Stopover in New York City

It’s been 3 days since Tara arrived in the United States after a 24-hour stopover in the Bahamas to avoid Hurricane Florence. After heading north, the schooner crossed the mythical New York  Bay and docked in North Cove Marina.

Located at the southern tip of Manhattan, the small port was a strategic place for Tara to welcome various delegations participating in negotiations on the Law of the High Seas at the UN. As customary at every port of call, visitors and school children came aboard to see the boat and talk with the crew.

Visite des representants des pays participants aux negociations sur la haute-mer a l'ONU - New York © Céline Bellanger - Tara Expeditions Foundation 1 Romain Troublé presenting Tara’s scientific project to representatives of several countries participating in the UN negotiations on the high seas © Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation

After several days of sailing offshore with only the horizon in view, the Taranauts were treated to a totally vertical landscape. In terms of height, the area around North Cove harbor is not lacking in spectacular buildings.

Among our neighbors, we could admire the famous World Trade Center, rising to a height of 540 meters on the site of the twin towers destroyed in 2001. Visually spectacular, this stopover was also a change of rhythm. Our return to one of the largest megalopoli in the world was marked by intense moments of meetings, discussions, and even reunions of old friends. For 4 days, Tara’s deck and main cabin were rarely empty.

School groups and visitors were greeted on deck by an enthusiastic crew, happy to share these last precious moments of exchange before leaving for Boston and the long transatlantic crossing. Tara also hosted official meetings with sponsors and partners to discuss current scientific projects and the   experiences of the recent months.

Visites scolaires a New York © Celine Bellanger - Tara Expeditions Foundation 2 Nicolas Bin, second captain, introducing Tara to school children © Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Finally, an entire afternoon was dedicated to welcoming a delegation of national representatives to the UN, here to participate in the negotiations on the Law of the High Seas. Tara has been working towards and anticipating this occasion for 10 years!  

Céline Bellanger

Video : Return of the Tara Pacific expedition 2016-2018

On October 27th, 2018, the research schooner Tara will come back to its home port of  Lorient after a two-and-a-half year voyage in the Pacific Ocean. The expedition focused on the study of coral reefs – treasures of biodiversity today seriously threatened by global warming.

Sailors, scientists, artists and the entire Tara Expeditions Foundation team will have the pleasure of greeting you in Lorient to share this amazing scientific and human adventure that covered more than 100,000 km.

Find out more about the event

© Tara Expeditions Foundation : F. Aurat / V. Hilaire / M. Bardy / N. Pansiot / A. Roullin
© Pete West / Bioquest Studios – Tara Expeditions Foundation

Tara Conquers the West: from Portland to San Diego

Tuesday, July 10, after welcoming aboard the employees of Billerudkorsnäs – a major sponsor of Tara for the past 3 years – it’s time for Captain Yohann Mucherie to say goodbye. He’s been at the helm from Hong Kong to Portland and is now handing over the responsibility to Martin Hertau. Tara will depart from Portland with a small crew. Scheduled to follow the coast to San Diego, this will be a marine “conquest of the west” for the Tara crew. Full sails ahead!

Two oceanographers are aboard Tara: Aurélie Labarre and Guillaume Bourdin. The team of sailors is composed of Martin Hertau, captain, Nicolas Bin, first mate, Loic Caudan, chief engineer, Daniel Cron, chief deck officer, Jonathan Lancelot, dive master, and Sophie Bin, sailor/cook. With a small crew for this voyage, each person has his own cabin. What luxury!

Around 11:00 am, the moorings are pulled in. The schooner leaves the Portland dock and begins her descent of the Columbia River. The wind is not strong enough, so we use the engine. 10 hours later, at where the river meets the Pacific Ocean, Tara can finally spread her wings: the foresail, the mainsail and the staysail are hoisted! Tara is ready for her “conquest of the West”!

Toutes voiles dehors, Tara navigue en direction de San Diego – © Maéva Bardy / Fondation Tara Expéditions

Navigating under full sail takes place smoothly, a feat for the 140-ton Tara. Tara advances at a speed of 10 knots, with peaks at 16 knots. At this steady pace, the schooner sails 250 nautical miles in one day (about 460 km). This is the highest speed recorded during Tara Pacific expedition. Using the HSN (High Speed Net) and Dolphin nets, the oceanographers took their first samples of water and plankton during the morning of July 11th.

The next morning, the sky was overcast and the sailors made a jibe while maintaining the boat at an average speed of 9 knots. The pace is now slower. As Tara resumes a cruising pace, everyone finds their normal rhythm: night shifts, delicious meals, siesta (so coveted!), moments of conviviality spent together, and of course – work!

Andréane Bellon de Chassy
Lara Ladonne Devillers

Heading to Hawaii

Why does the Pacific Ocean have this name? With huge waves sweeping the deck these days, we really wonder. On Tara’s bridge, Captain Yohann Mucherie checks the weather forecast, but is not reassured. Sure there’s wind, but it’s not well oriented for our voyage. On this first night of the schooner’s long Pacific crossing, the sails remain folded and the two 350-horsepower Cummins engines drive the boat towards Hawaii.

Science on the high seas

There’s no coral between Tokyo and Hawaii, but this doesn’t mean scientific research aboard Tara stops. Fabien Lombard, a plankton specialist at the Villefranche-sur-Mer Observatory, is heading the Franco-Japanese scientific team that embarked in Tokyo. For Lorna (French), Rumi and Hiro (2 Japanese students from Kyoto University), this is their very first time aboard Tara. Every morning and every evening they will use a variety of devices to collect surface water, then carefully label, observe and conserve the different species of plankton.

The opportunity was too good to pass up – to continue the Tara Oceans expedition’s research, which involved 4 years of sampling plankton around the world. The long crossing between Japan and Hawaii will allow us to complete and update the mapping of these organisms. Plankton is the basis of the entire food chain and therefore of all marine life, including coral whose larvae are part of the plankton drifting with the currents.

Aboard Tara, everything is ready. The wet lab on deck is where the collected water samples will be filtered and put into vials, some of them stored in liquid nitrogen to be analyzed later. Inside the boat in the dry lab, analyses of the samples are carried out to determine their composition. But the sea makes its own rules and during these first days, the so-called “Pacific” doesn’t make any concessions to science or the newly embarked scientists. The wind gets stronger, the swell increases. Tara rolls from side to side and not many people come to the table for dinner. The samples will have to wait.
Le HSN, pour High Speed Net (Filet Haute Vitesse), se positionne juste au niveau de la surface grâce à ses deux ailes métalliques.
The High Speed Net is used by scientists onboard Tara to sample plankton while sailing – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Weather and incantations

The 4 sailors are gathered on the bridge: Loïc Caudan (chief mechanic), Charlène Gicquel (first mate), and Louis Wilmotte (deck officer ) surround the captain. They look at the weather charts which still don’t announce good news. There’s a lot of wind, but it’s not really favorable to our route. The sailors try to stabilize the boat to give some relief to our bodies, weakened by these first uncomfortable hours. They hoist the staysail to help offset the rolling of the boat. A few hours later, under a biting rain, they brave the elements again to hoist the yankee and the foresail. The wind has turned and is now pushing Tara towards Hawaii.

Pale faces take on color. The dining table in the main cabin is filled again. Sophie the cook spares no effort in her narrow kitchen juxtaposing the dining area. Despite the boat’s tossing and pitching, Sophie prepares meringue, bakes pastry and minces herbs, making sure that the fresh produce purchased in Japan will last as long as possible. “We’re not going to end up eating from cans, are we?”.

Navigating with the elements

Three o’clock in the morning: Yohann squints at a map of the Kuroshio current sent by Mercator, the French center for ocean analysis and forecasts, partner of the Tara Foundation. The Kuroshio is the second strongest marine current after the Gulf Stream. Originating in the warm waters of the Philippines, it carries abundant planktonic fauna and flora, making it possible for coral to grow in northern regions of Japan. Meeting the cold waters of the North Pacific, the current ends up swirling to the east of the Japanese archipelago. But tonight the warm Kuroshio current (waters at 22 degrees) is right in front of us. “We’re going to follow the current, not only in the interest of science, but also to increase our speed by 2 knots. A winning situation.


L’un des derniers couchers de soleil sur Tara et l’archipel des Gambier.
© Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Return to calm

Tara’s deck is busy early in the morning. Finally the weather is beautiful, so we can unfurl all the sails, even the mainsail with new cables recently installed in Tokyo. Sailors and scientists surround the HSN, the high speed net. Lowered at the stern of the ship, it collects water samples through a 300-micron filter. At starboard, the Dolphin net is surfing alongside the hull. It captures surface water that is pumped and transported on deck where it passes through a 20-micron filter. The 4 scientists are working meticulously with all these samples. In the evening, the whole procedure is repeated again. Scientific research creates its own schedule, and we must make the most of the clear weather.

After a week at sea, a little Tara community has formed. Sailors and scientists get to know each other and are learning from each other. Everybody volunteers when we have to hoist the sails or lower the nets into the water. Everyone is learning to recognize copepods. Everyone will eventually know how to make a square knot. “ It’s the Tara spirit”, says Charlene Gicquel, first mate, her eyes sparkling with the pure pleasure of being here.

Caroline Britz,correspondent aboard Tara, May 2018

Tara on the Kuroshio current

Tara is back at sea again and we can truly say our re-entry was athletic! Just outside of Tokyo Bay, the schooner entered a low-pressure system. High wind and big waves got the better of certain crew members during the first 48 hours, but the rough sea certainly didn’t stop the sailors. They braved the elements to hoist several sails — staysail, foresail and yankee — immediately stabilizing the schooner and calming our bodies.

In these difficult weather conditions, Tara got help from the Kuroshio, the world’s second strongest ocean current after the Gulf Stream. By following the Kuroshio, Tara’s speed increased by 2 knots compared to her average velocity – a true aquatic conveyer belt!

sophie bin nav japon hawaii mai 2018 © Sophie Bin / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Besides having nautical qualities, the Kuroshio current is of great interest to the scientists on board. Thanks to warm tropical waters and the Coriolis force, this current provides favorable conditions for coral reefs to develop in Japan, much further north than any other coral worldwide.

In biological terms, this zone is extremely active thanks to an upwelling of cold waters from the deep that carry nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, mixing with warm tropical waters. This enables plankton to thrive”, explains Fabien Lombard, scientific coordinator of this leg. In the first samples collected close to the main stream, the scientists have already found large numbers of diatoms, a kind of phytoplankton.
A promising start for Tara’s long crossing to Hawaii!

Caroline Britz


Warm reunion in Japan

Tara left foggy China and arrived 5 days (and 750 miles) later in Japan. After her last visit one year ago, Tara returns to the land of the Rising Sun where the welcome is as warm and enthusiastic as always.

Tara began her stay in Japan by docking at the Nio Marina in Mitoyo where several hundred people gave her a welcoming ceremony with true fanfare, in the literal sense of the word. After a welcome speech, the Mayor and the director of the City Assembly presented the crew with local treats. Then a group of young girls from Mitoyo gave a superb performance of rhythmic gymnastics.


Hibino, during Tara’s stopover in Mitoyo -  © Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Foundation 


The sea, source of inspiration

As in each one of Tara’s scientific expeditions, education and art mingle here. The sea has always been a source of inspiration for artists. Hibino, a visual artist from Tokyo, well-known for his installations at the Center Pompidou in Paris and at the Venice Biennale, embarked for a few days aboard the schooner. He has had ties with Tara for over 20 years.

Hibino served as a guide for us to discover the island of Awashima where he has established an artists’ residence. On Awashima, clocks no longer indicate the hour: time has stopped, leaving its mark on the 208 inhabitants. The average age is high and most young people have left the island. Still, the houses are surrounded by flowers, as in the old days when the tiny island had a merchant marine academy that trained many long-distance travelers across the world’s oceans.

The painter Maki (former artist-in-residence aboard Tara) joined the adventure again. She celebrates the sea in her paintings and has created a marine universe populated by strange and fantastic creatures.


© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

More than 30,000 species depend on coral

The schooner’s passage last year in Japan allowed Tara’s scientists, accompanied by researchers from Japanese universities, to study the effects of temperature changes and the impacts of increased water acidity (pH) on marine ecosystems. Japan has a great wealth of coral reefs, due in part to the Kuroshio current that favors the transport of coral larvae to northern Japan, just above Tokyo. The Kuroshio carries warm water, which explains why the temperature here is higher than in other places of the same latitude. Coral even grows in the bay of Tokyo! In the long term, researchers believe there could be a shift in population distribution: some coral species could migrate north, as they disappear from southern Japan. The Kuroshio has its source in the Coral Triangle, so it connects Japan to a “nest” of biodiversity. Last year Tara partially explored this region of the Pacific which represents only 1% of the Earth’s surface, but concentrates 30% of the coral reefs. The Coral Triangle – cradle of a very rich biodiversity – is one of the main breeding grounds for tunas, blue whales and sperm whales.

During Tara’s passage through the Solomon Islands, Papua-New Guinea and Indonesia, we collected over 25,000 samples. Analysis of these samples in Tara’s partner laboratories has already begun to deliver lessons for a better understanding of coral reefs, their state of health and ability to adapt to the environmental changes threatening the planet. After this trip to Japan and completion of our educational outreach among young Japanese, Tara will resume scientific missions in Hawaii in June 2018.

Noémie Olive

Shanghai, a key stage for Tara

The entire crew was on deck during this 15-day stopover rich in encounters and events. Education, scientific meetings, cocktails with partners, and, as a central piece of this stopover, an exhibition at the Cartier Foundation. Tara accomplished her missions on all fronts.

Shanghai, a city adapting to changes in the People’s Republic of China

Young Chinese adults face challenges as imposing as the skyscrapers of Pudong, Shanghai’s business district. Within this meritocratic society, people must be even more competitive than before. Though a communist country, school and care incur additional fees, there is no superannuation, and everyone has to make his own mark. However, the Chinese see the glass as half-full and are optimistic. “When we consider our standard of living 30 years ago, we realize we moved from misery to “everything is possible”, so we’re not going to complain. On the contrary, what’s happening to us is pretty amazing” , Liwu says, a young man who studied in France and came back to China to be an actor and is witnessing his country’s phenomenal growth. Here, nostalgia is rare. China is being transformed and the media are looking forward to the day when China will become the world’s biggest economic power.


Romain describes Tara’s various missions to an attentive audience © Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Foundation

The government wants to meet ecological challenges

Since the pollution peaks in 2013, the Chinese have been sensitive to environmental issues. Expatriates and Chinese people daily check applications on their phone to know the concentration of micro-particles and determine if they can go to the park with their children. The government promised to take measures to reduce pollution by providing more electric vehicles (petrol scooters have already been banned from large cities), building more ecological towers and supporting the north of the country to transition from coal to gas. China wants to continue to progress while adapting to the challenges of our time, including taking care of our planet.

From the continent to the ocean

Every day, the Taranauts presented the Tara Pacific expedition to Chinese and French children aged between 5 and 16. The crucial role of coral in preserving biodiversity was emphasized. 1,400 pupils visited the schooner and most classes were well prepared, thanks to their teachers and Tara Junior’s support. Many were already familiar with agnès b.’s role, the schooner’s history and the negative impact of plastic waste in the oceans.

In the afternoons, researchers from various institutes visited the scientific facilities aboard. In the evenings, Tara hosted cocktail receptions, where the crew served home-made appetizers and French dishes to long standing sponsors.

In the art world of art, Tara also has her place. The Cartier Foundation had reserved a space to screen the documentaries tracing the schooner’s 3 major missions: Tara Oceans, Tara Arctic and Tara Pacific. On the 5th floor of the Power Station of Arts (PSA), a former power plant transformed into the first Museum of Contemporary Art in China, an exhibition dedicated to Tara took place alongside great names in the contemporary art world such as Takeshi Kitano, Christian Boltanski, Raymond Depardon and Cai Guo-Qiang.

Noémie Olive

Video: Tara and Tan Kah Kee: Franco-Chinese joint missions

The oceanographic research vessel of Xiamen University, Tan Kah Kee, welcomed Tara upon her arrival in Xiamen. Side by side, these two scientific research vessels, French and Chinese, crossed the channel leading to the city’s harbor. Pending a future joint scientific expedition, Tara and the Tan Kah Kee welcomed aboard Chinese visitors. Nearly 4,500 people were thus made aware of the challenges involved in protecting the Oceans.

© Noémie Olive – Fondation Tara Expeditions

Tara in Shanghai: major stopover in a mythical city

Tara departed from Xiamen, continuing her one-month tour of China. A 5-day journey to arrive in Shanghai, one of the world’s largest mega-cities. 

As we departed from Xiamen, the sun hailed the schooner by plunging into the China Sea and sending out rays that tinted the clouds pink, like the brushstrokes of a great calligrapher. Two white dolphins even came to complete the show.
Tara traveled 550 miles (1,018 kilometers) to Shanghai |– 5 days of crossing, including one at anchor. That was a funny day, when Tara had to wait off the coast of the city, as if on a parking lot at sea, amidst dozens of cargoes, container ships, trawlers and fishing boats, before she could go up Shanghai’s Huangpu River. Then, as we finally sailed up the river the city’s skyscrapers emerged from the mist.

1.proue_Tara_perle de-orient@Noemie_Olive© Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Shanghai, a mythical city in full swing

Shanghai offers a stunning spectacle: it is one of the most populous cities in the world, with 24 million inhabitants and nearly 1,000 skyscrapers at least 30 stories high. The recent Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world, dominates this “standing city” with its 630 meters.
In the harbor Tara occupies a place of honour, moored in front of the Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower with unique architecture composed of several spheres. For many visitors it is a symbol of Shanghai.

Night and day the schooner is rocked by the constant passage of boats. The maritime traffic never stops. Not far away is the Bund, a seaside promenade lined by European-style buildings and some futuristic ones with acid colors reminiscent of the world of Disney.

Tara will host many events involving partners and will continue our educational mission, welcoming Shanghai’s schoolchildren aboard the boat.


Noémie Olive

China – a new partner for Tara

The Tara Foundation has just established new relations with China, the largest country in the world, in the form of a partnership with the University of Xiamen. On April 6 at a press conference aboard the schooner Romain Troublé, director of the Tara Foundation, along with Min Han Dai, director of the Science and Technology Department at the University of Xiamen, and scientist Chris Bowler (PSL, CNRS), reaffirmed their vision of the Ocean as a global system and announced their desire to collaborate. The University of Xiamen recently acquired an oceanographic research vessel, the Tan Kah Kee, which could eventually navigate alongside Tara on the same scientific mission to expand the scope of scientific research.

Interview with 2 men who have the same goal: understanding the Ocean to better protect it.

What is this partnership about?

Romain: The Tara Foundation has wanted to collaborate with China for a long time.  When I came to this country with the French President at the beginning of the year, I presented Tara’s proposal: a scientific and educational partnership around the issues of biodiversity and climate. In concrete terms, this would involve an exchange of French and Chinese PhD students and post-doctoral students. For basic research, the details remain to be determined by our research partners, but we will definitely share the protocols already established by the Tara Oceans scientific consortium so they can be implemented at the marine stations of Xiamen University and aboard the research vessel Tan Kah Kee. In China there is already an important microbiobome project to study the world of microbes, especially at sea. Tara could participate in this, and in the longer term, undertake a joint expedition with the Tan Kah Kee. We have many points in common, and points that are complementary. The researchers of Tara Oceans and I are delighted by these perspectives of collaboration which will increase      knowledge of the Ocean.

Min Han Dai: Tara is a boat with many interesting and unique aspects — a sailboat conceived to study the oceans, funded by a French fashion house and other private partners. As for the collaboration, I believe we are on the right track. When Tara arrived with Romain and some of the scientists involved with China, we were able to sweep away the shadows looming over our future partnership. We share this common and global vision for the protection of the oceans, and we’re exploring the possibilities for France and China to work together in this direction.

Les_deux_partenaires_la proue_Tara@Noemie_Olive.jpgMin Han Dai and Romain Troublé on Tara’s prow  © Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Foundation

How can the two boats, Tara and Tan Kah Kee, be complementary?

Romain: The Xiamen laboratories are expert at understanding the bio-geochemistry of the oceans, in the analysis of trace metals in particular, essential elements for the ecosystem. Tara alone is not sufficient and it would be great if other boats adopt the protocols, as our Brazilian partners have done.

Min Hai Dai: In order for our data to be comparable, we need to be using the same protocol. While adopting Tara’s method for microbiome sampling, we can rely upon the Tan Kah Kee for geo-trace metal expertise. The data collected by each boat can then be analyzed together.

Romain, why associate with China?

Without becoming naively optimistic, I think the future of the planet depends on China’s responses to environmental issues. For the Tara Foundation, it’s important to accompany this movement, to support research and education. China now has a leading role, and as in any market, if the leader changes, so does the market. The whole world wants to sell things to China. If China changes in the direction proclaimed everywhere, to become the champion of sustainable development, the world will change for the better!


Noémie Olive

Awareness campaign in Taiwan

After scientific research comes educational outreach. During Tara’s 4-day stopover in Keelung, visits of the schooner were organized for primary school children in the morning and the general public in the afternoon.


In all, nearly 750 people explored the 36-meter schooner – visiting the spaces devoted to scientific research, the main cabin, kitchen, corridor with the crew’s cabins, and climbing the ladder in the forward hold to emerge on deck.

Taiwan is a special place for Tara – for the diversity of coral reefs surrounding the island, and the warm welcome given to the crew members. Every day, students from the National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU) and port agents came aboard, loaded with fruit baskets, pineapple cakes, the famous Bubble tea (the local cold tea with tapioca pearls) and even Taiwanese beer!

On the official side, Tara was invited to the Palmes Académiques ceremony, where this year’s Palm was awarded to Ching-Fang Chang, Director of NTOU University. This distinction recognizes people for exceptional work in the field of education. Ching-Fang Chang, who facilitated Tara’s arrival, was honored for 30 years of scientific activity and her commitment to developing and maintaining exchanges between French and Taiwanese students.


© Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Taiwan tackles plastic

Taiwan has been recycling waste since the 1990s. Ming-Jay Ho, researcher at Academia Sinica explains: “In terms of education, it starts in primary school. If you don’t put trash in the proper container, garbage collectors will not pick it up. Taiwan is a small island and to conserve our resources, we must become more eco-oriented.”

Paradoxically, individual packaging is omnipresent: each orange, flower, or cake is wrapped in plastic. The government nevertheless continues its actions to fight against pollution and in particular, pollution of the oceans. Starting in 2019, fast-food chains and grocery stores will be banned from distributing plastic straws, with a complete ban in 2030 including plastic cups and plates.

Noémie Olive

Tara studying Taiwan’s biodiversity

For 4 days Tara successfully continued scientific research, then weighed anchor and left behind Orchid Island and Green Island, off the eastern coast of Taiwan.

Tara Pacific’s 3 target species were found and collected on site. According to Emilie Boissin, scientific coordinator of this mission (CRIOBE), “these sites are interesting because they represent the northern boundary of the distribution area for these tropical species”.

Porites lobata (commonly known as lobe coral), Millepora platyphylla (plate fire coral) and Pocillopora meandrina (cauliflower coral) survive in these latitudes thanks to the Kuroshio, a warm north-flowing current, the world’s strongest after the Gulf stream.

Vianney Denis, a French researcher based in Taiwan, told us that a Japanese team traveled from Taiwan to Japan by kayak, following the current flow, at an average speed of 1.5 knots (a little less than 3 km/h).
Plankton and fish samples will be carefully stored aboard the schooner until the mission’s end and Tara’s return to Lorient, in October 2018. In contrast, the coral samples will probably be unloaded in Taiwan, since coral is a protected species. After completion of customs export formalities, they’ll be shipped by plane to our partner laboratories.


© Noémie Olive / Tara Expeditions Fondation


Monday, March 26, a major clean-up day!

Sailors scrubbed the deck, walkways, cabins and corridors. Scientists disinfected all sample bottles to prevent any collected plankton from proliferating aboard Tara! They left vials and pipes in perfect condition for the next scientific team.

On Monday evening the schooner set sail for Keelung where crew members will sport their agnès b. cardigans to greet Tara’s visitors. A welcome ceremony will take place upon arrival in the port of Keelung, and the crew will enjoy Taiwanese kindness and hospitality once again, just one year after Tara’s first stopover here.

Noémie Olive

Video: Hong Kong: coral and the city

Tara spent nearly 10 days in Hong Kong. A highly urbanized and densely populated environment, the archipelago faces a major challenge: the management of its waste. Unfortunately, plastics, styrofoam and wastewater end up too often in the sea and threaten to disrupt the marine ecosystem. The Taranauts took advantage of their stopover to participate in a beach cleanup operation organized by the French community, before going to take the pulse of Hong Kong’s coral further east, at Crescent Island.

© Agathe Roullin / Tara Expeditions Foundation
© Drone images : François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Back to science and Taiwan

After collecting coral samples in Hong Kong, Tara headed out to sea for Taiwan, with science on the agenda, and a relay of crew members.

Everyone was smiling as we dropped anchor. Finally, they would be able to dive in this deserted bay of Crescent Island, northeast of Hong Kong. Since Indonesia, scientists on board were unable to collect even the smallest bit of coral for lack of authorization. But in the Hong Kong archipelago, a few miles from the city and its gigantic buildings, research finally could begin again.

After Crescent Island, Tara headed to a second site, also chosen by the University of Hong scientists sailing aboard Tara on this short leg. Lamma Island, west of the city, is much less green than Crescent. Large orange rocks adorn the cliff that frames the schooner. Open to the sea, this area is much more agitated than the first. After the morning sampling, Tara made a last detour to Hong Kong to drop off the University of Hong Kong scientists before heading north to Taiwan.


5.Tara quitte HK pour aller echantillonner dans l archipel@Agathe_RoullinTara and the crew left Hong Kong in order to go sampling coral in the archipelago – © Agathe Roullin / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Back to Keelung

Facing headwinds during the entire crossing, it took us 2 and a half days to reach Kaohsiung on the island’s southwest side. This first stopover will be short: It’s here that some crew members disembark and new ones come aboard: a new first mate, a cook, on-board correspondent and 5 scientists. The scientific program in Taiwan will be considerable. 3 sampling sites are planned along the east coast — Kenting, Orchid and Green Islands — before arriving in Keelung around March 27th. Taranauts are looking forward to a reunion there. Less than a year ago, in May 2017 the schooner moored at Keelung’s dock for a week-long stopover and meeting with the Taiwanese.

 Agathe Roullin

Stopover in Hong Kong, the “Asian New York”

Tara is currently in Hong Kong for 10 days as part of the Tara Pacific expedition. The objective of this stopover is to meet the people of this dynamic port city, then do some scientific dives to study the corals of the archipelago.

After leaving Sanya and the Chinese « Riviera », Tara continued her route north in the direction of Hong Kong. A former British colony retroceded to China in 1997, Hong Kong is a « special administrative region » which includes a mainland (Kowloon) and the archipelago facing it. Its 7.3 million inhabitants have their own political, legislative, legal, economic and financial systems, different from those of the Chinese, so the Taranauts had to exchange their Chinese yuan for Hong Kong dollars.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0044.JPGTara moored in front of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, ready to welcome visits onboard – © Agathe Roullin / Tara Expeditions Foundation


In the city center surrounded by a multitude of buildings competing to reach the sky, the schooner is organizing visits aboard for the people of Hong Kong. This is the very first time Tara has stopped here. A city/region encircled by the sea, Hong Kong is an essential port of call for the Tara Pacific expedition: «We could not be in Asia without stopping in Hong Kong» says Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation. «Historically, this is an important maritime center. But it’s also an ultra-urbanized territory, where the coral is very exposed to the stress of pollution. It’s therefore very interesting for us to see how the reefs behave and adapt to this pollution».

In addition to meeting the public, the Taranauts will make the most of this visit to Hong Kong by organizing dives to collect samples in the archipelago with the collaboration of 4 scientists from the University of Hong Kong. Afterwards, the schooner will continue her route to Taiwan.

Video: Presidential interview in Palau

While Tara was anchored in Koror Bay, the Taranauts received a visit from Mr. Tommy Remengesau, President of the Republic of Palau and a friend of the Tara Expeditions Foundation. After this meeting, the President invited Tara’s chief engineer, Daniel Cron and his camera to his office. Discover the President’s message and behind-the-scenes interview.


© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Tara in China, Spring, 2018: Participating in scientific and environmental challenges

Starting at the end of February, Tara will be making ports of call in China over a period of 2 months. This will be a particularly important part of the Tara Pacific expedition, involving scientific, educational and political issues. Interview with Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation:

Why did the Tara Expeditions Foundation accompany President Macron on his first official trip to China?

