bordeaux for the “Week of Sustainable Development” until April 7th, with a program including the exhibition, projections, and tours for the general public and schools. 

What are the preparations for the upcoming Tara Arctic expedition? What will be the mission of Tara Oceans Polar Circle ?
After the tropics and the high seas during Tara Oceans, we’re returning to the Arctic and I am delighted! This will be the completion of the Tara Oceans Expedition on marine plankton, with highly sophisticated equipment on board, and the experience we have gained with laboratories and institutes involved for several years. 

We will also carry out studies on plastic in the Arctic, and therefore try to provide answers to questions about the pollution occuring in these remote areas.

It is very important to conduct these studies in the current context of major changes in this region. In fact, after the sad record of 2007, the melting of the Arctic ice pack in the summer of 2012 surpassed any of the last few thousand years.

We will also use our local presence to mobilize the political and economic world, and inform the public of the most pressing environmental challenges in the Arctic, as well as issues faced by the 5,000,000 people populating the Arctic Circle. At the same time, the first part of the IPCC report on climate science will be published in September.

Is the budget finalized for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle ?

An important partner finally withdrew because of the major economic crisis that we are experiencing. Today we lack 25% of the total budget, and we’re trying hard to find other sources to fill this lack. If we do not succeed, we will have to drastically reduce the program, which I would enormously regret.

I would like to thank the partners who are with us today despite the difficult economic context — Lorient Agglomeration, the Foundation Albert II of Monaco and of course agnes b.

The environment is an even more serious crisis in the medium and long term. This is why it’s very important for me to lead a program like Tara Expeditions.

Will you embark on the Tara Arctic expedition?

I’m thinking of spending 8-10 days on board for the Northwest Passage. The boat is, however, basically ‘requisitioned’ by the scientists.

How is the boat specifically prepared for this mission?

Tara is in very good condition thanks to the hard work of the crew, captain Loïc Valette, Jean Collet (former captain of Antarctica) who are helping prepare the boat for the Arctic, along with the companies in Lorient with whom we work. Tara is constantly being improved. More specifically we recently completely overhauled the engine cooling systems, the electrical system,, and the dry lab has been totally renovated for science. It was also necessary to provide heating in the wet lab, due to the freezing temperatures we’ll encounter in the Arctic. We removed the rigging while in Paris, tanks were cleaned, a rudder changed, and drop-keels and anchorage were revised.

Has the crew been finalized?

Romain Troublé and Philippe Clais have assembled a full crew, good sailors and polar experts. Loïc Valletta and Samuel Audrain, who participated in the Tara Arctic expedition, will take turns as captain.

When is the scheduled departure?

The weekend of May 18-20 from Lorient. We had a big party a year ago for the return of Tara Oceans. This time, we’re counting on all of Lorient’s spontaneity to accompany us at the beginning of this new adventure.

How is Tara Oceans coming along? What’s happening in the laboratories?

Last week I attended the launch of the OCEANOMICS project. It won first place in the government program “Investments for the Future.” OCEANOMICS will help structure a database from thousands of planktonic samples collected during the Tara Oceans expedition. I’m more and more amazed by the extent of the results and discoveries that lie ahead.

Tara Oceans has collected an immense treasure. Gaby Gorsky, one of the main scientific coordinators of Tara Oceans, said “It takes madness to undertake such projects.” The whole Tara Oceans team was sufficiently “crazy and determined” to carry out this extraordinary expedition.

What motivates me about the OCEANOMICS program is the basic research towards understanding and discovering the ocean, where each day a little more unfolds.

Tara Expeditions news is happening increasingly on land. You are co-organizing a conference on the High Seas at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council on April 11th.

France has a very important responsibility in issues concerning the oceans. We are the second country in the world in terms of the size of our ocean jurisdiction.

The High Seas is a free space but should not be one of lawlessness. In 2013, and at the very latest in 2014, the UN must re-examine the question of the High Seas. This issue is extremely important, which is why we wanted Tara Expeditions to be involved. 

Where are you finding the energy for your commitment?

Each person involved in our expeditions, with his resources and expertise, is committed to a  better world. Dealing with environmental issues today prevents humanitarian risks and conflicts of tomorrow.

I feel that this preoccupation is far from that of the generation of 15-30 year olds. I would like Tara to make her mark, by encouraging them to mobilize and take control of their destiny.

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.



MEETINGS AND DEBATES:




”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”



FILM PROJECTIONS:





- 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.

VISITOR INFORMATION FOR ATTENDING MEETINGS-DEBATES AND FILM PROJECTIONS

Free events.


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


Access: 
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

30 years after the Sea Convention signed at Montego bay

30 years after the historic Law of the Sea Convention signed at Montego Bay, what’s happening about governance of the oceans?



Oceans represent 70% of our planet’s surface, of which 64% are international waters without governance. With the population explosion and the growth of large cities, our ‘ecological footprint’ on the oceans has more than tripled in 50 years. Regulating the high seas is now a major challenge, but in practical terms, how does one control what happens in the middle of an ocean? Whether it’s pollution, illegal fishing or piracy, the means of control are insufficient and existing frameworks are incomplete.



