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EU research shares stage with global 'Tara' expedition

Cutting-edge marine and maritime research was on display as the European Commission and the 'Tara Oceans' project crossed paths in Barcelona on 1 October 2009. Researchers from across Europe and around the world presented the latest work on biodiversity, aquaculture, blue biotech and climate change, while toasting the Tara as it embarks on a round-the-world scientific expedition.

Tara in Barcelona port © Peter Gutierrez
the Tara docks in
Barcelona
© Peter Gutierrez

"Our seas and oceans are under constant threat," said Maive Rute, Director of Biotechnologies, Agriculture and Food at the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General. "They are affected by many kinds of human activity, by coastal erosion, CO 2 and acidification, transport activities and climate change. But they are also an enormous source of wealth, much of which is still undiscovered."

Speaking at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) in Barcelona, Rute affirmed the Union's commitment to both protect and exploit marine resources in a sustainable way European. "But to do this we need science and technology to provide solutions," she insisted.

The EU's groundbreaking Maritime Policy Communication 'A European Strategy for Marine and Maritime Research', adopted in September 2008, has been a major impetus behind the launch of the Commission's 2009 'Ocean of Tomorrow' call for proposals. Its aim is been to achieve a truly integrated approach to the problems and challenges facing the world's seas and oceans. EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, said the new call is "a golden opportunity to gather the best scientists and to pool our resources, to harness the full potential of our seas in the most sustainable manner."

The 'Oceans of Tomorrow' event in Barcelona showcased a wide range of EU-funded research projects already tackling key issues in the marine and maritime sectors. It was also a chance for key players to meet and to salute the exciting Tara Oceans expedition.

What is Tara Oceans?

Maive Rute © Peter Gutierrez
Maive Rute
© Peter Gutierrez

The platform for Tara Oceans is the Tara herself, a unique, specially equipped, 36-metre-long sailboat previously owned by the famous French explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, then by the adventurer Sir Peter Blake, who was murdered by pirates while sailing the Tara up the Amazon.

Now owned by the visionary businessman Etienne Bourgis and captained by the rugged Hervé Bourmaud, Tara's recent Arctic expedition demonstrated convincingly the reality of global warming by documenting the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap.

Under the new Tara Oceans expedition, an international team of oceanographers, ecologists, biologists and physicists from prestigious laboratories is setting out on a three-year, round-the-world voyage, with the goal of analysing plankton ecosystems in relation to physicochemical conditions throughout the world’s oceans, assessing their adaptation to a rapidly changing earth system.

Artists, journalists, scientific and cultural personalities from visited countries will also be associated with this exceptional adventure. A crucial aspect of Tara will be its ability to captivate a larger public audience, a true modern-day adventure on the high seas, circumnavigating the globe in the battle to save the planet.

EU lends support

The European Commission is making an important contribution to the Tara expedition in the form of funding for dissemination. The Commission sees Tara Oceans as a marvellous opportunity to educate the public and gather support for important work that needs to be done in the field of marine and maritime research.

" Tara is a platform for science," said MC4 Television Producer Michael Pitiot, "but it is also a link between science and the public." The French 'Thalassa' television programme, he explained, has already committed itself to following the Tara expedition for at least the first 10 months of its voyage. The programme, shown on Friday evenings at 20h45 on France 3, watched by millions of viewers, will feature Tara mission news, updates and special reports. A major film of the expedition will also be produced.

Hard science

Eric Karsenti © Peter Gutierrez
Eric Karsenti
© Peter Gutierrez

Onboard the Tara, large scale genomics and metagenomics projects will be undertaken in specially devised mini-laboratories. This work, coupled with newly developed high-resolution and high-throughput imaging methods will allow quantitative studies of plankton ecosystems and identification of the plankton composition within these ecosystems. Integrative bio-informatics analyses of imaging, genome, physicochemical and climate data generated in the project will be used to assess plankton biodiversity and activity in the range of ocean ecosystems sampled.

"It will take a lot of work during and after the expedition to interpret and understand the information contained in the collected data," explains Tara Oceans Co-Director Eric Karsenti. "All of the data generated through the project will go to form an open-source multidimensional bio-oceanographic database that will allow generating predictive models of the spatio-temporal evolution of plankton ecosystems."

The results of Tara Oceans are sure to have profound implications for our understanding of early life evolution, global biogeochemical cycles and spatio-temporal evolution of the earth climate.

Cover "A sea change for ocean management: A European strategy for marine and maritime research"
A sea change for ocean management: A European strategy for marine and maritime research

The European Commission’s Communication on Marine and Maritime Research, published in September 2008, lays out an action plan for better integration of research among the maritime and marine communities in order to address the problems of marine degradation caused by human activities and to develop new technologies for sustainable development of maritime activities. A new brochure, ' A sea change for ocean management: A European strategy for marine and maritime research' pdf - 3 MB [3 MB] , based on that communication, explains the context behind its creation and some of the proposed actions and initiatives that will be carried out in the coming years.

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