This was the first time that the Foundation had the opportunity to be part of a presidential delegation. The French ambassador to China, with whom we’ve been working for a long time, judged that we had our place there, in view of Tara’s imminent visit.

Beyond this event, we’ve been working with China and have been connected with Chinese universities for some time now. This visit was therefore a logical continuation of our scientific cooperation.

The goal was also to strengthen the image of the Tara Foundation in China. Clearly our participation in this trip will influence the success of Tara’s presence in China.

The environment and the climate were also at the center of discussions, crucial topics for the Foundation. In particular, this trip was the opportunity to visit the Beijing Space Center and see the satellite CFOSAT (China-France Oceanography satellite) which will be responsible for studying the physical characteristics of the Ocean’s surface starting this year.

Romain Troublé (directeur général de la Fondation Tara Expeditions) lors de la conférence FACTO, Miami Romain Troublé, Directeur Général de la Fondation Tara Expéditions © Maeva Bardy – Tara Expeditions Foundation


How can China be an important partner for the Tara Foundation’s mission?

For the last 2 years, China has become the leader in climate issues, along with France. It’s very interesting and important to cooperate with China on a scientific level, to exchange know-how and information. Close ties should therefore be developed with this country which has become a key partner and is getting stronger on a scientific level.

China is aware of its responsibilities in terms of waste, pollution and even management of resources. We must not be naïve: China is showing all the signs of a country willing to meet challenges and assume its responsibilities.


What will be Tara’s main objectives during her 2-month stay in China?

Our presence in China will be organized into several stopovers, including Sanya, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Xiamen, each lasting between one and 2 weeks. During these stopovers the focus will be on educating young people — a major issue in China. Many visits of school children are being planned, in addition to the special events organized to disseminate the Foundation’s work.

On the scientific side, several conferences will be given by researchers from the Tara Oceans consortium to present their excellent work. More generally, we are already collaborating with researchers from the universities of Xiamen, Hong Kong and Guangxi. Our ambition is to anchor these collaborations in the long term.

As for further sampling, the corals around Hainan Island are among the most northwesternly in the Pacific Ocean. Since Tara is studying corals in the greatest variety of environments, it’s important to make a stopover there.

Video: Studying coral adaptation to climate change

A team of researchers from the Monaco Scientific Center, the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis and the University of Liège carried out a specific 10-day mission aboard Tara, in the state of Koror, Palau. The objective: to study the adaptation of corals to climate change, in a country still protected from human impact. Scientists selected Palau in order to study corals protected from anthropogenic effects and thus observe the consequences of global environmental changes on coral reefs. A true open-air laboratory, the small islands of Palau border naturally acidified underwater sites which correspond to the estimates of ocean acidification in 2100. Experience this mission in video!

© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Hope for Philippine collaboration in Tara’s scientific program

Sailors and scientists are heading to the Philippines aboard Tara, ready to continue their work in the waters of the Philippine archipelago. Meanwhile, the Tara Expeditions Foundation is waiting for an essential element for this mission: the Philippine government’s authorization to pursue Tara Pacific’s scientific work, the global study of Pacific coral reefs conducted in cooperation with the 30 countries already visited.


For Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Foundation, the Philippine government’s decision is important for science, but also for raising awareness. He explains: “The Tara Pacific research aims to advance understanding of the impact of climate change on the reefs. Our sole ambition is to advance fundamental research in order to understand the intimate processes of coral bleaching. 2018 has been designated “International Year of Coral Reefs” due to the serious dangers threatening the future of reef biodiversity and the people who depend on it”, he says.

The Tara Foundation has therefore invited the Philippine government to collaborate with them and benefit from international scientific expertise by including the Philippine reefs in this unprecedented study of the Pacific Ocean. “Whenever possible, Tara welcomes aboard researchers from the country where we’re collecting our samples”.


© Tara Expeditions Foundation


Patience and confidence are in order. “We know that the authorization process is complex, and we have been working on it for several months with the French Embassy. We sincerely hope that the Philippines will respond favorably to this ambitious study program and will dispatch a scientist from the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines aboard the schooner”.

Thus the Tara Expeditions Foundation is proposing to include the Philippine scientific community in a research program of excellence, as evidenced by the recent results published in Nature Communications on January 25, 2018, revealing 110 million new genes from the marine world, half of which have functions that are still totally unknown.

Video: Christmas in the Pacific

On December 25th the Taranauts all met on deck at 9am. Under the Christmas tree, each of the 15 pairs of flip-flops received a present.
In the middle of Helen Reef lagoon, far from their families, the crew shared a festive moment together. See the photos of their gift unwrapping.

© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Indonesia: the Ocean is choking with plastic

A  4-day technical stopover in the Indonesian province of Sorong was a sobering moment for the Taranauts. As soon as we disembarked, we were shocked by the extent of the pollution. A city of more than 200 000 inhabitants, Sorong is buried under plastic waste — unfortunately not an exception in Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world.


Water ballet of plastic

Sandbanks bordering the city are overflowing with detritus: disposable objects, oil cans, flipflops, cigarette lighters. The owners of many small shops lined up along the road dump their trash bins directly onto the sandbanks. People just stretch out their arms to get rid of what they no longer want. Hundreds of plastic bottles float down the open channels dug near houses to evacuate sewage. Like 80% of the waste at sea, these bottles were thrown on the ground, then follow the flow of water, ending up in the ocean. Every year between 10 and 20 million tons of waste are dumped in the oceans, 80% of which are plastics.*


The second largest polluter in terms of plastic

According to a report published in the Journal of Science (in 2015), the Indonesian archipelago is the second largest polluter in terms of plastic, just after China. Located in the heart of the famous Coral Triangle, the Indonesian maritime territory is home to the highest level of biodiversity in the world. But for how much longer?

Today, increasing numbers of tourists leave Sorong by ferry to reach Waisai, gateway to Raja Ampat, a site famous for scuba diving. From there, visitors take small boats to reach the rental cottages bordering turquoise water on the island of Kri or Gam. But a closer look shows that these pretty beaches lined with sheds on stilts are also littered with objects that the locals don’t bother to pick up.


The scientific team appalled by the accumulation of so much waste in the ocean – © Eric Röttinger / Kahi Kai
Despite the status of Raja Ampat National Park, the situation underwater is equally disturbing: Petroleum products and marine organisms come together daily in a place that was, until recently, a true underwater paradise.

Indonesia faces a problem of massive pollution, and finally the government is recognizing it. At one of the recent global summits on the Ocean, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs announced a plan to reduce marine pollution by 70% in the next 8 years. But in many islands of the archipelago, garbage collection is still just an idea.


Levers to regulate production?

Who should be blamed for the situation — consumers, the Indonesian government, the oil industry? What can be done to reverse the trend? In a country where incomes can be quite low, sales of plastic products in individual doses are very successful. The entire population must be made aware of the problem. At the same time, the public authorities must play their role by providing an efficient garbage collection and recycling service.
Accumulation of all kinds of waste – © Eric Röttinger / Kahi Kai

The oil industry and its lobby

When the question of responsibility is considered on a global scale, some experts blame the oil industry and its lobby. This is the case of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) whose recent report states that plastic manufacturers were aware of the problems caused by their products as early as the 1970s. But a part of the plastic industry continues to deny the facts, fighting regulations and undermining proposed solutions. Even worse, they put the blame on consumers. As for manufacturers, their involvement is limited to the resin granules made from plastic waste and doesn’t take into account the end-of-life of plastic products.


For an international treaty

At the Tara Expeditions Foundation, through our actions carried out since 2003, we strive to highlight the scientific facts, the questions and sometimes even the doubts so necessary to challenge accepted ideas. Sharing this mindset means bringing concrete elements to discussions with citizens, entrepreneurs and policy makers.

Today we support the implementation of an international treaty that would reduce this plastic crisis. It seems to us essential to constrain and regulate the impact of plastic throughout the life cycle of products, from their production to the pollution of our oceans.

Noëlie Pansiot


Change of destination: Tara will not go to Indonesia

An unusual circumstance: the schooner must change route. On board, the Captain downloads new nautical charts thanks to the satellite connection. On land, the logistics team is modifying the dates and the port of entry for the next team of scientists to come aboard.  The reason for this last minute change? The Indonesian government has refused us permission to do sampling in its territorial waters. Explanation:

For months, the Tara Expeditions Foundation and its team have spent a huge amount of time and energy organizing this major chapter of contemporary exploration across the Pacific Ocean: Tracing a coherent  itinerary for sampling different species of corals. Inquiring about the safety of the crew on a route sometimes subject to piracy. Setting up adequate logistics to accommodate a rotation of 70 scientists and 6 crew members constantly. Contacting representatives of 30 countries to present the project. Requesting permission to collect samples. There’s no end to this list.


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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Sometimes, despite all their efforts to organize & anticipate, the land-sea team must revise their plans. This is the case today, following the Indonesian government’s refusal to allow sampling. Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, reacted to the decision: “It’s really unfortunate, especially since the challenges facing the coral reefs of Indonesia are major. It’s highly regrettable that  Indonesia’s ambition, as host of the “Our Ocean 2018″ Conference, is not followed up with specific actions, such as participating in an unprecedented pan-Pacific research program like Tara Pacific”. After 14 years of expeditions, only 2% of solicited countries refused the schooner entry into their maritime territory.

So, Tara will not go to the Maluku archipelago as planned. The ability to adapt is undeniably one of the major strengths of the project. The schooner will still make a very brief stop in Indonesia to welcome its new scientific team — in  Sorong, a port city in eastern Indonesia. Then Tara will leave the country immediately, headed for Palau where she is expected. 6 archipelagos comprised of 300 islets and 26 islands, the Republic of Palau in Micronesia, will be a vast area of ​​exploration for the Taranauts. A stopover will be hosted by the President of Palau, one of the first heads-of-state to join Tara in giving a voice to the Ocean at the COP21   by signing the “Because the Ocean” declaration.


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© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This change of  itinerary will first take the crew to some tiny, remote islands, very rarely studied: Hatohobei, Sonosol, Pulo Anna.

Sampling around Koror, the most populated island of Palau, will take place from  January 4 – 9, 2018. Another specific mission conducted by the team from Monaco will happen later, from January 11- 20. After exploring and sampling in the famous Coral Triangle, in the heart of these “small islands” (Micronesia), the schooner will make a final stop in the port of Koror, from January 20 – 22, 2018,  before heading for the Philippines.


Noëlie Pansiot


Tara exploring an unknown biodiversity in Papua New Guinea

Six researchers constitute the new scientific team aboard Tara on a leg called “Biodiversity and Interactions”. All hope to discover new species during repeated underwater explorations in 4 major regions of Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea). Some of the scientists hope to reveal the secrets of chemical interactions between species; others would like to discover new molecules useful in human health. Whatever their specialty, they are already busy under water but also on board, in front of a lab bench or a gene sequencer.

Scientific director of this new leg and marine biologist at CRIOBE, Emilie Boissin has been on board for several weeks. She’s the only one remaining from the former team. Before the new scientific members even set foot on deck, Emilie described the purpose of this mission which is slightly different from other legs of Tara Pacific: « We are sailing in the Coral Triangle, extremely rich in marine biodiversity. Probably many of the species here are still unknown. We will inventory the little-studied groups such as hydrozoans, brittle stars and sponges. We’ll also try to genetically identify the coral species in the laboratory on board, because a simple morphological observation is often not enough. We hope to obtain genetic confirmations in real time, using a small DNA sequencing device called MinION ».


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Beautiful crinoids on a sponge - © Jonathan Lancelot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


At the introductory meeting that opened this new scientific chapter, Emilie pointed out the exploration zones on a map including Kimbe, Kapepa and Restorf Islands. Everyone then discussed the reasons for their presence on the schooner. Julie Poulain, engineer at the Genoscope and a “regular” aboard Tara, piqued the curiosity of Taranauts by unveiling the famous DNA sequencer: “Smaller than a smart phone!”

Bernard Banaigs, researcher at INSERM, immediately added some humor: « You’re lucky to have 2 chemists aboard Tara, Olivier and myself, 2 barbarians. We’ll first focus on the target species Millepora platyphylla by studying the competition that exists with other corals. Observations show that Millepora platyphylla protects itself quite well from competitors for space. We want to understand the influence of its neighbors on the defense molecules produced by this species. In the marine environment, an intense chemical warfare is going on at all times. To fight against competitors, predators or colonizers, Millepora releases a whole bunch of molecules to protect themselves, creating a chemical shield of sorts! We will try to understand if these defense molecules could be interesting for human health, plant protection or anti-fouling ».


Small green and pink ascidia attached to a sponge – © Jonathan Lancelot / Fondation Tara Expéditions
To date, only 10% of marine biodiversity has been catalogued of all species combined: 200,000 species out of a total estimated at 2,210,000*. By looking more closely at only the cnidarian group which includes corals, hydrozoans and jellyfish, 9,795 species have been catalogued, but no global estimate has been made for cnidarians. The oceans have not finished revealing their riches to contemporary explorers.

Emilie Boissin says the Taranauts will have to open their eyes and pay attention to each form of life — « since even what might look like a known species at first sight, may not be one ».

Noëlie Pansiot


*Brett R. Scheffers, et al. (2012), What we know and don’t know about Earth’s missing biodiversity, Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Welcome back onboard correspondent, Noëlie Pansiot

After 39 hours traveling from Paris to Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea, the popular expression “You have to earn it” makes sense. Samuel Audrain, incoming captain, Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, and Daniel Cron, deck officer, will no doubt agree. The 4 of us have just crossed the globe by plane to relay disembarking teammates. Here’s the story of my trip.

After a somewhat tumultuous departure on Friday at 18:30, the evening of a soccer match that made the north of Paris as congested as a Cairo crossroads in daytime, I boarded a flight from Paris to Dubai. After settling in on the first plane, a Airbus A380, I take the full measure of the journey that awaits me: 4 flights and nearly 15,000 km to go. I’m already thinking about the next 3 months of mission to discover the famous Coral Triangle, the epicenter of marine biodiversity on the planet. According to some scientists, it was here that everything may have started. Corals most likely spread to the rest of the planet from this place.

The list of potential topics to deal with in writing or video runs in my head. The first that comes to my mind is largely inspired by the number of single-use disposables on the plane. I think of the figures that will appear in a future article dedicated to plastic pollution. Even though I hold out my cup for a refill, the stewardesses systematically hand me a new cup, already full. And when, driven by my ecological instinct, I ask about recycling, they answer with a surprised look and a negative nod of the head.



Noëlie Pansiot, correspondante de bord, fera de nouveau partie de l’équipage jusqu’aux Philippines - © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Paris – Dubai – Brisbane – Port Moresby – Kimbe Bay. Three planes later and X plastic cups in the trash, I’m at the exit of the international airport of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. It’s humid and hot and I’m smiling as I walk towards the domestic terminal for a last flight. Direction Kimbe Bay, in the province of New Britain, located on the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago. This large bay is among the major sites of the Coral Triangle and counts 60% of the species present in the Indo-Pacific zone.

The 4th plane, operated by the only local airline, has only 36 seats. I sit next to a porthole thinking I’ll enjoy the view at takeoff. I scrutinize the interior of the old plane, which seems to have already exceeded its quota of flying hours. But sleepiness has the best of my worries.

An hour later, a hand on my shoulder wakes me gently from sleep. My neighbor explains: “We have to change aircraft. This one has a technical problem.” Our plane hasn’t moved a centimeter!

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Kimbe Bay, lieu de destination de notre correspondante de bord, Noëlie, qui embarque à bord de Tara pour 3 mois - © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


I gather my belongings and head for plane number 4b. Regina, 50 years old, sits down next to me and confesses, “I prayed to God to change planes. He answered me!” I thank her. To have come all this way and see nothing of the Papuan territory would have been rather disappointing. We continue talking and the charming teacher explains that we’re not very far from Hoskins airport: “When we fly over a large stretch of ​​oil palms, that means we’ve arrived.

Outside my porthole, rows of palm trees have replaced a thick forest and we land safely. Paris is only an old memory. In a couple of hours the 2 masts of the schooner will stand before me, in a bay at the end of the world. I’ll find almost the same crew that I left a little over 4 months ago in Fiji. But before that, I’ll take a nap.


Noëlie Pansiot



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.


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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?


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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


A Customary Meeting on Yanaba Island

After leaving the acidification study site, the Taranauts penetrated further into Papuan territory, sailing northeast overnight to the Egum Atoll. On the island of Yanaba, a formal meeting was organized amidst the traditional huts on stilts overlooking the lagoon. Such meetings, indispensable for continuing our sampling, remind us of the necessity of taking time to listen and talk to each other.


We arrived early this morning in the small, shallow pass of Egum Atoll. First mate Nicolas Bin was in the crow’s nest to signal the reef, no maps being available. We anchored near the village of Yanaba Island.


Skilled Sailors

A well-crafted canoe approached us, maneuvered with dexterity by the customary chief Andrew, a mature man with a lively expression. He invited us to meet his community at the end of their Sunday religious service, to explain our visit to the atoll.

Early in the afternoon a delegation of Taranauts composed of Loïc, Vincent, Joern, Cristoph, myself, and of course our Papou scientific observer Alfred Yohang Ko’ou, landed with the surf on the beach.


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At Yanaba Island, a traditional  pirogue with sails © Vincent Hilaire -  Tara Expeditions Foundation


The Waiting

We spent 2 hours in the shade of the tribal chief ‘s hut, waiting for community leaders to gather.

Children were observing us with mischievous looks. Already questions were being asked and trust began to develop.

Once the head of the council (different from the tribal chief), the magistrate and the school principal joined us, we could present the Tara Pacific expedition and explain why we had chosen to come to this particular island. An experienced speaker, calm and self-confident, Alfred did a great job of explaining the work we wanted to do here.

About 500 people live in autonomy on the 2 inhabited islands of the atoll. 120 children attend school here. There are no regular connections to the nearest “big” islands — only the native canoes with rigging made of all-natural materials. These islanders are excellent sailors. It takes them 2 days to reach Alotau, the capital of the province.

The council deliberated and after they negotiated fees, we were authorized to take coral samples from their waters. We then toured the very well-organized beachfront village, and visited the school where we distributed some supplies and Tara Junior magazines to the teachers.



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The meeting begins in the shade of the hut, with Tara’s crew at the center © Vincent Hilaire - Tara Expeditions Foundation


The visit of the village

Nearby, 2 huts in ruin — a medical clinic and a post office — have been closed for almost 10 years. Where is the state ???

So close and so isolated. No power. Here and there a solar panel and a battery. No radio transmitter, no satellite communication, no internet.

A 30-hp outboard engine (at present functioning only in reverse) was donated by the provincial government, but now sits alone in a locked shack. Here nothing is wasted, everything is transformed and re-used: plastic materials (buoys, cans, etc) brought by the sea are all used or recycled.

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Yanaba Island children next to Tara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


An Isolated Community

The last foreigners to visit this island were 2 Australian anthropologists who spent 2 months here more than a year ago. Passenger boats are extremely rare. Nevertheless, the inhabitants dare to hope that someday tourists will visit, and they’ll be able to create small businesses.

My feelings are mixed: I can’t help but think these people live in a tiny paradise. But the raw, infected wounds the young people show us, asking for medicine, remind me of the harsh reality.

As soon as authorization was given, Jon, Becky, Grace and the 2 Guillaumes set off on one of Tara’s zodiacs to locate a site for sampling. Tomorrow morning around 5:30 we’ll weigh anchor and move closer to the sampling area.


Simon Rigal, captain 


On Papua

After leaving Alotau at mid-day on November 1st, we navigated 80 kilometers to the northeast before reaching Normanby Island. At nightfall we anchored close to the west coast of the island and the next morning went through the first of many rituals of this leg.


At 7:30 am local time as the sun rose over the rainforest, we launched one of the dinghies to go ashore and meet our hosts. Before leaving, smiling children and adolescents were already circling Tara in canoes.

In the dinghy, our improvised delegation was led by Simon Rigal, our captain, and Alfred Yohang Ko’ou. our Papuan scientific observer. We landed on Soba Island and were met by excited children and shy adults awaiting this first contact. We were led past 2 huts, one on the ground and the other on stilts, both constructed mainly with braided palm leaves.


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The place of our first custom, surrounded by the houses of this little community © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Sitting on the floor around a palm mat taken from the main hut and unfurled for us, the ritual began with the family gathered amidst dogs, chickens and a pig.

Alfred began by explaining in Papuan where we came from and what we were doing on board Tara, while showing on his blue T-shirt our voyage from France. Kanagola, the head of the community, listened attentively.

Then “Beckie” Vega Thurber, our current scientific leader, explained more precisely our scientific interest in this bay and what we would like to do there.

Kanogola listened very calmly without expressing any particular reaction and suddenly blurted out: “Ah, the bubbles!

Beckie explained that a mission had already taken place in 2013 to carry out research on these CO2 bubbles. Kanagola nodded confirmation. Beckie went on, “we’ve come to launch a new campaign on these carbon dioxide bubbles and their effects on the coral ecosystem. We will eventually compare these results with the older ones. The ocean is acidifying right now and at you have at the end of your beach an ideal laboratory.

Kanagola was reassured: “I give you permission to do what you have to do here. But if you go to the next bay, you will have to ask the other community for their agreement.

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Two generations of the community of Soba Island in this photograph © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Simon Rigal pulled out of his backpack some Tara Junior magazines in English and gave them to Kanagola, explaining with a touch of humor, “These are magazines for children, but as an adult I learned lots of things from them“. Kanagola thanked Simon with a smile while a new pile came out of the bag: notebooks and pens.

The ritual was coming to an end and we were honored to take some pictures of these people still living their traditional life, without electricity or water.


Vincent Hilaire

Tara in Papua New Guinea

This Monday, October 30th at 9.30am local time, Tara and her crew of 12 people arrived in Alotau, capital of one of the 20 island provinces.
In a well-protected cove on the north coast of the deep Milne Bay, Alotau has a population of just over 15,000, while the country as a whole numbers almost 6.5 million Papuans.
We will leave Alotau on November 1st for 3 initial sites, one of which will be devoted exclusively to the study of water acidification and its effects on coral.

“I am pleasantly surprised by the Solomon Islands”, confided Simon Rigal, our captain, as we left Gizo – the capital of the western province – and this archipelago. Ahead of us were more than 2 days of navigation and 750 kilometers without wind, and with engines.
Like Simon, as Gizo slowly receded, I felt a twinge in my heart leaving this small, peaceful, farming town.
The few minutes spent in the morning walking the main street and the market, all these colors amidst so many smiles, the boats stranded on the sand in front of the stalls, all that I already missed. An atmosphere that I love, full of life, simple and without makeup.


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 The market of Gizo, in the Solomon Islands © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


To chase away the melancholy as we passed the last Solomon Islands, Mother Nature concocted one of those magical moments which she alone can cast. First, a school of 5 dolphins played at Tara’s bow, directly in front of my cameras.

Then, through a magnificent cumulus formation, the sun was preparing a magnificent sunset, a falling curtain worthy of one of the greatest live show acts. It was like my experience when leaving Noumea at the moment the star was transformed at the horizon into a balloon of fire.

The navigation between the Solomon Islands and Papua, sometimes on a glassy sea and overwhelming heat, was interspersed by the quarter watches and the routine launching of oceanographic instruments.


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Tonight, while I was on watch with the chief engineer, Loïc Caudan, we were treated in these last miles to an extraordinary sky, studded with thousands upon thousands of stars. At the break of dawn, at the entrance to Milne Bay, which in 1942 was the scene of the first Japanese defeat in the Pacific, we discovered a new country, mountainous and green.

The highlight of the show was soon coming. On the quay where Tara was now moored, an improvised welcome committee came to watch this curious schooner, with all those blue T-shirts bobbing about on deck: “Tara, Tara, is that the name of the boat? Where do you come from? France? Where is that? ”


                                   Vincent Hilaire


The Solomon Islands: in the eye of the climatic cyclone?

From Honiara (the capital) until Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea), we are welcoming on board a Solomon Islands observer: Joe Frazer Piduru.
This smiling 43-year-old man born in the province of Choiseul, one of the big islands of the archipelago, is a professional sailor. With a Class 4 Captain’s Certificate from the Honiara Merchant Marine School, Joe works for the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration (SIMSA), the equivalent of Maritime Affairs in France.


Tara is anchored a few hundred meters from a palm tree forest nearly overlooking the beach. Rising from some tree tops are swirls of smoke. A tribe lives there. Further out on the water, men in dugouts are fishing.
As the new scientific team prepares its first dive here, 40 nautical miles northwest of Honiara, the newcomer with his rectangular black sunglasses is observing the loading of the zodiac 16R. This is one of the Tara Pacific expedition rituals orchestrated by the sailors using the crane.

This Solomon-Papua leg is just beginning and I take this opportunity to interview Joe.


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Joe Frazer Piduru starting his shift © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Several hundred islands make up the Solomon Archipelago. Which one do you come from?

“I was born in the province of Choiseul, like my parents. Our tribe has an island along the coast of Choiseul called Zenoa – our traditional territory. We’ve managed to have it classified as a marine protected area since 2010 and we are now waiting to benefit from a conservation program.”


Why did you take these steps to protect your island?

“We want to protect Zenoa and all the species that live there, but also the reefs. We are doing this for the future, so that there is a future. In recent years, we have seen the disappearance of many fish species and we don’t know why. Maybe it’s climate change or overfishing or overexploitation of our forest resources, or maybe all 3?


Every day we discover more consequences of overfishing and climate change in the world. But how does overexploitation of forests affect the sea, the reefs for example?

“The first disruptions come from the very important increase in maritime traffic. Many cargo ships coming from Malaysia load the wood here, very often near the coast without a particular port structure. They also want to avoid paying port taxes so they destroy the bottom with their anchors. Logging generates very large quantities of sludge carried down the slopes and washed away by the rivers before they empty into the sea. This causes massive pollution and destroys the ecosystem. This sludge is loaded with oil and hydrocarbons of all kinds. Exploitation of gold from the mines also leads to the dumping of toxic chemicals into our coastal waters.

The problem is that all the islands of our archipelago have this type of exploitation. Our forests have been exploited for 40 years, trees that absorb CO2 and release oxygen have been cut down, and the sea around us has been polluted.”


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Carcasses of boats after the cyclone PAM passed in 2015, near the port of Honaria © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation 


“We want to stop this horror. The problem with logging is corruption. In the local ministries, everyone is ready to sign a business license for bribes. The government has managed to classify less than 10 tree species in 40 years. If we don’t protect our forests more effectively, we’ll destroy them, and along with them we’ll destroy our lagoons, our reefs and all their biodiversity. I am sure that this deforestation has consequences for our climate here.”


What changes have you noticed in recent years in your climate? There was cyclone Pam in 2015.

: “From our elders we inherited a knowledge of our local climates, but now it doesn’t work anymore. Today it is beautiful and tomorrow there may be a cyclone. We are affected by climate change and our climate is no longer stable like before.
Cyclone Pam mainly affected Vanuatu and the eastern part of the archipelago, the province of Temotu. Here we suffered less.
But fortunately now, 2 years later, everything is back in order after the arrival of supply vessels. The only thing that improved after the tragedy is that we now have mobile phones to warn people. We have weather stations in the 9 provinces, but they’re not all working.


photo 13_Joe Frzer Piduru avec Nico Bin et Simon Rigal_VH


Joe Frazer Piduru, observer of the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation
Another consequence of climate change is that we are beginning to see islands disappear. The first disappeared in 1999, in the Russel Islands archipelago because of rising waters and violent tropical storms.
Our situation is very bad and we are trapped in a black box. When I was little, I looked underwater and everything was ok. I swam in the middle of fish and I played in crystal clear waters. But nobody taught us to protect our forests, fish and corals. This must change and we must change.”


Vincent Hilaire



In the wake of Bougainville and La Boudeuse

Bougainville. The explorer’s name echoes in our heads while Tara is clocking up nautical miles. Throughout the Tara Pacific expedition, except in the Strait of Magellan, we are following the sailing routes of La Boudeuse and L’Étoile, thanks to the discoveries made and maps drawn up during Bougainville’s incredible adventure, more than 2 centuries ago, long before GPS was invented!


In 1768, during his major exploration journey in the Pacific Ocean, the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville discovered the largest reef in the world. When we say that the greatest discoveries are sometimes made by chance, this adventure story is a perfect example.


Louis Antoine de Bougainville


In December 1766, Bougainville departed from Brest aboard La Boudeuse. Accompanied by naturalists, a cartographer and an astronomer, his role as Captain was to add to knowledge and increase French presence in this part of the world.