Brief History: The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea



Historically the seas have always been areas of boundless liberty. This idea was developed by the Dutch philosopher Grotius who published “Mare Liberum” where the principle of “freedom of the seas” accorded to all countries did not extend beyond the governance of their cannons. The development of industrial centers, exponential growth of trade and exploitation of ocean resources have caused new maritime problems. These include the exploitation of offshore mineral resources, management of fish stocks exploited by international fleets, regulation of the right of passage through straits, and the management of marine pollution (which knows no borders).


To cope with these issues without passing a maritime law, the UN launched a historical consultation process in the late ’50s establishing a governance treaty of the sea. In 1958, the Geneva Convention enacted the foundation for the Law of the Sea, with the definition of what is “territorial sea”, “high sea”, and “continental shelf”. In 1970, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognized the seabed as a “World Heritage”. In 1973, the UN then convened an international conference on the Law of the Sea, which led to the December 10, 1982 signing of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), finally ratified 12 years later(!) in 1994.



Where are we today?



This key text of international law was the first major diplomatic effort of its kind aiming at a global agreement. It remains a centerpiece of maritime legislation, managing navigation rules, passages, straits, and use of the seabed.


UNCLOS also defines which authorities are empowered to legislate about vessels. Every ship is under the jurisdiction of two powers: the state whose flag it displays, and the sovereign state controlling the waters where the ship is sailing. This is a very important issue today, since the emergence of “flags of convenience” has enabled owners to register their vessels under the flag of States that have not signed the international conventions on the Law of the Sea, and whose social laws are virtually nonexistent. Disasters that resulted from this practice – shipwrecks and pollution – are now in the focus of public opinion, but the few positive alternatives, for example ‘environmental responsibility’ labels for shipowners, are a minority practice. Because it’s so easy to rent cheap vessels from Panama, Marshall Islands, or Liberia, only binding legislation can really advance the responsibility of shipping companies.


Which negotiations are now advancing international governance?



Although UNCLOS has been ratified by 160 states, several parts of the Convention remain ineffectual due to the lack of resources and means of implementation. Non-ratification by the United States and other major countries such as Turkey or Colombia is also a serious limitation to its generalization, and prevents the creation of the necessary management and financing agency to implement proposed measures. Even if UNCLOS is committed to saving the Oceans – considered as a “World Heritage” – the UN has not yet set up the international cooperative organizations necessary to implement effective protection of our marine environment.

In addition, rising oil prices and exploding needs of energy resources are reviving offshore prospection. This puts great stress on agreements concerning exploitation rights that were established at a time when the potential of certain geographical areas such as the Arctic were unknown.



Given the urgency of enforcing existing frameworks and updating the Convention on contemporary issues, a process was initiated within the framework of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) to develop a plan implementing reform and the application of UNCLOS. This process toward an “implementation agreement” was almost adopted at the last conference in Rio (June 2012). Unfortunately, due to a frightful lack of political ambition, it has been postponed to the 69th General Assembly of the UN in 2014.

It’s evident that the failure of transactions at Rio+20, followed by this new stalemate in climate negotiations, mirrors the present unfavorable political climate for the planet. But instead of staying quiet in our corner, we must mobilize to express our indignation. A new agenda for the oceans is absolutely necessary. As was pointed out at Rio: “The future we want will depend on the planet ocean”.



André Abreu, official delegate of Tara Expeditions

UN climate Talks are stalled at Doha

 The house is on fire. Look to the sea!

Despite increasingly worrisome statistics about the extent of global warming and frightening forecasts of a 4°C temperature rise by 2050, confidence in global climate negotiations seems to be melting at the speed of Arctic sea ice! With the failure of Copenhagen in 2009, and increasingly visible effects of the current economic crisis, we have entered a period of caution, skepticism and inaction concerning global climate negotiations.

After the timid advances of the Cancun and Durban conferences in previous years, it’s (ironically) in the capital of oil-rich Qatar that negotiators are attempting to revive a dialogue that would establish a timetable for transition to a low-carbon economy. Unfortunately our politicians seem so haunted by the economic crisis that they are unable to commit to specific numbers and establish a new agreement that would replace the Kyoto protocol starting next year.

Why aren’t the negotiations progressing?

Negotiations concerning the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol are essentially blocked by a few crucial points, with each bloc of nations refusing to compromise. First there is the insistence of some countries, including Poland (ironically, the host of the next Conference) to maintain the arrangement that manages licenses for CO2 emissions, and favors developing countries by granting a ‘license to pollute’. Under Kyoto, those that emit less CO2 can sell their excess credits to other countries. Poorer countries have been using this device to make a little money on the ‘carbon market’.

