As a boy, Jean-François
Rees was gripped by the tales of Jules Verne and the adventures
of Captain Nemo deep beneath the sea. Through his reading he discovered
unknown worlds, a natural environment that he went on to study,
specialising in underwater biology. 'I did my final year thesis
under the supervision of Professor Baguet, an expert on the bio-luminous
animals of the deep. It seemed incredible to me that it was possible
to work on such creatures
Exploring the deep seabed
To share his passion, stimulate scientists to
reveal some of the secrets of the ocean depths and make the public
more aware of their work, Jean-François Rees came up with
the idea of 'showing, in real time, exactly what a researcher's
life is like'. That is the reason behind the Nemo site, which is
aimed in particular at school pupils and students who are invited
to enter a very special world of knowledge. 'The deep seabed forms
the biggest ecosystem on the planet. Yet it remains largely unexplored.
So come with us on a voyage of Discovery. And experience live, day
by day, our expeditions to study the extraordinary creatures who
live there. Read the daily ship's log of our adventures. And, most
important of all, send us your questions and comments by e-mail.
We will reply from dry land or from our boat if we are on a mission
'I do not see it so much as popularising our work
as a way of sharing the day-to-day experiences of a sea expedition,
with all its joys and disappointments. Those who follow us will
notice that there is more to research than cold logic. It is a genuine
adventure with all the uncertainties that implies.'
Sea spray via the Web
Thanks to satellite communications it is possible
to follow the daily progress of the expeditions, underwater explorations
and work of the scientists on board an oceanographic boat. The ship's
log reveals the scientists' state of mind, the excitement of the
departure, difficulties linked to weather conditions, and the anticipation
among the crew as the nets are dragged up from the ocean depths.
Reading the description of a terrible storm on 27 September you
can almost feel the spray lashing against your face. You find yourself
asking the same questions as the researchers (What are these animals
producing these flashes of light that can be seen on the videos?
Why do some fish give off such an awful stench during dissection?),
and sharing the same sometimes critical problems of their crews
(How can the research continue when the deep-sea net tears?).
Blue octopus and sea cats
The blue octopus on the home page has been adopted
as a mascot by one class of secondary school pupils. Other youngsters
have nicknamed the crew 'Cousteau.be'. Questions arrive by e-mail
from all over the place, rich in variety and sometimes decidedly
unexpected ('There are sea horses and sea lions
but what about
sea cats?' asks Alice). 'On each expedition we are taken to the
very limits of our knowledge. So it is only normal for their
questions to make sense to a researcher such as myself. Underwater
biology is a kind of terra incognita and the deep seabeds are the
biggest ecosystems on the planet. It is easy to understand how such
a situation can excite young people's imagination
Back to natural history
The paradox for Jean-François Rees is that,
as our knowledge of biology expands, so the researcher is becoming
increasingly detached from nature. 'The naturalist side of this
discipline is on the decline, yet it is often this aspect which
is the most interesting. Natural history stimulates an interest
in biology and adds to the need for a general understanding.'
This is the kind of aspiration to which a site
such as Nemo tries to respond. As does the 'natural history showcase',
another initiative launched by Jean-François Rees and others.
It involves asking young people to discover the secrets of an animal
chosen from the collections in a natural history museum. Through
dialogue and a set of questions, its story is told. Why does it
have such a shape? Why, for example, does a crocodile swallow stones?
Little by little, by trial and error, and as the questions are asked
and answered, the 'truth' is revealed. 'There is not enough practical,
hands-on experience in science lessons. The aim of the exercises
I propose is to add to our understanding of the world through experimentation.'
When asked whether all these activities to promote
biology take up too much of his time, Jean-François Rees
admits that the hour he spends every day drawing up the log and
answering questions is demanding. 'But it is a choice, and a very
gratifying choice.' The next trip is already planned: in January
or April the team will be setting off to study the animals of the
hydrothermal sources in the Pacific Ocean. The aim is to dive to
a depth of 2 500 metres under the sea deep within the submarine
"Le Nautile". Further adventures are already being discussed
Ninety metres long and
able to accommodate 50 crew and passengers, the 'Discovery'
is a 'genuine little factory, operating day and night
so that the scientists can make full use of the time
spent on board'. Sailing under the British flag, the
vessel belongs to the National Environmental Research