Climate : The Tara Ocean Foundation launches an unprecedented mission on coastal ecosystems

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An unprecedented scientific mission a few kilometers from our coasts. On April 2, the schooner of the Tara Ocean Foundation will go to sea for a new expedition that aims to unravel the mysteries of European coastal ecosystems.

The sailboat will leave Lorient for a journey along the European coasts until July 2024 as part of the TREC mission (to “Cross the European coasts”) to measure the impact of pollution and climate change on the coasts of the Old Continent.

“The objective is to allow humanity to better understand, at the most basic cellular and molecular level, how human and global health is affected by changes in environmental environments: climate change, the use of pesticides, habitat loss…”, explains Edith Heard, Director General of the European Life Sciences Laboratory EMBL, at the head of the TREC project.

This “involves combining a very wide range of research ranging from genomics to ecology and marine biology […] It is a really ambitious project, it has never been tried before so it will be a challenge, technically difficult,” stresses the scientist.

22 European coastlines to explore by 2024

Concretely, thanks to their marine laboratory, scientists will explore the interactions between land and sea by collecting samples both in shallow waters and in soils. The project will thus observe 120 coastal sampling sites, in 46 regions of 22 European countries, between 2023 and 2024.

The Tara Ocean Foundation will be in charge of the maritime part of the mission. Rather accustomed to distant missions, for this thirteenth expedition, the famous laboratory sailboat, will have to deal with different challenges such as maritime traffic, tides, or the administrative controls of different countries.

“I expect a complicated mission,” said Romain Troublé, the general manager of the Tara Ocean Foundation. But the game is worth it according to scientific sailors. Edith Heard even compares the expedition to that led in the 19th century by Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution, on the Beagle ship. “I think it will give rise to many discoveries” or even “maybe even new theories,” hopes the scientist.

One of the most active scientific foundations on the oceans

Launched by fashion designer Agnès Troublé in 2003, Tara Océan is the first French foundation dedicated to the ocean recognized as a public utility. Supported and animated by high-level scientific consortia, the organization is developing an open ocean science whose goal is to better understand and anticipate climate risks on marine ecosystems.

His last major project was launched in the fall of 2022. Called “Tara Polar Station”, it is a drifting polar station that will leave, from 2025, for eighteen-month scientific missions in the Arctic. In 2019, the schooner ” Tara” also led a large-scale six-month expedition, which led him to sail on the ten main rivers in Europe. The objective was to discover the exact origin of microplastics that pollute the oceans.

The foundation is particularly attentive to institutional advances in the protection of marine spaces. Last Sunday, she welcomed the vote by UN member states on the first international treaty for the protection of the high seas. “It is a binding legal instrument, and not a simple addition of goodwill,” stressed André Abreu, advocacy director of the Tara Ocean Foundation, in a statement.