On the other hand, if arrangements for the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol are not made, developing countries such as Brazil and China fear losing carbon credits offered to them by the “CDM” label (Clean Development Mechanism), declaring that this device is indispensable to them. Whatever happens, it’s clear that if no agreement is made in Doha, the Kyoto protocol will legally lose its value. There is great concern that the incentives to reduce emissions and encourage the carbon market will collapse at the beginning of next year. As for the ‘rich’ countries, everyone expects Qatar to announce voluntary targets – which, it is believed, could create a domino effect in other Gulf countries (but this is just a hope for the moment). In the case of the European Union – ready to meet the protocol’s objectives – there’s no sign that these new goals will be established. In addition, countries such as Japan, Canada and New Zealand have announced their intention to leave the Protocol, aligning themselves comfortably with the developing countries that do not have specific reduction targets, but only ‘voluntary’ goals (which in reality are not binding).

Another blockage point: the short-term funding announced in Copenhagen will come to an end this year. The new climate fund (which would finance adaptation in the most- affected countries) is empty, with no hope of being filled since it depends on contributions from rich countries, including Europe.

What do we want to happen?

It is certain that Doha will not resolve all the obstacles, but it’s also important to realize we are in the midst of a transition window that opened at Durban in 2011, aiming to create a new environment for negotiations. It’s therefore essential to maintain confidence in the multilateral process, and in the spirit of dialogue – impossible to accomplish unless we keep the promises of the past. The COP18 has an important responsibility: to end the current impasse, and begin a new stage in climate negotiations.

This means that the nations meeting at Doha need to:

- Ratify a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol without incorporating the excess carbon credits of the first phase (the famous emission permits granted ‘free’, that drive carbon prices down) in order to ensure that any reduction in this new phase is real, and with more ambitious goals.

- Obtain emission reduction commitments from developed countries not participating in the Protocol, including the United States, which has never participated in this system (refusing to accept even the very limited goals of 2009).

- Increase the number of developing countries that have voluntary targets to reduce emissions, particularly Qatar, host of the “Conference of the Parties” (COP). Qatar could become an example for other Arab oil producers.

- Come to an agreement that maximum CO2 emissions of all countries together should take place by 2015, implying more ambitious reduction targets in the short-term, particularly in industrialized countries.

- Create short-term funding for this critical period between 2013 and 2015, which would allow developing countries to implement measures of adaptation and mitigation.

- Move forward in the development of new sources of public funding for mitigation and adaptation to climate change in order to ensure the availability of financial commitments over time.

- Make operational the Green Climate Fund; enforce the recommendations of the NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA); support and activate the various committees created, such as the Adaptation Committee, the Executive Committee, and the Center &amp; Network for Climate Technology.

The role of oceans and opportunities for carbon capture by the sea

While negotiations seem to be stalled by the crisis and by divisions between industrialized countries and emerging powers, the Ocean – main source of oxygen and major CO2 sink on the planet – seems absent from discussions and proposed solutions for the transition to renewable energy and carbon capture. Beyond the legal and technical compromises needed to define quotas, we hope that Doha is also the beginning of a broader public dialogue concerning possible paths, not only for reducing CO2 emissions, but also for capturing carbon – the only way to stop global warming, already estimated at more than 4°C by 2050.

Among solutions proposed to remove carbon from the atmosphere, there has been discussion in recent years of burying carbon underground, and other geo-engineering techniques that would prove to be very expensive and risky. Possible solutions using the ocean are almost never discussed, even though phytoplankton is our planet’s main ‘operator’ of photosynthesis, and apparently the only organism capable of capturing and storing carbon on a large scale.

The technique of ‘artificial fertilization of plankton’ – spreading iron ore to increase the level of plankton – has already been tested and shown to be a very bad idea in the long term. Innovative solutions can certainly come from oceans, but have not yet been taken seriously or given adequate research facilities. Wave energy or tidal power remains an option still under development, and countries such as Portugal and Germany have ambitious plans. But the great innovation would come from techniques using phytoplankton, such as algae reactors, which would capture carbon while producing energy. These reactors – fueled only by the sun and phytoplankton – could become the cleanest energy source in the world. But they would require major investments in research for several decades before becoming a reality.

For these solutions to progress, we need increasingly to turn to the Ocean, but in fact we are watching the house burn down on the shore. At this crucial time for the survival of humanity, we need everyone on board: scientists, politicians, NGOs, entrepreneurs, not to mention the individual who has his share of responsibility as an informed citizen in a world undergoing profound transition.

 

By André Abreu, official delegate of Tara Expeditions

TARA IN PARIS WITH AN EXHIBITION: NOVEMBER 3 TO FEBRUARY 3

TARA IN PARIS WITH AN EXHIBITION: NOVEMBER 3 TO FEBRUARY 3

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) 




ADDITIONAL INFORMATION



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

Hours:

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)

Internet:
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

TARA IN LONDON

PRESS RELEASE

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.”

PRESS CONFERENCE

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.

MEDIA CONTACTS

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

Tara’s program through May 2013

Between expeditions, Tara keeps very busy! We’re doing everything we can to fulfill one of our main objectives – to share with the general public what we’ve learned about the oceans and global warming.

