Press Conference on Tara Oceans Expedition

9 February 2012

Press Conference on Tara Oceans Expedition

9 February 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Tara Oceans Expedition

French fashion designer agnès b. and a panel of ocean experts welcomed today the arrival in New York of the Tara Oceans Expedition, which was poised to complete a three-year journey to gather critical information on how climate change would further damage the world’s major bodies of water.

“I am a citizen.  I am a woman,” said Agnès Troublé, better known as agnès b., whose foundation helped to fund the expedition, at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations.  “I have 14 grandchildren so it is my job to talk about this,” she added.  “ Tara is very important.  It’s an enormous world and we have to understand it and protect it.  It’s our job.  All of us.”

After the vessel sets sail for France on Sunday, wrapping up a 70,000 mile journey that reached 30 countries and 42 ports of call, all the data collected would be analysed, said Eric Karsenti, the expedition’s scientific director.  The challenge had been to understand how the network of plankton in the oceans was organized in order to predict how global warming would change the behaviour of those organisms, which provided the world with 30 per cent of its oxygen.  “There is a problem of communication with science and the public and this project aims to explain the science,” he added.  “Doing an adventure like this on a boat with a very attractive scientific project would help to communicate to the public a little bit of the excitement scientists can have and also to educate children.”

After collecting data and visiting classrooms in Nice, Naples, Beirut, Tripoli and several dozen other cities, ecosystem structures remained virtually a “virgin” field, Mr. Karsenti said, explaining that the existing 1.5 million species of ocean organisms were mostly unknown and the ocean ecosystem’s viral diversity almost completely unknown.  Alongside increasing ocean acidification, the situation needed swift attention, he said.  “We cannot think that we have no impact on ecosystems.  We are part of the system and we have a huge impact.”  Overfishing, oil drilling and pollution were among the culprits, as was the urgent adoption of policies to develop renewable energy sources, he said, emphasizing the vital need for an international ocean-monitoring system and sustainable policies covering the high seas.  “If we change the planet too quickly, we’ll have no way to predict the consequences,” he warned.

Agreeing, Philippe Kridelka, Director of the New York office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said ocean acidity had increased by 30 per cent since the Industrial Revolution, and rising sea levels were already affecting small island developing States.  The Organization’s partnership with Tara “has helped UNESCO with the relationship between science and public opinion, but also between decision-makers,” he said.

Andrew Hudson, a former oceanographer and now head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Water and Ocean Governance Programme, said he had been “literally blown away” during a tour of the Tara after the vessel had docked in New York on 5 February.  “By focusing on filling gaps in our knowledge of the ocean’s amazing diversity of plankton, the Tara is serving a critical function in broader global efforts to better understand how the ocean works and how human impacts, including climate change, will impact our oceans, and the billions of people that depend on healthy oceans for their food security and livelihoods.”  He added that the sophistication of the Tara’s ocean measurement and computational equipment could serve as a model for a brand of low-cost, high-efficiency ocean scientific research.

Mr. Karsenti said that, when the Tara sets sail for France on 12 February, it would continue to collect data, which had cost a total of €$9 billion for the vessel’s global journey.  It would then begin raising funds for the €$10 to €20 billion it would cost to analyse the data, a process that could take as long as a decade, he added.

Getting scientific facts to the media and public was extremely important, he emphasized when asked how to better get scientific facts to members of the Republican Party in the United States who claimed that climate change did not exist.  Asked how many stops the vessel had made in the country, he said the Tara had stopped in San Diego and Savannah.

Responding to a question about who should monitor the world’s oceans, Mr. Karsenti suggested a blend of the United Nations playing a role alongside intergovernmental treaties.  Small actions, such as refusal by restaurants to serve shark fin, could also have an impact on the overfishing of sharks, he said, adding that oil companies could spend more on researching renewable energy instead of drilling.

Asked about any surprises found among the data so far, he explained that the expedition was still in the information-gathering stage.

When asked the best way to fill the conservation movement with hope and pleasure through increasingly hard economic conditions, agnès b. said:  “Children”, recalling how, as Tara had stopped in each town, children had visited and been told about the expedition.  “They will change if they know the story; they will do better later,” she said.  “I believe in them.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.