In Rio de Janeiro, he received the support of another French vessel, L’Étoile, which under his command, acted as a cargo ship. After a laborious crossing of the Strait of Magellan, winds and the Humboldt current pushing the vessels northwards, Bougainville finally entered the Pacific Ocean.

In Rio de Janeiro, he received the support of another French vessel, L’Étoile, which under his command, acted as a cargo ship. After a laborious crossing of the Strait of Magellan, winds and the Humboldt current pushing the vessels northwards, Bougainville finally entered the Pacific Ocean.

It took him and his 400 men, weakened by scurvy, more than a year of navigation to finally sight the first islands – the immense Tuamotu Archipelago – in February 1768. He baptized it “the dangerous archipelago” because of the many coral atolls that made the progress of the 2 ships very perilous.




The expedition reached Tahiti on April 6, 1768. Unfortunately for Bougainville, Tahiti had already been discovered in the previous year by an English navigator, Samuel Wallis.

As soon as La Boudeuse and L’Étoile anchored, a charming problem arose. “In spite of all our precautions,” he wrote, “a young woman nonchalantly dropped the loincloth covering her and appeared for all to see, like Venus in front of the Phrygian shepherd. She had a heavenly shape. Sailors and soldiers were eagerly reaching for the hatch and the capstan has never been operated with such zeal. We actually succeeded in restraining these bewitched men”. Bougainville later wondered: “How do we make 400 French young sailors who haven’t seen a woman in 6 months remain at their work stations in front of such a sight?”

After an exquisite stay among “noble savages” according to his accepted expression, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville resumed his voyage heading west, and discovered the New Hebrides Condominium (now the nation of Vanuatu).

From there he continued further west, trying to find Terra Australis which, on his nautical chart, was located northeast, towards New Guinea. Provisions ran out once again and Bougainville observed: “Spoiled meat was in great quantity, but it was becoming infected. Instead, we preferred to eat rats we could capture”. He nonetheless continued his journey.



In the spring of 1768, the 2 vessels reached the eastern waters of Australia where reefs prevented them from approaching the coast.

Bougainville had just discovered the Great Barrier Reef: “Lookouts saw new shoals from atop the masts.” he wrote, “We couldn’t see where they ended.”

After careful consideration, Bougainville set a northward course and decided not to seek a passage among all these pitfalls.

The first European to explore the Great Barrier Reef was the British captain, James Cook. He discovered the reef when his vessel ran aground on it on June 11, 1770.

Bougainville then visited the western part of the Solomon Islands and discovered a new island on June 30, 1768, on his way to Papua. To this day, the island bears his name.


1 photo 6_eaux se melangent avant Honiara_VH
The most difficult part of the trip was the return journey along the coast of New Guinea. The sailors were plagued by hunger and scurvy. The expedition then joined the Moluccas and busier sea routes before sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.

On his return to France, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville resumed his military career, participated in the American War of Independence, then was appointed wing commander in 1779. During the Age of Enlightenment, the account of this journey, published in 1771, fed philosophical controversies and particularly inspired Diderot.

Famous, covered with honors and supported by Napoleon, Bougainville devoted the rest of his life to scientific studies and research projects.

He died at the age of 82 in 1811, and was buried in the Pantheon in Paris.

Vincent Hilaire


Honiara, Solomon Islands kingdom

On Wednesday, August 18 at 2pm local time, Tara arrived in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands. It took us only 4 days of peaceful downwind sailing to reach this archipelago.

We’ll remain docked in Honiara for 2 days before exploring 3 coral sites on the surrounding reefs. A new scientific team led by Dr Rebecca Vega Thurber, biologist at Oregon State University (USA), will board the schooner tomorrow to carry out this task until Papua New Guinea.


Scents of softwood, wet ground and fresh flowers such as mimosa. A fragrance yet unknown. I was on night shift with Julie l’Hérault, Tara’s chief officer, when she smelled these first scent signals emanating from the Solomon Islands

There were patches of clear sky, revealing beautiful constellations, including Orion. Water temperature was still 28°C and it was impossible to sleep in the cabins without turning the small fans on.


4 photo 8_arrivee Tara Honiara_VH
Between sky and sea, Tara arrives at Honiara © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation 

At the first streaks of dawn, the southern part of Guadalcanal, the main island of the Solomon Archipelago, revealed a lush forest cover. Now we saw the source of these nocturnal fragrances. Dominating the thick stretch of vegetation was a mountain range formed by volcanic activity. Some summits were surrounded by small clouds.

All morning we sailed along a significant portion of the 160-kilometer coastline, showing more or less the same landscapes. On the surface of these blue waters with shades of turquoise, probably caused by runoff water, small dolphins were chasing schools of tuna, marine birds flying over them. Honiara, located in a recess, emerged little by little.

Before our eyes, the appearance of the coast quickly changed: cargo ships were docked waiting for wood shipments, barges loaded with logs moored alongside them. Ashore, sawmills were lined up one after another, reaping the benefits of an obviously intense logging operation.


7 photo 15_Favelas autour du centre ville_VH

Simple dwellings near the city center © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


After rounding a last point, the city of Honiara (84,520 inhabitants) appeared deep in the bay, partly sheltered from south-easterly trade winds.

The real shock occurred while docking, even though we were somewhat prepared for it. On quays parallel to ours, rusty ferry boats packed with inhabitants from other Solomon Islands were preparing to depart. A little further away, children were carrying loads of supplies on their back to another smaller ferry. Just outside the cargo port, hundreds of half-naked people were wandering among a few pickup trucks.

Between New Caledonia and here, it felt like we were no longer on the same planet. The Solomon Islands are the poorest nation in the Pacific region, and from the very moment you dock in Honiara, you witness this economic distress.

                                                                                                         Vincent Hilaire

Tara anchors at Huon Atoll

With the Guilbert and Merit reefs, Huon is one of the 4 atolls that make up the Entrecasteaux nature reserve. This paradise of biodiversity, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2008, is a sanctuary for birds, green turtles, 2,300 species of fish and more than 350 different corals.

We are here on mission until October 13 with scientists from the Institute of Research and Development (IRD) in Noumea and the University of New Caledonia (UNC). They will investigate the guano of the thousands of birds present on these islets.


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A coastal crab on Huon Island, in the reefs of Entrecasteaux – © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


The Entrecasteaux reefs are flush with the surface and are located northwest of New Caledonia about 180 kilometers from Grande Terre. Uninhabited, they constitute the northern limit of the New Caledonian archipelago.
They were discovered on July 1st, 1792 by Antoine Bruny d’Entrecasteaux with two armed frigates sent by Louis XVI in search of the expedition led by La Pérouse.

Entrecasteaux could not find traces of La Pérouse and the expedition ended chaotically in Surabaya. The ships passed close to Vanikoro where survivors of the Boussole and Astrolabe shipwrecks were certainly still alive, but off Java’s coast on July 20th, 1793, Entrecasteaux succumbed to scurvy.

This trip was nonetheless a success because many unknown lands, including these reefs were discovered for France.


Coucher de soleil Huon_VH copie
For the crew of Tara, the days ends with a magnificent sunset over the Pacific – ©  Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


An anecdote: the name ‘Surprise Atoll’ comes from the fact that Entrecasteaux was amazed to discover an uncharted reef so close to the Grande Terre, thinking he had completely circled New Caledonia.

The other 3 Entrecasteaux reefs are named for expedition members: Jean-Michel Huon of Kermadec, commander of L’Esperance; the lieutenant of the Malo de la Motte du Portail; and the lieutenant du Mérite. The Guilbert reef is named after the hydrographer of the Jules Dumont d’Urville expedition in 1827.

The area was regularly frequented by whalers in the early 19th century. But continuous occupation took place only on the 3 islets of the Surprise Atoll between 1883 and 1928, for the exploitation of guano.


18 photo 29_noddi brun_VH
Entrecasteaux is a bird sanctuary, as we can see on Huon Atoll – © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This exploitation has ceased, but today scientists are interested. After the bleaching in February 2016 that seriously impacted Grande Terre and the Entrecasteaux reefs, they are trying to understand why these atolls are affected differently.

During this last bleaching episode, 90% of the Entrecasteaux lagoon reefs were impacted between the surface and 5 meters. But exterior to the lagoon only about half were affected.

This brought up the hypothesis that guano might be an influence. Thanks to the mission on these reefs with Tara and her crew, the teams of the IRD and the UNC are hoping to finally unlock the secrets of Entrecasteaux coral resilience.

Since Tuesday, the teams have been working together to take coral samples, hunt reef fish and collect valuable droppings ashore to try and confirm the key role played by guano on coral communities underwater. The results of this research will certainly make history.

Vincent Hilaire

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video : On the Great Barrier Reef

After the last bleaching episode of 2017, it was established that the Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral structure on Earth, had lost about 50% of its colonies.

At the beginning of this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner and its scientific team conducted a week of sampling in the southern Pacific Ocean to study the biodiversity of coral reefs and their reaction to climate change.

Initial observations show mixed results: at some sites on the Great Barrier Reef, coral colonies are very damaged or even dead, while a few kilometers away they show resilience or are in good health.

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

Nicolas de la Brosse, 5 years of commitment aboard Tara and a fresh start

After 5 years of commitment and loyal services, Nicolas de la Brosse, Tara’s chief officer, decided to take a new direction. Nico disembarked in Noumea on September 22, after 3 major expeditions on the schooner. Native of Burgundy, Nico’s maritime career path has been rapid since he met Peter Blake, at 11.


VH: Nicolas, your history with the schooner began even before she was renamed Tara. How did you meet Peter Blake?

NDLB: “It’s a long story! I grew up in Dijon. At 11, I was selected, along with other youngsters, to cover stories aboard la Fleur de Lampaul, an old rigged barge, also described as the children’s oceanographic vessel. The idea was to raise public awareness on environmental issues through our eyes. In short, I was already passionate about sailing and adventure.

In November 1996, after returning from this year of expedition, we presented our reports to the International Festival of Adventure in my home town, Dijon. That’s where I met Peter Blake, sponsor of the festival. My idol. For me, he was a living god. I watched his exploits on VHS tapes (laughs).


cohesion dequipe_une des grandes richesses de tara sont les rencontres humaines et la cohesion d_equipage© Fondation Tara Expéditions


I handed him a letter I had written in English. Peter took the letter, and after reading it, told me that we would stay in touch.

The following year, in 1997, Peter invited me to spend 3 weeks in the Mediterranean Sea on his family’s schooner, Archangel. Despite his success, Peter, this 2-meter high colossus, was easily accessible, straightforward and humble. After this cruise, he really took me under his wing. I’d become a member of his family”.


VH: What happened next, given Peter’s tragic death aboard the Seamaster?

NDLB: “Once I returned to Dijon, I went back to high school. I was still in contact with Peter. At 15, in 1999, I had the opportunity to embark on a boat transfer as a sailor and crew member from Panama to Polynesia. We took advantage of this trip to stop on our way back in New Zealand.

Peter welcomed me into his home – he was then preparing the America’s Cup. But he was already speaking about his reconversion after this competition. In Auckland, I met again with Sarah Jane and James, the 2 children of Peter and Pippa – his wife and my second mom.

Once Peter completed and won the Cup, he purchased Antarctica from Jean-Louis Etienne. After a period in dry dock, the schooner, renamed Seamaster, left for 5 years of expedition around the world.


photo14_Nico sur la proue de Tara_Vincent Hilaire© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions
As for me, I needed to pass my bachelor’s degree and finish my studies. Peter had already told me: “No worries, you’ll join us afterward”. The tragedy happened on the Amazon River 6 months before I rejoined Blake Expeditions. My idol disappeared brutally. For me, it was very hard to take.

When Etienne Bourgois bought the schooner in 2003, Pippa introduced us. I had passed my bachelor’s degree in 2002 and was in my 2nd year of DEUG in marine biology in Brest. I didn’t know yet that I wasn’t made to be a researcher, but my desire to sail was still there. It was the first time I set foot on Tara’s deck, in Camaret”.


VH: What was your first mission aboard Tara?

NDLB: “I embarked as a crew member to go to Greenland in 2004, with Céline Ferrier as captain. It gave me the opportunity to take a pause in my studies, but I didn’t give up. Later, I completed my bachelor degree in biology in Australia and a master of science in New Zealand, between 2008 and 2011.

In Auckland, my roommate was Sarah-Jane, Pippa’s and Peter’s daughter. I also worked from time to time in the maintenance shipyards of the America’s Cup. Then I came back to France with the desire to become a professional sailor. I contacted Romain Troublé, who was Tara Expeditions’ secretary general at the time.


ours polaire tara polar circle_Se retrouver face a ces animaux et avoir la chance de les observer dans leur element a ete une des experiences des plus fortes de tara polar circle
© Nicolas de la Brosse / Fondation Tara Expéditions

VH: You were about to begin your second mission aboard Tara. What was its destination?

NDLB: Tara Oceans was continuing with the Polar Circle expedition. I joined the team in Paris in October 2012 where Tara was currently in port. I then participated in the schooner’s preparation and this new expedition in the Arctic Ocean. One thing followed another. I completed a Master 500 gross tonnage certificate then, after the Arctic circumnavigation, I participated in Tara Mediterranean in 2014 and Tara Pacific in 2016-17. This already represents 5 years of my life! (smiles).


VH: What is your new direction today? Does leaving Tara mean turning an important page in a sailor’s life?

NDLB: “I’ve lived a super rich, very intense period with Tara. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many interesting people, on board and ashore. The human component is very important during these expeditions. With Tara, we have access to privileged situations. These are exceptional journeys. For instance, during the Arctic circumnavigation, we sailed surrounded by ice. This may not be the case in a few years due to global warming. I’ll also treasure my memories of the Tuvalu Islands and Kiribati.


DCIM100MEDIADJI_0043.JPG© Fondation Tara Expéditions


Besides this rich experience and passion, these projects are always very absorbing and now I want to have more time for myself and my personal life – to take a step back and stand on my own two feet.

I plan on working as a skipper on private sailboats, or for the charter market. Moreover, I could no longer evolve aboard Tara. I would have had to pass other diplomas to become a captain.

Tara is also a large family, to which I’ll always belong, even if I leave. This happens at sea where we live together and experience great cohesion through exceptional situations and moments. These are inextricable bonds.


Interview by Vincent Hilaire




Tara in Noumea

From the Chesterfield archipelago it took us a little more than 3 days of sailing into the wind to reach Noumea. We arrived on “Le Caillou” under a slightly cloudy sky. The stopover at Port Moselle lasted a week before we set out for some new sampling sites in the Caledonian lagoon. Registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, this lagoon is the longest in the world.


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Preparation of the mooring of Tara in Noumea – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Still under the enchantment of those peaceful but active days spent in the Chesterfield Islands, the 15 Taranauts were called to order when, after crossing the southern pass, we hit rough seas again. As announced by the grib (weather forecast maps), a period of difficult navigation began using Tara’s 2 motors, no sails, heading directly into a steady southeast wind.

For the entire crew, life at sea immediately resumed a fairly monotonous (and for some people, even unpleasant) pace, punctuated by meals, night shifts, specific jobs, daily chores and routines. Except for Morgane Ratin and Guillaume Bourdin, who redoubled their energy on the rear deck, doing 3 plankton sampling stations on the way to Noumea.


5 photo 5_paysages lagon NC_Vincent HilaireLandscapes of the lagoon of New Caledonia – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


At dusk 72 hours later, after following a very mountainous coastline barely visible in the thick mist, we came to the entrance of the Caledonian lagoon – a liberation! Once we passed the immense barrier reef, the rolling and pitching ceased. An hour and a half later, advancing into the darkness, Simon Rigal found a quiet refuge for Tara, which meant a real night of sleep for everybody (finally)! Anchored here we were surrounded by only a few far-flung lights – a gentle and gradual return to civilization.
The next day, getting closer to our goal, we found a new spot to anchor in the lagoon, this time about 15 kilometers from Noumea. A second restful night.

“It looks a little like the Canary Islands”, said deck officer Francois Aurat, who will remain on board until the Solomon Islands. Seen from the boat, this very mountainous landscape, interspersed with bays, sparsely dotted with pinewoods, looks as if its vegetation was burnt by the sun.


10 photo 20_Port de Noumea_Vincent HilaireNoumea’s harbour before entering the marina of Port Moselle – © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Then the first buildings appeared on the horizon: Noumea, formerly called Port-de-France, is a city of 180,000 inhabitants (counting the suburbs) – the largest French-speaking city in the entire Pacific Ocean. Tara docked in Port Moselle. As at every stopover, it was time for conferences, and visits of school kids and general public.


Thank you all for your welcome, your support, and many interesting exchanges. We’re heading for the Caledonian lagoons to do coral sampling, but we’ll come back to Noumea soon.


Vincent Hilaire

Chesterfield Islands: an intact jewel of biodiversity

Tara’s mission to the Chesterfield Islands is ending. Before arriving in Nouméa and the Caledonian lagoon by September 20th, we are enjoying these last privileged moments far from any civilization to take stock of the exceptional biodiversity of this French archipelago. Three sites have been explored by the Tara Pacific team and the first report is extremely positive.


Either on land or below the surface of these crystalline waters, Christian Voolstra (KAUST), our scientific coordinator and his entire team, are unanimous: “We are in an exceptional sanctuary. We did not see any signs of on-going or past bleaching events. This coral ecosystem is as healthy as from its first day. This is extremely rare and may be the first time I’ve seen it. The Chesterfield Islands are a source of hope for the future. We are still at the same latitude as the reefs of the Great Barrier or New Caledonia which are themselves damaged. We’re looking forward to understanding why this ecosystem is doing so well.”


8 photo 2_tortue Chester crepuscule_Francois AuratA green turtle in the Chesterfield lagoon at dusk. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Mission accomplished

Our diving biologists have not yet recovered from their efforts to bring back all the samples needed to characterize this new island. All the planned dives were carried out, including biodiversity sampling, but the coring proved very complicated. The drill bit remained blocked for several hours in the coral and after 5 dives, it was finally recovered, not without difficulty.


An exemplary biodiversity

During the dives many species of corals were observed with all colors and shapes. As for fauna: tuna, skipjack, groupers, triggerfish, parrot fish, manini or surgeonfish and blackhead reef sharks were sighted and also amongst these predators, 3-meter long silver-tipped sharks.


photo 16_variete oiseaux ile longue ChestefieldLarge variety of seabirds on Long Island in the Chesterfields. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


On land, we observed seabirds such as gannets, terns, wedge-tailed shearwaters* and the magnificent frigate with a red crop. For all these species, the young had just hatched and were already struggling to survive. On the beach of Long Island, we were able to approach green turtles in their full reproductive period, including 30 adult specimens.


A French jewel

The Chesterfield Islands (reserve of the Coral Sea Marine Park) are a jewel which France must really cherish and take care of! They already have the value of a sanctuary in this region of the Pacific, especially since ocean temperatures are continuing to rise. Regarding the excellent health of Chesterfields, the biologist Claudia Pogoreutz (KAUST) puts forward a hypothesis: “The causes are perhaps in the birds and the odor of their guano** that can be smelled well before disembarking on these islands.”


In any case, the 15 Taranauts on board will not forget the short week spent in this archipelago that the Anthropocene*** seems to have spared, apart from some plastic macro-waste.


Vincent Hilaire


* resident breeder in this Pacific region

** seabird droppings

***era of Earth’s history when human activities started to have a significant overall impact on the terrestrial ecosystem.

Anchored in the turquoise waters of Chesterfield Islands

On Monday, September 11 at 8:30 local, Tara’s motors were turned off. Sailing the 500 nautical miles (more than 900 km) from the Great Barrier Reef had been very challenging: On this easterly route, we were constantly heading into the wind. Once the schooner was well anchored in the sandy bottom (to a depth of 10 meters!), the team of scientists was already equipped and didn’t waste a moment before jumping into the water. In this uninhabited French archipelago located 550 kilometers north-west of New Caledonia, 3 spots must be explored by Friday.

The view of Reynard Island at daybreak was a pleasure and a relief, bringing hope of a little calm. For the last 4 days none of us had really slept a full night, not counting the night watch. “That looks like Clipperton”, said deck-officer Francois Aurat, whose birthday we just celebrated. A cloud of birds — gannets, and frigates — was flying over this green clump rising from the Pacific Ocean. The anemometer showed the wind was still strong, at 20 knots (37 km/h).


4- photo 22_Arrivee l'ile Reynard_Vincent Hilaire copieDiscovery of Reynard Island, in the Chesterfield Islands lagoon. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Difficult mooring

We made a first attempt to anchor near this island, but our cautious captain Simon Rigal kept Tara’s 2 engines at a standstill. The reef around the island didn’t protect us sufficiently: the schooner rolled from side to side, preventing us from launching the diving boats.

So, the anchor was raised and we headed further south to another part of the immense Chesterfield reef. This archipelago — 120 km long by 70 km wide — is composed of 11 islands separated by numerous barriers of coral.


From the Coral Sea to Chesterfield

This group of islands owes its name to the ship of an English captain, Matthew Boyd, who explored the Coral Sea in the 1790s, and nearly sank here on June 2, 1793. Afterwards, ships sailing in the region were primarily whalers. The archipelago became French on June 15, 1878, when it was taken over by Lieutenant Louis Adolphe Guyon. At this time, the primary goal was exploiting the abundant guano. Then the islands were apparently abandoned, until Captain Arzur in the French warship Dumont d’Urville explored the Chesterfield reefs and erected a plaque here in 1939.


6- photo 6_lever de soleil Ile Reynard_Vincent Hilaire copieSunrise on Reynard Island. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Practically unknown French islands

The Chesterfield reefs are now part of New Caledonia, and since 2014, are included in the Marine Park of the Coral Sea, the largest French Marine Protected Area.

The Chesterfield lagoon covers an area of about 3,500 km2. A barrier of coral encircles the lagoon, interrupted by wide passes, except on the east side. Most of the lagoon is exposed to trade winds and ocean swells from the southeast. Average water depth is 51 m.
P2250982© François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Isolated and totally uninhabited, the Chesterfield Islands are renowned for offering exceptional underwater biodiversity. Throughout the year, many green turtles come here to lay their eggs. Sharks are as numerous here as outside the barrier reef, and the waters can be several hundred meters deep.

Since this morning, Tara Pacific’s scientific team has continued its mission, sampling coral in these rich, turquoise waters.


Vincent Hilaire

Tara at Heron Island

On Wednesday, August 30 at 7am local time, Tara arrived at Heron Island. This green island surrounded by shades of blue, 2 hours off the Australian east coast, appears to be a paradise on earth. A hundred people live permanently on this islet of barely 16 hectares. Among them, a dozen work at the Heron Island Research Station*. For the Taranauts, Heron Island marks the restart of the study on reef ecosystems, with sampling of corals, fish, sea water and air. The Tara Pacific expedition, has just entered its second year and will continue to collect massive amounts of data.


3-photo 1_arrivee Heron_ Francois AuratTara arrives at Heron Island (photographed with a drone). © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Day was just breaking and the team on Tara’s deck was already busy. Simon Rigal, our captain, and Jonathan Lancelot on his quarter watch, were there. François Aurat was preparing his drone, unaware that a few minutes later, he would take amazing footage of a humpback whale and her calf.

The low-angled sun was diffusing a soft orange light. Heron Island was slowly appearing on the horizon, an oasis in the middle of nowhere.


1-photo 9_sur la route d'Heron_ Vincent HilaireSunset on the way to Heron Island. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Keeping an eye on the schooner’s progression over the last miles, Simon was already thinking about the best anchoring place to allow our scientific divers to be as close as possible to Tara during their underwater work.

That’s when François, who had taken refuge in the wet lab** to operate his drone in the shade, called out: “Look, Vincent, look!”. On the screen, a whale and her calf were basking in the pass between Heron Island and Wistari Reef, slapping every now and then the calm water surface with their caudal fins. A gentle wake-up for this probably recent tandem. Heron Island is known to be a nursery appreciated by these marine mammals, who come here to give birth.


6-photo 6_arrivee Heron_ baleines_Francois AuratA humpback whale and her calf in the channel between Heron Island and Wistari Reef. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


With Tara at anchor and sails lowered, there was no respite on deck. Supervised by Jonathan Lancelot, divemaster, our scientific divers, Christian Voolstra (KAUST), Claudia Pogoreutz (KAUST), Benjamin C.C. Hume (KAUST) and Ryan McMinds (Oregon State University) prepared their diving gear for the first exploration around the reef.

This afternoon, the 4 scientists are in the water to sample biodiversity at 2 different depths, looking for characteristic species.

A little further away, Jonathan Lancelot is coring a Porites. Just like trees record changes in their growth environment, these massive corals record in their skeleton, variations in sea water properties through time. Therefore, they enable us to study and understand how climate changes impact coastal and marine ecosystems.


13-photo 44_experiences corail centre de recherche_Vincent HilaireThe first coral samples from this second year of the Tara Pacific expedition. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Heron Island exhibits exceptional biodiversity with 900 species of fish and about 72% of the coral species present across the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike half of the Australian barrier reef, strongly affected by the third episode of global coral bleaching that just ended, Heron Island seems to have withstood this situation according to the scientists from the research station. The corals here have remained healthy so far.


Vincent Hilaire


* University of Queensland

** a sheltered structure on deck for sea water analysis

[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

To the Great Barrier Reef

On Thursday morning at 10 am local time, Tara headed northeast after crossing once again the magnificent Sydney Bay.
Weather conditions were still optimal: sun, blue sky and just after exiting the bot-tleneck, a south wind of 25 knots.
It will take us about 4 days to reach our first research spot south of the Great Bar-rier Reef: beautiful Heron Island, a green speck on an ocean of blue.


After backing away from the wharf of the Australian National Maritime Museum, Captain Simon Rigal launched Tara’s 2 motors, heading out to sea for new adventures.
7 newcomers, mostly scientists, enjoyed the privilege of crossing one of the most beauti-ful natural bays in the world. Sydney is so peaceful and captivating that some of us left this city with a bit of regret.


1-credit clementine moulinTara leaves Darling Harbour in Sydney after a one-week stopover – © Clémentine Moulin / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Beyond the picture postcard views, what awaits us is one of the key sites of Tara Pacific’s second year, the Great Barrier Reef — the planet’s largest coral structure, constructed by a surprising animal, the polyp. Ranging in size from a millimeter to 30 centi-meters at most, polyps have built a structure visible from outer space! The polyp, an architect-builder? A pleonasm.


In contrast to our previous leg against the wind, we were now navigating downwind, so the sailors lost no time in hoisting Tara’s sails and unfurling the yankee jib. A few hours after leaving Sydney, we were sailing very comfortably at an average of a little more than 7 knots.


We should be in sight of Heron Island next Monday, 600 nautical miles (about 1,000 km) further north. In the meantime we’ll be following the coast westward to our destination: Newcastle, Port Macquarie and the Gold Coast, before leaving Frazer Island on the port side. We’ve lost sight of the coast, but it’s not very far, as attested by the charts.


10-photo 15_Fanche parle aux dauphins_Vincent HilaireFrançois Aurat, deck officer, the dolphin whisperer – © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


A little while ago, after we trimmed the sails, a pod of 4 big dolphins came to greet us at the bow, showing us their magical jumps and pirouettes.
The first quarter-shifts have begun. We’ve settled again, gently this time, into the distinc-tive rhythm imposed by the sea.


Vincent Hilaire

Video: Rough sea from Whangarei to Sydney

This second year of the Tara Pacific expedition began with a navigation of almost 2500 kilometers between New Zealand and Australia.

From the first nautical miles, until Sydney, the Taranauts faced heavy wind and rough sea. The end of the austral winter often offers conditions of this type, with many western depressions, and Tara didn’t escape this rule…

In the end, it took a little more than a week of a challenging sailing for the schooner to rally the calm of Darling Harbor and the dock of the Australian Maritime Museum.


© Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expeditions

The School of Tenacity: Portrait of Charlène Gicquel

Some notes of accordion escape from her cabin aboard Tara. Charlène Gicquel is savoring this moment deeply. At 33, she is a captain in the merchant marine and has been eagerly awaiting her first voyage aboard the schooner — for over 13 years!


This your first contract aboard Tara, as chief engineer. You’ll be working alongside Daniel Cron until Sydney, and afterwards you’ll take the big jump (smiles). What’s your state of mind right now?

I feel a little bit of anxiety since I don’t yet know the boat in operation, although I participated in the renovation work at Whangarei Shipyards. I’m pleased to embark with Simon Rigal as captain since he is also a chief engineer,, with Les Abeilles. I’ll be able to communicate with him at the beginning in case of breakdowns, and to avoid making mistakes.