On a more political level, we continue to promote the ‘blue agenda’ as we did at Rio+20 last June. To do this, we are participating in the organization this winter of a conference about the ocean at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, and this summer we set up the Alliance for the Seas and Oceans in conjunction with Nausicaa, Green Cross, Sea Orbiter, and World Ocean Network. We want to make the world’s economic, social, environmental and cultural dynamic move towards a new consideration of the importance of the sea in our society.

September 2012 to January 2013

Tara will head for Roscoff (Finistère), home of one of the partner laboratories of the Tara Ocean expedition: the Station Biologique de Roscoff (CNRS/UPMC). On the program in Roscoff for September 13 –14: visits of classes that followed Tara’s mission around the world.

Then Tara will cross the Channel to England, and be in <strong>London at Saint Katharine’s dock from September 17 to 27. Projections of films about Tara Oceans are scheduled at the Maritime Museum, and certain scientists from the expedition will participate in a talk about climate change at the Science Museum. Schools will be able to visit Tara, and the boat will be open to the public September 22-23.

After a stopover in Le Havre October 1 – 14, Tara will be in Paris November 3 to January 15 docked at the Champs Elysées port (right bank) near the Alexander III bridge. On the quay, an exhibit for the general public will explain Tara’s various expeditions, including initial results from her Arctic mission, and information about her recent voyage across all the oceans of the world. This exhibit will give the public an opportunity to understand how the ocean is evolving in the context of current and future climate change, and the major role played by the oceans in life on planet Earth.

Throughout these 3 months in Paris, 128 schools or recreational centers of the region will be invited to discover the new exhibit, visit the schooner with members of the crew, and participate in science workshops.

In October the book Tara Oceans, Chroniques d’une expédition scientifique (published by Actes Sud) will be available in bookstores.

In November during the Toussaint holidays, the film Planète Océan will be aired on France 2. This documentary exposes the dangers threatening our oceans and our planet. It was conceived to change the way people look at the oceans and encourage them to consider environmental protection as a shared responsibility on a worldwide scale. The film, directed by Yann Arthus Bertrand and Michael Pitiot, was produced by Hope with the support of Omega, in association with Tara Expeditions. Tara made available to the filmmakers a network of scientific experts and contacts accumulated during the course of her expeditions.

From an educational standpoint, the year 2012 – 2013, so rich in encounters, will also be the occasion for students to discover what happens in laboratories to the samples collected during the Tara Oceans Expedition. The project “Du bateau au labo”, organized with the Rectorat de Rennes and the Institut Français de l’Education, will link up classes from middle and high schools with scientists from the expedition, for a direct and fascinating discovery of the world of scientific research.

January to May 2013 Marseille, Monaco, Villefranche-sur-mer, Bordeaux and Nantes – Each of these ports will be on Tara’s route before departing from Lorient for the next Arctic expedition in May 2013.

With scientific and educational objectives, Tara will make a 6-month voyage around the Arctic via the northeast and northwest passages, exploring the Great North region currently undergoing&nbsp; extremely rapid evolution. The goal of this mission is to study marine microbiology in the Arctic as we did during the Tara Oceans Expedition, and to carry out new research programs specific to this region – oceanographic study of the Arctic, analyses of plastic particles, or traces of pollution.

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

Meeting with filmmakers of Planet Ocean

On the occasion of Rio+20 and the GoodPlanet festival, Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot presented the world premiere of their film “Planet Ocean”. From the sky to the abysses, this documentary, produced by Hope with support from Omega and in association with Tara Expeditions, alerts us to the situation of the world’s oceans. We interviewed the two directors of this cinematic treasure.

Can you tell us about your film?

Michael Pitiot: “Planet Ocean” is a film about the Ocean that speaks about Man. Man has written a unique biological story, but is now overwhelmed by that story.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: “Planet Ocean” is a documentary that delivers an activist but realistic vision of the situation of our blue planet, with an educational aspect about the world of the oceans.

What started this film project about the oceans?

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: I was contacted one day by Omega (Swiss watch manufacturer) with an offer to make a feature-length film about the oceans. They loved my film “Home,” and having created a watch named “Planet Ocean”, they wanted to fund a documentary about the cause. I agreed on one condition: to have complete freedom! I am not a specialist on oceans, but I quickly thought of “Tara Expeditions.” I called Roman Troublé and told him I was looking for a co-director, an expert in this field. He recommended Michael Pitiot, who directed several films on Tara, and said, “You’ll see, he’s a gem.” That’s how we started the project together.

Michael Pitiot: I met Yann over a year ago, when he showed me his ambitious project to make a film about the oceans. I thought he was one of the rare filmmakers in France who could make this kind of film happen. I knew this would be a great opportunity for everyone, so I threw myself into the adventure. And I have to add that I particularly appreciate Yann’s work, I love his photographer’s eye.

How did you make this film?

Michael Pitiot: We started writing the film and I worked on the content and aim of the documentary. Yann is intuitive and has very good insights and I’m more into purpose. We were quite complementary.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: We chose not to do interviews in this film, and to mingle my aerial images with underwater scenes. I was sure it would work because I proceed slowly, a bit like a fish in water. I started filming in Australia, Indonesia, Panama, Brittany. At the same time, Michael went off in search of underwater images.

