Etienne Bourgois provides an up-date on the Tara Oceans Expedition: the program for the coming months before the return to Lorient, the missions and future of Tara.
What is unique about the Tara Oceans expedition?
For nearly 3 years Tara has been sailing around the world studying plankton, using the same instruments, the same protocols, involving the same laboratories. This is extremely rare for a scientific expedition. And this type of mission will be increasingly difficult to organize because authorisations to sample water are complicated to obtain. The world's oceans are becoming economic and political stakes.
What would you say is Tara's primary objective?
It's essential to conduct scientific research in order to understand and prepare for the long-term impact of climate change. Besides being a research base for scientists, our environmental approach is very important.
Do you and Eric Karsenti work together to direct the expedition ?
Tara Oceans has created a team of 200 people of 35 different nationalities, making for an incredibly rich diversity of experience. These 200 people are constantly exchanging information, each person competent in his own field. It's an extraordinary human adventure. Eric and I are the 'movers', the catalysts of this group.We are not at all dictatorial.
How is Tara doing since the dry dock repairs in San Diego?
We had to replace the sails in San Diego, which was not foreseen.We're going to have the old sails examined since they actually wore out much faster than expected. We also had to take apart the boat to change a motor during our last stopover in California. (Tara has 3 motors: 2 on board, while one remains on land being repaired.) We've also noticed considerable loss of electrical power. Despite these problems, Tara has been able continue this expedition for a long time because the crew is taking such good care of her. I thank the sailors who spend a lot of energy on this.
The scientific equipment has had no problems; nothing has been lost, and the quality of the samples is excellent. Our team is extremely experienced, and we can now organize stations even when the sea is rough.
Only 100 days until Tara's return to France. What will the high points be, from now until the end of March?
Tara just passed through the Panama Canal and is back in the Atlantic Ocean. We're starting on our way home. But we're not there yet. Weather conditions will certainly be difficult on the voyage to Lorient. The boat and crew will be subjected to real thermal shock! We'll sail across the Gulf of Mexico where we'll do some well-targeted sampling stations in function of pollution from the oil spill. Then we'll stopover in Savannah (USA) and New York (USA). New York will be an important stopover since many conferences are scheduled there. I'll be present along with Eric Karsenti, Romain Troublé (director of operations), and the principle scientific coordinators.
Afterwards Tara will head for Bermuda, then the Açores, before returning to Lorient on March 31st. A huge celebration is being prepared for the occasion.
What are the plans for Tara in 2012?
The expedition will not be over when the boat returns. In 2012, we will voyage in France and report on the mission, docking first in Lorient, then in Brest and Paris.We'll share our experiences with the many students who have followed our voyage, and of course with the general public, and scientists.
When Tara returns to home port, a special edition of our journal will be published in French, English and Japanese. Michel Temman will be the editor, and Loulou Picasso the illustrator. A film featuring Tara -- "Planet Ocean » -- by Yann Arthus Bertrand and Michael Pitiot, will come out in June.
The next 3 years are being planned now, so it's too soon to discuss specific projects. But we can confirm that Tara will continue pursuing environmental missions. And let's not forget that the boat was designed for polar research.
What was your greatest frustration during this mission?
I can no longer look at Tara in those paradisical landscapes on my computer. I've reached my limit...But seriously, changing Tara's itinerary last March was a very difficult decision to make, but it was definitely the right decision. We regret that Tara didn't get to Tokyo or Hong Kong, but I'm sure we'll have another occasion to go there.
What are the broad environmental themes that concern you most right now?
Unfortunately the economic crisis has taken precedence over environmental awareness. I'll take this opportunity to thank our partners who continue to support us in this difficult period: agnes b. Fund, Veolia Environmental Foundation, EDF DiversiTerre Foundation, Region of Brittany, Cap l'Orient, World Courier, Albert II of Monaco Foundation, CNRS, EMBL, CEA, Genoscope, French National Marine, customs services, and all our partners.
Planet Earth is getting warmer. 2011 was the warmest year ever recorded in France. The environment is a global cause that concerns us all. Unless the general public and young people are mobilized, the situation will be very difficult. The Earth's population will soon be 9 billion, with risks of instabilty caused by famine, humanitarian crises, shortage of water. France could be a leader in trying to resolve these problems, but unfortunately doesn't seem to make that a priority.
What wishes for 2012 do you send to our followers via internet?
A happy new year to everyone. Please participate in our efforts by supporting us! Contributing to Tara (and other non-profit organizations) can help change the world! And be sure to vote!