I originally thought of being on deck, but finally signed up for the long term, working on Tara’s machines. It takes so much energy and investment at the outset that I’d regret not being able to persevere in this position. The challenge has now begun, and I want to finish this first contract for the best.

To come here, after all these years of waiting and hope, I had to resign from my position as second captain on the sailboat Le Ponant. You understand how Tara caught my eye one day in Marseille (laughs)! Since then, it had become an obsession to find my place on board.


1-Photo-1_Auquartdenuit_Vincent-Hilaire-Fondation-Tara-ExpeditionsChief mechanic Charlène Gicquel on night watch aboard Tara. © Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Nothing particularly predestined you to the maritime trades. There was no family atavism. You’ve been patiently working towards your position today since your first sailing courses in the merchant marine, including some alternative experiences?

Yes, it’s been a long journey. Like many teenagers, at age 12 I took my first sailing course in Cancale (Brittany). My father grew up in Vannes, but his family didn’t sail.

And then in the summer when I was 15, I discovered the catamaran which I loved. At the end of the course the instructor said to me: “If you’d like, next year you can work with me as assistant instructor.”

All this logically progressed to my becoming a sailing instructor at 18. I participated in my first cruises, and gradually the idea sprouted that “making a living with a job related to the sea could be great.” At that point, I was thinking mainly of shipbuilding or oceanography. When a friend told me about the merchant marine, I really flashed on the idea. Without too many illusions I took the entry exam during my last year of high school, and I got in! I left for Marseille in 2003 to attend “Hydro” (ENSM: Ecole Nationale Supérieure Maritime). A year later, Tara stopped in the Old Port of Marseille. That was the first time I saw her, and the first time I applied for a job aboard, hoping that one day I would join the crew.


photo 5_Charlene Gicquel-resize© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation


During your years in the merchant marine, you discovered container ships and tankers, but you continued to apply for a position aboard Tara, especially for the Arctic drift.

Yes, Tara had clearly become a fixation for me. I was training aboard commercial ships, but I was looking for something else. One day Simon Rigal, whom I already knew, told me about Father Jaouen’s boats, the Bel Espoir and the Rara Avis. These embarkations changed my life and I said to myself: “That’s how I want to work”. These new voyages opened up amazing horizons for me.

The crew on board these boats had very varied backgrounds, but we all started from scratch regardless of our previous route. This allowed everyone to share knowledge and progress. It was very stimulating.

After that wonderful year 2006-2007, I started getting proposals to sail in the polar region, Norway and Spitsbergen. I applied and then flew off to spend the winter of 2009 on the Dumont d’Urville base in Antarctica as second engineer (civilian volunteer).


So you were being unfaithful to Tara!

Yes, and I continued after I returned from Antarctica, because I departed a little later (in 2010-2011) on the Belem for 2 full seasons, while finishing my fifth year in the merchant marine. In 2012, I applied for the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition, but there still was no room for me. By now I understood that with my diplomas and my experience, it would eventually become possible.

I then embarked on the Ponant for the first time before doing a whole year on the Hermione.

And then a few months ago in the spring of 2017, Simon (him again!) called me during my holidays when I was back on the Ponant to say that Tara Expeditions was looking for a mechanic. So here I am, 13 years later!


Interview by Vincent Hilaire

Tara in Sydney

After 8 days of intense sailing, we moored in Sydney today at 9am, local time. Until the very end, it took all the experience of Captain Simon Rigal and the crew to sail in these well-established westerly winds, oscillating from 15 to 50 knots. Exhausted, the 10 team members are now relishing setting foot on land after this crossing of nearly 1,215 nautical miles (almost 2,300 km). A one-week stopover is ahead of us, with local press meetings, scientific conferences and public visits.


DCIM100GOPROG0052920.Tara in 40 knot wind. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Around 6am this morning, before sunrise, the first building towers appeared on the horizon. Sydney was slowly waking up before our eyes, while facing at last a calmer sea. Progressing at more than 10 knots with her 2 engines, the main sail and foresail reefed in, Tara engaged in her final sprint.

After playing submarine and leapfrog a good part of the journey from Whangarei (New Zealand), this well-deserved arrival was worth the energy expended by the team.

“We experienced a little bit of everything during these harsh sailing conditions” summarized Simon. “It’s true that in this season, depressions follow one another between the Australian east coast and New Zealand like in the North Atlantic Ocean”.

Arriving in the early morning of August 17, we avoided yet another important low with a forecast of 40 knot westerly winds. Lucky us!


10-photo 6_envoi des couleurs localesFirst mate Nicolas de la Brosse hoists the local colors. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


After this marine episode, the entrance to the Sydney Bight was a highly anticipated moment. Arriving by sea into one of the most beautiful bays in the world is always a pleasure. François Aurat and I were sharing memories: “Do you remember our arrival in Rio during the Tara Oceans expedition? (smiles) and in New York? Yes, but we weren’t there together”.

After passing a last headland topped with a nice white lighthouse on the starboard side, the famous Sydney Opera House appeared bathed in sunshine in an azure sky. Aboard Tara’s dinghy with our cook, Dominique Limbour, and François, I took the traditional picture upon arrival with some of the crew members on the fore deck. It reminded me of the photo I took in New York with the Statue of Liberty behind Tara and Daniel Cron lifting his arm, mimicking Auguste Bartholdi’s famous sculpture.


15-photo 27_Tara devantopera SydneyTara passes in front of Sydney’s famous opera house. © Vincent Hilaire / Fondation Tara Expéditions


We passed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which resembles the Brooklyn Bridge but with 2 Australian flags at the top, and turned left to reach the quay of the Australian National Maritime Museum, at Darling Harbour. Clémentine Moulin, logistics coordinator of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, was waiting for us to assist Dominique.

Since then, customs formalities were carried out and sailors are washing away the salt from the deck, fittings and sails. It’s a Tara in salt crust that brought us here!

Tomorrow, the press is invited to attend a conference on Tara Pacific in the presence of Serge Planes, scientific director of the expedition.

As with every stopover, public tours and school visits are also scheduled on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

On August 24, we’re leaving Sydney to set sail towards Heron Island, south of the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll then head east to Chesterfield Islands and New Caledonia.

We’ll be 15 on board with a full scientific team once again.


Vincent Hilaire

Simon Rigal, temporary captain

More accustomed to embarking on Abeille tugboats over the past 10 years, Simon is back on board, sailing Tara to Papua New Guinea. This is a temporary replacement since Martin Hertau (official captain of the Tara Pacific expedition along with Samuel Audrain) is currently in training at the national merchant marine school in Nantes. Simon’s first nautical miles as Tara’s captain date back to the end of August 2005. He was only 27 years old and had his dream come true piloting a vessel on an ornithological campaign in South Georgia.


Simon, you’ve returned 12 years after your first experience aboard Tara. Why?

When Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, called me to propose this temporary job as Tara’s Captain, I was touched and very happy. We’ve been in contact since Georgia and the Tara team has invited me to most of their events. But this proposal meant coming back on board and participating in an expedition. So I asked and obtained from “Les Abeilles” management (whom I’d like to thank here) an unpaid leave, and here I am. Being back gives me the impression that I’ve come full circle. Like a pilgrimage, it makes me feel good. After South Georgia, I sailed Tara from Lorient until the schooner was locked in the ice for the Arctic drift expedition. Then I became a dad. Being back on board, I’m reliving some of those past sensations. Memories resurface and I’m reconnecting with the marine adventure I love so much. I’m also delighted to meet people: Daniel Cron, Nicolas de la Brosse, Charlène Gicquel, Samuel Audrain and Marion Lauters who disembarked in New Zealand. I see that everyone is progressing well, just like the project. Moreover, I’d never been to New Zealand and Australia.


4-retrouvailles - Charlene Gicquel - Fondation Tara Expeditions© Charlène Gicquel / Tara Expéditions Foundation


You just took over the helm from Samuel, who disembarked 4 days ago. You’ve known each other for a long time. He was a sailor when you first met, wasn’t he?

I met Samuel at the beginning of 2005, during the Clipperton expedition led by Jean-Louis Étienne aboard the Rara Avis, one of Father Jaouen’s ships. Before that, during my 5th year in the merchant navy, we sailed one day to Camaret with another of Father Jaouen’s vessels. Tara was there and the crew members in their yellow raincoats were having a drink. I was with Nicolas Quentin, Tara’s future chief engineer. We didn’t dare talk to them, even though the schooner made us fantasize. Some time after that, Sam embarked aboard Tara, as did Nico Quentin. They told me Tara Expeditions was looking for a skipper and I received a first phone call. I thought: “If I don’t do it now, I never will”. That’s how my story with Tara began.


6-photo 8_Simon Rigal, nouveau capitaine_Vincent Hilaire _ Fondation Tara Expeditions© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expéditions Foundation


You really got a foot in the door: afterwards you spent more than a year aboard Tara, participating in 2 amazing missions.

I embarked in Camaret at the end of August 2005, a few months after Clipperton. Tara was being prepared for a campaign in the Southern Ocean: Georgia, Patagonia, Diego Ramirez, etc. I was a 27-year-old captain and I found myself at the helm of this awesome ship. One day while we were sailing to the island of Groix, long before leaving for Cape Verde and Georgia, I realized that when you strongly believe in something, you can sometimes make it happen. With Tara, I had access to everything I love: a mix of adventure, different cultures, science and art. The campaign in Georgia was exciting. We were doing counts of giant petrels, albatross and fur seals with the British Antarctic Survey. There was also a glaciologist aboard who installed sensors to monitor advancing glaciers in the Antarctic Ocean. We then conducted a second campaign with Sally Poncet, an Australian biologist specialized in the Antarctic, and Ellen MacArthur.


While you were down south, another campaign was already in preparation on the opposite side of the world: the Arctic drift.

With Tara, you never get bored (laughs)! After these 2 campaigns in the Southern Ocean, we first had to sail back to France after a last stop in the Diego Ramirez Islands and rounding Cape Horn. Tara Arctic was already in preparation with a period of dry dock maintenance lasting several months during the spring of 2006. I had been navigating for 2 years in a row in the Pacific (Clipperton), the Antarctic and Georgia, and soon it would be the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans! Tara Arctic was a really outstanding project. Romain asked me to sail the schooner until she was locked in ice. I didn’t want to stay afterwards because I was feeling tired after 2 years of circumnavigation. I had planned on coming back aboard Tara for the second winter of the expedition and sailing her back home to Lorient. But, shortly afterwards, I became a dad and started my career at Les Abeilles.


Tara en Arctique au début du mois de septembre 2006© F. Latreille / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Ten years have gone by, and you’re joining Tara today. How does the schooner look to you?

Technically, there are 2 new engines and 2 new propellers, currently in their breaking-in period. The exhaust system has also been successfully improved during Tara’s recent dry dock in New Zealand. The sails are in good condition. Tara is aging well, thanks to all the sailors’ hard work. On a scientific level too, everything has also evolved in the right direction. Tara remains Tara, with this futuristic look from the 1990s (smile). She still slams hard into the waves (laughs)!  This ship was born from a crazy idea but she’s following her course. The schooner herself is a whole project. I take my hat off to all those who have given so much for the adventure to keep growing. In return, Tara makes you grow up too. Sam, who was a sailor 10 years ago and is now her captain, is the best example of this.


The former chief engineer of the Abeille Languedoc will enjoy the voyage to Papua New Guinea.


Interview by Vincent Hilaire

Tara’s new departure: heading to Sydney for the 2nd year of Tara Pacific

Docked in New Zealand since June 18th, Tara set sail this Wednesday for the 2nd year of the Tara Pacific expedition devoted to coral. The annual maintenance is completed, and a new chapter of this maritime odyssey begins. By the end of October, scientists aboard the schooner will have collected hundreds of new coral samples from the planet’s 2 largest structures built by these animals — in Australia and New Caledonia.


DCIM100MEDIADJI_0001.JPG© François Aurat / Tara Expéditions Foundation


After torrential rains lasting almost all day, the sun slowly came out 2 hours before our departure to offer us an exceptional late afternoon. The landscapes surrounding Whangarei and its river resemble those of Normandy or Limousin in France.


Before the end of the traditional clearance* procedure Tara’s new captain, Simon Rigal asked chief mechanic Charlène Gicquel and Daniel Cron (who will debark in Sydney) to start the 2 engines. Seeing that everything was on the right track with the Kiwi customs officer, Simon was eager to leave Whangarei and carry out the departure maneuvers during this window of beautiful, dry weather.


Samuel Audrain, outgoing captain and Marion Lauters, outgoing cook, played dockhands and released the moorings on land. Slowly, after a slight move forward on the last mooring, Simon backed up to the end of the dock.


Hailed one last time by Marion and Samuel, Tara then headed east leaving a wake behind the gray hull. Ahead were 15 km of nighttime navigation to leave this beautiful sinuous river and reach the sea.


photo 14_Nicolas de la Brosse prepare les voiles_Vincent Hilaire - Fondation Tara Expeditions© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Less than 2 hours later, the first signs of rolling indicated that we had left this sheltered path for open water. Like a dromedary advancing in a sea of sand dunes, the schooner bobbed and throbbed forward.


We navigated with the motor for almost a day before encountering more difficult conditions. Weather reports announce 30 knot** westerly winds for the next few days.

This means we will start sailing to Sydney into the wind and the hours ahead may be a bit taxing for the 10 who are on board. They will have no choice but to quickly acquire their sea-legs. To stabilize the schooner and reduce rolling, the sailors hoisted the mainsail and foresail.


We are expected on August 18th in Sydney, a distance of 1,215 nautical miles.*** On our first night at sea there’s a nearly full moon. This is the second time the schooner will come into Darling Harbor. In March 1990, Jean-Louis Étienne finished the trans-Antarctica with 6 other explorers in this Australian port.


Vincent Hilaire


* authorization for departure

** 55 km/hour

***2,250 km

10 years of passion, and no previous pop-up!

After more than 2 days traveling west, I arrived on August 6 in Auckland (New Zealand). A 2-hour drive brought me to Port Whangarei and the welcoming sight of Tara’s orange tipped masts. After a first good night’s sleep, my 5th mission on board began. I met up with many former traveling companions: Nicolas de la Brosse, first mate, François Aurat, deck officer, Samuel Audrain, outgoing captain, Marion Lauters, outgoing cook and Daniel Cron, chief engineer. My sailing family is brought together once again for 3 and a half months, up to Papua New Guinea. Together, we’re going to write a new page of these 10 years of expeditions and passion that I’ve had the chance to experience, from the Arctic to the Antarctic.


retrouvailles - Charlene Gicquel - Fondation Tara Expeditions
Reunion of the new on board correspondent Vincent Hilaire with the crew at Whangarei. © Charlène Gicquel / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Everything started well when I left home. The taxi driver was on time and we soon arrived at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport terminal 2A. “New Zealand, it’s not next door!” he said before we chatted about French news.

At 8.30am, there was already a big queue for checking-in. After half an hour, I reached a counter and began the classic routine of ID presentation for these 3 flights about to take me to the southern hemisphere, at the other end of the world. My luggage was being registered when a pop-up appeared on the screen in front of the Air Tahiti Nui stewardess. “I can’t complete your check-in. The computer is blocked because you don’t have a return ticket”.

I explained that it was normal since I was on my way to join a ship. After my mission, I would disembark at another location. Despite my explanation, the pop-up persisted.

So I had to interrupt the formalities before completion, even though my boarding passes were duly issued. Now I had to plead my case. I produced the Tara Pacific expedition’s  presentation file and my contract letter to a first supervisor.

But the pop-up was still resisting, imposing its hegemony.

Three quarters of an hour after my arrival, I was still at the same terminal in front of the main supervisor. A new ordeal where I needed to be on my toes: presentation file, explanation of the mission and the inapplicability of a return ticket, etc. “We can’t let you go without a ticket back, Sir. I have to call immigration services in New Zealand to inform them and they will decide. They will need a local address.” Despite my experience in these situations with 2 hours before take-off, my departure was not certain.

The address given, the head supervisor came back a quarter of an hour later, on the phone with Auckland. In Shakespeare’s language, I had to explain once again the reasons for my one-way ticket. Fortunately, my interrogator was friendly and supportive. Having detailed a bit more about our mission and reassured her of my customs clearance papers, I then explained to her that Tara was actually Peter Blake’s ship, the former Seamaster. All of a sudden, the pop-up was disappeared: Sir Peter Blake’s aura had defeated it.

I checked my baggage, passed security and finally embarked.

Paris-Los Angeles was an 11-hour flight, followed by a first 10-hour transit. Unfortunately, I was about to discover that the pop-up had a cousin in the USA!

An hour before boarding my second plane to fly Los Angeles-Papeete, a loudspeaker message invited me to go to the nearest terminal counter.

Hello Sir, why don’t you have a return ticket?”  Since I wasn’t afraid of the pop-up anymore, my arguments were now well organized for battle: “Sir, I was asked the same question in Paris. Despite this, the New Zealand border police have given their consent to my entry, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to board the plane in France. In addition, I already have the customs clearance to go to Australia, our next stopover”.

Ok Sir, I’ll check with my boss.

The pop-up’s American cousin and partners never re-appeared.


Vincent Hilaire

“On board and in dry dock maintenance, I’m the mechanic!” – Daniel Cron, chief engineer

Interview with Daniel Cron in Whangarei, New Zealand, where Tara has stopped for repairs. Engines, electricity, painting, the schooner undergoes a midway overhaul in the southern hemisphere’s winter weather. 


Tara was in dry dock maintenance for several months in Lorient before the expedition departure. Why is Tara in dry dock now, a year after leaving her home port?

A ship is like a car and needs to be maintained. To do this, you take it to a mechanic. I’m the chief engineer here: I ensure the proper functioning of the engines for propulsion, generators for electricity, desalinator for drinking water and many other small repairs. Dry dock maintenance is a bit like the “technical control” for cars, with the difference that Tara is much more complex than a car, because in addition to mechanics, there’s the “sailing” dimension!

During an expedition, we always organize at least one month of dry dock maintenance each year, but when preparing for a new mission, some maintenance can take 4-6 months! Moreover, the “whale” (Tara’s nickname) is now an “elderly lady”:  28 years is a lot for a ship, and she needs to receive increasing care year after year.


Tara_au_chantier2-credit_Noelie_Pansiot-Fondation Tara Expeditions.jpgTo prepare for the second year of the Tara Pacific expedition, overhauling the schooner continues in dry dock. © Tara Expéditions Foundation


Who works in the maintenance shipyard? Are people sailors and mechanics at the same time?

Dry dock maintenance for a sailor is literally changing your way of life! The expedition is put on hold during maintenance and all the scientists go back to their labs. We take the vessel out of the water which is always impressive! Then begins a ballet of coming and going between the stores, and technicians coming to support us during the repairs. No more night shifts and no more scientific sampling. During the maintenance, we live like you landlubbers, although still on board. It’s a rare thing for us and we value the opportunity to easily communicate with our loved ones, go to a restaurant, the swimming pool, and sometimes even explore a region. It also feels good to get out of the ship for a while. A small team of 6 or 7 sailors usually remains on board and everyone contributes and becomes somewhat of a “mechanic”. Days are busy, we don’t count hours. Maintenance in dry dock is always intense!


DCIM100MEDIADJI_0087.JPGTara in dry dock for repairs. © Nicolas de la Brosse / Tara Expéditions Foundation


What type of work is performed?

Maintenance in the shipyard is usually carried out, either because we haven’t had time to do it earlier (between science and navigation), or because it’s impossible to stop the equipment for repairs while sailing, or simply because it requires very specific tools we don’t have on board. During each maintenance, there are many recurring small repairs, almost mandatory every year: cleaning the hull, checking the sea water valves (to avoid stupidly sinking), painting, welding, cleaning, and of course, everything associated with safety! Everything has to be checked: medical equipment (needed in the event of an accident), firefighting equipment (in case of fire), and the various distress and safety systems (in the event of abandoning ship). In addition, there are some major works specifically planned for this dry dock in New Zealand, for instance, fitting silencers on the engines’ exhaust pipes to reduce noise, installation of new propellers to go faster and consume less fuel, replacing the desalinator, and many more. We continuously try to improve daily life aboard the schooner and to renovate when needed!


Daniel_Cron_credit_Fondation Tara Expeditions
Chief engineer Daniel Cron checks the condition of the 2 engines. © Tara Expéditions Foundation


In what shape are Tara’s engines?

Even though Tara is a sailboat, we have 2 engines aboard that allow us to maneuver in port or move forward when there’s not enough wind. Each of them drives a propeller. The chief engineer is fully aware of their importance and spends his time taking great care of them! Over time, it feels like a real relationship has developed between the three of us (laughs). I have a particular relationship with these machines, even to the point where I personify them! Now, everyone on board knows these “ladies” under their respective nicknames, “Brigitte” and “Thérèse”, respectively located on the port (bâbord in French) and starboard (tribord) sides. Who knows if they don’t have their own secret feelings? (laughs).

Stopover in New Zealand for Tara’s Annual Check-up

Having completed the first year of the Tara Pacific expedition, on June 18 Tara docked in Whangarei, northern New Zealand. Samuel Audrain, Tara’s captain since he embarked in Kobe, and 6 sailors are participating in this mid-course maintenance session. This is a classic check-up, including verification of the engines and other vital elements. At the end of this week, the sailors will take a break and go to Auckland for a week. Invited by the Sir Peter Blake Trust, Tara and her crew will participate in many festivities.


9_Arrivee_NZ_iminente_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2230082After 8 days of sailing, Tara arrives in New Zealand with the first rays of sun. © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


As soon as they arrived from Fiji, the crew set to work. For Samuel, it was important to reach New Zealand on this date and this season, for two reasons: “First of all, we couldn’t stay in the northern hemisphere with the cyclone season coming up and still maintain our schedule for the rest of the expedition. Moreover, in Whangarei, we have an ideal technical platform for the overhaul.

The workers are efficient, competent and available to do what we had planned before the next departure on August 9th”.

VH: As always aboard Tara, time is short. How did you organize the work with local shipyards?

SA: “Over the past few weeks, we established 2 lists for the chantier. The first included all the work to to be done by local service providers. We know we can delegate certain tasks to them, including a lot of welding. Then there’s a list of things to do ourselves, including the revision of the 2 new engines Brigitte 2 and Thérèse 2 which are celebrating their first year of operation. We also intend to reduce the overall sound level by installing silencers. Among the important micro-projects already accomplished this week, we completely repainted the freshwater reservoir.

On the way back from Auckland, around July 19, the second part of the chantier will begin. We’ll take Tara out of the water to clean the hull, and also remove the shaft lines of the 2 engines. The engine cooling system does not work well. The temperature gets too high and we have to find a solution. Installing a new, more efficient refrigeration chamber is the right thing to do. We will also take the opportunity to install 2 new propellers. Tara will be in dry dock for about 10 days, then we’ll finish the last tasks with the boat in the water”.


Samuel Audrain (capitaine) vérifie le câblage de la timonerie depuis le carréSamuel Audrain (captain) checks the wiring of the wheelhouse from the main cabin. © Maeva Bardy / Fondation Tara Expéditions


VH: It’s been more than 10 days since you started to test Tara. How do you find the schooner after the first year of expedition in these hot latitudes?

SA: I find that the more time passes, the better Tara is! When we return to Lorient next time, it won’t be difficult to be quickly operational again.

The annual maintenance session will also be the occasion for several visits and certifications. Since we are registered in the Merchant Shipping Registry, we will have the annual visit of the Bureau Veritas, the certification organization that gives us the right to sail.

There will also be an official fire inspection, and a mandatory sanitary visit which happens every 6 months.


19_Arrivee_a_terre_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2230178For a few days the schooner will have some repair work done before the Auckland stopover. © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


VH: Tara, formerly Seamaster, is returning for the first time to the homeland of its former owner, the late Sir Peter Blake. Before the big festivities in Auckland that will last a week with many visitors on board, how did the locals welcome you in this quiet town of Whangarei?

SA: As soon as we entered the channel leading to our berth at Whangarei, we saw people photographing Tara from the surrounding hills. Some told us they had recognized the boat and were very surprised to see it here again. Since then, photos have been published in the local press, as well as important coverage by the national press.

When we started working on Tara with local service providers, they said: Welcome home”!

There’s no doubt that when Tara arrives in Auckland on Saturday, July 1 at 1 pm, there will be a great thrill on board.

The tribute will be immense. The memory of the sailor with the generous blonde mustache is still very much present. Especially since New Zealand just won the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda. The last time this trophy was brought back by the kiwis to their island, it was with Peter Blake.


Vincent Hilaire

Return to America’s Cup Country, by Romain Troublé

At the end of 2000, the schooner Seamaster (renamed Tara 3 years later) with Sir Peter Blake at the helm, left Auckland’s Viaduct Harbor for a long journey. Like the famous explorer Sir Edmund Hilary before him, navigator Peter Blake had proven to his fellow Kiwis that they were capable of making a mark on the rest of the world. A true leader of men, he broke records around the world and won almost all the major sailing races, including the America’s Cup in 1995 and 2000.


“Meeting Peter, participating in the America’s Cup, living here in Auckland – These experiences will undoubtedly accompany me throughout my life”


It’s very moving to come back here, as it was 17 years ago in 2000, and also in 2003. I had the chance to sail in the Hauraki Gulf aboard the French challenge for the America’s Cup. We didn’t win, but meeting Peter, participating in the Cup, living here in Auckland – will definitely accompany me throughout my entire life, like all the powerful experiences that one can live in a lifetime. It was during this period, in 2002, that Etienne Bourgois, founder of the Tara project, came here to build a boat and met Alistair Moore, who, a few years later, told him that Seamaster might be sold.


“The story of Tara has been crazy, since her construction: Yesterday and today, her existence comes from the realm of dreams”


unnamed1© Ivor Wilkins


To be back here aboard Tara is something very special and powerful for Etienne and for me.  Bringing Tara back to Viaduct Harbor after all these years and adventures in the 4 corners of planet Ocean is extremely moving – an intense emotion shared by the hundreds of Kiwis visiting Tara this week. We really feel the aura of Peter at every encounter. I often say that Tara is one of those rare boats endowed with a soul. Her history has been crazy since her construction. Yesterday and today, her existence comes from the realm of dreams, from the passion that motivated Jean-Louis Etienne, Sir Peter Blake, and the Tara team to turn dreams into reality.


Being here is great, and it seems that destiny has played one of its tricks. The New Zealand team engaged in the America’s Cup in Bermuda last month not only had the talent to win the trophy hands down – Bravo! – but had the good idea to bring the trophy back to Auckland yesterday, after losing it 14 years ago.


Hamish Hooper _ ETNZ© Hammish Hooper / ETNZ


Lots of “thumbs up”, “good job, guys!”, “bravos!”, photos and selfies from the 10,000 Kiwi spectators


History and immense chance, a meeting of paths –  I was here in the driving rain with the Tara dream team, in the heart of the parade celebrating the return of the New Zealand Emirates Team, amidst hundreds of boats. Lots of  “thumbs up”, “good job, guys!, “bravos!”, photos and selfies from the 10,000 Kiwi spectators present. Without a doubt the most beautiful recognition for Agnès b., Etienne, the Tara team, our partners, and for me was given by the public here. The feeling that Tara is worthy of Peter’s legacy. It wasn’t a given, and now it’s up to all of us to continue.


“A very beautiful way to close the loop”


Returning here in these conditions at this precise moment is a very beautiful way of closing the loop. But beyond this, Etienne and I believe this is the beginning of a new cycle. The Sir Peter Blake Foundation and the City of Auckland have given a unique and moving welcome for Tara. The Blake Foundation teams are as passionate as we are in sharing, engaging the public and the young generation on the path of science and sustainable development. A wonderful partnership that will allow us to welcome young Blake Ambassadors on board for expeditions, get the participation of Kiwis, and why not sponsors  in the missions of the Tara Expeditions Foundation. Stand-by tack!


Romain Troublé,
Executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation

Portrait of Nicolas Bin, first mate

The list of the first mate’s tasks is long, very long. If we were to cite his most important responsibility, it would certainly be safety. At age 36, Nicolas Bin takes his job seriously, with rigor and a profound knowledge of the boat. That’s what it takes to be in the N° 2 position aboard Tara. Before he leaves the boat after 5 months of mission, here’s a lively portrait of Tara’s first mate:

Can you talk about my shorts and boots in this portrait?” Despite his responsibilities, the first mate maintains his keen sense of humor. A cheerful type with hair just starting to turn gray, he enjoys making plays on words. Trained at the Glénans school of sailing, Nicolas did not consider the profession of sailor immediately. After his baccalaureat, he hesitated between pursuing studies in music (at a conservatory) or sports (at the fac). But the music lover/black belt in judo finally chose a third alternative: the sea.

