With the remarkable (and surprising!) history of exploration behind Biotherm fresh in my mind, my travel continued to one of their partners – an organization that, strangely enough, was new to me despite my background from sailing and ocean expeditions.
In the back seat of a taxi slowly paving its way through the busy streets of Paris, I am getting briefed on the link between Tara Expeditions and Biotherm.
– We are really proud to collaborate with Tara Expedition Foundation because of the important research they are doing to understand the impact we have on nature and the oceans, Johanna says.
Johanna is Scientific Communication Manager at Biotherm, and the one who’s been educating me on the vision and science behind Water Lover and their environmental platform. (Lots to learn here for a simple engineer!)
We stop outside a blue door before we enter an office that looks more like an exhibition space, with stools and a table artisticly made out of ocean plastic and big ocean-inspired posters on industrial concrete walls. In the opposite end of the room is a model of their research vessel Tara; a steel hulled, two masted sail ship – a 36 meter schooner (in real size).
A man who looks like he’s just jumped off a sailboat meets us with a big smile. My assumtions are not far from true. This is Romain Troublé, Executive director of Tara Expeditions. Romaín is a sailor and a scientist – in that order – he says. Since 2006 he has been leading Tara Expeditions which was founded three years earlier by Agnés B and her son, Etienne Bourgois, who now runs the organization with Romain.
And by running, I mean hard core expedition sailing and hands on ocean science. The Tara Expeditions sail the world’s seas with scientists onboard who collect ocean data and study the marine eco systems. The goal is to better understand the ocean and ultimately preserve it.
– We have contributed to most of the scientific papers published over the past years in marine science, Romaín tells me. More than 70 papers… and about 100.000 new species and more than 150 million genes have been discovered on our expeditions, he continues.
– Actually, this afternoon we will publish a paper that shows that we have about 200.000 different virums in the ocean. Up until today we only knew about 16.000 of them.
As I am trying to fathom the significance of 100.000 different ocean species and 200.000 viruses, Romaín shrugs and calls this “basic science” before he moves on to tell me about their upcoming expedition.
– This one will be different, he begins. This year we will sail around Europe for seven months and go up the ten largest rivers and search for sources of ocean plastic. The flux of plastic into the seas. It’s interesting because we know that about 80% of all marine plastic origins from land, but lack knowledge on exactly who’s responsible. We need that information to stop it, he says.
Over the past ten years, Tara has been roaming the oceans from Antarctic to the Arctic, taking samples.
In addition to look at where the plastic comes from, it’s Tara’s goal to answer what impact it has on marine biodiversity. And we need to know where to focus our effort to close the tap in order to tackle this issue.
Biotherm have been collaborating with Tara Expeditions since 2017 and supported their previous expedition in the Pacific where they sailed across eleven time zones, from Panama Canal to Japan and studied some of the most remote islands and coral reefs.
With water and aquatic ingredients in the core of their brand, Biotherm is putting great effort into ocean research and preservation, and collaborate with the Mission Blue founded by “Her Deepness” Dr. Sylvia Earle. Since 2012 Biotherm Water Lover has contributed to protect more than 17 million square kilometers of ocean, called Hope Spots.
A healthy ocean is vital to a healthy planet, and ultimately to our own health and wellbeing, Johanna says.
Romaín explains that to fund their research partnerships is vital, however it’s important to Tara that they choose partners who share their values and do their part.
– Biotherm are doing some good things with their Water Lover platform; rethinking packaging and making sunscreen that’s not affecting the marine environment negatively is a move in the right direction.
It’s not easy to navigate the ocean of choices and alternatives as a consumer, and to know how you can avoid having a negative environmental impact – or even better; leave a positive one.
We do have the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the 169 underlying targets as guidelines. However, with media and producers constantly misleading us with headlines that tweak facts from scientific reports, or products that are branded as “green” and a thousand “bio-friendly” alternatives to plastic, we ought to keep our head straight and educate ourselves.
– For almost twenty years, false solutions (although reassuring for the consumer) such as “oxo-fragmentable” or “biodegradable” bags have emerged. In reality, this kind of packaging is only degradable in rare industrial composters and can cause great harm on nature and often ends up at sea, says Romaín.
In short; everything remains to be invented and scientific expertise is more than ever necessary in order to distinguish between good and false solutions!
Knowledge is key. If we are to combat plastic pollution more effectively, and move towards a circular economy, we need to act along the chain, not just the ultimate stage with sorting and recycling. And we need people like Romáin and his team at Tara Expeditions. Since they were founded in 2003, eleven expeditions traveled over 400,000 kilometres and collected more than 60,000 samples!
In 2015, they were granted status as special observer at the United Nations, and a permanent seat at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This basically means that they have a say in the discussions and guidelines on how our goverments take the oceans into account when making policies and regulations for our society.
– We can only do so much as private individuals to save the oceans, the transitions towards a circular economy are very heavy and must not rely solely on the consumer. We need good frameworks to get there. Our work with the UN addresses the need to strengthen the participation of civil society in environmental decisions on a global level.
As fellow sailors, Romáin and I know the bitter sweet taste of doing what we love while witnessing the environmental changes as we’re sailing. I woke up today to read a report stating that we consume 50.000 plastic particles yearly, in average, only through our food intake. And the same amount through the air we breathe.
How do we stay hopeful and motivated to do our part facing a challenge that seems so vast? There might not be a simple answer, but we get closer by asking simple questions. We have managed to tackle environmental issues before, and we can do it again.
Romáin sums our conversation up by saying:
– We need all hands on deck – from government to consumers. We must ask questions, learn and continue on this voyage of discovery. We’re all in the same boat after all.
On the 24-25thof June Tara Expeditions will visit Oslo to share their findings, and welcome you all onboard!