How do we explain to young people what’s happening on our planet? How to teach them about the environment, and interest them in the Ocean — an ecosystem essential to the equilibrium of planet Earth, yet largely unknown even to the scientific community? These questions reflect the educational mission taken on by the Tara Foundation. At present, 90% of the Ocean remains to be explored. Step by step, in the wake of the schooner, students and their teachers embark aboard a scientific odyssey that will soon celebrate its 15th birthday.
Scientific odyssey, discovering the Ocean’s DNA
Since 2003, the schooner Tara has been navigating the world’s oceans on long-term scientific expeditions. Driven by a keen awareness of the environmental upheavals taking place, Tara’s sailors and scientists are continuing the tradition of the great 19th century expeditions, using state-of-the-art techniques to explore the Ocean’s DNA. To date, more than 150 million new genes have been discovered in the Ocean, and we don’t know the functions of half of them! The Ocean remains to be explored and the horizon of learning is constantly widening.
© Yann Chavance / Tara Océan Foundation
From ice to coral reefs
Over the past 15 years, 4 major expeditions have been carried out on key themes enabling scientists to gather valuable data to better understand the impact of global warming on ecosystems and to anticipate the evolution of the Ocean.
From 2006 to 2008, Tara drifted in the Arctic, 100 years after the explorer Fridtjof Nansen, to study this very vulnerable region. From 2009 to 2013, under the scientific direction of Eric Karsenti (CNRS), Tara provided a platform to study plankton in all the oceans of the world , and to establish the first global inventory of plankton. In 2014, Tara studied plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea, the most polluted sea in the world. From 2016 to 2018, Tara traveled the Pacific Ocean to discover the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. In October, the schooner returned to her home port (Lorient), and will leave next May for a tour of Europe.
On land, the scientific adventure continues. In the era of “big data”, millions of genes have been discovered and will help us decipher and understand the Ocean of tomorrow. We actually know relatively little about this crucial ecosystem, let alone its future in the face of climate change. Source of food for billions of people on Earth, second lung of the planet, regulator of our climate – the 21st century Ocean is in danger. It is urgent to understand it and take action to better preserve it.
« Alongside Tara, the commitment of increasing numbers of people allows us to continue this essential mission: to understand the Ocean, this ecosystem vital for the balance of our planet, and to turn this space of freedom, dreams and hope into a common responsibility. » says Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Foundation.
The schooner Tara reaches out to schools
A major aspect of Tara’s mission is raising young people’s awareness about the Ocean’s future. Since the beginning of the adventure, thousands of children have come aboard Tara and followed her route day after day from their classrooms. A total of more than 45,000 children have actually come aboard in France and around the world, and more than 100,000 students have followed educational programs developed by the Foundation. Over the last 2 years, 450 teachers have received training. Since the beginning of the 2018 school year, in partnership with the National Education Ministry, 390 classes (6,500 children) have been following Tara programs in France and abroad.
© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Océan Foundation
An excellent tool for mobilizing around environmental issues, “expeditions have become real levers for education”, explains Etienne Bourgois, founder of the Tara project. “We enjoy seeing students’ expressions of amazement. Presentations in class or aboard the schooner are occasions for raising awareness among the pupils.They ask lots of questions. Tara arouses the desire to not remain passive”, he says, and Tara wants to be a major player in creating this “healthy awareness”.
« With Tara – science, the Ocean, people’s lives, biodiversity and its fragility – everything becomes a source of curiosity, learning, reflection, discovery », says Xavier Bougeard, head of mediation with the young public. Tara develops educational resources that are available online for free. An example: Les Carnets de Labo was designed to introduce young people to research through scientific instruments that are part of researchers’ everyday life. In parallel, the programme « Dans le sillage de Tara Pacific » gave students the opportunity to communicate (via video) directly with the schooner’s crew and scientists onboard, or with the team on land.
But the project relies mainly on teachers, trained by the Foundation at the level of the Academies – a real lever of action to bring about change.
Whenever possible, students are invited aboard Tara. « Visiting the schooner is a strong sensory experience that leaves children with wonderful memories » says Xavier Bougeard. On the boat, young people learn about various jobs and hear inspiring life stories. The experience makes them understand the importance of responsible consumption of resources « on board, at school and at home”, » says Brigitte Sabard, coordinator of education.
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