Michael Pitiot: I did a little tour of the planet to collect the most beautiful underwater images. In the end, 9 cameramen contributed unpublished images of the ocean depths. The Australian David Hannan, an expert on coral reefs, provided a huge bank of magnificent images.

The film narrative is in the first person. Why did you make that choice?

Michael Pitiot: I didn’t want to exclude the viewer from this debate. If you have the dialogue in the first person, people are forced to ask themselves questions. Where are we going? Have we made a mistake? How were certain decisions taken? This is a film for the general public, because only they can bring about change.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: Initially I was against using “I”. It’s Michael who imposed the first person. Because it’s me who is reading the text, I feared this could be misinterpreted. But finally, the narration of the film is very poetic, very poignant, and I actually cried the first time I recorded it. That’s the first time it happened to me!

To conclude, what is the film’s message?

Yann Arthus-Bertrand: I think the message of “Planet Ocean” is that we must not give up hope. The sea has much greater resilience than the earth. Marine life renews itself much faster. And then there are solutions like creating marine reserves, establishing global governance, banning flags of convenience. Our message is primarily intended for the general public. I think the cinema can truly help change peoples’ awareness.

Michael Pitiot: I think we have the intelligence to understand things. We will certainly find it difficult to change things, but we’re capable of it.

After the premiere in Rio de Janeiro, the film Planet Ocean will be shown around the world for a year.

Interview by Anna Deniaud.

Tara Expeditions at Rio +20: half-way through the Earth Summit

Romain Troublé, secretary general of Tara Expeditions, reminds us of the reasons and implications of Tara’s participation in the Earth Summit in Rio and Peoples 20. André Abreu, Tara Expeditions representative in Brazil, explains the preparation of the meeting and the results so far, halfway through the event.

How did the Rio+20 adventure begin? 

RT: It all began in October 2010 during our stopover in Rio de Janeiro. It was one of the most important stopovers of the Tara Oceans expediton. We met the mayor of Rio who asked us to be the “flagship” of Rio+20.We then communicated throughout the expedition about the importance of this Earth Summit. But the determining factor in our coming here was of course the New York meeting with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN. During his visit aboard Tara, he strongly encouraged us to participate in Rio+20, in order to explain Ocean issues to the people of Brazil and the whole world. From then on, we started working with the UN team, while in Brazil André Abreu prepared the event.

How did the preparation of this event unfold?

AA: For nearly two years, since Tara’s stopover in Rio, we have established links with Brazilian universities, NGOs, researchers, culminating in this collaborative event. Together with this network of contacts, we have acquired a political force that helped us get a prime place in the Blue Pavillon. And obviously, we would like to thank our partners France Libertés, agnes b. and the Veolia Foundation.

What actions will Tara lead at this international summit?

RT: We’ve launched a major campaign aimed at the general public and the media. Locally, we speak frequently about the problems of the oceans on the Globo television network, the number one TV station in Brazil. As for the international press, we participate in the information platform “Oceansinc” which launches daily videos and articles on topics relating to the ocean and the negotiations taking place at Rio+20. And of course there are all the conferences, events, debates, happening at the Blue Pavillon, which we share with other NGOs. Three whole days are devoted to the oceans.

How were the first Tara events at the Blue Pavillon received?

AA: Lots of people come to each session. We are very impressed to see what a great need there is to address the general public about Ocean issues. I think that’s what is so greatly appreciated about the Blue Pavillon – we offer a democratic space where people can have discussions with the speakers. We also offer various means of communication – movies, plankton observation, TED conferences – which isn’t the case at Rio Centro. Thanks to the expertise of Tara Expeditions in popularizing and educating about science, the activities proposed are extremely popular with the Brazilian public.

What is at stake at Rio+20?

RT: Concerning the formal negotiations, we hope that countries will reconsider the role of oceans in their development policies, but also that the international community will pass legislation to protect the ocean and establish governance of the high seas. But most important for us, for Tara, is that society in general appropriates this problem and mobilizes to defend the oceans.

AA: We need to encourage a “blue” movement to pressure governments into making the right decisions.

If there was a message to convey to people, what would it be?

RT: We must act quickly to avoid reaching the point of no return. We can’t repeat our message too often: the oceans are essential to human survival and today they are at risk.

The positive side of all this is that the sea shows great resilience – much greater than the land environment. The thousands of micro-organisms and their frequent reproduction facilitate rapid adaptation and renewal. If we reduce the pressure inflicted on the oceans today, we can expect in the next five to ten years the first signs of regeneration. No, it’s not too late!

Interview by Anna Deniaud

Rio+20 : Ocean issues

The ocean — at the heart of the Earth System, essential for human survival.

It is very hard to overstate the importance of the global ocean, which encompasses every sea and ocean on our planet. A critical player in the Earth System, the ocean is central to climate regulation, the hydrological and carbon cycles and nutrient flows, balances levels of atmospheric gases, and is a source of raw materials vital for medical and other uses.

