Gaby Gorsky: chief scientist of Tara Mediterranean

© Y. Chavance/Tara Expéditions

Gaby Gorsky is a world specialist on marine plankton, an oceanographer, and chief scientist of the current Tara Mediterranean expedition. As a young man he was driven from his native Slovakia by tanks of the Warsaw Pact.

“Like many other students, I was threatened by police after the Soviet military intervention that ended the Prague Spring in August 1968. I took the last train for Vienna on October 1, leaving behind my country and my family. I had five dollars in my pocket!”

46 years later, the former student of natural sciences and freedom activist from Kosice (on the border of Hungary and Ukraine) has been the scientist in charge of the Tara Mediterranean expedition since its inception, and was aboard the schooner Tara on the leg between Cyprus and Malta.

The goal of this 7-month, 12,000 km expedition is to make the first quantitative and qualitative study of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean.

Gaby Gorsky illuminates the Tara expedition with his expertise and friendly charisma flavored by a charming Slavic accent, and his profound humanism forged by having overcome obstacles. 

The Tara Mediterranean expedition is working in the public interest, investigating the impact of non-biodegradable pollution on plankton, the foundation of the marine food chain that eventually winds up in our plates. 

8 years old: birth of a vocation 

“When I was 8 years old I discovered the world of the ocean in a book about whales,” remembers Gaby Gorsky. In 1955, 10 years after the end of the war, my country was still suffering from famine, with agricultural production disorganized, and people lining up in front of stores with empty shelves.”

“When I learned from the book that huge marine mammals fed on krill (zooplankton /micro-shrimp), my child’s mind took a leap. The ocean could be our salvation and fill our bellies. Plankton became my passion and my scientific vocation.”

But the road was rough, filled with difficulties and hardship.

After his escape from Czechoslovakia (where he was convicted in absentia for desertion because he didn’t sign up for military conscription), Gaby went to Israel to continue his scientific studies. He earned a Masters degree in the eco-physiology of Euphausiids (krill).

And a new morning came to his life – Catherine, a young French woman on holiday in the Hebrew state, became Gaby’s guiding light, representing France, human rights, Molière and Lafontaine – authors he had dreamed of reading in the original text.

“When I met Catherine at 22, I found my life partner,” he said in tribute to the person who has shared his life for 45 years.

Ecole Normale Supérieure and the CNRS

In 1976, France granted him a doctoral fellowship to study zooplankton. Gaby Gorsky took language courses and quickly mastered French, getting a DEA at Normale Sup.

Then came a dissertation at the University Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC), and scientific consecration in 1982: He was recruited by the prestigious CNRS, with a research position at the Observatoire Océanologique in Villefranche-sur-mer (OOV).

“Villefranche is a lab bench on the sea, with almost immediate access to the great depths right off the coast. I couldn’t ask for a better place to conduct my research on planktonic life,” says the man who, after climbing one by one the rungs of the scientific ladder, in 2010 became director of the OOV (first established in 1885). 

pied de nez at history: This young Slovak from the Prague Spring, after a tumultuous trajectory, is now the  director of the OOV,  formerly known as the Station Zoologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer, an institution approved by Charles Darwin, and created in the 19th century with Russian funds!

 

Patrick Filleux, Agence France Presse