When asked what he likes about sailing, Nicolas replies: “It’s one of the last spaces of liberty. I love traveling and meeting people, and from a technical point of view, I enjoy maneuvering the boat and adjusting the sails. When I sail, I always imagine the boat seen from the outside. I try to visualize its aesthetics”. Despite his Alsatian origins, Nicolas began sailing at age 10 with his father in Plobsheim.   “When I was a child, at the end of  a summer vacation the last swim in the sea was a special moment. It was a separation from the sea and I always said a special goodbye”.

After a year and a half as a volunteer at Les Glénans, Nicolas passed the national sailing certification in Quiberon, then was certified “Patron de plaisance” in Cherbourg. From 2005 to 2007, he worked between France and the West Indies as an itinerant “Chef de base”, training instructors for the UCPA. Afterwards he did many back and forth trips between Egypt and Marseilles, but also across the Atlantic. Of all the boats he sailed, only one really caught his attention: “Shooting Star”, a 60-foot former racing catamaran. “I liked that boat very much because it was rugged, with a very elegant profile. It was my first big boat”. Afterwards Nicolas alternated seasons in Corsica and Ushuaia, then went to warm up in French Polynesia on a charter dive boat.

Aboard Tara, the first mate is at the heart of human relations. Each time the scientific team changes, Nicolas is in charge of welcoming new arrivals, explaining the functioning of the boat, organizing the night shift, etc. His briefing on safety and life on board is well established and leaves out no details. He gathers new arrivals around the large table in the main cabin to talk about the challenges of group living and the joys of sharing household chores. And he always gives this warning: “Forbidden to injure yourself on board. Everyone must watch over his own safety and that of others…When there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt: if you smell a suspicious smell, hear a suspicious noise, tell a sailor”.


First Mate Nico Bin getting his first look at Japan_photo credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A3656© Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


For Loïc Caudan, one of the 2 head mechanics aboard, “It’s pleasant and easy to work with Nico. I think we have the same way of apprehending work on board. He’s always motivated to lend a hand, whatever the task to accomplish, even the most unpleasant. The first mate’s role is very important: he’s the link between crew and captain, between scientists and crew. Nicolas is very good in this role. He puts everyone at ease with his irresistible charm”.

Charming, even a crooner, he never holds back at the piano: “He could have lived in another era” says Daniel Cron, the other head mechanic.  “He has a slightly jazzy, retro side”. I could see him playing in the smoky bars of New Orleans with the greats of the time — Amstrong, Parker, etc.”

When Nicolas’ name is mentioned to Samuel Audrain, the Captain praises him highly: “He’s the ideal first mate — a guy who really knows how to sail and has experience in sailing, which is important aboard Tara. He likes things well done. Nico is also a sensitive guy you can really talk to. And it’s nice to share something other than work. We often get together to play music”.


P2170647© Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


After a day’s work, the 2 men meet to ‘let go’, Samuel on the accordion and Nicolas at the piano. The wheelhouse, PC Com or workshop are transformed into a rehearsal room. The duo plays and replays the same melodies over and over: Libertango; Tango for Claude, Besame Mucho…Sometimes, at the request of the Taranauts, the musicians set up in the main cabin. Crew members start to sing and dance, with more or less talent, but always in good humor. With big smiles, Sam and Nico get totally into the music, playing until they drop.


Noëlie Pansiot

Portrait of a sailor: Loïc Caudan

Loïc Caudan is something of a shadow man aboard Tara: he’s below deck in the bowels of the whale and discreetly watches over its vital organs. Whether in the engine room, the workshop, the hold or under the passageways, he moves around carefully, far from the bustle of the bridge, which is perfect for him. During his long months on board, he pampers, repairs, creates and maintains. Who exactly is this Taranaut? Portrait of a “chief mechanic” very different from the stereotypes.


For the first mate, Nicolas Bin, Loïc is “a guy I like to work and sail with! He’s someone who finishes things and doesn’t go half-way.” On board, everyone agrees that the young man is conscientious and reliable. But not only…


2-Loic_Caudan_credit_NPansiot-2170205Chief engineer Loïc Caudan upon arrival in Yokohama harbour © Noélie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


32 years old, married with one child, Loïc grew up in Val-d’Oise until he was 20. He enrolled in geography at the university and earned a bachelor’s degree in “History, Sociology, Climatology and Geology”. In parallel, he became an instructor for “dinghy sailing and sailboat cruising”. Following a year of volunteer work at the French Les Glénans sailing school and a state certificate as sports instructor at the National Sailing School of Quiberon, Loïc found his vocation! “At least for a while.” He then worked at Les Glénans for 3 seasons. While there, he didn’t hesitate to jump overboard to put his apprentice-monitors to the test during rescue exercises. “The most grueling session lasted 45 minutes in 15° C water. That’s a long time, even in a wetsuit,” recalls the chief mechanic.


In 2010, he joined forces with Father Jaouen’s association to improve his knowledge of ship maintenance and repair: “I was given responsibilities even as a novice. I helped to fabricate a bronze rudder bearing for a 36-meter boat. A rare experience!” It’s here that he acquired the basics for his future work aboard Tara. He then embarked on a major personal project: buying and refitting a steel sailboat and sailing along the coasts of Africa, Brazil and Uruguay.


On his return in 2012, he passed the 750Kw mechanic’s certificate and volunteered as a mechanic on the Greenland expedition Under the Pole. “I was involved in the project from the construction site to the end of the exploration. And it was during this first polar experience that I encountered my first big engine breakdown. Seawater had entered the cylinder head.” Loïc then turned to another environment: fishing. He embarked as second mechanic on a 35-meter trawler for 8 months.


IMG_7934© Tara Expéditions Foundation


Loïc always thought about working aboard Tara: “I wanted to continue to be on a work boat and to sail, which is, in my opinion the nicest way to navigate.” For the last 2 and a half years, the 30-year old has taken turns in the position of chief mechanic on the schooner. Daniel Cron, his alter ego on board explains: “In general, it’s a bit frustrating since we just cross paths on Tara. But just for a change, this time I embarked as deck officer. So we have the opportunity to sail together for a month to Fiji. And I’m very happy! We are opposites in character: he’s rather quiet and I’m rather extroverted. In fact Loic mentions from time to time that silence doesn’t bother him. At first, he plays the role of gruffy bear and it takes a little while to find the marshmallow inside. He’s a fake bad guy, but a real grumbler when it comes to the consumption of water and electricity on board. And he’s right!”




It must be said that Loïc is responsible for all of the schooner’s energy production. He understands how much each drop of water costs and knows every energy expenditure. Engines, generators, desalinator, electric circuits, water circuits for science and even sanitary. Loïc watches over Tara’s essential organs, and also over his teammates. He is always there to help.


After thinking about it, he probably makes a game out of being reluctant. Loïc displays a cynical sense of humor but he doesn’t lack responsiveness or general culture. His characteristic shrugging and eyebrow raising show that he participates in the teasing on board. You often have to listen carefully to hear him say a word. He doesn’t like being the center of attention, and when the on-board correspondent points a camera in his direction, the chief mechanic bends over and closes his eyes. When asked to open them, he answers at a glance, “You should take my picture only when I have them open! Maybe it’s time you found a real job.” Bursts of laughter follow.



Noëlie Pansiot

31 days of autonomy at sea

Tara has been traveling towards the South Pacific for the past few days, heading for Fiji, more precisely for Lautoka, with arrival expected on the first of June.  6 sailors, 5 scientists and a journalist are aboard, living in complete autonomy for a whole month of sailing. On the high seas, Taranauts maintain a fast pace determined by the rhythm of sampling stations, daily tasks and night shifts. This leg is the longest of the Tara Pacific expedition.


744 hours of navigation. A unique experience for 13 people living in full autonomy aboard an oceanographic vessel. But what is “autonomy” at sea? The dictionary gives this definition of the word: “Time during which a device can function without outside intervention”. Regarding Tara, this definition is not limited to the supply of food and fuel.

Energy independence is indeed one of the main concerns of Captain Samuel Audrain: “Fuel oil is an important concern because we have to arrive on schedule. But fuel is expensive and weighs down the boat. So we have to make some calculations. We departed with 25,000 liters — the reservoir a little more than half full. And as soon as conditions are right, we hoist the sails and choose a direction to get maximum benefit from the wind. Being powered by the wind makes everyone feel happy, stabilizes the boat, and spares the motors. We move much faster, and of course our carbon footprint is much improved”.


All sails outside, the schooner advances at a speed of 7 knots © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Samuel continues: “Water autonomy is also a crucial point. We have a 6000-liter tank and a desalinator. In case of a problem with this machine, we have 390 liters of bottled water which, theoretically, would keep us going for a week”.

When embarking aboard the schooner, risks related to the remoteness of medical care must be considered. In the event of a problem, the Taranauts would not be lacking for care. The boat carries medical equipment labelled “Dotation A” consisting of materials and medicines determined by the type of navigation practiced, and the number and function of people on board. The letter “A” means that the schooner has a well-stocked pharmacy, and that sailors are trained to measure vital signs, and place sutures or perfusions if necessary.

When it comes to safety, the watchword is clear: “Forbidden to get hurt on board!” First mate Nicolas Bin repeats this rule to each newcomer during the security briefing. “Each person must take care of his own safety and that of his team”. We have to respect the sleep of the Taranauts who all take turns doing night watch. “We try to take into account the capacities of each person because we need to function well over a long period. Team members must find their own rhythm, balancing hours of sleep and work. Paying attention to the crew’s rest is an important aspect of safety on board”, remarks the Captain.


The crew simulated a man overboard exercise © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Interrupted sleep, hard work, extreme heat — this crossing is far from any romantic images one might have. Remember that Tara is a polar vessel currently sailing in a tropical zone. Crew and equipment are like coral, they suffer from high temperatures. Samuel Audrain explains: “Our navigation instruments could not withstand the temperatures that the sailors bear from time to time”. Air conditioning makes it possible to maintain a moderate temperature in the PC Com and also in the dry lab where essential instruments function 24 hours a day.

For Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, managing the food stocks is a real challenge. Her “little worry” is keeping things cool. “Aboard Tara we don’t have much space in the refrigerators. Another place partly reserved for food storage is the front hold, but it’s not insulated and varies according to the outside temperature — more than 30°C at the moment. Also, there’s a generator in this hold, but I negotiated with the chief mechanic so it’s not being used”. As for food stocks, there’s no worry! Marion knows very well the quantities consumed on board: “I multiply what we eat by the number of weeks and people. Coffee is about 250g per day, the same as butter. Flour is between 800 grams and 1 kilo per day.” For this leg, nothing will be lacking. The risk is being overweight!

Autonomy aboard Tara for such a long time requires a lot more than some bunches of bananas, a stock of preserves and a reservoir of fuel. This crossing requires a great deal of planning, precise logistics and a highly competent team.

Noëlie Pansiot

Chronicle of a Taiwanese stopover

More than 8 days ago, Tara arrived under escort in the port of Keelung, Taiwan. Small sailboats of the National Taiwan Ocean University welcomed the Taranauts with great fanfare which continued throughout the stopover. And it was to the sound of big drums that the sailors moored the boat, only a few steps from the famous fish market.


Voilier_Universite_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2210154The Taranauts escorted by sailboats of the National Taïwan Ocean University © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


With about thirty knots of wind in her sails for 36 hours, the schooner didn’t take long to cover the 330 miles separating Japan’s Okinawa Island from Taiwan. As soon as they reached the quay, the Taranauts were invited to a reception ceremony followed by a dinner – an evening during which the team explored the local culinary diversity. The following days were exceptionally well organized thanks to the National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU) and the faithful support teams of agnès b. Taiwan: scientific conferences, public visits on board and inauguration of a beautiful exhibition in Taipei.


Tara’s stopover in Keelung is the result of a fruitful collaboration between Tara Base in Paris and the dynamic NTOU President, Mr. Ching-Fong Chang. The project seems to have found a particular echo: “We have the same concerns as Tara. The ocean is suffering from warming, pollution and overfishing,” explained Mr. Chang. “We are surrounded by the sea, we have 100,600 km of coast and 120 islands. The ocean is very important for Taiwan, but the government does not seem concerned by the subject. The arrival of Tara in Keelung is a good thing for the education of children and the public. This is a positive sign.”


Ceremonie_acceuil_Keelung_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2200321Tara arrives in Keelung. Sunday, April 23 © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


As for each stopover, visitors took turns on deck with an efficient team of volunteer translators present every day from 9 am to 6 pm regardless of the weather: Duos of Taranauts and volunteers took turns leading visits and describing the history of the research vessel. Everybody recounted anecdotes and added a touch of humor to keep the attention of the audience.

Michel Flores of the Weizmann Institute of Science encouraged the public’s participation: “Do you know how many people can live on board?”. Others told the love story with a sad ending between coral and zooxanthellae during an episode of bleaching. Between each visit, the crew refined the details of the “great crossing” that will take them from Taiwan to Fiji in the coming month. After a meeting to define “Ocean and Aerosol” protocols, the scientists finished installing their instruments on board. While the sailors tackled final preparations of the boat, Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, spent the last 3 days of the stopover shopping in organic stores and supermarkets to replenish the food stocks.


Nicolas_Bin_manoeuvre_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-photoshopFirst mate, Nicolas Bin, hard at work © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


Sunday afternoon after casting off, Nicolas Bin sounded the foghorn and gave a vocal performance. Placing his hands around his mouth, the first mate imitated the honking horn of an old car, like the wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon. A last wave of hands saluted the volunteers and the public on the quay. It’s promised — in one year, Tara’s orange masts will return to the port of Keelung. Thank you all!

Zài jiàn! (Goodbye in Mandarin)


Samuel_salue_voilier_Universite_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2210160Samuel Audrain, captain, salutes the volunteers. © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Noëlie Pansiot

Video: Logbook of an artist

On each expedition, the schooner Tara embarks several artists-in- residence selected by a jury chaired by agnès b. Nicolas Floc’h, photographer, artist and teacher at the Ecole Européenne Supérieure d’Art de Bretagne recently spent a month on board between Japan and Taiwan. Here he describes his work on marine habitats and talks about his experience aboard Tara.

© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation

Video: Artificial reefs in Japan

Aboard Tara, a special place is reserved for artists. agnès b. presided over the jury that selected 8 artists to take turns on the schooner during the 2-year Tara Pacific expedition.

Nicolas Floc’h is the third artist-in-residence. Photographer/ artist/ teacher, he comes from Brittany and embarked in Japan to dive alongside scientists around the coral reefs. In his current project, he is looking at a different type of underwater habitat: artificial reefs — structures designed and submerged by man.


Sayonara Nippon! Bye Bye Japan!

On board we all agree, “This was a great departure!” After sailing along the coasts of Japan for 2 months, the schooner finally left Chatan to the sound of sanshins and applause. One month devoted to education and raising awareness, a second month focused mainly on scientific research, with 16 people on board sharing daily life and work. During Tara’s time in Japan, we welcomed aboard nearly 4,500 visitors.

The last morning on the island of Okinawa was typical of all Tara’s stopovers: dense and fast-paced.

At 7:30 am, a first group of crew members had an appointment at the Immigration Service to formalize their exit from the territory. Difficult to summarize such a rich experience with a quick rubber stamp. Meanwhile, other Taranauts their bags after a final tour inside the boat to look for miscellaneous objects swallowed up by the whale — a toothbrush forgotten in a bathroom, a tee shirt left on the clothesline in the rear hold.


Yuko_Kitano_credit_Francois_AuratYuko Kitano, taxonomist and Taranaut © François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation


At 9 am, Yuko Kitano, a researcher at the University of Miyazaki, gave a last tour of the boat for a group of young children. Yuko had become the mascot of Tara over the last few weeks. In her thirties, petite, with big expressive eyes, the young woman expended a huge amount of energy throughout this mission. Returning from a dive, notebook in hand, Yuko carefully wrote down the French words she learned and repeated to perfection, including one or two swear words that symbolize for everyone the apprenticeship of a new language. And then her famous “C’est bon” that concluded every meal prepared by our wonderful cook, Marion Lauters.


Au_revoir_Sarah_Romac_Marion_Lauters_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2200096Sarah Romac, engineer at the Roscoff Biological Station and Marion Lauters, sailor/cook, saying goodbye © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


At 11am, Sarah Romac, engineer, Natacha Roux, doctoral student, and Maggy Nugues, ecologist, opened the dance of goodbyes and embraces. For her fourth mission aboard Tara Pacific, Sarah departed with a row of black and blue marks on her legs – the result of doing sampling work aboard a boat where it’s easy to get bruised without even noticing it. She said she was “delighted” with this voyage which allowed her to learn about some subjects she doesn’t study at the Roscoff Biological Station. For Maggy Nugues (CRIOBE) this was her second embarkation: “From a scientific point of view, the voyage was extremely rich. I became aware of everything we had accomplished in a few weeks when I saw the underwater photographs of Nicolas Floc’h, artist-in-residence. During these 3 and a half weeks we were far away from everyday concerns. We were close to nature, in contact with the elements – a good time for meditation! So, we’re all a bit sad to leave…

At 2 pm, official departure time, during a farewell ceremony on the quay, Sylvain Agostini was presented with a Japanese flag signed by all the Taranauts. Scientific coordinator of this mission, Sylvain was a central element in the organization of this part of Tara’s voyage, and he contributed largely to its success, never counting his hours of work. Before leaving the schooner, the flag under his arm, Sylvain said a last word to the crew to sum up his experience aboard Tara: “scientifically interesting and humanely outstanding”.


15-Samuel_Audrain_et_Sylvain_Agostini_credit_Noelie_Pansiot-2200167Tara’s scientific coordinator in Japan, Sylvain Agostini offers the Japanese flag to Capitain Samuel Audrain © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


The entire Tara Expeditions Foundation team, on land and at sea, wishes to warmly thank the various agnès b. crews, university teams, NHK, our shipping agent Yusuke Yoneyama, and many others for their tremendous work, support, and hospitality that allowed Tara to spend 2 exceptional months in Japan, meeting the public, scientists, media. A new adventure in itself, and for each one of us, that we will renew in May 2018. See you next year!


Noëlie Pansiot

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

Video: Ocean acidification laboratory

Studied since the 90s, the concept of ocean acidification is fairly recent. The CO2 released by human activities acidifies the oceans and impacts the growth of corals as well as calcified organisms.

On the outskirts of Shikine Island, Japan, Taranauts scientists were able to dive on a naturally acidified site due to underwater volcanic CO2 emissions. The data collected should therefore help them better understand what is playing under the surface.

© Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expeditions

Tsukiji, the world’s biggest fish market

The city of Tokyo is home to the world’s largest wholesale fish market, located in the Tsukiji district since 1935.

Five days out of seven, professionals are at work in the gigantic halls, buying and selling tons of fish and seafood caught in oceans around the world. Bluefin tuna is sold for extremely high prices at the morning auction where only a few tourists (without cameras!) are welcome.

Kazuki Miyaji goes to the Tsukiji market every week just for fun. This fish enthusiast guides us through the stalls filled with quantities of fish from all over the world

A Natural Laboratory in Japan

After a halt devoted to educational outreach, Tara’s scientific research in Japan is starting up again. The schooner will travel south along the Japanese coast, looking for clues about the health of the coral. In the southern region of the Bay of Tokyo, each site studied displays the characteristics of the ocean of the future. Scientists will study simultaneously the effects of temperature changes and increasing acidity (pH) of water on marine ecosystems..

Beneath the surface, the concept of “climate change”; becomes very clear, affecting the corals in an extremely visible way. The 2 factors particularly impacting the corals today are ocean warming and acidification.


Tara_a_Shikine_credit_Francois_Aurat-0009Tara in Shikine studying effects of acidification on coral. © François Aurat / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Warming and bleaching
To understand what’s happening here, we must explain exactly what coral is. Let’s draw closer and observe with a magnifying glass this animal that, from a distance, resembles a pebble. Coral is a distinct animal, a sort of small, upside down jellyfish called a « polyp » which builds a skeleton outside of its body. Another particularity is the fact that it can’t feed itself. Coral needs micro-algae to supply its energy: the zooxanthella. Using photosynthesis*, this algae provides the nutrients necessary for its survival. This collaboration between algae and coral is called «symbiosis».

But their marriage is fragile. An increase of only 1°C in the ocean’s temperature can lead to the death of a reef in just a few days. Stressed by the heat, corals and algae sign their divorce. Corals lose their micro-algae, or maybe the corals throw them out. Researchers are still questioning this process. Deprived of algae and thus of nutrients, the corals become white and die. This is called “bleaching”.



_15A3862Shikine, 7 meters depth. © Nicolas Floch / Fondation Tara Expéditions


CO2 and acidification
Acidification is the other major threat. This concept is fairly recent: the earliest research on the subject dates only from the 1990s. CO2 released by human activities acidifies the oceans and impacts the growth of corals. Reef health is threatened.

Sylvain Agostini, Tara’s scientific coordinator in Japan, explains: «There are only a few other sites known to exist in the world like Shikine in Japan—one in Italy and the other in Papua New Guinea. The site of Shikine is located in a volcanic zone. The magma burning under the Earth’s crust releases CO2 and forms bubbles that escape from the seabed. The surrounding area is therefore naturally acidified! Usually scientists work on the issue of acidification in aquariums, examining only a few species. In Shikine, the whole ecosystem has been bathing in this acidic water for several generations.»

Diving into the waters of Shikine, Taranauts will take a leap into the future. Acidification of the chosen site corresponds to the estimates predicted globally for the year 2100. So, for the researchers embarking aboard Tara, this area has strong scientific potential and constitutes a natural underwater laboratory.



_15A3278Maggy Nugges completing a coral-algae transect. © Nicolas Floch / Fondation Tara Expéditions 

Noëlie Pansiot

*Photosynthesis: a bioenergetic process that allows plants and algae to synthesize organic matter using sunlight.

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.


Message from a grandfather to all Taranauts

You’ve had the opportunity to follow the stories of Flora Vincent, a marine biologist, during her leg aboard Tara between Wallis and Fukuoka. Through her easy writing style, the scientist shared her experience in the form of a log book. Flora loves passing on her knowledge and has proven herself to be a good teacher. At 27, she is currently completing her PhD on plankton and overseeing the transfer of responsibility of WAX Science, an organization dedicated to the promotion of science she co-founded. On board, everyone agrees Flora has energy to spare! When Tara arrived in Fukuoka, Flora said she was feeling quite “at home”: “I am part French, part Japanese. Thirty-five years ago, my mother left Japan to settle in France. Part of my family still lives here in Japan. My grandfather may visit us”

A few days later, Minoru Fujii traveled 3 hours from Osaka to join Tara in Onomichi. On this occasion, Flora requested the assistance of Maki, a Japanese artist-in-residence, to talk with her grandfather.


Salut_Minoru_credit_NPansiot-2150178Visit aboard Tara of Minoru Fujii, grandfather of marine biologist Flora Vincent. ©  Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Then began a trialogue between Flora, who speaks little Japanese, Maki, an improvised interpreter and Minoru San, 91. After visiting the schooner, putting on a sailing jacket and lying down on his granddaughter’s bunk to assess its degree of comfort, Minoru San sat down in the mess room.

After lunch, Minoru San addressed the crew:

“I am truly very happy and very honored to be so warmly welcomed aboard, thanks to the Captain’s permission. I am really lucky to be here. I received Tara’s journal through my granddaughter Flora and I read every article! Now, I know your project: it’s a great mission for the planet. I understand we must really try to preserve our oceans for future generations: this is very important because without plankton we won’t be able to breathe. Corals are also endangered. It’s all wrong! I’ve learned all these things thanks to Tara’s project, Flora and your newspaper. You really do a fantastic job. But I’m only an old man speaking.»


Taranautes_Minoru_credit_NPansiot-215017Exchange with Taranauts. © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation 


“Here, in Japan, when we reach a certain age and we get a chance like mine today to be at your side, we say: “I was given a gift for the next life.” Thanks to you, I leave with beautiful memories. I thank you with all my heart for this warm welcome.”

Before Tara cast off towards Kobe, Minoru San disembarked with a second gift drawn by Maki in the palm of his hand …


Tara_henne_Minoru_credit_NPansiot-2150138Henna tattoo designed by Maki at Minoru Fujii’s request. © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Interview by Noëlie Pansiot

On land and looking back

[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She debarked at Fukuoka, JAPAN. ]

We’ve finally arrived on the main archipelago of Japan, where Tara is making an extended stopover for historical and scientific reasons: Japan has been a fan of agnès b for 30 years and is home to a wide variety of coral reefs. For the occasion they don’t do things half-way: we raised the sails under a brilliant sun and our entrance into the bay of Fukuoka was accompanied by a NHK television helicopter that circled around us! Perched on Tara’s mast, I was ecstatic to see the modern world again, lost from view for 2 months.


Visite_Flora_credit_NPansiot_P2140206Marin biologist, Flora Vincent, getting interviewed by NHK,  Japanese television channel at her arrival in Fukuoka © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


For 3 days we’ve been reconnected. The day after our arrival in Fukuoka, Japanese television came on board and a report was broadcast on the main channel that same evening. Some of the scientists and sailors disembarked, relayed by part of the Paris team that came as reinforcement for the numerous stopovers, and they brought along something very bizarre: a WiFi box. After waiting for the 2,300 WhatsApp messages to synchronize, I became aware of the time spent on board because it caught up with us. An announcement of pregnancy, a split-up, a birth, many parties — in short a parallel life that continued without us.

For the school visits, I was grouped with Till, another scientist, Maki the artist-in-residence and Nico the first mate. 120 students in one morning, 4 hours to explain the history of the schooner, the research, Tara’s missions, personal anecdotes, accompanied by Maki’s first paintings that recall the real creative links between art and science.

Sharing my new experience with high school students, raising public awareness – these have replaced the imperatives of science and navigation. I slowly realize that I am participating in something that surpasses me completely: a unique synthesis of 3 poles which converge around a shared passion for the marine world.



P2140490Biologist Flora Vincent introduces school children to Tara using drawings by Maki, artist-in-residence aboard © Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions


I spent 2 months talking to the same 14 people, and in 4 hours I reconnected thanks to visitors and journalists on board as well as the out-of-phase WhatsApp notifications. For 2 months, my life has been patterned by science, navigation and community life away from all terrestrial pre-occupations. It’s perhaps the most bizarre feeling I’ve had in recent days: creating the bridge between my life of the last 2 months and “before”. It’s like a vine that weaves itself between life on land and this universe that I’ve discovered. I admire the sailors who find their balance between these 2 worlds, for whom embarkations can last 6 months, because for now my brain still hasn’t understood what’s taking place.

Today, what brings me back to earth is precisely what Tara has been doing for years. The desire to share an adventure, to witness, understand and preserve a wonderful treasure. Above all, we must take on our responsibility as scientists, sailors and citizens to raise awareness of the changes taking place on this Blue Planet. I’ve become a Taranaut.

Flora Vincent

Historical visit to Hiroshima

On the occasion of the schooner’s stopover in Onomichi, the Taranauts were able to leave the boat for a few hours to visit the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima. This historic site made a very strong impression on everyone.

During WW II, on August 6th and 9th 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the targets of atomic bombs dropped by the United States Air Force. The explosion of the first atomic bomb razed the city of Hiroshima: 75,000 people died on the spot.


« Bye Bye Sarah ! »

Over the months, the crew changes. During certain stopovers, new team members come aboard Tara and others disembark. New faces appear, and sometimes former Taranauts return. Scientists and crew members take turns continuously. In all, there will be 70 scientists participating in the Tara Pacific expedition. I just relayed Sarah Fretwell as journalist/correspondent aboard.

Sarah is American, more specifically from California, and during our interview she wished to clarify a point: “I didn’t vote for Donald Trump”, she says with a laugh. Multimedia journalist by profession, Sarah is the first English-speaking on board correspondent to embark on Tara. Here is what she will remember from her 2-month stay aboard the schooner:


Sunset in Kiribati_photo credit Sarah FretwellSunset in Kiribati © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


How did your arrival aboard Tara go?