• The ocean provides the oxygen in every second breath we take, has absorbed approximately 30% of the CO2 and 80% of the additional heat we have generated in the past 200 years, and is the primary source of animal protein for over 2.6 billion people.

If the Earth is thought of as a human body, the ocean is — among other things – the driver of its circulatory and respiratory systems. If it became unable to perform the host of essential functions we all count on, the planet would become uninhabitable.

As we grow ever more aware of the full extent of the impacts that human activities are having on the planet, some scientists are stressing the need to respect certain ‘planetary boundaries’ if we are to preserve the favourable conditions which have allowed human civilization to flourish, i.e. continue to enjoy ‘a safe operating space for humanity’. The ocean is a fundamental element in this analysis, and a healthy ocean is necessary to prevent us crossing tipping points into undesirable, potentially uninhabitable, and uncontrollable conditions.

The ocean must therefore be considered from a long-term, holistic perspective that respects its position within the entire Earth System, and its resources carefully managed and used in order to prevent further widespread damage to marine ecosystems and the vital functions they fulfill. Unfortunately, this is a realization that is only just beginning to take root, following many decades of relentless exploitation, and shortsighted and disjointed policies, which have left the ocean in a critical state of health.

The State of the Ocean: multiple threats, major challenges

The ocean is being pushed beyond the limits that the marine environment can sustain. Human activities — from overfishing to the increased use of plastics to the burning of fossil fuels — are subjecting it to a multitude of interconnected threats that are unprecedented in human history. The ocean has born the brunt of careless and unsustainable human exploitation for too long, and experts increasingly warn that unless action is taken urgently to address the most pressing threats and build the resilience of key marine ecosystems and species we risk catastrophic (and potentially abrupt and unpredictable) changes — such as mass coral bleaching, collapse of major fish stocks and devastating shifts in weather patterns — that will prevent the ocean from providing its life giving services to humanity and fulfilling its functions within the Earth System. Major threats include:

Ocean warming: increased temperatures in the ocean, caused by rising global temperatures as a result of climate change, have been detected at depths of more than 3,000m. There is strong evidence that warming ocean temperatures are responsible for increasing the intensity of tropical cyclones, as well as disrupting global fisheries by causing valuable fish stocks to migrate towards cooler waters nearer the poles. Warmer waters are also a major threat to coral reefs, making them both more vulnerable to bleaching and other damage, and more susceptible to the effects of acidification. Some researchers have indicated that at 1.7°C above pre-industrial temperatures, all warm-water coral reefs will be bleached, and by 2.5°C they will be extinct.

Ocean acidification: the ocean has acted as a giant buffer, helping to cushion the effects of climate change caused by our growing CO2 emissions by absorbing around 30% of carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution. But at a huge – and not yet fully understood – cost to fundamental ocean chemistry and ecosystems. In the past 200 years, as a direct result of increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere — the ocean has experienced a 30% decrease in its mean pH levels. At current rates, pH will drop by up to 200% more by 2100, a rate of change ten times faster than anything else suffered by the ocean for 55 million years, and which will reduce the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon in the future, and threaten the food security of communities reliant on vulnerable species of shellfish. The threat of ocean acidification is considered to be one of the nine so-called Planetary Boundaries which humanity must avoid exceeding, but which is currently not being addressed as global action to cut CO2 emissions flounders.

Unsustainable use of marine resources: FAO estimates that 85% of fish stocks are fully exploited, over exploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion—the highest proportion ever recorded. Additional climate-related fishing losses are being concentrated in tropical least-developed countries, many of them in Africa and South-East Asia, further effecting fishing communities. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is responsible for the loss of between 11 million and 26 million tonnes of unaccounted for fish, out of a total world capture of approximately 80 million tonnes. Destructive fishing practices — including dragging nets the size of football fields across the sea bed — are causing tremendous damage to breeding, nursery and fishing habitats for marine life. Once abundant iconic marine species are disappearing from the ocean. Sharks are in particular trouble: studies estimate that up to 73 million sharks are killed every year to supply the fin trade, and they are often the victims of bycatch. Annual population declines as high as 70 to 80 percent have been reported for some species.

Hypoxia/Anoxia: agricultural run-offs mean that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the oceans have trebled since pre-industrial times, leading to massive increases in the numbers and expanse of deoxygenated coastal ‘dead zones’. There are well over 500 such zones, and this number is increasing fast, spurred on further by rising sea temperatures.

Sea-level rise threatens the very existence of some SIDS (small island developing states) and coastal cities, and could cause vast areas of land currently used for food production to become inundated. The pace of global mean sea level rise is accelerating: levels rose by approximately 1.8mm per year over the last 50 years, but doubled to 3.1mm per year in the 1990s, and were 2.5mm per year in the period 2003—2007. Estimates vary, but there is a growing consensus that mean levels could rise by over 2 metres before 2100 if further temperature increases stimulate the complex feedback loops which govern the patterns of polar ice melt. Summer sea ice in the Arctic has been decreasing by 7.4% per decade since 1978.

