Meeting with Serge Planes, scientific director of Tara Pacific

© Tara Pacific

At work in perpignan to moorea island in french polynesia, serge planes, scientific director of the upcoming tara pacific expedition, discusses his personal journey and describes his role as scientific director of a tara expedition.


Serge Planes

How did you become the scientific director of this expedition?

My Tara adventure began by meeting with Romain Troublé, executive director of the Tara Expeditions Foundation, in January 2014. Françoise Gaill, who was then director of the INEE (CNRS Ecology & Environment National Institute), told me about the work carried out during the Tara Oceans expedition. She knew a lot about this expedition and suggested launching a new Tara mission focused on coral. For Etienne Bourgois, president of the Foundation and Romain Troublé, executive director, mobilizing Tara on a major expedition to study coral reefs made perfect sense. As a matter of fact, the Tara Oceans team had already begun exploring certain reefs between 2009 and 2013.


Had you ever considered conducting this kind of mission before?

Since my PhD, I’ve been working on coral reefs, not necessarily on coral itself, but on general questions concerning their conservation. When I joined the CNRS, I pointed out the interest of coral reefs as a model for study, particularly as a very fragile ecosystem. Priorities for preservation need to be set up. After that, I followed a career path. I was interested in leading a team and building a research unit, and worked hard to create a “laboratory of excellence” focused on coral, the Labex CORAIL. All this brought attention to French research on reefs and some recognition of my contribution.


Can you tell us how this story began?

I believe it started very early, with my interest in scuba diving. Later on, I became interested in sailing. The Tara project combines both passion and research. Of course, I was attracted by its originality and the opportunity to conduct a 2-year scientific program on an oceanographic vessel that serves as a multidisciplinary research platform for long-term missions. This is a unique, exceptional opportunity! With the Tara team, we quickly understood what we could do together!


Can you describe your goals during this expedition?

The overall objective of this 2-year expedition is to identify along the east-west and south-north transects the distribution of reef microfauna, i.e. all the tiny animals (less than 0.2 mm) that live together within and around the coral. This mapping will allow us to understand the functional implication of the microfauna in the coral’s capacity to resist when confronted with environmental changes from natural or anthropic causes: climate variability, acidification, pollution, etc.


What is the role of a scientific director during a Tara expedition?

My first role was to define the scientific purpose of the project: what are we looking for, why, what contributions to research do we intend to make? Then, I put together a team of specialists to achieve our objective. Now, the goal is to get them to work together! It’s an interesting challenge: to have scientists from various backgrounds, with different approaches succeed in collaborating on the same project!


How do you see the work progressing in the years to come?

As in any research project, there are several steps. The first data expected to be quickly available – once all the genetic analyses are performed (about 18-24 months after the mission is completed) is the description of all collected biodiversity including microorganisms, viruses and bacteria. After about 5 years, results from more extensive analyses will become available, providing information on how particular species behave. This will require detailed studies and therefore a lot of time and teamwork among scientists, sailors and expedition partners.

Interview by Maéva Bardy


Associated articles :

- May 28: Departure of the Tara Pacific expedition 2016 – 2018

- Tara getting ready for the Pacific

- New expedition: Tara Pacific 2016 – 2018