After thirteen years of commitment to ocean study and a dozen expeditions at sea, the Tara Ocean Foundation has become a Foundation recognized as a public interest group. Etienne Bourgois, director of agnès b. and founder of Tara Expeditions, explains this new chapter of the Tara adventure.
What does the new legal status, as a “foundation”, change for the Tara Ocean Foundation?
Several days ago, my mother Agnès Troublé and I donated the research schooner to Tara Expeditions, which just obtained the status of “public interest group”. This means we can now receive public donations. This is the culmination of a long process, 36 months of work and administrative procedures. We now have real international credibility, especially among Americans who pay a lot of attention to the word and status of “foundation”. This is also an opportunity to adapt our organization through other forms of solicitations from the public and our partners. Now we have the capacity to appear before the United Nations and to uphold our commitment to the oceans. We’ve changed gear and it’s very stimulating.
agnès b., co-founder and main sponsor of the Tara Expeditions Foundation
What did you imagine 10-12 years ago when you acquired Tara?
I bought Tara 13 years ago with the idea of contributing in my own way to the study and protection of the oceans. I never imagined getting here today. The beginnings were sometimes difficult but finally the project has gone beyond me, it has gone beyond all of us, and so much the better! Tara has become a common good shared by people with very different backgrounds, a wonderful place of creation, exchanges and knowledge. I love the sea deeply and have had the chance to experience nature in its raw state, twice at the North Pole, and to meet people absolutely passionate about the ocean. The people voyaging with Tara are for the most part scientists, very devoted to research, but their work still involves a lot of creativity, dreams, chance, and above all, doubt. These are all the things involved in making the Tara Expeditions dream come true!
Are you planning to invest more in the field and political debate around the theme of the oceans?
We’ve been doing that for a long time, sharing our information and knowledge through conferences and participating in the drafting of many reports. We will also create a kind of Tara think tank to communicate our positions on ocean-related themes, for example, international governance of the Ocean, marine biodiversity, and plastic pollution. In general, I’m looking for balance. That is to say, privileged access to public institutions, working with them to change laws while remaining independent, and not allowing Tara to become yet another institutional entity complicated to maneuver. We must find the right tone, sometimes classic, sometimes critical, but always guaranteeing Tara’s freedom and independence.
You are also linked with other organizations, associations, foundations and research units worldwide
I think the actions of everybody defending the environment, and in this case the Ocean, can be complementary. Combining our energies makes us stronger. For example, at each Tara event, we invite other associations and stakeholders to join us, to exchange ideas and educate new audiences. In 2016, we are also implementing a vast new North-South cooperation program in the continuity of Tara Oceans (in partnership with the French GEF). This will create networks for sharing expertise and knowledge about plankton with young researchers from Chile, Peru, Argentina and Senegal. I would like Tara to be able to propose and share the highest levels of scientific knowledge.
What will be your next steps with this new status? You often emphasize the importance of teaching – of educational and cultural initiatives.
We continue to offer artists’ residencies aboard Tara. This is often a great experience for the selected artists (many of them tell us) and an excellent way to involve a different audience in our project. During the next Tara Pacific expedition, the boat will spend more time on stopovers. The crew will meet young people in schools, administrators and local associations. We will also organize conferences, exhibitions and tours aboard Tara. For the educational component, one of the most important in my opinion, we wish to extend our partnership with UNESCO. We really have to empower young people vis-à-vis environmental issues. It’s useless to forgive them for the mistakes made by previous generations. Young people are smart and will find ways to change things, and they will succeed!
Interview by Victor Branquart