After setting out from Lorient on May 28, 2016, Tara sailed across the Pacific Ocean for 29 months, from east to west and from north to south, to collect thousands of samples of coral, fish and plankton. This mission of colossal scale opens a new chapter in the overall knowledge of the Ocean. After 2677 dives, the schooner will finally return to her home port on October 27, 2018. An opportunity to replay the videos of this amazing scientific and human adventure.
After a transatlantic voyage, Tara crosses the Panama Canal – a key moment marking the beginning of the mission in the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded by Panamax, the largest vessels crossing the canal from lock to lock, Tara arrives 30 hours later in the Gulf of Panama. Relive the crossing of the Panama Canal.
Crossing of the Panama Canal © Maëva bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Once offshore in the Gulf of Panama, the first samplings begin. The protocol is being finalized and the teams on board are finding their bearings.
The expedition’s scientific protocols: The Tara Pacific mission focuses on 3 coral and 1 fish species, and billions of microorganisms living in symbiosis with coral.
Porites Lobata, a stony coral © Lauric Thiault / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Pocillopora Meandrina, known as cauliflower coral © Lauric Thiault / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Millepora Platyphylla, a fire coral © Lauric Thiault / Tara Expeditions Foundation
During each dive, scientists collect a few grams of these 3 coral species (drilling a core sample on Porites), the surrounding plankton and a surgeonfish. On board, all samples are classified, labeled and frozen. Once unloaded, they are sent to our 26 partner laboratories around the globe.
The coral team processes the samples collected during the morning dive © Sarah Fretwell / Tara Expeditions Foundation
The mission’s target objective and stakes are huge. The treasure trove of data gathered during the Tara Pacific expedition will complete the overall knowledge of the ocean and reefs, home to nearly one third of the global marine biodiversity.
These “Tara data” will help understand how the organisms living in coral reefs respond and adapt to the various environmental disturbances they face, as well as the resilience strategies of coral species and their relationships with surrounding microbes.
Plankton sampling © David Hannan / Tara Expeditions Foundation
The expedition reaches Malpelo Island in Colombia. Complementary objective: Helping the Malpelo Foundation tag whale sharks. Despite the disappointment of seeing none of these beautiful animals, the scientists are pleasantly surprised to observe an extraordinarily varied and dense marine biodiversity. This is the result of Sandra Bessudo’s 10-year commitment to promote marine and coastal ecosystem conservation in Colombia combined with the positive impact of Marine Protected Areas. Discover Malpelo’s giants in video..
Malpelo Island, Colombia © Romain Troublé / Tara Expeditions Foundation
In French Polynesia, reality rapidly catches up with the Tara team. The first dives show an important coral bleaching eventsynonymous with a global warming of the ocean temperature. Coral reefs can recover from a bleaching event as long as it doesn’t last longer than 3-4 weeks. Unfortunately, in Samoa, the crew discovers that 90% of the coral cover is dead. Over an 80 km area, the colonies did not survive the last bleaching event. The crew’s morale is very low.
Bleached coral © David Hannan / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Among 40 archipelagos, all sampled according to the same protocols, the islands of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Palau and also Wallis and Futuna, have shown how difficult it is to find sites with a good coral cover. These remote places are not studied on a regular basis and islanders don’t have many resources to access all coastal areas and monitor their situation.
Our journey continues up north. Tara is heading towards Japan which offers the scientists a well-known natural underwater laboratory. On the volcanic site of Shikine, ocean acidification is widely visible: the magma flowing under the Earth’s crust releases CO2 emissions that form bubbles escaping from the seabed. Tara in Japan: click here to watch the video.
Artificial reef in Japan © Nicolas Floch / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Fukuoka, Kobe, Yokohama, Tokyo: Tara’s stopovers in the Land of the Rising Sun promise to be intense and rich. The meeting of the schooner’s sailors and scientists with the Japanese people is unique. Thousands of children discover Tara. The dialog is established, and the issue of plastic waste often discussed. Etienne Bourgois decides to open a Tara Foundation in Japan. There is so much to do together.
Maki Ohkojima, artist-in-residence aboard Tara © Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation
From Japan, after sampling sites off Okinawa, Tara’s sailors and scientists embark on a 31-day journey at sea in complete autonomy. Heading due south towards Fiji, plankton samplings are regularly performed using the various nets on board, such as the high speed and dolphin nets. As a follow-up of the Tara Oceans expedition, Tara Pacific studies plankton to better understand the overall balances in reef ecosystems and predict if they will adapt or succumb to a warmer and more acidic ocean. The need for data is colossal, so Tara continuously takes the pulse of the Ocean. There’s no more time to waste!
The schooner reaches Chesterfield islands in New Caledonia. The team discovers a sanctuary which seems to have been spared by anthropogenic activities. No sign of current or past bleaching event is found. Everyone is looking forward to getting the scientific results to understand why this site is so well preserved.
© François Aurat / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam. Tara sails across the China Sea. The geopolitical situation is complex and sampling authorizations – the famous CITES permits, holy grail during the entire expedition – will not be issued. Something surprising is taking place. The fight for environmental preservation is also subject to special interest groups.
Then come the Chinese stopovers. A series of scientific meetings where an East-West dialog is established on the Ocean issue. Awareness tools are implemented that emphasize the actions taken during the expedition to educate local youth audiences: Students take turns aboard the schooner to learn more about the key role of coral in preserving marine biodiversity and regulating climate. It’s also an opportunity for local scientists to join Tara’s crew and participate in collecting some samples (the total collection consists of the about 36,000 samples).
© Noëlie Pansiot / Tara Expeditions Foundation
From China to Hawaii, facing headwinds, the crew is getting ready to cross what is wrongly called the Great Pacific garbage patch. In fact, there are virtually no macroplastics on the ocean surface there. A team specialized in studying plastics at sea, coordinated by Maria Luiza Pedrotti (LOV) boards the schooner in Hawaii. So does the photographer Samuel Bollendorf (learn more with the article published in Le Monde, in French). This leg is an opportunity to study marine organisms thriving in gyres and understand their interactions with microplastics.
Mixture of plankton and microplastics © Maëva Bardy / Tara Expeditions Foundation
Our way back along the American west coast is punctuated with a stopover in Clipperton (find out more with the article published in Libération, in French). Back in the Atlantic Ocean, Tara makes a final stopover in New York to open negotiations on alaw relating to the High Seaat the United Nations headquarters. The Tara team members are in a hurry and happy to return home to Lorient, where they are expected on Saturday, October 27to celebrate a scientific odyssey that is actually just beginning.
A two-and-a-half-year journey is ending – the time necessary to meet our original goal: to explore and study coral reefs on the scale of the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific.
© Céline Bellanger / Tara Expeditions Foundation
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