Marine pollution is now a major problem in over half the total expanse of the global ocean, and is weakening the resilience of species and habitats to other threats, such as acidification, and reducing their capacity to cope with climate change. Plastic is becoming even more of a problem, as are chemical pollutants such as the flame-retardant chemicals and synthetic musks found in detergents which recent studies have traced in the polar seas. These chemicals can be absorbed by tiny plastic particles in the ocean and ingested by marine creatures such as bottom-feeding fish. Plastic particles can also transport algae from one location to another, increasing the occurrence of toxic algal blooms, which are also caused by nutrient-rich agricultural run-off.

Multiple Stressors: over 40% of marine ecosystems are already simultaneously facing several of the major pressures outlined above, creating a perfect storm of interconnected ‘multiple stressors’ which is placing the very chemical and thermodynamic foundations of the ocean in jeopardy, and increasing the risk of catastrophic outcomes — such as a mass extinction of vulnerable marine species. There are complex feedback loops at play in the ocean, and there is an urgent need to fill remaining knowledge gaps concerning how the different threats interrelate in different ecosystems. It is already evident that the co-existence of more than one threat can create impacts that are greater than the sum of their parts; this is known as a ‘synergistic response’. For example, the bleaching of coral reefs has been shown to occur more frequently in response to a combination of stressors acting simultaneously — and often synergistically. The combination of global stressors, such as increasing temperature and acidification, interacting with local stressors, such as pollution and deoxygenation, presents a particular danger to coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems.

The cumulative effect of overlapping threats is a key reason why their impacts are being observed at a faster rate than previously predicted. It is therefore paramount that they be addressed together and across all scales from local to global, instead of on an issue-specific basis as is the norm today.

Climate change: Rising emissions from fossil fuels is the direct cause of the global stressors impacting on the ocean — acidification, warming and sea-level rise, the effects of which are already exacerbating and accelerating the impacts of other threats such as pollution and overfishing.

The Value of the Ocean: what do we stand to lose?

As the life giving pump of the Earth System, and home to hundreds of thousands of species, the ocean itself is so vital to our lives and futures that it is impossible to assign a value to it. However, many of the services it provides do have a tangible — and in many cases massive — economic value, and, with every year that passes without strong action to reverse the tide of exploitation, the cost of preserving and rehabilitating a healthy ocean is rising. Ocean economics is a subject currently gaining increasing — and long overdue – attention.

The UN has calculated that over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, and estimates the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries at $3 trillion per year, or about 5% of global GDP. The most widely recognised economic contribution of the ocean is fisheries. The global value of fish catches at landing is approximately $100 billion, and the wider economic activities related to fishing reach a value of about $240 billion. Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people worldwide, and many coastal communities depend almost entirely on fishing for both their livelihoods and as their main source of protein, as well as it being the foundation of their cultural heritage and identity.

Poorly managed fisheries cause economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars every year. Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are hindering efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$ 50 billion less per year than they could. In addition, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is responsible for the loss of $10 billion to $23 billion a year — the value of the 11 million to 26 million tonnes of fish that are unaccounted for, out of a total world capture of approximately 80 million tones. Environmental degradation and mismanagement have other, less visible and still under-appreciated, economic consequences. For example, the destruction of habitats which protect the coastline, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, causes enormous losses. Coral reefs alone have been estimated to provide goods and services worth up to $375 billion per annum; with the economic value of coastal protection from a coral reef calculated at $25,000 per hectare per annum. Reef-based tourism now brings in tens of billions of dollars every year.

Another emerging concept within ocean economics is that of ‘Blue Carbon’ — i.e. the value of the carbon stored in marine ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and sea groves. Some experts believe that total carbon deposits per square kilometer in these ecosystems could be up to five times those stored in terrestrial forests. Today, these ‘Blue Carbon’ ecosystems are being degraded and destroyed at a rapid pace resulting in globally significant CO2 emissions. The UN estimates that between 1980 and 2005, 35,000 square kilometers of mangroves were destroyed globally — an area the size of Belgium. The management of these ecosystems, through conservation, restoration and sustainable use has the potential to be a major tool in reducing carbon emissions, but the value of this ‘Blue Carbon’ is not being awarded sufficient attention, and remains wholly unrecognised by many governments and sectors. The valuation of ‘Blue Carbon’ activities and ecosystems could be pursued by the UNFCCC and incorporated into other carbon financing mechanisms, as terrestrial forests already are.

2012 study coordinated by the Stockholm Environment Institute called ‘Valuing the Ocean’ has provided the first estimates of the ocean values we stand to lose if we do not address climate change. It calculates the cost of lost ocean value (in terms of impacts to services such as fisheries, storm protection and tourism) under different CO2 emissions scenarios. By 2100, the estimated annual cost of ‘business as usual’ policies, projected to lead to an average temperature rise of 4°C, is estimated to be US$1.98 trillion. By contrast, rapid emission reductions, whereby temperature increase is limited to 2.2°C, would ‘save’ almost $1.4 trillion a year. While these figures are preliminary — and tell just part of the story — by pricing the difference between “our hopes and our fears” this analysis hopes to encourage policy-makers to pay greater attention to the value of ocean services, and recognize that the cost of inaction increases greatly with time.

