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The schooner “Tara” arrives on the African coast

On learning of the death of the great actor and director Jacques Perrin, I plunge back into a fantastic and yet very real world by watching his film. oceans (2009). The oceans invite us to the most beautiful of dreams, provided that their waters and their creatures stop being attacked and are always better protected. The next day, still bewitched by what the marine universe evokes, I learn that the schooner Tara, of the Tara Ocean Foundation, is calling at Cape Town after a forty-nine-day transatlantic journey. Here is my chance! Go to the Waterfront to continue the journey to the oceans.

A great human and scientific adventure

Tara, it is a magnificent 36-meter sailboat, a large floating laboratory criss-crossing the oceans to better understand marine biology. Since 2003, the schooner has already traveled nearly 450,000 km, stopping in more than sixty countries during twelve expeditions.

After focusing on plankton, plastic pollution and coral reefs, the goal of the current mission is to study an invisible people hidden under the surface: the marine microbiome. Marine micro-organisms hold an essential place in the ocean, representing more than two-thirds of marine biomass. The functioning of this invisible world remains for the time being still largely unknown.

For this “Microbiome Mission”, some eighty researchers take turns aboard the ship and nearly two hundred scientists involved around the world. For a year and a half, the team of Tara has already studied Chilean, Caribbean, Brazilian and Argentinian waters. They also carried out a mission in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. As with each mission, the team on board collects samples which will then be sent for study to the laboratories participating in the project.

The Microbiomes Mission on the West Coast of Africa has just started and will last five months. After South Africa, the schooner will pass through six African countries, where it will stop: Namibia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gambia and Senegal, with a scheduled arrival in Dakar at the beginning of September. These African areas are among the most productive on the planet. In particular the Benguela current, which rises from South Africa towards the coasts of Namibia and Angola. To the south, the waters of the Atlantic mingle with those of the Indian Ocean, giving rise to multiple whirlpools that reach as far as Brazil. Along these coasts, the cold waters rising from the depths, also called upwellings, bring nutrients to the surface. Very productive in fish because it is very rich in nutrients, the current has an abundant and varied ecosystem, and a considerable influence on the South Atlantic Ocean. Tara will also have the task of analyzing the influence of three of the main African rivers on the Atlantic Ocean.

Sharing ocean culture

The stopovers of Tara are moments of sharing that serve as parentheses in the scientific adventure. The whole team comes to meet the public to talk about this research work at sea, to raise awareness of their project and the protection of the oceans, in connection with the actors on site, academics, biologists, doctors… With its hull of aluminum and its two masts of 27 meters, we notice the schooner at the Waterfront of Cape Town! On board, fourteen people, including six crew members, a journalist and an artist, and finally the team of scientists.

We are welcomed at the quay by a doctoral student from the University of Cape Town who reminds us during a presentation of the role of the marine microbiome in better understanding the current mission of Tara. We are all impatient to get on the boat, the same one that has just crossed the Atlantic!

Loïc Caudan, member of the crew, gives us several details about the mission. We can see part of the laboratory on board, as well as the famous Rosette, a unique machine weighing 350 kilos which can go down to a depth of 2,000 meters. This metal cage-like structure consists of ten cylinders. Once brought to the surface, the water from its cylinders is transferred to the laboratory on board before being filtered several times to recover the micro-organisms. Finally, the samples are frozen in liquid nitrogen to keep the planktonic creatures intact. And here are real “ocean carrots”, regularly transferred to the laboratories, every month or so.

Loïc Caudan and the Rosette, a device that can go down to 2,000 meters deep. Photo Sophie Squillace

Loïc takes the time to answer all our questions. The first question, from many South Africans present: Who finances such a project? And here I am for the first time taken with an almost feeling of national pride when I learn that it is the great French designer Agnès Troublé (agnès b.) who has decided to do “her part of the hummingbird” with this major project. , supported by her and her son, Étienne Bourgois. The class, Agnes! Thank you. Today the Tara Ocean Foundation also receives donations from several partners, major brands, banks, companies and also from the Principality of Monaco, which has long been sensitive to issues related to the oceans.

Time is running out, other visitors arrive. And will keep coming all week long before Tara sets sail on the 1er may. We let ourselves dream that we could embark and go up the African coast with them, learn to sail, write about this extraordinary adventure and above all learn more about the great mysteries of the ocean.

Follow Tara throughout the mission on the Tara Ocean Foundation’s dedicated platform.

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