Tara, a 36m expedition sailing schooner, is currently sailing the globe on a mission to save our oceans. Journalist Tom Isitt tells us about the important environment work this determined boat and her crew are conducting.
Tara sailing near Mauritius.
©S. Bollet /Fondation Tara Expeditions
At a time when our planet faces ever increasing environmental threats, and climate-change-deniers are put in charge
of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the work to protect our oceans is becoming more important than ever before. And the superyacht world is doing its best to reduce its impact on the environment, working on more environmentally friendly production processes, looking at ways of reducing fuel-consumption and waste, trying to
lessen our negative impact on the oceans we hold so dear. But there is one yacht that has gone further than most others, literally as well as figuratively.
Tara is a 36 metre, aluminium-hulled schooner that is used as a research vessel by the Tara Expeditions Foundation. And she is not your typical research vessel. Most are 40m+ expedition-style motor yachts that offer a broad, stable platform from which to conduct their research. But these types of yacht have their own issues with the environment, often burning large amounts of fuel as they travel the globe.
A sailing yacht may not be as beamy or as stable, but it will be a more eco-friendly vessel. Tara Expeditions Foundation is a French organisation dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans through scientific research. It was established in 2003 by Agnès Troublé, founder and inspiration for the agnès b. fashion brand (and her son Étienne Bourgois), to celebrate their love of the sea and their desire to see mankind live in harmony with our oceans. “In 2003 Étienne and I decided to buy the boat to carry out environmental work,” explains Agnès Troublé. “My contribution is the agnès b. endowment fund which co-finances, alongside other vital partners, the Tara and her expeditions.” For the last 13 years Tara has been sailing around the world, sailing more than 160,000 nautical miles across the world’s oceans, from polar icecaps to tropical seas across the world, while teams of scientists carry out data-logging and experiments linked to education, conservation, and exploration.
Children coming onboard Tara in Tuamotu.
©Yann Chavance/Fondation Tara Expeditions
Agnès Troublé, Tara’s founder.
“There is a growing realisation among young people. They are aware of the risks facing the planet. They know that we are playing with fire and that the ice cap is shrinking fast”.
To date, Tara has completed ten highly productive expeditions studying the impact of climate change and various ecological challenges from plastic pollution to coral bleaching and reef destruction. “Ten thousand children from across the world came aboard the boat during the Tara Oceans expedition,” says Agnès. “In ten years’ time those children will be 20 years old. I have faith in these new generations. There is a growing realisation among young people. They are aware of the risks facing the planet. They know that we are playing with fire and that the ice cap is shrinking fast.” Among the more recent voyages undertaken by Tara was the Tara Oceans Expedition (from 2009 to 2013), a two-and-a-half year voyage that included data-gathering from the Indian, South Atlantic, Pacific and North Atlantic oceans. It included an team of 250 international scientists, artists, and journalists from 40 countries who spent three years uncovering new insights on the importance of plankton ecosystems and their genetic makeup. Planktons make up 80 percent of all single-cell organisms on earth and they play an essential role climate cycles and biodiversity.
The data from Tara Oceans expedition, which included 35,000 research samples, was used to examine plankton interactions, genomes, and how plankton are impacted by temperature fluctuations. This data has provided the scientific community with an extraordinary resource, including a catalog of several million new genes that may help transform how we study the ocean and assess climate change. The results were published in a special issue of the Science magazine in May 2015. More recently, the Tara Méditerranée expedition in 2014 focused on the environmental challenges posed by plastic pollution and its devastating affect on the marine ecosystems that support 450 million people who live along the Mediterranean shores. Because of its unique topography, plastics dumped into the Mediterranean have no means of escape and the situation is becoming critical.
The latest expedition, currently being undertaken by Tara, is an examination of the Pacific’s coral reefs. As well as checking the health of each reef and its biodiversity at different levels, the scientific team will also look at the reefs’ capacities of resistance, adaptation and resilience. Another aspect of the study will focus on the potential applications of coral biology in medical research. The scope of this expedition is vast, and nothing like it has ever been attempted before. Tara will crisscross the Pacific Ocean to explore the diversity of coral reefs and gain a better understanding of their capacity (or inability) to adapt to climate change. From the Panama Canal to the archipelago of Japan (2016-2017), from New Zealand to China (2017- 2018), Tara will cover 11 time zones of the world’s largest ocean, and visit the most remote islands and reefs.
Various types of Plankton found during the expeditions.
Tara Pacific will explore each reef‘s hidden biodiversity – genomic, genetic, viral and bacterial – in order to compare it with the biodiversity of the surrounding body of water.
According to Serge Planes, scientific director of the expedition, “Tara Pacific will explore each reef‘s hidden biodiversity – genomic, genetic, viral and bacterial – in order to compare it with the biodiversity of the surrounding body of water. Our goal is to get a real idea of the overall diversity of a coral colony.” The yacht herself was originally designed by
Jean-Louis Etienne and the naval architects Luc Bouvet and Olivier Petit. She was built at the SFCN yard in Villeneuve La Garenne, and named Antarctica. She was subsequently bought by Sir Peter Blake and renamed Seamaster. She is 36m LOA, has a beam of ten metres, and her aluminium hull displaces 120 tonnes. Her two 27m tall masts can carry 400 square metres of sail, and are backed up with twin 350hp diesel engines, giving her an almost limitless range.
As well as checking the health of each reef and its
biodiversity at different levels, the scientific team
will also look at the reefs’ capacities of resistance,
adaptation and resilience.
©Sarah Fretwell/Fondation Tara Expeditions
There is accommodation for 14 people on board, and the yacht also features a host of meteorological and
scientific survey equipment. Through its special consultative status at the United Nations, Tara Expeditions is developing a long-term advocacy plan to educate society and encourage global leaders and politicians to enact
legislation that will address solutions to protect our ocean and our planet. “I would really like other wealthy people – yes, let’s use the word ‘wealthy’ – to become involved in the project,” says Agnès. “Some are generous, others aren’t. However, it is crucial that the wealthy share. There are going to be more and more of us on Earth and if people don’t share, it can’t work.”
This image: A scientist swimming above corals
and below: Pieces of dead coral washed up
Tara Expeditions is a wonderful and important project. Let’s just hope that the legislators are listening, because time is running out for all of us.
Tara stuck in drifting ice during the 2006-2008 expedition.
©F. Latreille/Fondation Tara Expeditions