TARA OCEANS — Discovering the invisible world of the Ocean

By Tara Ocean Foundation

The Ocean plays an essential role in the equilibrium of our planet. With rapid changes occurring in the Earth's climate system, it becomes more urgent than ever to understand the Ocean. We need to discover the unknown aspects of the Ocean's functions, cycles and biodiversity, and anticipate modifications. This is the immense challenge facing a new science of the Ocean as we confront global

Chasing plankton by Françis Latreille / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation


Since 2003, the Tara Ocean Foundation has been active in favor of the environment and research. The Tara Oceans expedition set out in 2009 to explore plankton, the microscopic life of the Ocean. Plankton was at the very origin of life on Earth and continues to influence the climate of our planet.

The Ocean under stress (2009-11-30) by © Fabrizio Limena / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation

The Ocean under stress

More than three billion years ago, certain photosynthetic planktonic microorganisms —cyanobacteria— began to inject oxygen into a primitive atmosphere that was devoid of oxygen. Today more than 50% of the oxygen in the air we breathe is produced by plankton.

Exchanges between the atmosphere and the Ocean are constant (2012-03-12) by Guillaume Bounaud / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation

The Ocean: thermostat of the planet

The Ocean has constant exchanges with the atmosphere. It stores and redistributes enormous amounts of heat around the globe through ocean currents, thus playing a key role in global climate.

The Ocean, the big recycler

25% of the carbon dioxide we emit is absorbed and stored by the Ocean thanks to plankton

As long as there's plankton

The surface and illuminated layer of the Ocean shelters a formidable variety of tiny plants and animals that drift along with the current - THE PLANCTON . They play an essential role for humanity.

Tara: a platform for innovative scientific research (2012-01) by Julien Girardot / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation


The Tara Oceans expedition was a revolution in the world of research. Departing from Lorient on September 5, 2009, the schooner Tara traversed the world's oceans for 4 years with a unique mission: to establish a complete database of the global planktonic ecosystem.

Sailing across all the oceans of the globe by Olivier Fontvieille - Anne Ponscarme - OffParis.frTara Ocean Foundation

A marathon around the globe

The choice of itinerary was motivated by scientific and meteorological considerations. Our primary objective was to traverse all the different regions of the Ocean in order to define the relationship between the structure of planktonic ecosystems and their environment.

Tara Oceans: high-level scientific research by David Sauveur / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation


Highly qualified researchers relayed each other aboard Tara over a period of 4 years, using state-of-the-art technologies to identify, analyze and count the billions of organisms that populate the world's oceans at a depth between 0 and 800 meters. Oceanographers, biologists, geneticists and physicists collected samples of plankton and recorded the corresponding environmental parameters. The expedition and followup succeeded in creating an open-access database of planktonic organisms – an invaluable resource for years to come.

“Oceanography” aboard Tara means collecting more than 30,000 samples that were distributed to 20 international laboratories for analysis.

Transporting samples by Studio be-polesTara Ocean Foundation

The journey of data and samples

Every 6 to 8 weeks, stopovers were the opportunity for the crew to ship the samples (stored in liquid nitrogen) to our various partner laboratories where they were subsequently analyzed, including the sequencing of their DNA. Samples were always analyzed taking onto account their environmental parametres such as exact provenance, depth, temperature, pH and salinity.

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From samples to databases
More than 40,000 samples were collected during the Tara Oceans expedition. Thanks to recent advances in DNA sequencing methods, microscopic imaging and bioinformatics and within the framework of the OCEANOMICS Future Investment Program, 30% of the samples collected have already been processed between 2013 and 2017. These first analyses revealed above all the extent of our ignorance about the planktonic world.

Tara Oceans, an extraordinary new set of dataTara Ocean Foundation

Oceanographers are now taking a fresh look at this complex ecosystem, as if they had discovered the missing pieces of a puzzle. The image they discover will allow them to better understand the distribution, evolution, and adaptations of plankton.

Tara reveals plankton's extraordinary biodiversity by EMBL / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation


Data from the Tara Oceans expedition revealed the existence of millions of unknown genes. Forty million genes correspond to about 130,000 new genetic types of species. Half of the millions of news genes have unknown genetic functions. These data constitute an almost exhaustive catalogue of planktonic genes.

Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World (2016-08-10) by "Mandala du Plancton" extrait de "Plancton aux origines du vivant" Christian Sardet - 2013Tara Ocean Foundation

The oceans are full of life: each liter of sea water contains between 10 and 100 billion planktonic microorganisms – viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Molecular biology, marine biology, oceanography -- at all levels, these results are transforming our understanding of the marine ecosystem.

Tara Oceans, a revolutionary expedition
In May 2015, the largest plankton study ever done in all the world’s oceans – the TARA OCEANS expedition – published its first results in 5 scientific articles in the journal SCIENCE.
In all there have been more than 120 publications in various scientific journals.

Plankton is the foundation of the marine food chain by Tane Sinclair - TaylorTara Ocean Foundation

Plankton and climate change

Initial analyses identified temperature as one of the environmental factors that most strongly influences the distribution of planktonic communities. This implies that global warming could have a huge impact on planktonic communities and in particular the microscopic organisms whose photosynthetic activity is at the base of the marine food chain.

Bloom by ESATara Ocean Foundation

The plankton social network

The Ocean produces 50% of our oxygen and absorbs more than 25% of the CO2. Tara Oceans helped identify which planktonic organisms are responsible for this oceanic carbon pump. Published in the prestigious scientific journal NATURE, these results reveal the functional interactions within the planktonic community.

This photograph shows a bloom of vegetal plankton (phytoplankton) in the South Atlantic Ocean during the austral summer.

Diatoms by Christian Sardet / CNRS / Tara OceansTara Ocean Foundation

A treasure to share

Tara Oceans embodies a new philosophy of research. For the first time, our interdisciplinary team has made it possible to comprehend the oceanic ecosystem in a global way. All data collected during the Tara Oceans expedition is freely available, allowing the international scientific community to advance their research.

From clouds to the sea, the same waterTara Ocean Foundation


Only one third of the data collected during the Tara Oceans expedition has been analyzed to date, so the potential for discovery remains immense. Modeling of marine ecosystem evolution will continue over the next 15 years.

Tara, ambassador for the oceans (2006-06) by Francis Latraille / Tara Expeditions FoundationTara Ocean Foundation


Thanks to the new information learned from the Tara Oceans expedition, we will be able to better predict and anticipate the evolution of the Ocean in the face of climate change. Today, the Tara Ocean Foundation continues and intensifies our actions. To move forward, we need everyone's help. The Tara Ocean Foundation remains independent, functioning entirely thanks to the generosity of our donors and sponsors.

Every donation counts and allows our work to continue. To support the Tara Ocean Foundation:



Credits: Story

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

Francois Aurat
Francis Latreille
Fabrizio Limena
Guillaume Bounaud
David Sauveur
Tane Sinclair
Christian Sardet

Christian & Noé Sardet - Plankton Chronicles

Olivier Fontvieille - Anne Ponscarme - Offparis

The OCEANOMICS project benefits from state aid managed by the National Research Agency under the "Future Investment" programme with reference ANR-11BTBR-0008

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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