Interview with Marion Lauters: actions for the environment aboard Tara

© N.Pansiot/Tara Expéditions

THE SLOGAN “A SAILBOAT FOR THE PLANET” VIVIDLY DESCRIBES THE SCHOONER, THANKS TO TARA’S EXPEDITIONS COMBINING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND THE MISSION OF RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS ABOUT PRESERVING THE OCEANS. AT SEA SOMETIMES FOR MONTHS, THE CREW RESPECTS THIS COMMITMENT TO THE ENVIRONMENT IN ITS DAILY ACTIONS.

Interview with Marion Lauters, cook and steward aboard Tara. After having embarked for 11 months during the Tara Arctic expedition (2006-2008), and participating in two 3-month expeditions during Tara Oceans (2009-2012), she signed on as cook for Tara Mediterranean. Marion gives us her rules of conduct and tricks to make Tara a boat that tends towards a greater respect for the marine environment.

During your different voyages aboard Tara, water management has not always been the same, for example, when the schooner was locked in the Arctic ice, you had limited access to drinking water. Today the boat is sailing in the Mediterranean, very different from the isolation of the North Pole, and the expedition will make many stopovers. How does this change daily life on board?

When the boat is in a classic situation of navigation, we produce our own water with a desalinator – about 270 liters per hour. This is less restrictive than going outside to break ice or collect snow to melt for water!
But it’s not enough simply to press a button: the apparatus requires maintenance by the head mechanic. It also uses a lot of energy: one of the generators of the boat must be running. The water produced is stored in a 6000-liter tank in the forward hold. This provides water for the 2 showers, kitchen, washing machine, and a hose on the aft deck (a spray for rinsing the nets). Drinking water is also produced by the desalinator, but it is stored directly in containers to prevent the water from having the taste of the storage tank.
And when we’re in port, sometimes we refill the tanks, if we’re confident about the quality of the water.

What is the guiding principle for the choice of products used on board?

I didn’t think it would be so difficult to find products that are healthy for the environment. Even in specialty shops it’s not obvious – there’s always a component that’s not good. We finally found a range of 100% biodegradable products for doing the dishes, laundry and cleaning that works well. For the toilet, we found products without petrochemical derivatives and without soap.
Aboard Tara I had also imagined making our own cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda and other compounds, but for the expedition Tara Mediterranean I found this a bit complicated to manage. We are 14 people on board and the crew changes often, so it’s more convenient to use ready-made products. But I think that would be a good solution at home.

What are the eco-responsible actions adopted when cooking aboard Tara?

For me, it’s normal practice: pay attention to water management, choose fresh produce. I also make a lot of home-made things – creams, biscuits, cakes – which reduces packaging.
For shopping, I try to use the bags that were already on board, pay attention to over-packaged goods, and when sometimes we don’t have a choice of products, just say we’ll do better the next time.
There’s room for improvement to be exemplary: We could install a grease trap on the kitchen drains. According to some professionals, this is an important source of disturbance for the marine environment. We also reduce the consumption of plastic film, so handy for storing leftovers in the fridge.

 What about the sorting of waste on board? How do you “take out the garbage” when the boat is at sea for several days?

On board we have 4 garbage bins:
– Organic waste: if the leg is short enough, we wait until the next port to throw it out, or else we wait until we’re a certain distance from the coast to toss it overboard.
– Glass: once rinsed, glass is stored on board and then discarded at the next port-of-call.
– Recycling (similar to the yellow trash can in France): containers are rinsed out, stored in a bag under the kitchen sink, and then thrown away at a port-of-call.
– As for the rest of the garbage, we try to have a clean, dry trash bin to avoid bad smells in case it’s a while before we reach the next port-of-call.
On board we try to keep this discipline, but at the same time, even in some cities in France or in countries where we dock, there are not necessarily the appropriate structures for sorting and recycling!

Interview by Laura Oudin