The Fate of the Oceans at Rio+20



Background and Introduction

As  part of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio +20,  the agenda of the oceans occupies an important place in the text that  will be submitted to heads of state next June. The big “historical”  questions of the past thirty years are on the agenda – fishing quotas,  the governance of high seas, protected marine areas, as well as some new  challenges and emergencies such as ocean acidification, the regulation  of new shipping routes in the Arctic, and climate change.


Thirty  years after the agreements of Montego Bay, Rio+20 can be a historic  moment in the construction of political agreements and action plans to  enable humanity to live with a healthy ocean, or even just to survive.  We know that half the oxygen we breathe comes from oceans, the main and  most healthy source of protein for humans are fish and seafood, and the  role of oceans in regulating climate is essential. Degradation of  ecological conditions of the oceans in this sense is one of the most  serious threats to the future of humanity. It is no longer the fight to  preserve a particular species of fish or to save the whales but to  ensure the future of man on the planet and the balance of the Earth’s  ecosystem.

Identification of key issues



Following  the publication of the‘Zero Draft’ text for the June Conference, we  were able to identify the issues present in the Oceans chapter of the  section devoted to broad themes. These issues are essentially:  governance of high seas; the definition of fishing quotas and the fight  against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (also known as IUU  fishing); the promotion and regulation of aquaculture; ocean  acidification; the preservation of coral reefs; regulation and  monitoring of maritime transportation; impacts of climate change and  mitigation measures on increasing sea levels; integrated management of  water to reduce pollution from land sources; defining concrete  objectives for the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs); defining  mechanisms of “blue carbon” or payment for services “rendered” by the  oceans.



Reform of International Environmental Governance (IEG) and the expected results at Rio+20

In  addition to specific proposals such as the creation of an observatory  on ocean acidification or the request for ratification of the Convention  on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Rio+20 will also be a turning point in  UN proceedings in relation to the environment, with the proposal of a  new framework for IEG. From a policy perspective on the oceans, this  governance reform is absolutely essential, given the profusion of  agencies, programs and multilateral commissions on the oceans that are  not necessarily coordinated with each other, or that depend on different  offices. After Rio, we will enter into an important process of defining  new agencies, programs and advisors of the UN in relation to the  environment and sustainable development.

The role of Tara Expeditions: recommendations and a public campaign “Our future depends on our planet Ocean”



In  international discussions within the United Nations during the first  half of 2012, Tara Expeditions was able to follow the negotiations,  better understand and communicate about the process that will lead to  certain agreements, recommendations and specific working groups seeking  practical implementation of solutions for each topic. The Tara  Expeditions team — striving since the beginning of this project to  place education and communication at the heart of its objectives —  believes that changes necessary for the planet will not happen without  greater participation of the civilian population. While this process  affects all of us, it too often remains in the realm of technicians and  specialists, and therefore requires more transparency. Particularly  concerning the Ocean theme, the so-called “blue” agenda, we identify a  large deficit in participation and understanding, compared to the  climate issues, preservation of forests and other topics on the “green” agenda. For this reason, we are preparing an awareness campaign at Rio  to alert and mobilize the general public on the subject of the oceans.

Summary of major issues concerning the oceans

1. Governance of high seas

2. The definition of fishing quotas and the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU Fishing)


3. The promotion and regulation of aquaculture

4. Ocean acidification


5. The preservation of coral reefs


6. Regulation and monitoring of maritime shipping


7. The impacts of climate change, and measures to cope with increasing sea levels


8. Integrated management of water to reduce pollution originating on land


9. The definition of specific targets for the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs)

10. The Blue Economy, or the definition of payment mechanisms for services “rendered” by the oceans

Campaign RIO+20: Our Future Depends on Our Planet Ocean www.oceansinc.org

Oceansinc  is a platform for the ocean. It is concerned solely with what effects  the ocean and the measures necessary to preserve it for humankind. Its  aim is to provide one place where the many voices raised in support of  the ocean can be heard and where those concerned to understand what is  happening to this key life support system can be kept informed.

 Oceansinc@Rio will broadcast oceans news direct from the Summit from the  16th to 22nd June, including analysis from the experts and scientists  in attendance. From 8th June, it will begin transmitting news about the  oceans from conservation and environmental organisations around the  world. Oceansinc is conceived and produced by a collective working across the field of ocean communications. 

 

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.&nbsp;&nbsp; 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 

 

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.&nbsp; 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 –&nbsp; 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.&nbsp; 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&nbsp; 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.&nbsp; 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&nbsp; 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
 

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
 

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.&nbsp; 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
 

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&nbsp; 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

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

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).

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

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

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

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

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

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”.

Valérian 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

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

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

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

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 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