I had just finished another project in Africa and I was working until the day I left. So I didn’t really have a mental transition. I had done a virtual tour online, and I had some information as far as the protocol and about the Tara philosophy. I just knew I was in for a big adventure. I just said ok, it’s going to be a life experience no matter what happens. I was really surprised when they showed me the islands that I’d been assigned to: Tuvalu and Kiribati. Because at the beginning of every year, I make a kind of “vision board”, and 2 years ago I found pictures of those same islands in a travel magazine and I had put them on my board!

Was it difficult to adapt to this job?

I was learning about the organization and the job position; I was also learning the culture of the boat, figuring out how it works. It was a steep learning curve. But I feel like the way I dealt with it was OK. “There are going to be challenges every day and I’ll just figure them out.” And so every day, it was just problem-solving all day. But I learned that’s how it is on a boat for everyone, no matter what. Daniel Cron was the chief engineer when I was aboard, and I saw that he was continually problem-solving and fixing things. And Martin was too, with customs and immigration.


sarah-credit noelie3© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expéditions Foundation


When one evokes the job of correspondent aboard Tara, people often romanticize and imagine a situation resembling much more a holiday than work. What do you think of this legend?

It’s definitely not a vacation! I’ve come off other projects feeling tired before, but really I don’t know if I’ve ever been this tired. Everyone is always working: 24h a day, 7 days a week. That was the most challenging part. It’s a difficult position because everything that I was doing, I usually have a team of people that I work with to do it. So it was interesting to suddenly be doing it by myself. Luckily I had the skills for it. My favorite aspect of the job was going to the different islands and having the chance to go ashore and get different stories.

What was your most amazing experience as a reporter?

One of my favorites was Tuvalu because I showed up on New Year’s day and no banks were open. I had no money and I really wanted to interview the Prime Minister, but his secretary hadn’t responded. Martin dropped me off with the dingy. I was carrying the equipment and the tripod with me to the shore and I just walked out of the ocean with my clothes. And I finally had the most beautiful experience there and I managed to get the interview!


 © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expéditions Foundation


I feel incredibly honored and lucky to have worked with the people I met during my time aboard Tara, and to have shared the experiences we had together. Something that’s funny for me: In my job I go to so many places, and my friends at home are interested, but can never fully understand. It’s so cool to have 15 “strangers” and now friends to have shared these lifetime adventures with.


Interview by Noëlie Pansiot,
On board correspondent embarked in Fukuoka (Japan) on February 19, 2017

First stopover for Tara in Japan

Since departing last October from Papeete, French Polynesia, the schooner has already traveled nearly 8,500 miles. In her wake, Tara has left Tuamotu, Wallis and Guam and sails towards Japan.

For more than 3 months, the Taranauts will participate in a major awareness campaign in the land of the rising sun. The public will be welcomed on board during 8 stopovers; hundreds of children will discover the secrets of coral reefs and the scientists will meet at a symposium in Tokyo.

This great Japanese stopover is a first for Tara. On reaching Fukuoka, the Taranauts were eager and excited to begin this new chapter of the expedition.



© Noëlie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions

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

“85,000 liters for Science”

A month and a half ago I embarked aboard Tara at Wallis, the most distant place from Paris I’ve ever traveled.

[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She will debark at Fukuoka, JAPAN. ]


8-Scientist Flora Vincent shaking her 1,801 sample bottle of this leg of the expedition_Photo Credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A5357Scientist Flora Vincent shaking her 1,801 sample bottle of this leg of the expedition © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions 


I had just finished my PhD at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris) in Chris Bowler’s laboratory, where I was working for 3 years on data collected during the Tara Oceans expedition. As incredible as it may seem, one can do an entire thesis based on the data from Tara Oceans and never have embarked on the schooner. So quite naturally when Colomban de Vargas and Sarah Romac – responsible for plankton research on Tara Pacific – proposed that I come aboard to collect plankton between Wallis and Fukuoka, I jumped at the opportunity.

The majority of scientists aboard Tara are busy analyzing coral, but Guillaume (the bridge engineer) and I are interested in everything that happens around the coral. What are the physico-chemical parameters of the surrounding water? Which micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye populate the reef? What do they do and how are they different from the ones we find directly on the corals or further out to sea? What is the influence of an island and its population in the middle of the Pacific on the planktonic ecosystem?

Concretely our scientific work is divided into 2 stages. There’s the so-called ‘island phase’: twice a day I go on a zodiac to collect seawater near the coral reefs with the help of the crew – often Julie, Nico, Martin and Jon. Once we’re back on Tara, we do a battery of genetic, morphological and physico-chemical analyses. I had a chance to take samples from the Tuvalus, the Kiribati, Chuuk, Guam and Ogasawara – exceptional places that before I could hardly have pinpointed on a map – unfortunately now threatened by climate change.


Guillame Bourdin Flora Vinent Sarah Fretwell 0Q8A1917Tara scientists Guillaume Bourdin and Flora Vinent confer over sample results during their nigh time sample © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Between 2 islands is the so-called ‘Ocean phase’. During daily voyages in the open sea, Guillaume and I collect water directly as the boat advances, thanks to a series of nets, pumps, and pipes which we put into the water at precise places of interest, with the help of the sailors, by day or by night, in the sun or rain. Afterwards we perform all the manipulations necessary to harvest the micro-organisms present in the water.

This experience in the field is exhilarating: from the 85,000 liters of seawater we collected in just 2 months (of a 2-year expedition!), several years of research and new discoveries will result. Thanks to Tara we can develop approaches and answer questions that only such a large scale of sampling and interdisciplinarity allow. My adventure on board will soon be over, but for Tara Pacific, it’s just the beginning.


Flora Vincent


Press release

After several days of  harsh weather conditions, the French research schooner Tara docked in the port of Fukuoka on Sunday, February 19, at 5 pm local time. After departing on February 15 from Ogasawara, their last research site, scientists and sailors confronted strong winds and a particularly turbulent sea. The city of Fukuoka, on the southern island of Kyushu, is Tara’s first port of call where the public will be welcomed aboard. 


Arrivee a Fukuoka Sarah Fretwell Fondation Tara ExpeditionsArrival in Fukuoka © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


This arrival, highly symbolic for Tara, marks the end of the first campaign of the TARA PACIFIC expedition. For the past 8 months, traversing the ocean from east to west and voyaging 30,000 kilometers, scientists have been examining coral reefs and their ecosystems to understand their biodiversity (including genetic) and behavior as they confront global environmental disturbances.

“Welcoming Tara in Japan is very moving for me,” says Professor Hiroyuki Ogata of Kyoto University, the first Japanese biologist to board the schooner (in 2010) during TARA OCEANS, the expedition which expanded knowledge of the planktonic world and gave rise to 50 publications, including 8 in the prestigious journals Science and Nature. “Today, the universities of Kyoto, Tokyo, Tsukuba, Kochi and Ruykyu have joined us in this new scientific adventure: the TARA PACIFIC expedition will contribute to the research we are conducting in Japanese waters and Ryukyu”.



This is the very first time the schooner Tara has come to Japan and will meet the Japanese public.
For Etienne Bourgois, founder in 2003 of the Tara Expeditions project, “Among the 30 countries studied during Tara Pacific, Japan is the place where the schooner will stay for the longest time, 2 months, with 9 stopovers scheduled. It is extremely important for us to share what we are doing with the Japanese public, and especially with young people and children…”

Stopovers in Fukuoka, Onomichi, Kobe, Nagoya, Yokohama and Tokyo will allow the Japanese public to come aboard and visit the boat, meet the sailors, and also discover the 13 years of Tara expeditions through a traveling exhibition, film screenings and conferences. An opportunity to learn more about this still largely unknown realm which covers 70% of our planet: the Ocean.

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


For everyone aboard Tara, departing from Guam was sweet sorrow, saying goodbye to valued crew and friends, meeting new crew, and excitedly heading to Japan.

Tara scientists completed their research in Guam and were able to sample only a small area because of weather. They noted good coral cover was restricted to small protected patches, yet the abundance of coral reef associated fish was surprisingly high.

The departing crew includes memorable friends.


Saying goodbyeSaying goodbye to valued crew members, Chief Engineer Daniel Cron, Deck Officer Julie Lherault, and First Mate Nicolas De La Brosse © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


Deck officer Julie Lherault, the lone woman who can captain a dinghy or fix a bilge pump with the most seasoned of boat crew, then put on a dress and prepare the best sashimi dinner you will have in your entire life.
Nicolas De La Brosse, the first mate, who makes sure the boat is running smoothly with everything in its place. He can always be located on the boat laughing loudly at another joke. His love of prosciutto and chocolate cocoa puffs is so great, rumor has it he slept with them under his pillow for the past month!
Last, but not least, chief engineer Daniel Cron who must contort into the smallest, darkest, and often dirtiest places on the boat to ensure that Tara is running smoothly. His infamous dance moves and humorous scolding when you forget to turn off the lights in your room – “This is not Versailles” – will be sorely missed.


Saying goodbye to Daiel, Nico, and Julie in Guam_photo credit Sarah Fretwell_0Q8A3165-2Saying goodbye to Daniel, Nicolas, and Julie in Guam © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


While each of these crew have their titles, they all work incredibly hard, tackling any task that needs to be accomplished – even when it is not in their job duty – to ensure the success of scientists and the expedition. It has been incredible to watch them work as a team and an honor for all aboard to have worked with them.

In the port of Guam, we met with our shipping partner Rainer Friedrich of World Courier, and packed 3 months worth of scientific samples (Tahiti to Guam) for shipment to labs around the world. After saying our goodbyes, we had the joy of meeting four new crew members: first mate Nicolas Bin, deck officer Francois Aurat, chief engineer Loïc Caudan, and our artist-in-residence, Maki Ohkojima from Tokyo.


Rainer FriedrichRainer Friedrich of World Courier ensuring temperature sensitive coral samples make it to labs well preserved by packing them in thermal boxes with dry ice © Sarah Fretwell / Fondation Tara Expéditions


We raised our sails for a five-day, 832 nautical mile navigation to Japan, where our first stop before we reach the mainland is the southern island of Ogasawara. One of the highlights this year for Tara are our stops in Japan. Since 2009, Tara Expeditions Foundation has collaborated with Japanese evolutionary biology and ecology of microorganisms expert Hiroyuki Ogata, senior researcher at Kyoto University. As the first Japanese scientist to have been aboard Tara, we are excited to work with him in his home country. In Japan, Tara will specifically look at the Kuroshio marine current and its role in larval dispersal of reef fish. Generated in the Western Pacific, this warm current feeds the most northerly reefs on the planet, located in Japan.

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

“Like every morning”

6:15am – the alarm goes off. From my cabin, I hear the footsteps on deck of Julie and Daniel, deck officer and chief mechanic. They’re off to raise the yankee sail on Tara’s bow.

[After finishing her thesis on data from the Tara Oceans expedition in Chris Bowler’s lab at ENS d’Ulm, Flora Vincent embarked on Tara for the first time at Wallis to sample plankton during the Tara Pacific expedition. She will debark at Fukuoka, Japan. This is Flora’s logbook 1/3]


I stagger towards the main dining room and like every morning, glance at the notice board for household chores. Today, I am on duty for lunch with my usual group composed of Nico de la Brosse, the first mate and Pete West, the underwater cameraman. Each scientist is in a group of 3 with a different sailor who gets us started and guides us through life on board, especially for first timers on Tara, like me. I pick up 2 pieces of toast, my coffee and, like every morning, join Dominique the cook on deck. We enjoy our breakfast with a sea view, admiring the sunrise.

No time for daydreaming, I have to set up the wet laboratory at the back of the boat and prepare the equipment to process the daily collected samples.


11-Scientist-Flora-Vincent-in-the-wet-lab-changing-filters_photo-credit-Sarah-FretwellScientist Flora Vincent in the wet lab changing plankton filters © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Like every morning, every corner of the boat reminds me that Tara is optimized to be a lab on the ocean. From the forward to the rear hold, from the hull under the boat to the top of the mast, science is everywhere, all the time, hidden in the bowels of the schooner.

Pumping air, pumping water, measuring iron or CO2 in water, Tara is continuously collecting a series of oceanographic and atmospheric measurements that will be used to understand the link between climate change and the state of health of coral reefs.

The relationship to time and space is unique on Tara. At the slightest power cut, Guillaume, the deck engineer, rushes to check that the measuring instruments are still running because the backup batteries give him 3 minutes to react. A badly closed freezer can ruin weeks of work at sea, impossible to redo because it’s there that all the samples are stored before being sent on.  Forgetting to store tubes before going for a coffee break means running the risk of seeing them scattered everywhere because the boat is constantly pitching. Putting down a cup of coffee to pick them up runs the other risk of seeing the cup break into a thousand pieces on the deck.


7-Tara-scientists-Flora-Vincent-and-Guillame-Bourdin-sample-iron-in-the-water_photo-credit-Sarah-FretwellTara scientists Flora Vincent and Guillaume Bourdin sample iron in the water © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


As every morning, the cohabitation between science and navigation in such a confined space obliges us to anticipate everything. And there is always something unexpected to do at the last moment and it’s already too late! We accomplish things as soon as we have time (put things away, repair, prepare, but also sleep, do a laundry or reply to emails!), especially the sailors who are constantly solicited day and night to manoeuver the boat, but also to help us with sampling. Today we are raising the mainsails. It promises to be a beautiful day for collecting samples, like every morning.

 Flora Vincent

Quality French Cooking is Key to Tara’s Success

An interview with Tara’s cook, Dominique Limbour, on the pleasures and perils of creating high-quality food for a crew of 14 people on a sailboat.

Dominique Limbourm's artisan breadp_photo credit Sarah FretwellDominique Limbourm’s artisan breadp © Sarah Fretwell /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


Dominique Limbour has been cooking aboard vessels from Antarctica to Tahiti. She has lots of experience in one of the most demanding jobs on the boat. Up at 5:30 am, she is cooking and planning the next meal until 9 pm. When her head hits the pillow, she is still thinking about the next meal. You can often see her smiling as she reads a cookbook, or covered in flour, baking bread.

She says, « I am here to be with scientists and better understand their work.  Before this expedition, I knew little about coral and plankton. For me, it is important because I want to know more about the health of the ocean and global warming. » 


Tara crew members Niko De La Brosse and Dominique Limbourm greeting local children in Tabontebike village_Photo Credit Sarah FretwellTara crew members Nicolas De La Brosse and Dominique Limbourm greeting local children in Tabontebike village © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Dominique’s critical contribution to this expedition is her scrumptious French cooking. « Food is so important, because we are on a French boat and it’s a major part of our culture. Meals are the few times a day the community stops working to connect, to discuss and relate to one another.  It is time to laugh and take a break. Food sets the atmosphere. Quality, taste, and quantity are very important,» she notes.

In foreign markets, she looks for great local produce, and a few exports from home she knows her crew mates will be happy to see. She also learns from locals. A woman in Tahiti showed her how to extract milk from the coconut meat, and now every time we catch a fish, she uses fresh lime and coconut to make ceviche.


Crew member and cook Dominique Limbour putting the hydraphone overboard_photo credit Sarah FretwellCrew member and cook Dominique Limbour putting the hydraphone overboard © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation


She also loves working with Tara’s hydrophone. “I love to set the hydrophone in the water overnight and listen to sounds around the reef – sometimes even whale calls. And for a few moments I do some science.” After the expedition, she will head to Australia to visit her brother and relax. And with a smile she tells me, « I won’t cook for a month. »


Sarah Fretwell





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

Vidéo : Happy new year 2017 !

It’s been a great year for the Tara Expeditions Foundation, full of new adventures and groundbreaking research.
Thank you for supporting us in pushing the limits of science as we make new discoveries that impact our world.
Happy new year 2017!

© Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation

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.


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: Coral takes us back in time

TARA recently arrived in the Samoan islands where sampling protocols continue aboard the schooner. Among the 3 coral species targeted by scientists during this expedition, Portites lobata is of particular interest to Guillaume Iwankow from the CRIOBE in Perpignan. Since Tara’s arrival in the Pacific, he has been in charge of collecting this species via a particular protocol.

 One morning we embarked with him on a motorized dinghy and headed for the outer coral reef. After checking a few sites, Guillaume identified a colony whose size corresponded to the sampling criteria. He had brought along an imposing compressor connected to a curious machine — a core drill. Thanks to its 45-centimeter corer,  he will be able to dig into the center of the Porites to extract valuable information. The operation is carried out in the same way at each study site throughout the expedition.

© Pierre de Parscau /  Tara Expeditions Foundation



Tara has been sailing along Niue’s coast for several days, tossed by the Pacific Ocean. On these cliffs made of coral, some inhabitants of this island, nicknamed “the Rock”, attempt to preserve the maritime heritage of their ancestors by manufacturing traditional pirogues called vaka.

It took me a few hours to go up the track leading to the man everyone here calls «Fai» and talks about with respect and pride. Tamafai Fuhiniu is waiting for me in the shade of his workshop, sitting on a simple wooden stool as a king on his throne. Bright red moota chips stand out on his dark shirt. His grand-daughters are playing under paddles lined up on a rack. Tamafai has been living on the heights of Niue since a hurricane devastated his home in 2004. Back then, his hands and strength of character were all he had left to rebuild everything from scratch.

He is the last heir to a long line of master carpenters whose origin was lost somewhere in China before reappearing on Niue’s cliffs 700 years ago. While human communities had already conquered the Pacific for 4,000 years, the «Rock» was one of the last islands in this ocean to be colonized. Among the 5 brothers who first set foot on this hostile shore, a few master carpenters kept the tradition alive by adapting it to Niue’s geography. In order to launch their boats into the water from cliffs no lagoon protects from the whims of the Pacific Ocean, they had to design light vessels a single man could carry. The first vaka was born in Niue.


credits_pdeparscau_vaka-traditionnelle-de-niueTraditional Niuevaka © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


«Even today, it makes me smile to hear people speak about our ancient kings», says Tamafai. «My ancestors weren’t idiots, they always refused this tribal and political game. In ancient times, we were cannibalistic, and in kings’ and clan leaders’ views, if you didn’t generate wealth, you were the first to die and to be eaten. This is how my family has survived for so long».

Around his house lies the domain of the master carpenter who became the first landowner in Niue. He was born on these lands 60 years ago, along with his 8 siblings. His father was then the last vaka craftsman on the island and he decided to pass on to Tamafai the knowledge of their ancestors. «My brothers may not have spent enough time listening to our bedtime stories, these legends passed down from one generation to the next. At an early stage in my life, I knew I was different from them. My father did not necessarily need to teach me things. Everything I learned was through observation. It didn’t involve words or drawings. This is why traditional knowledge is so rich: you have to learn things without being shown».

Tamafai takes me a little way away from his house to an open-air workshop sheltered by a few trees. This is where he carves out of moota trunks the vaka capable of braving offshore conditions. The curve of the hull is remarkably smooth, its length no more than 5 meters, its thickness only 4 millimeters. Through constant improvements, Tamafai has succeeded in creating a pirogue weighing only 15kg but able to hold loads of half a ton. «The method of fabrication has evolved as a result of tool modernization. At the time of my ancestors, trees were first burned. They chose a tree young enough not to ignite and split. Then they had to hollow the trunk out on site and carry it to the coast. It was very hard work. People at that time had to be giants».

Since these ancient times a bond continues to unite land and sea. Even today, the first fish caught on a new vaka is offered to the family who owns the land on which the tree was cut.


Tamafai Fuhiniu, le dernier maître-charpentier de NiueTamafai Fuhiniu, the last master carpenter in Niue  © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Tamafai will only reveal a few main principles of traditional vaka fabrication. From his ancestors, the master carpenter has inherited the tradition of keeping secrets that are passed only from father to son. «At that time, this knowledge was preserved by different people who had a very special status in the community. They were the custodians of unique knowledge», Tamafai explains. «It was a well-kept secret in our family. Today I share most of my knowledge but there are really important things that I keep for myself. My father always told me: pay attention to how you share your knowledge because when you share everything, you end up with nothing, naked. I’m trying to find a balance between his words and today’s world because if I don’t share this knowledge, it may disappear».

In addition to islanders who have long lost the passion for fishing off the coast of Niue aboard these traditional pirogues, Tamafai’s destiny may also contribute to extinguish what remains of this ancestral flame. Ironically, after generations of men in his family, the master carpenter is the father of 5 daughters.

Maika is the last one to live on Niue. She receives me in her office at the back of the tourist information center, curious to learn about my impressions after my meeting with her father. Her rapid conversation contrasts with Tamafai’s placidity. However, the same pride animates her when speaking about vaka. Long kept away from the sea and pirogues, the women of Niue have gradually set sail under the impulse of Maika and her 4 sisters. «Even though we were going against tradition, we girls grew up in this world», she remembers. «I got my first pirogue when I was 8, and our father built them adapted to our size. Many people became jealous because our father let us set sail on our pirogues and since then, we have encouraged more and more women to join us».

Today Maika encourages young people to learn this ancestral technique from her father. Among them may be the person who will continue Tamafai’s work and in turn, keep the lineage secrets. «I hope my father won’t take them with him to the grave. He must find someone who shares the same love and passion and I don’t think he’s willing to reveal his secrets as long as he doesn’t find this man. We must find this person, not only for the sake of our family but for the whole island».


Tamafai, maître charpentier, aux pieds des falaises de la crique de OpaahiTamafai below the cliffs at Opaahi Landing © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


At low tide, Tamafai asked me to join him at Opaahi Landing to board one of his «women» as he likes to call his pirogues. While loading one on his shoulders, he points at the cliff facing us. This is where, in 1774, after 3 attempts, James Cook and his men finally managed to set foot on Niue and faced the islanders’ hostility. An anecdote that makes the master carpenter smile, convinced that his ancestors were among the first islanders to throw stones at the Endeavour.

Around us, waves are breaking on the reef and our attempt to put the vaka into the water is proving to be tricky. With a thrust, the white and blue vaka leaves solid ground to slide toward the open sea, as light as a feather. «A vaka is a living object. It has a very feminine shape», Tamafai says facing Niue’s cliffs. «A vaka is as sacred as a woman. If you take good care of her, she’ll feed your family, but if you neglect her, she won’t provide you with prosperity. We don’t name them because by doing so, we would take away their sacred aura. Vakas define who I am and who we are as a people. I don’t believe we should use language to define our identity because it evolves over the course of history, just like culture. Tradition, however, is something different – a way of doing and thinking».

To become one with one’s vaka means feeling her, talking and listening to her. Tamafai is repeating the very same gestures that generations of men before him developed on these same coasts, a mixture of instinct and inheritance. In the wake of his pirogue, Niue’s history continues to write itself while waiting for someone to take over the story. At 60, Tamafai has bequeathed a vessel to his island in the form of an identity.

Better still, a life’s work to be admired.

Pierre de Parscau


Pacific sunrise: the island appeared as if escaped from a novel, a black silhouette against a red sky. Two days after leaving Niue, in the early morning Tara reached the coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa. A territory with sharp reliefs where the ghost of literary giant – Robert Louis Stevenson – hovers.


This is the same vision of the coast that the author of Treasure Island describes in his travel books. Stevenson went to the Pacific in search of a mild climate for his fragile lungs. In 1890 he settled with his family in Samoa where he spent the last 4 years of his short life. When he built the house in Vailima at the foot of Mount Vaea, he was a world famous author but totally unknown to the inhabitants of the island. Born in Edinburgh in 1850, the novelist had suffered from extremely fragile health since his childhood. This didn’t prevent him from breaking away from the family heritage (engineering lighthouses) to devote himself to writing. After getting a law degree in Scotland, he spent several years traveling, publishing essays and articles about his adventures, which included hiking across the Cevennes with a donkey. His novel Treasure Island (1883) was a huge success, followed by others: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Master of Ballantrae.


House of Robert Louis Stevenson in Vailima © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


When he arrived in Samoa, Stevenson quickly took up the defense of the islanders, caught up in colonial conflicts between Americans, Germans and English. This proximity with the local population inspired the islanders to call him “Tusitala”, the storyteller. Though Stevenson did not yet speak the Samoan language, islanders quickly observed the exuberant imagination of the writer: Pacific legends inspired him to embark on new writing projects, some of which remained unfinished. His house seems to have withstood the weather and hurricanes that battered it for many years. Constructed of wood by an Australian architect, it was for a long time the largest building on the island and welcomed illustrious visitors who came to salute the famous writer.

Mustache, emaciated face and feverish glance – in photographs hung on the turquoise paneling of his house (transformed into a museum) Stevenson looks like a character from one of his novels. Margaret Silva, curator of the museum, speaks about the author who wrote several pages of the island’s history. “Robert Louis Stevenson did a lot for our country and got deeply involved in local politics. He helped our founding fathers gain independence and was almost deported because of his commitment. He was the first European to go to the prisons to deliver food, clothing and cigarettes. That’s why Samoans had so much affection for him”.


Robert Louis Stevenson poses with family & neighbors in front of his house © Pierre de Parscau Tara Expédiitons Foundation


On December 3, 1894, Stevenson collapsed on the floor of the grand salon, victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. The doctor did not have time to come from Apia. Contrary to the Samoan tradition whereby people are buried close to their homes, the author requested in his last wishes to be laid to rest “under the immense and starry sky” at the top of Mount Vaea. The steep path that still leads there today in itself tells of the Samoans’ attachment to Tusitala. Baptized “the path of loving hearts”, it was cut through the forest with enormous effort by the islanders, in order to transport Stevenson’s coffin. By the light of torches, 200 Samoans climbed the mountain to accompany the writer to his final resting place. No foreigner had ever been so celebrated on the island: the funeral ritual was that of a royal burial and the body placed on a bed of coral surrounded by volcanic stones. “Before he died, Robert Louis Stevenson expressed 2 last wishes,” explains Margaret Silva. “The first was to be laid to rest at the top of the mountain, and the second was to be buried with his boots on his feet. When the Samoans asked him why, he replied that the boots he had worn to explore this island were the ones he wanted to take with him. This meant that he wanted to die with the people of Samoa.”


Tomb of Robert Louis Stevenson at the summit of Mount Vaea © Pierre de Parscau Tara Expediitons Foundation

After a difficult hour climbing the mountain in the blazing sun, the pilgrim arrives at a simple white tomb overlooking the bay of Apia. Engraved on a bronze plaque is the epitaph written in 1884 by Stevenson himself as his last words:

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will
This be the verse you grave for me
Here he lies where he longed to be
Home is the sailor, home from sea
And the hunter home from the hill

Pierre de Parscau

Video : The green paradise

At the center of Niue Island hides Huavalu reserve, a 5000 hectare primary forest, home to century-old trees. Sionetasi Pulehetoa has fought for decades to protect and preserve this unique ecosystem around which he grew up and of which he knows every little secret. Taking advantage of TARA’s stop on his island, he takes us along to discover his “green paradise” through an audio picture.

© Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video: Shipping, a race against time

With the completion of Tara’s mission in the Tuamotu Archipelago and the schooner’s return to the port of Papeete, a new adventure has just begun in the form of a race against time. In the vessel’s holds, hundreds of samples are awaiting shipment to partner laboratories for thorough analysis.
Colombia, Easter Island, Ducie and Gambier Islands: scientists only have a few hours on Tahiti’s dock to package the results of months of work in the Pacific Ocean.

© Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation

The gardener of the lagoon

Before Tara raised anchor to set off for Niue Island, the scientists on board were invited to visit Aitutaki Island and meet a surprising islander.  Dismayed at seeing the island’s lagoon slowly waste away, Charley Waters decided to take action by planting corals and giant clams.

Between the aerodrome and the Aitutaki lagoon, the marine biology research center sits amongst the wrecks of canoes and pickups corroded by rust. A long sheet-metal hangar transformed into a conference room now houses about 20 schoolchildren accompanied by a few local citizens. Smiling people are gathered around the large breeding tanks with giant clams at the bottom, accompanied by a stonefish. At Charley’s invitation, the scientists aboard Tara came to learn about the Reef Keepers’ project. With a handful of young volunteers, Charley has set out to safeguard the lagoon he fell in love with 14 years ago.

«My initial plan was to go to work in Manihiki (a neighboring island in the Cook archipelago), but when I discovered the lagoon here, I knew this was the place I’d been looking for. What convinced me was the welcome I received from the island inhabitants and the local government. They realized they could not save the lagoon with their limited resources. I had experience in marine biology and was ready to help them, so that’s how it all started.»


credits_pdeparscau_bassins-eleveage-benitiers-geantsGiant clam tanks on Aitutaki Island of © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Charley projects images of the lagoon corals to an audience of astonished children, describing the threats confronting these animals, often unfamiliar to the younger kids. Here, as in many Pacific islands, corals in the lagoon have suffered severe degradation caused by chemical spills on island soils, over-consumption of marine resources and increased waste. In the audience, a fisherman asks Charley about the need to integrate traditional knowledge into a future protection program. Because without the involvement of the island’s fishermen, a scientist could wind up working alone against everyone else.

