The French schooner Tara dropped anchor in Senegal before starting her return to Europe and completing nearly two years of navigation in the South Atlantic aimed at studying marine microorganisms and their key role in the ocean ecosystem.
Since departing on 12 December 2020 from its home port in Lorient (western France), the laboratory sailboat designed by explorer Jean-Louis Étienne in the 1980s has traveled around 38,000 miles (around 70,000 kilometers), rallying Chile , reaching the borders of Antarctica in the Weddell Sea and re-crossing the ocean to go up the coast of West Africa.
With its six sailors and a regularly renewed team of several scientists of all nationalities, the mission called Microbiomes took samples to help understand the little-known workings of microorganisms, largely invisible yet essential actors, and their interactions with the climate and pollution.
Microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton, larvae, etc.) represent two thirds of the marine biomass. “We take water from the surface or from the depths, which we filter into fractions of different sizes, and this allows us to have access to these different communities of plankton and microbiome.“Explained Samuel Chaffron, a researcher at Tara Ocean, the French scientific foundation that works for the conservation of the oceans and which devised the mission, explained Saturday in the port of Dakar.
Another object of study: plastic pollution: “For this we have collected a lot of plastic, macro, micro and nanoplastics, during the whole missionIn its African part, the mission, which is associated with 42 research institutes from around the world, has been particularly interested in rivers such as the Congo or the Gambia, their influence on biodiversity and pollution from microplastics.
“We pollute too much“
The mission also aims to educate and raise public awareness of oceanic issues during its stopovers and to serve for political defense. “We need to come up with a Marshall Plan for the ecological transition around the world“, Declared the general manager of Tara Ocean, Romain Troublé. “We are seeing that we are reaching the limits of everything. We fish too much, the ecosystem shows: there has been no thiof (white grouper) here for a few years. We pollute too much, it is enough to see the port of Dakar to understand ithe was alarmed.
Senegal, where the 36-meter sailboat arrived on Monday, constitutes the latest sequence dedicated to science and awareness of the cause of the oceans before returning via Lisbon and arriving in Lorient scheduled for mid-October. Between 11 and 19 September the mission will be on the Casamance River (southern Senegal), a spokesperson for Tara Océan said.
Sampling in Senegalese waters, “allows us to know what was there at that time, the fish currently found in the waters of Senegal and which cannot migrate, what they feed on“Exulted Baye Cheikh Mbaye, Senegalese oceanologist. He deplores the lack of resources and data of the Senegalese research institutes. “Tara’s mission allows you to fill a gap“, advance.