TARA PACIFIC: A UNIQUE APPROACH TO THE BIODIVERSITY OF CORAL REEFS

Tara Expeditions Foundation

Coral is the cradle of marine biodiversity. Scientists estimate that a total of more than one million species of plants and animals are associated with the coral ecosystem. Today major threats such as climate change, carbon emissions and human activities are having a major impact on the reefs.

TARA EXPEDITIONS FOUNDATION, THE OCEAN IN THE 21ST CENTURY
The Tara Expeditions Foundation has been working to protect the environment and promote scientific research since 2003, using the schooner Tara as a platform. For 15 years Tara has been traveling all the oceans of the planet. The boat left her home port of Lorient on May 28, 2016 to crisscross the Pacific Ocean from east to west and from north to south. On board, an interdisciplinary team of scientists is examining in a new way the biodiversity of coral reefs and their evolution in the face of climate change.
CORAL = ANIMAL, VEGETABLE AND MINERAL
A coral reef is a living structure formed by polyps resembling small jellyfish in an inverted position, the mouth surrounded by tentacles on top. The lower part of the polyp is a skeleton that forms the foundation of coral reef construction. As polyps multiply and their calcareous skeletons grow, the coral colonies develop into huge structures.

Coral reefs: builders of the ocean

Coral colonies develop slowly, at a rate of 1 cm per year depending on the species. A reef can reveal thousands of years of history. Their structures vary and can evolve towards several forms of reefs -- the fringing reef, the barrier reef and the atoll.

Coral reefs: reservoirs of life, protection for the coasts, and source of wealth

These incredible underwater structures act as a nursery for fish, thus providing an essential source of protein for the global diet.
Reefs are also real living barriers which protect the coasts and their inhabitants from storms and cyclones.
Every year, nearly 1 million people enjoy the reefs through leisure activities

TARA PACIFIC: A UNIQUE EXPEDITION INTO THE HEART OF CORAL
The scope of this expedition is exceptional. It aims to study the entire Pacific Ocean, where more than 40% of the planet's coral reefs are concentrated. Such an approach has never been accomplished at this scale.

- 40 archipelagos studied using identical protocols, then compared
- 40,000 samples collected over a 2-year period
- 70 scientists on board from 8 different countries
- 26 partner institutions & research laboratories

TARA PACIFIC: THE BIGGEST CORAL SURVEY EVER ACCOMPLISHED
- Study the biodiversity of coral reefs, from their genome to the ecosystem - Understand the health of coral reefs in the specific context of climate change - Explore the capacity of resistance, adaptation and resilience of these habitats in the face of climate change - Contribute to developing applications for tomorrow's medical research

From the gene to the ecosystem

The specificity of this expedition is to allow researchers to characterize the genetic identity of the reef's biodiversity, including bacteria, viruses, fish, algae and coral. Analysis of this information will help us understand how coral and surrounding organisms can adapt, or not.

TARA PACIFIC: A UNIQUE ECOSYSTEMIC APPROACH TO CORAL REEFS

Immerse yourself in a Tara Pacific sampling session via this interview with Emilie Boissin, scientific coordinator, and Rebecca Vega, microbiologist at the University of Oregon.

The DNA of coral

Tara is equipped with a brand-new type of DNA sequencer, the MinION, to help biologists and chemists identify different species. A jewel of technological innovation smaller than a smartphone.

Hyperdiver, coral on the scanner

During the Tara Pacific expedition, the prototype of an underwater scanner called HyperDiver used a hyperspectral camera to map the reefs. Hyperdiver provided vital information on the biodiversity of these zones of coral.

Over many days and dives, the device recorded a whole library of life. These photos are being analyzed in a completely automatic way.


Discoveries in marine biodiversity

During the Tara Pacific expedition, the schooner is exploring very remote reefs whose biodiversity is virtually unknown. In the archipelago of Wallis and Futuna for example, the team carried out a complete inventory of underwater biodiversity. An earlier inventory was only partial and dated back to the 1970s.

Tara Pacific, targeted studies

Ten sites are being studied for their local particularities where natural conditions make it possible to extrapolate the evolution of the reefs. For example in Japan, regions with very low pH caused by volcanic CO2 sources give us an opportunity to study responses of biodiversity to an acidified Ocean, as it will be in 2100 if we do not reduce our emissions of CO2.

CORAL BLEACHING: A MAJOR THREAT
Warming of the ocean is a major threat to the reefs. An increase of less than 1°C for a few weeks may be sufficient to cause coral bleaching. The loss of colour is the result of separation between the animal (the polyp) and the algae (zooxanthella) that gives it food and energy.

Global warming and El Niño

We can no longer consider episodes of rising temperatures only occasional, like the El Niño cyclical phenomenon. Today there is a global warming of the ocean, in addition to very hot summer seasons. The greater the increase in water temperatures and the longer the exposure to these higher temperatures, the greater is the bleaching phenomenon.

Coral tomorrow?
Scientists are predicting profound changes in coral reefs over the next 2 decades. Today's abundant species are those for which the current conditions are ideal. In the future, the environment will become favorable for the development of other species. In this context of upheavals, organisms develop their capacity to adapt. This is called “species turnover”.

Tara Pacific: understanding the complexity of coral reefs

Data collected during the Tara Pacific expedition will help answer major questions regarding the health of coral reefs in the specific context of climate change.

EXPLORE TO UNDERSTAND
SHARE FOR A CHANGE

Thanks to the Tara Pacific expedition, we are discovering the hidden diversity of coral and can better understand its ability to adapt to climate change.
Today, the Tara Expeditions Foundation continues and intensifies our actions. To move forward, we need everyone's help. The Tara Foundation remains independent, functioning entirely thanks to the generosity of our donors and sponsors.

To move forward, we need the help of everyone because the Tara Foundation remains independent. We operate thanks to the generosity of our donors, essential sponsors of our actions.

Every donation counts and allows our work to continue. To support the Tara Expeditions Foundation:
donate.taraexpeditions.org

HELP US TO ADVANCE RESEARCH AND PRESERVE THE OCEAN


Credits: Story

The Tara Foundation would like to thank the photographers and illustrators who made this exhibition possible:

PHOTOGRAPHS
Francis Latreille
Pete West / Bioquest Studios
Francois Aurat
Pete West
Maeva Bardy
Yann Chavance
Sarah Fretwell
Michel Flores
Loïc Menard
David Hannan
Noëlie Pansiot
NASA

ILLUSTRATORS
Datcha
LaNiak

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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