«The tradition of fishing has a long history here and very often tradition and science come into conflict » says Charley. « The difficulty is that some traditional knowledge is not based on science but on beliefs. Some islanders, for example, think that if the giant clams have disappeared from the lagoon it’s because they’re jealous of the ones we have introduced. For years I’ve explained that giant clams are not jealous, but their belief still distorts the facts. On the other hand, without being scientists, some people here have an extraordinary knowledge of the marine ecosystem, reproductive cycles and species behavior.»


credits_pdeparscau_plantation-de-benitiers-geants-copieA Reef Keepers volunteer planting coral © Pierre de Parscau


Between local politics and willingness to change, Charley decided to go hands-on and invited young people to experiment with planting coral in the nearby lagoon. By fixing coral debris on a cement base with epoxy, these one-day gardeners are replanting the coral and will see it develop anew in 4 to 5 weeks. It’s a proven technique in the Maldives and in Australia whose promising results could help us convince young people here of the importance of the coral reef for the island’s health.

« It’s essential they understand that this is a virtuous circle,»  said Charley. « The more corals there are, the more fish there will be and the better their quality of life. I think many schoolchildren don’t know much about the lagoon simply because they can’t afford a mask and a snorkel.»


credits_pdeparscau_rencontre-avec-charley-watersTARA scientists learn how to plant coral © Pierre de Parscau

Today, however, the children of Aitutaki were able to enjoy the underwater beauty wearing snorkeling masks. But under the surface, the reefs have indeed been transformed in recent years — an upheaval that could ultimately jeopardize the local economy and the very survival of these island societies.

« We are still working against what we call the “sliding reference” syndrome, that is, what we consider today to be healthy coral was not healthy for previous generations. I think the time has come to be extremely careful about the next steps in protecting the lagoon. I would very much like to see a strategic plan set up in response to the studies done here. Very often in the Cook Islands, governments think that conducting studies is solving the problem, but as scientists we know it’s only part of the equation. We have studied enough and I think it’s time to take action »

A volunteer comes forward and gives a short prayer in Maori to invite the gods of the island to watch over these freshly replanted corals before the visitors disperse. Charley knows that the road will be long to rally the Aitutaki islanders to his cause, but he will at least have contributed his stone to the gigantic coral edifice.

Pierre de Parscau

Youth on the other side of the world

She’s been observing us for 3 days from the island’s rare hilltops  a tongue of greenery in the northwest region of the Cook Islands. From aboard Tara, anchored at the entrance of the lagoon, Aitutaki looks like the end of the earth. To encounter life on this land, you must venture beyond a deserted main street and take a familiar route: the road to school.

A wide lawn serves as a playground, classrooms open to the outside, a soggy tennis court. Located in the heights of Aitutaki, the school looks almost like a tropical campus. On porches sheltered from the rain, English language mingles with Maori in conversations and lessons. Kimi is putting a tiare flower in her hair when I call out to ask the way. Her face breaks into a big smile, then she leads me on a visit of the school.


p132013117-year-old Kimi, in front of her school © Pierre de Parscau / Tara Expeditions Foundation


« We’re all related here, brothers, cousins, nephews, you can take your choice! (laughs). Everyone here  knows everybody else. You can’t walk on the island without someone shouting ‘kaiman’ –   come here – inviting you to his house.» Through the plastic shutters of classroom windows I see childrens’ faces. Drawing classes, cooking, music;  here handicrafts have an important place and can sometimes prepare kids for an active work life. Kimi has been attending these classes since she was 3, growing up with other kids her age. At 17, she has reached the end of the school curriculum in Aitutaki. Like many young people of her age, faced with a lack of professional perspectives, she will have to consider leaving the island to pursue her studies and forge a future. Far from home.

Despite Aitutaki’s attraction for tourists, its economy doesn’t allow these young people to envisage a future on the spot. A few children of fishermen or farmers will work with their families, while others might hope for a civil service job, a promise of security. At the entrance of the woodworking class we meet 16 year old Leslie, who has just finished a shelf made of recycled wood found on the coast. The teacher here, from New Zealand, talks to her students about the effects of climate change on the Aitutaki lagoon, and about the increasing pollution.



Aitutaki, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean © Wikipédia


« The lagoon has become dirtier. Foreigners who come here often leave behind their trash, » says Leslie. « It’s not their island so they don’t care.»  On one of the worktables, some drawings evoke a vision of the future for these children. Open windows and seashells stamped with ink illustrate a link with the Pacific. « My father has a small fishing boat,» says Leslie. « On weekends he sometimes takes me out in the boat, or else we go for a picnic on the motu (author’s note: islets on the edge of reefs).  I’ve decided to stay in Aitutaki, near the sea. I couldn’t live far away from here.»

The 2 friends both have family in New Zealand, and still remember their first impression when they discovered Auckland a few years ago. « My first impression was ‘Wow’ » says Kimi. « What surprised me most was all the people in the malls. You could buy lots of things for very little money, whereas here you can’t find anything for $2. My brother went to live there several years ago, but he doesn’t come to see us anymore. It’s difficult for my family.»


p1320146Aitutaki schoolboys © Pierre de Parscau /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


On the tennis court, a water-soaked ball passes from one racket to another. In this region of the Pacific, sports are also an opportunity for youth. Among the children of Aitutaki, some are regularly spotted by foreign coaches to reinforce their local and international rugby teams. An opportunity in the form of an uprooting for these island families and for those young people who, like Kimi, will have to emigrate.

« I get home-sick very quickly. Here we grow up free and safe, while on the outside, people live in closed houses like prisoners. When you leave here, you leave your family, and part of your life behind.»

Among these exiled youth, some will return to Aitutaki to found their own families and invest in the region. For the others, the island will conserve their memories of childhood and the perfume of  paradise lost.

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

Martin Hertau, returning captain

After a transatlantic crossing and more than 4 months of navigation, Samuel Audrain is relayed as Tara’s captain by Martin Hertau. Throughout the entire Tara Pacific expedition, the 2 sailors will take turns every 5-6 months in this key function.

You’re back on board. What does the position as Tara’s captain involve?

The captain is of course in charge of navigation, safety and maintenance of the vessel. He also makes sure everyone is at their workstation, that work is properly done and there’s contentment on board. All crew members have an important role to play and the captain ensures global cohesion. He’s like an orchestra conductor. The education outreach component is also crucial aboard Tara. During the stopovers – whether for visits, receptions or welcoming school groups- there is a real role to play. This is an area I had no expertise in because it has nothing to do with the seafaring profession but it’s at the very heart of the Tara project.

What do you like most about this role?

I really enjoy its versatility – very important aboard the schooner. It’s not just navigation, we also take part in refitting for example. For Tara Pacific, as for other previous expeditions, I’ve been involved since the beginning of the project. On the work site at the beginning of the year, we prepared the schooner for this mission, from the viewpoint of maritime safety, of course, but also for science: this is a multipurpose vessel and we equip it differently according to the mission. Finally, I like Tara’s aura, tangible in many ports of call. I have exceptional memories of the wonderful welcome we received during previous expeditions, in Beirut, Tangier, Naples or St. Pierre and Miquelon: there’s a human dimension that makes it all even more thrilling.

How did the handover in Tahiti go with Samuel?

When I left the work site at the beginning of the year, many parts – like the new engines and the derrick used to hoist the tender – had only been quickly tested. A lot of new equipment have been added since then, so it was important to check them all with Samuel: learn how the material held up during this half way around the world, what worked well, what needs to be improved, etc. We also talked about scientific protocols, since Samuel and I also participate in diving activities during the entire expedition to help the team in charge of plankton sampling. This is all new to us, and even if it’s really interesting, it also gives us more work and things to integrate. In the end, the handover lasted 2 whole days, and it was rather heavy!

 Interview by Yann Chavance

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


Tara just completed a major stopover on her long journey across the Pacific: a week in Tahiti, focused on educational outreach and meetings. After a festive welcome with garlands of flowers and smiling faces, the action started: conferences, exhibitions, tours for the public and school classes, a change of crew, and arrival of new equipment.

Friday, October 7: Tara departed from the main dock in Papeete to pursue her journey for a month in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia. Even more than elsewhere, our departure here gave rise to mixed feelings: sad to leave Tahiti and the hospitality of its inhabitants, but happy to return to a slower pace of life in a small community after this very intense port of call. Throughout the week, the schedule was posted in the main cabin, detailing hour by hour a busy program. Between public visits, welcoming local officials and journalists aboard, and introducing the expedition’s scientific partners to Tara, the deck was often crowded with people.


credits-iban-carricano-arrivee-papeete-1The Tara Pacific expedition arrives in the port of Papeete, Tahiti: a festive welcome begins this major stopover © Iban Carricano / Tara Expeditions Foundation


During this port of call, the schooner hosted more than 200 Polynesian children. To accomplish this feat in such a short time, each class followed an itinerary on the Place Vai’ete, opposite Tara, passing from one workshop to another, then going aboard to visit the schooner. Thanks to the exhibition “Tara Pacific: Biodiversity of Coral Reefs Facing Climate Change” installed in the middle of the square, and thanks also to workshops organized by local associations for environmental protection, the school children were already familiar with coral when they arrived on Tara’s deck. This port of call was especially important for educational outreach, but also for logistics.


credits-yann-chavance-expo-papeete-enfants-1A member of the Tahitian association “La pointe des pêcheurs” explains the life cycle of coral to children visiting the Tara Pacific exhibit. © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation.


Meanwhile, Tara’s crew had to deal with the arrival of a whole container filled with new equipment for scientific work and for running the boat. The front deck was overloaded with boxes to unpack. Arriving crew members and those disembarking worked together to get everything ready in time. The stopover in Papeete marked the end of the journey for many, and the beginning for others. Of the 16 crew members, only 4 will continue the journey on board. Besides a completely new scientific team, there were a few changes among the sailors: Maud Veith returned as cook, Nicolas de la Brosse as first mate, and Martin Hertau as Tara’s captain.


credits-yann-chavance-martin-hertau-1Leaving Tahiti behind, Martin Hertau is Tara’s captain for the coming months  © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Besides receiving new equipment, welcoming visitors aboard, and changing crew members, this week in Papeete was equally important for the expedition’s scientific work. Public and private conferences took place to present the goals of the expedition and provide an update on the latest research about coral. Above all, Papeete hosted the first major meeting of the Tara Pacific scientific consortium since the beginning of the expedition. Major partners came from around the world to meet for several days and review the first months of sampling. An opportunity for everybody to get to know Tara – the heart of the expedition – before she set off for the Tuamotu Islands.

Yann Chavance

Many thanks to our partners of this port of call :
Air Tahiti Nui

Présidence de la Polynésie française
• Ministère de la Santé et de la Recherche
• Ministère du tourisme et des Transports aériens internationaux, de la modernisation de l’administration et de la fonction publique
Chambre de Commerce, d’Industrie, des Services et des Métiers
Pôle d’innovation en Polynésie française Tahiti Fa’ahotu
Port autonome de Papeete
• DHL Papeete

ADEME en Polynésie française
Association Te mana o te moana
Association Tamari’i Pointe des Pêcheurs
Association Pae Pae No Te Ora
Association Mata Tohora

Tahiti welcomes Tara

After a short introduction to Polynesian hospitality last week in the Gambier Islands, Tara’s crew enjoyed a magnificent arrival in Tahiti with dance, music and necklaces of flowers. A perfect welcome to begin a busy week on this island — a major stopover of the Tara Pacific expedition.

The schooner is continuing her route through the Polynesian Windward Islands (“Iles du Vent”), the archipelago that includes Tahiti. Before arriving in the capital, Papeete, Tara spent 2 days just a few kilometers away on the island of Moorea, Tahiti’s little sister. The boat anchored in the Opunohu Bay, a fabulous setting with a lagoon surrounded by rocky peaks covered by lush vegetation. Located in this unique environment is the CRIOBE laboratory (Center for Island Research and Environmental Observatory), one of Tara Pacific’s leading partners. Serge Planes (CNRS / EPHE / UPVD), the scientific director of the expedition, members of CRIOBE and their partners came aboard to visit the schooner and learn about our mission.


Tara docking at Moorea to host school visits and meet with local politicians. © François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation


On Tuesday the crew left with regret the fabulous landscapes of Moorea for the bigger island of  Tahiti. Tara had just docked at Papeete opposite the famous Vai’ete Square when the sounds of traditional drums greeted us. On the quay, musicians and dancers offered us a perfect welcome and a lovely example of Polynesian culture. After installing the gangway, the crew finally set foot on ground, greeted by a guard of honor, loads of smiles, garlands of flowers and fresh coconuts.


credits-yann-chavance-arrivee-papeete-1-3On the main dock in Papeete, the crew is greeted with traditional dances and songs. © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


The festivities continued with a series of speeches in the kiosk on Vai’ete Square. Serge Planes and Romain Troublé presented the objectives of Tara Pacific and thanked local partners. They were followed by local representatives, including Patrick Howell, Polynesian Minister of Health and Research. He saluted the work of Tara and evoked the great explorers who also came to Tahiti — Bougainville, Cook and La Pérouse. “You’re the worthy descendants!”, he concluded in his welcoming speech. And indeed, for Tara’s crew discovering Polynesian hospitality, the feelings were certainly very close to those of the great explorers several centuries earlier. In his “Journey around the World” published in 1771, Bougainville wrote about Tahiti: “I felt transported into the garden of Eden [...] Everywhere we see hospitality, restfulness, sweet joy & all signs of happiness.” We couldn’t have said it better.

Yann Chavance

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.


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


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.

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

Tara in the atolls of French Polynesia

[Press release]

The research schooner Tara departed from Lorient on May 28 and has already sailed more than 22,000 of the 100,000 kilometers planned as part of the Tara Pacific expedition. Tara will arrive in French Polynesia late September.  For one and a half months the schooner will explore the biodiversity of coral reefs in the Tuamotu atolls and the Gambier Islands.

Leaving behind the Panama Canal, Colombia and Easter Island, Tara will reach the first islands of French Polynesia at Mangareva (Gambier Islands). On board, an international team of coral biologists, oceanographers and plankton experts are collecting samples of coral, reef fish, algae and water. One of their main objectives is to establish the first global analysis of coral reefs and reveal a largely unknown biodiversity.



Coral reef biodiversity facing climate change

French Polynesia is composed of 118 Islands covering nearly 5.5 million square kilometers in the Pacific Ocean. The exceptional biodiversity of coral in this area determined the schooner’s route. Scientific teams from the CNRS – particularly those working at the CRIOBE (CNRS/EPHE/UPVD/PSL) – the Genoscope, the Scientific Center of Monaco and other laboratories will focus essentially on the Tuamotu atolls and Gambier Islands. Their goal: compare the biodiversity of atolls, depending on whether their lagoon is open or closed to the ocean, and gain a better understanding of coral biology.

This major step in the study of coral will enable scientists to monitor the health of reefs and compare their biodiversity according to their level of exposure to human activities. Some islands are subject to direct disturbances, but the majority are located far away from any source of anthropogenic contamination (pollution, urbanization, sedimentation due to erosion, etc.). Researchers seek to collect the data necessary for comparing effects of local disturbances (pollution, sedimentation, etc.) with disturbances related to global changes (global warming, ocean acidification, etc.).

El Niño 2015, a marginal impact in Polynesia

In the context of climate change and ocean warming, the oscillation of temperatures associated with El Niño are all the more traumatic for reefs, leading to high mortality of corals (bleaching). “In Polynesia, a bleaching episode occurred this year, but reefs weren’t subjected to rising temperatures for too long, unlike the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Overall, the El Niño 2015 phenomenon has been relatively marginal in Polynesia and impacts are mainly located at the northern latitudes of Polynesia, in the Marquesas Islands” explains Serge Planes, CNRS research director at the CRIOBE (EPHE/CNRS/UPVD) and scientific director of the expedition.



Raise awareness among populations

Ultimately, our research aims at reinforcing evolutionary models of these ecosystems so crucial to the life of coastal populations. The Tara Pacific expedition also involves an important human factor: sailors and scientists make use of the schooner’s ports of call to raise awareness among the widest audience possible on ecological issues. They also record local experiences, thus giving voice to the inhabitants of small Pacific islands.


See the schedule of Tara’s port of call in Papeete, Tahiti


Alone on Ducie Island

A desert island like Ducie, far away from everything, is always fascinating – catching sight of its shores after several days at sea, dropping anchor and smelling the fragrance of land. But to fully appreciate the character of an island, there’s nothing like setting foot on land and spending a night there.

After 3 days spent off the coast of Ducie Island, the scientific sampling program is coming to an end. We expected to leave behind this tiny piece of land, never having set foot there. The archipelago is so secluded and far away from any other land that you’d never come here by chance. So far, we had to content ourselves by looking at the island from Tara’s deck with binoculars or with images recorded by our drone. Ducie is a thin strip of land shaped in an arc, 2 kilometers long and a few hundred meters wide. An immense coral reef and some islets complete the circle. The limited – and imprecise – maps of the island indicate a passage to enter the atoll within this circle. Not knowing the tides, and seeing the huge waves crashing on the reef around the island, we quickly dismissed the option of being dropped on land from a dinghy.


credits-yann-chavance-rivage-ducie-1© Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

To have no regrets, I decided to try one last possibility. After lunch I found a big plastic waterproof container and stuffed inside it my hammock, warm clothes, camera (the main companion of a correspondent), some gingerbread and a few essential tools — string, flint and a knife. I then completed my equipment by filling a bag with everything that was waterproof, including water bottles and a plastic tarp. In a wetsuit (the water here is only about 20°), we set off in the dinghy. Monch, the dive master, took me to the other side of the island, where the waves seemed less strong, almost disappearing after a few meters: it’s my entry.

We stopped about 50 meters from shore without being able to go further because of the reef. I then jumped into the water and swam to shore while pushing with difficulty the container before me.  Regularly glancing beneath the surface, I saw the bottom coming into view. Here, as all around Ducie, everything is covered with corals. No rocks, no sand, just coral as far as you can see. Impressive. Finally, I set foot on the beach, which is actually a huge pile of coral debris. After a final signal to Monch, the dinghy takes off. This is it. I’m finally alone on this deserted island. After stowing most of my equipment in the shade and taking off my wetsuit, I began exploring the island along the shore.


© Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Though we’re hundreds of kilometers from any inhabited land, the beach is littered with trash carried by the currents: bottles, plastic crates, buoys and mooring ropes, etc. Despite this, the place is teeming with life. In addition to hermits and other crabs,  birds are everywhere, in the air and on land: massive frigates, masked boobies, petrels and sublime small white terns. In the shade of frail shrubs, on almost every square meter is a big fluffy ball of a fledgling bird. These are Murphy’s petrels: 90% of the global population of this species breeds on Ducie.

I took many photos, including plants: the Council of Pitcairn, which brings together 6 of the 50 inhabitants of the archipelago, asked us specifically to photograph the flora of Ducie if we made it ashore. Mission accomplished. Even for them, the natural wealth of this island remains largely unknown. Another request from Tara’s dive team was to film under the lagoon’s surface. Everyone wanted to know what the bottom looked like. So I finally went back to get my diving equipment and prepared to cross the thin strip of forest to reach the lagoon on the other side.


credits-elsa-guillaume-requins-ducie-1© Elsa Guillaume / Tara Expeditions Foundation

This was actually more complicated than expected: I had to cross a tangle of branches, being careful not to step on an egg or a baby bird chirping at being disturbed. With the help of a compass, it took me a good 15 minutes to traverse the 100 meters of vegetation before reaching the lagoon. On a beach of gray coral petrified by the sun, I put on my fins, mask and snorkel. Even before putting my head under water, I saw a dozen sharks around me.

The sharks were less than 2 meters long, but their number and curiosity just bordering on aggression were not particularly reassuring. I chose not to go too far into the lagoon after noticing even bigger sharks further out. They certainly had never seen a human being, and I had no idea how they’d react. After 15 minutes I decided to turn around. There were still many sharks coming closer and closer as soon as I had my back turned.

Daylight was waning so I hurried back over the vegetation to recover my belongings near the beach. I found a clear space between shrubs, with branches strong enough to set up my hammock, and a tarp to protect myself from the rain. I finished my bivouac with the light from my head lamp as night fell under a light rain. Finally I had a few minutes to eat a bite with a beautiful full moon and the cries of thousands of birds around me.

credits-yann-chavance-gygis-blanche-1The white gygis has the particularity of laying a single egg, balanced on a branch © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

The night was short and very chilly. I woke up almost every hour: once because of birds fighting right under my hammock, and another time to verify that my bivouac was holding up since the tarp was flapping in the gusty wind. As daylight finally broke, I was about to close my eyes for a few minutes when all the birds of the island decided to celebrate sunrise by chirping. I got up and lit a fire on the beach to warm up. A dozen masked boobies watched me with an air of astonishment as I nibbled gingerbread by the fire, enjoying the sunrise and relishing the chance I had: for one night I was the only inhabitant of Ducie Island.

Yann Chavance

Pitcairn – history of a legend

When Tara dropped anchor for a short week near the shores of Ducie Island in the Pitcairn archipelago, everyone on board enjoyed the unique opportunity of being in one of the most isolated places in the world.

The archipelago of Pitcairn had no reason to become famous. Four small uninviting islands, far from any other land, lying due east of Polynesia, with the Gambier Islands about 500 kilometers away. There are few natural resources to invite settlement. Henderson, the largest of the 4 islands, measures 36 square kilometers, but has no source of fresh water. There is water on Pitcairn, but the island is smaller and very steep, limiting agriculture. Finally, Oeno and Ducie are tiny coral atolls emerging from the ocean, unfit for human settlement.




Despite these uninviting features, a few dozen Polynesians lived – or more likely, survived – on Pitcairn and Henderson for several centuries, thanks to trade with the Gambier Islands. A serious crisis around the 15th century led to the end of trade and the subsequent decline of Pitcairn’s small population. These inhospitable islands again became deserted. The story could have ended there, with Pitcairn falling into oblivion, but History with a capital H  decided otherwise.

It all began 2,000 kilometers from there, in 1788. After a grueling journey from England  lasting a year, the 28-meter yacht — the HMS Bounty with 46 sailors, anchored in Tahiti. The crew spent 5 months of relaxation enjoying the charms of Polynesia and Polynesian women. When they were forced to return to life at sea under the orders of a captain who had become increasingly tyrannical, abusing corporal punishment, more than half of the crew declared mutiny.


L’équipage se prépare à un apéritif sur le pont pour fêter les premières plongées à Ducie Island sur fond de coucher de soleil.With the sunset for backdrop, the crew prepares to have drinks on deck in celebration of the first dives at Ducie Island © Yann Chavance / Fondation Tara Expéditions


The captain and the 20 sailors remaining faithful were cast into a boat with 5 days of food – which allowed them all to reach land alive. The rest of the crew took control of the Bounty. The mutineers abducted over a dozen Tahitian women and eventually hid themselves on Pitcairn Island. They set the Bounty aflame to prevent its discovery, and then found themselves trapped on their island. Ten years later after incessant quarreling and fighting, only 1 adult man, 8 women and 19 children remained. Today, 2 centuries have passed, and the descendants of this small group still live on Pitcairn Island. Only about 50 people make up the total number of inhabitants on this archipelago, passed on to posterity, almost a bit reluctantly.

  Yann Chavance

From one island to another

Tara left Rapa Nui – Easter Island – last Wednesday, due west toward Pitcairn Islands (Great Britain) and specifically to the small deserted Ducie Island. Only a few  days sailing for a crew mostly renewed began under the fury of the winds.

The one week stopover at Rapa Nui (Chile) was clearly not easy. The already intense program had to be adapted hourly depending on weather conditions. The island’s only port was not sufficiently large to accommodate Tara and the schooner kept changing anchorage according to wind and swell. Despite these conditions which made embarking difficult, all newcomers took up residence before departure on Wednesday night. Thus in complete occupancy – 16 people – the schooner left behind the Moais and their mysteries for the open sea.


The new full crew gathered in the mess room for a security briefing © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Among the newcomers, the Australian Pete West, specialist in macroscopic coral photography, replacing David Hannan as underwater cinematographer. Calixte Berger, oceanographer engineer, assists Guillaume Bourdin on the rear deck for daily plankton sampling. The five other newcomers make up the coral team: Emilie Boissin, one of the scientific coordinators of the expedition will dive with Becky Vergathurber, University of Oregon. Christian Voolstra is a biologist at KAUST (Saudi Arabia ) and Pascal Conan, a biogeochemist in Banyuls-sur-Mer. Guillaume Iwankow (CNRS) will be in charge of fish sampling. Finally, the visual artist Elsa Guillaume completes this new crew.


For this newly embarked crew, the schooner was not gentle with the weakest stomachs: deep troughs over six meters and wind gusts exceeding 40 knots. The first two days of sailing from Rapa Nui shook up all occupants of the schooner before the weather calmed down to offer brilliant sunshine and a deep blue sea.


David “Monch” Monmarché, divemaster, enjoying the return of good weather on Tara © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This peaceful landscape delighted the 16 Taranauts before arriving at deserted Ducie Island, a part of the Pitcairn Archipelago. Tara will stay for an exciting short week – rarely have divers ventured this far to the small island lost in the middle of the Pacific: full of corals but also sharks.

Yann Chavance

Video: Island and chlorophyll

24 hours before arriving at Rapa Nui, Easter Island, the scientific team responsible for plankton sampling begins a new subject of study: the island effect. Around each island, nutrients coming from land (via soil erosion, rivers and human activities) spill into the sea, creating an oasis of planktonic life surrounding the island. To better understand this phenomenon globally, the scientific team will do 3 long sampling stations before arriving at Rapa Nui.

© Yann Chavance  – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Tara is back in Rapa Nui

The schooner and her crew finally arrived on Wednesday in Easter Island – here called Rapa Nui. The few hours gained over the last days thanks to favorable winds will be put to good use during the upcoming week to complete the busy schedule awaiting us.

Tara has actually been in the vicinity of Easter Island for a while. Since Tuesday evening, the small island has been displayed on the radar screen, but the wait was extended by a succession of sampling stations at various distances from shore. For the scientific team, the objective was to study the island influence on plankton composition: a protocol dedicated to this “island effect” that will be reproduced each time Tara approaches new land during her expedition in the Pacific Ocean. At the last sampling station at dawn on Wednesday, scientists had the pleasure between 2 net immersions in the water, to discover the first rays of sunlight gradually illuminating Rapa Nui.


Credits Yann Chavance - Rapa Nui-1
On Wednesday, August 31, 2016, Tara arrived within view of Easter Island in the South Pacific © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


It wasn’t until the afternoon, after completing the scientific protocols, that Tara anchored in front of Hanga Roa, the only town on the Chilean island. After the day’s end solely dedicated to administrative and customs formalities, the crew finally set foot on land the next morning and discovered their first Moais, the island iconic statues sculpted in gigantic granite monoliths. A few hours of respite to discover the beauty of this remote island – one of the most isolated inhabited lands in the world – and its archaeological treasures. Some leisure time that will become rarer in the next few days: the planned agenda for the week is extremely busy.


© François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation


This port of call is an opportunity to welcome new members on board: no fewer than 7 newcomers are expected this week, including the dive team. The divers will need to recover quickly from their 30 hours of flight as they have to start working underwater this week-end to study Rapa Nui’s corals. In parallel to the scientific dives, the stopover will also be an opportunity to welcome children on board: Thanks to Rapa Nui Ocean, a local NGO, a group of students working on conservation of ocean and island resources will visit the schooner if the weather conditions allow them to board.

With the same goal of sharing knowledge with the populations encountered during the Tara Pacific expedition, a public lecture will be held on shore next Tuesday. The objective is of course to present the scientific purposes of our visit to Rapa Nui, but also to present the first results of the Tara Oceans expedition: in 2011, Tara had already anchored in these waters during her 21/2-year round-the-world tour studying plankton. On the occasion of this “Past & Present” conference, the crew will be joined by biologist Eric Karsenti (EMBL-CNRS) – Tara Oceans’ scientific “father” – and André Abreu, in charge of Climate & Environment Policy, who came especially for the occasion. Once this busy program is completed, Tara will resume her course next Wednesday evening, heading due west.

Yann Chavance

To Easter Island, carried by winds

Tara’s arrival at Easter Island, originally planned for September 1st, could well be a few hours in advance thanks to particularly favorable winds. After leaving Colombia with the din of engines, Aeolus finally gifted us with a crossing under sail.

The trip didn’t start with favorable weather conditions. “The first week we had headwinds all the way”, explains Samuel Audrain, Tara’s captain. “We first had to wait until passing the Galapagos to catch trade winds from the southeast at 20 to 25 knots”. A welcome change in weather since the engines had used up almost all the fuel necessary for the Colombia-Easter Island crossing. It was time to hoist the sails!


Tara sous voiles, vue du haut des 27 mètres de mât.Tara under sail, seen from the top of the 27-meter mast – © Yann Chavance – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Since the arrival of these crosswinds, Tara regained her tranquility, under full sail with the engines turned off. You don’t have to raise your voice to be heard in the wheelhouse or on the rear deck. Discussions at meals are troubled only by the creaking of the boat surfing on the waves. Temperatures are cooler since we crossed the equator: we no longer need to sleep with our heads glued to noisy cabin fans. In the evening pants and sweatshirts have re-appeared. « In the past few days the conditions are ideal» résume le capitaine. « It’s beautiful weather, the boat is stable and above all we are advancing quickly: we couldn’t have hoped for more! »


Les voiles de Tara portent leurs ombres sur le spi gonflé à l’avant.Shadows of Tara’s sails on the spinnaker – Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Estimated navigation times are based on a speed of 7 knots, obliging us to push the engines when the wind drops. For the last few days, Tara has averaged 8 to 9 knots. During the quarter watches, the sailors are competing to see who records the highest speed. The record at the moment is 13 knots. Finally, in the best case scenario and if Aeolus continues to spoil us, we might arrive at Easter Island earlier, on the morning of August 31st. After 2 weeks at sea, this prospect delights the crew, eager to meet the island’s legendary giants.

Yann Chavance

ITW : David Monmarché, Divemaster

During this 2-year expedition to the Pacific, hundreds of dives will take place from Tara’s deck. The crucial issues of logistics and security have been organized from the beginning by David Monmarché, divemaster, whom everyone aboard has nicknamed “Monch”. “My middle name!”, he jokes.


© David Hannan / OceanArkAlliance


What is your background and how did you arrive on Tara

It all started with a meeting in Lorient! But first of all I’ve had state-issued scuba diving certification for 14 years. I was a diving instructor in a Corsican school, and then in Tignes (Savoie) teaching under-ice diving. For years I followed the seasons – winter in Tignes, then summer in Corsica and also in Brittany. In the winter of 2015, I decided to stop doing the winter season and enrolled in a sailing program. I obtained the Captain 200 certificate to complement my diver’s qualifications. In Lorient where I was teaching some courses, I met the Tara team and heard about the future Tara Pacific expedition. I then sent them my application. At the time Tara was in dry dock being overhauled. First I helped with the renovation work, from January to April, preparing the boat; then I boarded in Panama for the first dives over a period of 3 months. I will remain on board until Papeete in early November 2016 and will re-embark in July 2017.


What is your work on board?

I take care of equipment maintenance and provide divers with the material they’ll need before a dive. After each dive, I refill the scuba tanks in preparation for subsequent dives. During the dive, all divers, scientists and cameramen are autonomous under the surface. My role is to ensure diver safety from the tender-boat which takes them to the sampling sites and to see that the planned dive time is respected. I also dive myself to collect plankton samples for the Roscoff Biology Station. Last but not least, when we’re sailing, I take care of maintenance and inventory of equipment, and of course I participate in maneuvers and life on board, like all sailors.

What goes on during this expedition?

The team members here are diving professionally, for their work. They’re experienced and autonomous. So there’s less supervising to do, even for occasional recreational dives with artists-in-residence or on board correspondents. On an expedition like this, the dives are consecutive: 2 groups in the morning and 2 in the afternoon, one for coral and the other for plankton — so we have to be especially vigilant. The dives are limited to 2 per day and per person, and when there are deep dives with potential risks, we deploy a re-compression chamber on deck to be ready in case of problems. Once the scientists are in the water, between the instructions I’ve given them, the choice of site and external conditions such as currents and waves, I am directly responsible.

Interview by Yann Chavance

Crossing the Equator

This Thursday, August 18, 2016, at 14:00 UTC, for the 9th time in her existence Tara crossed the mythical frontier of the equator – the occasion for a festive celebration, “baptizing” the neophytes as sailors traditionally do.

Since leaving Buenaventura a few days ago, the subject came up more frequently in discussions.The equator, “The Line,” as it’s called at sea. More important than knowing exactly when we would get there, our focus was to identify neophytes, those who had never crossed the line. Obviously, passing the equator in an airplane doesn’t count. “That’s too easy.” Of the 10 people aboard Tara today, 6 would be undergoing the initiation for the first time.

The ritual of the line has been firmly rooted among sailors for centuries. At an epoch when passing into the other hemisphere meant diving into the unknown, initiating inexperienced sailors helped reduce fears, and at the same time united the crew. In changing hemispheres, apprentices entered the circle of experienced sailors as if joining a brotherhood.


Credits Yann Chavance - passage ligne-1This Thursday, August 18, 2016, everyone gathered in the wheelhouse to see the GPS switch to 0 ° 00.000 N, indication of crossing the equator. – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Over the centuries the passage ceremony has evolved, taking different forms according to the ships and trades. But certain essential rites were always maintained: the presence of Neptune, god of the sea and oceans, and his wife Amphitrite, and also a ceremony of purification with sea water. On some ships the celebration lasts several days, resembling a joyful carnival for old-timers, and a series of challenging tests for newcomers. Aboard Tara on August 18th, the 6 baptisms took place in a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.


Les six néophytes ont eu le droit, après un rituel soigné, d’obtenir un diplôme attestant de leur premier passage de l’équateur.After a special ritual, the 6 neophytes obtained a diploma certifying their first crossing of the equator. © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Once the “bizus” were installed on the back deck behind a tape symbolizing The Line, a potbellied Neptune led the ceremony, assisted by an improvised Amphitrite and a masked executioner. Like for a secret society, the rituals of the equator-baptism must remain confidential, hidden from the outside world. Let’s just say that the rite of passage this time included, among other things, raw fish, a smelly mixture to be eaten (as required by tradition) and a lot of sea water.


Fabien Lombard, l’un des six taranautes à passer l’équateur pour la première fois, récupère son diplôme tout en haut du mât.Fabien Lombard, one of 6 Taranauts crossing the equator for the first time, gets his diploma at the top of the mast. – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


After passing many challenging tests, each of the 6 ex-neophytes got a diploma certified by Neptune that he was now an experienced sailor. The diploma had to be retrieved at the top of the mast, 27 meters above the deck, an appropriate way to close this rite of passage. During the 2 years of the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner will cross the equator a total of 4 times. And each time Tara’s deck will welcome this joyous ritual.


Yann Chavance

From sea giants to sculpted monoliths

After Malpelo and its discrete whale sharks, Tara continues her journey in the Pacific Ocean. The schooner left the port of Buenaventura (Colombia) on Monday and headed for Easter Island (Chile) and its enigmatic statues. The stopover in Malpelo ended with a partial disappointment: no whale sharks were sighted by the dive team. But even their absence enables scientists to better understand the habits of these large sharks around the small Colombian island. Sandra Bessudo, director of the Malpelo Foundation, plans on returning there as soon as November to finally tag the animals that didn’t show up this week. Despite our disappointment, the few days spent in Malpelo made a strong impression on the team thanks to many superb dives amid hammerhead sharks.



L’équipage profite des quelques jours à Buenaventura, Colombie, pour remplir les cuves de carburant avant deux semaines de mer.The crew takes advantage of a few days in Buenaventura, Colombia to refill the fuel tanks before  heading out to sea for 2 weeks. -  © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Back in Buenaventura for 4 days, the crew was gradually downsized by the departure of the Colombian team and all the other divers. The stopover with a reduced team was an opportunity to welcome aboard some 240 schoolchildren from Buenaventura, as well as several distinguished guests, including the Colombian Minister of the Environment, Mr Luis Gilberto Murillo, and the Commander of the National Navy.


Tara a accueilli les enfants des écoles de Buenaventura, Colombie, avant de reprendre le large le 15 août. Tara welcomed aboard schoolchildren from Buenaventura, Colombia, before heading out to sea on  August 15. – © Yann Chavance /  Tara Expeditions Foundation


These few days were also used to refuel and provision Tara with fresh produce. The schooner welcomed aboard Guillaume Bourdin (deck/engineer officer); Fabien Lombard (university lecturer at Villefranche Oceanographic Laboratory, France) – who will sample plankton around coral reefs – and James Herlan (biologist at Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile). Even with these newcomers, we will be only 10 aboard, sailing to our next destination: Easter Island.


Samuel Audrain, capitaine de Tara, sort du chenal menant à Buenaventura pour emmener la goélette vers le large et l’île de Pâques.Captain Samuel Audrain navigates Tara through the Buenaventura channel, heading for the open sea  and Easter Island. – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


From the Colombian port we left on Monday, it will take us 2 weeks to cross the equator and eventually reach the small Chilean island and its Moaïs – the famous statues erected along the coast. The presence on board of James Herlan – graduate student researcher at ESMOI, the Millenium Nucleus for Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands in Chile) who worked for many years on Easter Island and studied the surrounding seabed, means the entire crew will take advantage of the crossing to learn more about this new stage of our journey in the Pacific Ocean.

Yann Chavance

Video: The giants of Malpelo

Reaching the marine sanctuary of Malpelo Island takes 20 hours of sailing from the coast of Colombia. The Tara team began collecting coral specimens in the Gulf of Panama, and also lent a hand to the Malpelo Foundation in their long-term study of whale sharks and the ecosystem of the area. This was an unusual activity for the crew — attempting to put GPS tags on whale sharks. Not much is known about these giants of the sea, which share the environment with hammerhead and silky sharks. Migration, behavior, reproduction. Will we actually encounter the whale sharks? Meeting with Romain Troublé, director of the Tara Foundation, and Sandra Bessudo, initiator and director of the Malpelo Foundation.



© Yann Chavance – Tara Expeditions Foundation
David Hannan – OceanArkAlliance

Whale sharks: the quest continues

Halfway through this special week around Malpelo Island – trying to locate and tag whale sharks – the team is as motivated as ever. Though we’ve seen no sign of the island’s giants, everyone still has hope.

Since Tara’s arrival in the Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary, there’s been a sense of excitement aboard. Each morning at 7 o’clock, breakfast is quickly gobbled down and everybody goes to the work area on the rear deck. The 2 teams – 3 divers for coral sampling coral, 3 divers searching for whale sharks – constantly cross paths on deck, filling scuba tanks or checking underwater cameras. The 2 dinghies carry passengers to diving spots with evocative names such as Acuario, one of the sites teeming with marine life including hammer sharks and colorful fish.


 Plongeurs MalpeloThe whale shark team preparing to dive – © Foundation Tara Expeditions


The team tagging whale sharks, led by Sandra Bessudo (founder of the Malpelo Foundation) uses poles to collect a small piece of skin for DNA analysis, as well as underwater rifles especially adapted for shooting a tiny GPS device just below the dorsal fin of the giant sharks. 2 sailors in charge of safety follow the divers in the dinghy, scanning the surface for bubbles indicating their presence. In case of problems, we must react quickly, especially since the rotating teams perform up to 4 dives a day.


PAT Tag-1Tane Taylor Sinclair (marine biologist, KAUST) attaches the GPS device on a modified harpoon – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation


“The more time we spend in the water, the greater the chance of seeing whale sharks”, says Sandra Bessudo. “These are not static animals. They move all the time, so we have to stay underwater and just wait for the chance to see one pass by.” For the director of the Malpelo Foundation, who has already tagged 12 whale sharks in recent months, we must keep believing. “This is the right time of year. Whale sharks begin arriving in Malpelo in May and leave again in October or November, so they are certainly here. Now it’s just a matter of luck. We can never be sure of succeeding, but we have to continue.” Everyone here hopes our enthusiasm will soon be rewarded.

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

Video: First coral sampling in Panama

During a brief stopover in Panama City, coral reef scientists arrive on board: the first Tara Pacific expedition sampling can begin. Between dives, photographs, coral and surrounding water sampling and processing, discover the first moments of the expedition in the Pacific Ocean.


© Maéva Bardy – Tara Expeditions Foundation

Video: The Panama Canal aboard Tara

Tara passed through the famous Panama Canal to reach the Pacific Ocean where scientists will begin collecting the expedition’s first coral samples. Captain Samuel Audrain followed the instructions of a pilot who came aboard the schooner to supervise the maneuvers. On deck the crew assisted in passing through a series of locks to reach the highest point of the Canal, about 20 meters above sea level. During the hours of our passage, we met huge cargo ships slowly moving through the locks, pulled by locomotives.

The construction of the Canal, completed a little over a century ago, was a real feat for the time. It opened a new route to maritime trade which continues to gain momentum today. The recent enlargement of the Canal enables even bigger cargo ships to cross the Isthmus of Panama.


© Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation

Diving at the heart of Tara Pacific

Scuba diving will be the main approach to study coral reefs during this 21/2-year expedition in the Pacific Ocean. This activity required the implementation of a rigorous framework to ensure a high level of security.

During the expedition, the schooner will visit about 40 islands in the Pacific. Coral reefs surrounding each island will be sampled and observed (coral, sea grass, sediments, plankton and fish). This work therefore involves scuba diving. The collection of scientific data will require 4-5 days of work at each island with 4 dives a day involving in total up to 8 people, each of them diving twice a day.


Les bouteilles de plongée, neuves et prêtes à l’emploi
© Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Considering the frequency of dives, priority has been given to safety. A rigorous protocol has been implemented which defines the rotations of the dive teams, lists details of the nearest hyperbaric facilities, evacuation and re-immersion procedures, etc. Most dives will be performed at shallow depths (10 meters max) to minimize nitrogen saturation and decompression stops. In case dives deeper than 40 meters are considered, a hyperbaric physician will embark aboard Tara. If necessary, he will be able to operate the inflatable hyperbaric chamber set up aboard the schooner in Lorient with the support of the French Defense Health service.

The dives are under the responsibility of both the hyperbaric chief operator and the Captain. During the Tara Pacific expedition, 2 professional divers and diving instructors, David Monmarche and Jonathan Lancelot, will take turns as hyperbaric chief operator. They will establish a routine around these days of diving, security and maintenance of diving equipment (completely renewed for the occasion). They will also be the link between the scientific teams to ensure continuity of routines and sampling protocols. Therefore, whether in Panama or in Samoa, samples will always be collected in the same way.


David Monmarche (chef opérateur hyperbare) prépare les valises de sécurité pour la plongée
David Monmarche (hyperbaric chief operator) © Maéva Bardy / Fondation Tara Expéditions


As a professional diver (class II mention B), the hyperbaric chief operator will oversee the scientific dives carried out in a professional setting. This concerns scientists and sailors with a valid certificate of qualification to work under hyperbaric conditions. These dives are subject to the Labor Code and will comply with MT92 tables (issued by the Ministry of Labor in 1992) regarding the number and depth of decompression stops to be performed, depending on the dive maximum depth and duration.

The hyperbaric chief, as a diving instructor (Brevet d’Etat d’Educateur Sportif 1er degré – BEES1), will also oversee recreational dives that relate to all persons on board without a professional certificate.  For instance, artists-in-residence, journalists or local scientists who will need to go underwater for their work. These recreational dives will be conducted under the responsibility of the diving instructor on board, in the same conditions as in a French diving club.

Maéva Bardy

Stopover in Panama City

After traversing the Panama Canal, Tara made a 48-hour stopover in Panama City. A short stop to resolve some technical problems and welcome aboard new team members, including scientists who will study the first coral reefs of the expedition.

Tara set sail in the night to head for the Las Perlas archipelago, or more exactly the outskirts of Saboga, a Panamanian island a few hours from Panama City. This archipelago will be the expedition’s first site for coral sampling. The short stopover in Panama City officially marks the start of the Tara Pacific expedition and required good coordination to prepare this first leg.


Sarah Roman (sampling coordinator) prepares the material for the first sampling off Saboga Island, Panama © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


A taxi boat called “lancha” runs between the dock and boats anchored offshore, bringing the new team to Tara. Among them are the scientists in charge of collecting the first coral reef samples of the Tara Pacific expedition. After a few minutes devoted to presenting the crew and life aboard the boat, they set up their equipment and prepare for the first underwater sampling, scheduled for the next morning.

David Hannan, underwater cameraman, and David Monmarche, in charge of hyperbaric operations are two of the new arrivals. David Monmarche wastes no time since the first dives begin the next day. He is busy preparing the diving equipment on Tara’s aft deck. He turns on the compressor, checks the light and sound of the safety equipment, and prepares scuba tanks. As for François Aurat, he replaces Julie Lhérault as deck officer.


David Monmarche (head hyperbaric operator) prepares safety kits for the dive © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Meanwhile other crew members are repairing equipment damaged by lightning. The “lancha” arrives with another delivery for Tara. It’s liquid nitrogen for sample preservation and fresh produce to feed the 17 team members before Tara’s return to Panama City in 10 days.


Stéphane Pesant (scientist in charge of data management) is responsible for liquid nitrogen supply © Maéva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation


Provisions were pre-ordered to be delivered before departure. The liquid nitrogen supply was coordinated by the Smithsonian Research Institute located in Panama. This organization worked with Tara scientists to facilitate access to resources and manage sampling permits in Panamanian waters. The fresh produce was also pre-ordered, by sailor-cook Marion Lauters, before Tara’s arrival in Panama City.

The whole team is ready. Tara Pacific can begin!

Maéva Bardy

Panama Canal: from the Atlantic to the Pacific

In a few days, Tara will cross the Panama Canal, a legendary passage for global navigation. Recent widening works ensure the supremacy of this construction by tripling its transit capacity between Asia and the eastern United States.

For the 4th time in its existence, the schooner will cross the Panama Canal. This will be her 2nd passage under the name Tara, the first one having occurred during the Tara Oceans expedition. This canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and facilitates maritime transit to thousands of ships, ranging from private crafts to large commercial vessels, called “Panamax” (term referring to vessels having the largest eligible size in the canal).


Tara transiting the Panama Canal, 2011 © C. Blanchard / Tara Expeditions Foundation


“Panama, a major rendez-vous”

Tara’s passage has been in preparation for some time. Port formalities are numerous. “Size of the boat, crew on board, engine power, etc. Everything is declared to enable the best possible transit” says Clémentine Moulin, logistics coordinator on land, who prepared Tara’s passage with the Captain. “Going from one ocean to another through one of the busiest canals in the world is a major undertaking! Everything has to be organized with a port agent, an indispensable intermediary.”

The passage is expected to take 24-36 hours at an average speed of 8 knots between each lock and Tara will embark an accompanying pilot. Tara’s maneuvers will be quite easy compared to those of large cargo ships and won’t require towing by electric locomotives. At wharf, the docking pilots, in charge of mooring operations, will oversee Tara and her crew during the passage through each lock.

The cost of the passage depends on the volume of the ship (its tonnage) – a few thousand dollars for Tara and hundreds of thousands of dollars for large cargo ships. A substantial sum to sail up to Lake Gatun and then back down to the Pacific Ocean but it’s ultimately little compared to the detour via Cape Horn.

© Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


A seaway crucial to global trade

This construction has impacted considerably maritime commerce. Since its opening in 1914, ships no longer have had to navigate down to Cape Horn or the Strait of Magellan, located on the southern tip of Chile – a region well known for its rough seas and high winds. Thus, each year, more than 14,000 vessels transit through this route, representing 5% of world trade.

Titanic works were required to develop this 77 km-long strip of land separating the 2 oceans. A series of locks, whose dimensions determine the “Panamax”, enable passage to an artificial lake located 26 m above sea level. This lake is essential for the transit of vessels and also serves as a water reservoir for the proper functioning of the locks during the dry season.

Recently, with the development of maritime commerce, the privileged position of the Panama Canal was challenged by the Suez Canal and a new canal construction project in Nicaragua by 2020. The size of its locks was becoming limiting. In 2011, 37% of the container ships were estimated too large (post-panamax) to take this route and nearly 50% of the vessels transiting the canal were already at the maximum width of the locks.

Expansion works were completed this year on June 26. They now enable the passage of longer and larger ships that can carry up to 12,000 containers – more than double the charge authorized for the original canal. More than 100 years after its opening, the Panama Canal has retained its supremacy on the seaway connecting Asia to the east coast of the United States.


Miraflores Lock - 10 Nov 1912
Construction of the Miraflores lock, 1912


The Panama Canal in numbers

Extension of the canal:
- 9 years of work (from Sept. 2007 to June 2016)
- 5.2 billion dollars: final cost of enlargement
- 24,000 workers on the construction site
- 49 ships transit daily through the canal
- 510 to 600 million tons of freight per year by 2025
- Dimensions of vessels: 49 m large, 366 m long
- Giant lock basins: 55 m large, 420 m long and more than 18 m deep

First canal:
- 32 years of work (from 1882 to 1914)
- 20,000 workers allegedly died during the construction from malaria and yellow fever
- 39 ships transited daily through the canal
- 203 million tons of transported freight per year
- Panamax dimensions: 32.3 m large, 294.1 m long
- Giant lock basins: 33.53 m large, 304.8 m long and more than 12.55 m deep

Maéva Bardy

Thermal shock…

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

Two Stations, Two Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yann Chavance

From one ocean to another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yann Chavance

The Lost World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yann Chavance

A Day on Clipperton – almost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yann Chavance

Scientists on deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yann Chavance

Tara in San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Thompson

Welcome to San Diego

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

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

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

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

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

Andres Peyrot

San Diego Prepares to Welcome Tara

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Thompson

Approaching California

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some comments from the lab:

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

Andres Peyrot

After the rain, fair weather

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

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

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

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

Andres Peyrot

Big samples

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

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

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

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

Andres Peyrot

Spotty Plastic

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

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

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

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

Andres Peyrot

Plastic Continent Ahoy!

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

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

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

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

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

Andres Peyrot 

Approaching the « plastic continent »

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

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

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

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

Andres Peyrot

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

Welcome to Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime the following people disembarked from Tara:

the scientists:

Xavier Durrieu De Madron, head scientist

Margaux Carmichael

Julie Poulain

Sarah Searson

Brett Grant

Christian Rouviere

Julien Girardot, cook and photographer

the following people embarked:

the new scientists: Isabelle Taupier-Letage, head scientist

Céline Dimier, protist specialist

Jérémie Capoulade, optical engineer in charge of imagery

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

Claudie Marec, responsible for scientific equipment on board

Benedetto Barone, Italian oceanographer

and 2 new crew members:

Céline Blanchard, cook and naval architect

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


Andres Peyrot

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


Hawaii, Last Stop in Polynesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hervé Bourmaud, Captain of Tara

Kiribati : Islands on borrowed time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Island’s future

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

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

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

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

Daily island life

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

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

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

Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s captain

Leaving the Society Islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hervé Bourmaud, Tara’s captain

*copra: dried coconut pulp yielding oil

*marae: sacred Tahitian place

The Tara Oceans Expedition: treasure in the hold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaëlle Lahoreau

Full Tara Oceans Flash available HERE.

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

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

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

What is the goal of this mission at Marquesas Islands?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will these instruments tell us?

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

What is the sampling plan?

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

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

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

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

How often do blooms occur?

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

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

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

What are the major difficulties?

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

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

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

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

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

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Coral Mission Accomplished !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Gambier Islands, 4 new species of coral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Questions and answers with the team

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

Capricious weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sibylle d’Orgeval and John Decelle

For more information see:

The Galapagos/Guayaquil leg is over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibylle d’Orgeval

New members of the scientific team :

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

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

Evening showers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sibylle d’Orgeval

Welcome aboard

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

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

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

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

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

The schooner Tara departed from Lorient on September 5, 2009 and has already travelled 40,000 nautical miles, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, through the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

This decision was made by the expedition’s two co-directors because of the present crisis taking place in Japan. Originally Tara was supposed to spend four and a half months in Asia, in particular in the Sea of Japan and surrounding regions. Tokyo was even considered a vital stopover.

At present there is an on-site risk, even if it is difficult to evaluate precisely right now. But for Tara, the decision had to be made rapidly since official requests to sample in territorial waters must be submitted one year in advance.

On a global scale, it appears very difficult to evaluate the environmental consequences of this unprecedented catastrophe. It is possible that the dispersion of radioactive products will have an important impact in the Pacific Ocean.

This decision occurs in an economic context that has become less favourable.

Consequently, Etienne Bourgois (President of Tara Foundation) and Eric Karsenti (Research Director at CNRS, and Senior Scientist at EMBL), in agreement with scientific coordinators of the expedition, have decided to modify the Tara Oceans route.

In the coming months, Tara will continue her voyage towards Papeete as planned, sailing to the Galapagos, the Gambier Island coral reefs, and the Marquesas Islands. After Tahiti, the boat will head for Hawaii, traversing the North Pacific “plastic continent”, and will stop over in San Diego (California). She will then pass through the Panama Canal at Christmas and cross the Atlantic, with a planned arrival at Lorient in March 2012. This means an additional 20,000 miles for the schooner, and another 100 scientific stations planned in the program.

The on-land analysis of the first 100 stations began a year ago. The scientific consortium is starting to get results and many articles are being prepared for publication. The Oceans consortium will naturally continue to analyse data and samples as they arrive at the laboratories.
Tara Oceans has now entered its second phase: harvesting the results of a colossal world sampling.

When Tara returns to Lorient in March 2012, tens of thousands of microorganisms and extensive coral samples will have been collected and analyzed successfully in all the world’s oceans since September 2009. This global sampling will enable a better understanding of the structure of oceanic ecosystems, the evolution of organisms within these ecosystems, and their capacity to adapt to major environmental changes. Our global sampling will be a reference point for future generations.

The upcoming agenda for Tara Oceans:

On June 28, Tara Oceans scientists will present the expedition’s annual scientific report to the press.

And in just one year –  March, 2012 –  rendez-vous with Tara in Lorient!

An Interview with Etienne Bourgois, Director of Tara Oceans and President of Tara Expeditions.                          

You have just made an important decision. How was this decision taken?

Tara has already covered about 40,000 miles. The scientists have done a hundred excellent sampling stations, and it’s not over!

However, Japan has just suffered a major catastrophe. The nuclear situation is not under control. We must therefore modify our itinerary, which included a stopover in Tokyo next year.

Not many people know this, but authorizations to take samples in the seas of countries we visit are requested about a year in advance and are very difficult to obtain. This is especially true in this part of Asia.

But getting back to Japan, we don’t know how the situation will evolve in the coming months.
agnès b as well as our patron foundations Veolia, EDF, Albert II de Monaco and World Courier would be very happy to see Tara navigate in this region of the world. agnès b is very well-established there, and 1500 employees were awaiting the boat — a sign of hope for the future.
Unfortunately, the potential impact of the Japanese catastrophe on the business activity of our main sponsor is important, and a significant decline in local revenue is foreseen.
When a storm is forecast, one adjusts the sails. As good sailors, we have decided to prepare ourselves for this difficult period, but I remain confident.

This decision to modify the route was made in agreement with scientists of Tara Oceans, and our partners whose support is extremely important. Finally, Tara will return only 6 months earlier than planned from what we thought would be a 3-year mission.

The new route chosen by the scientists still represents major interests, including the little-studied Papeete-Hawaii transect, and the “plastic continent” in the Pacific. Samplings in the Gulf of Mexico will be made, and we will also stay longer in the United States.

Of course we will keep the same technical resources and manpower on board and on land until our return to Lorient.

What are the projects for 2012?

First, the boat will return  to Lorient in March of 2012. And then the rest of the year will be very full: There will be an enormous workload for scientists in the laboratories, and we will also have our outreach mission to fulfill. We have a project for a documentary film covering the entire expedition; exhibitions, educational activities with students, etc. And we are already contemplating future expeditions for Tara.

But to return to the present, I want to warmly thank all the people involved in this project — the laboratories, institutions, partners, crew members and scientists who are empowering the boat and this avant-garde program. Their work is magnificent. It will continue for another year on board, and for many years to come, after Tara returns to port. This adventure has only just begun.

Bongo and Co

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

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

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

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

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

The Regent

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

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

The WP-2*

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

The Bongos

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

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

Other plankton nets: 

The Double 20

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

The 5

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

The Manta

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

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

Anna Deniaud

Alone in the South Pacific

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

On the Trail of Robinson Crusoe

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

Escaping the tsunami!

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

In the Wake of Kon-Tiki

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

Arrival at Valparaiso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good and safe winds Tara!

Vincent Hilaire 

Next Stop Valparaiso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vincent Hilaire