Friday, 30 March 2012

TARA OCEAN - hunting plankton round the globe

Wave under grey sky - Tara Ocean Pictures

Thinking of the sea, dreaming of the ocean, contemplating the beach; what pictures come to your mind? Waves, whales, sunset? Living sea? Fish that you eat, jellyfish that you fear, dolphins that you admire? That is not all what is out there, its even the smaller part of marine live, possibly the  less relevant part.

The fish that we know is just the "visible top" of a major biological engine that is running this globe.  It is precious in its self and critical for the living of many million people. But most of the living sea is tiny, unknown and everywhere, just swimming under your belly or touching the bow of your boat - plankton, bacteria and viruses.  

The TARA Oceans
Well before jellyfish, fish or dolphins appeared in the seas "life evolved in the oceans for more than 2.5 billion years as a world of unicellular organisms composed of viruses, bacteria and protists. The massive number of these micro-organisms still represents today more than 98% of life in the oceans. These organisms are a key actor of our planet's ecology. Not only do we originate from them through cellular and developmental evolution, but we also owe our existence to their impact on the chemistry of our atmosphere. Without them, there would be no O2, no oil and no twenty first century scientists to think about it. Yet we know virtually nothing of these microscopic ecosystems [Eric Karsenti]." To discover this world Eric Karsenti, from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and Etienne Bourgois, director of Tara Expeditions conceived the Tara Ocean expedition.

Darwin sailing on Beagle
This unique expedition, Tara Ocean sailing the globe, is a modern version of the early scientific exploration of the sea - be it the "Challenger Expedition" (1872-76)" of the global ocean, the "Plankton Expedition“ (1889) in the Atlantic Ocean or  the  exploring the deep sea by the "Valdivia Expedition" (1898-99).

Thus a taste of adventure and life of an early explorer is attached to the Tara Ocean expedition. However without the political touch of that period to "show the flag". Exemplary, the expedition of the German research vessel Meteor to the South-Atlantic, should call as many as possible ports. What lead to the sequence of sampling lines across the ocean between Africa and South-America. The following analysis of the data showed that this had been a useful scientific strategy too. On board of Tara Ocean is most modern scientific equipment, modern navigation and communication tools just as was done for the classical marine expeditions of the 19th century - vessels were driven by modern steam engines, having left the time of Darwin's expedition, sailing on the Beagle, as old-fashioned behind.

The Tara Ocean Expedition builds on the success of the  Tara Arctic expedition. The Tara Arctic expedition has demonstrated the reality of global warming. The polar regions being most sensitive to it. Now the target was to size the global distribution of plankton by one common and consistent set of measurements. Why? " Half of our CO2 production is absorbed by planktonic organisms. These organisms are at the very origin of life, and a major component of the climate engine. Without oxygen-producing plankton, humans would never have seen the light of day, and without them, we will disappear. Our future is bound to the fate of the microscopic life in the oceans. How will plankton adjust to abrupt changes in the environment? Will the oceans bloom with invasive species or will there be ocean desertification ?  The next question is obvious: what will be the impact on life and on human society?  [quote: TARA OCEANS ( ]".

Tomorrow 31st. March Tara Oceans is expected to call her port, Lorient in Brittany. The last sample was taken  recently, a few miles off the Spanish coast, close to where the Tara Oceans expedition took off more than two years before; this last sample ending a global hunt for plankton.

Having on board modern proven technologies for exploring the abundance and diversity of planktonic life and being  guided by regular satellite communication and standard oceanographic data, Tara Oceans targeted to the composition of plankton at depth while monitoring the physical and chemical parameters of the ocean. Its breath and endurance makes this endeavour unique, its technology mix adds to its charm, its goal helps our survival.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Use wisely, no plundering please

from: G.  Monbiot, Monday 8 August 2011
About half of humanity is living within 200 km away from the sea. Thus for many "sea" or "ocean may be a word, may be picture, but may not be an experiences - neither in work nor in leisure, be it fishing or  beach combing. However we humans live from the sea  - and lived from it certainly since neolithic times. Today we humans consumed daily about 40g fish and fisheries products of which little less than half is coming from aquaculture. Without fish  our nutrition balance is in danger in particular  in low-income food deficit countries (LIFDCs) where 2006-2009 about 19% of total animal protein intake  is ensured by fish and fisheries products.  

Its a known hazard that we are  plundering the sea to death. Non-sustainable fishery and pollution destabilize marine ecosystem, of which Algae blooms, oxygen deficit zones are a warning signs. Beyond that plundering the sea  puts at risk our food and our economy too. Thus for those of us, for whom the environment is a second concern after economy some food for thought:

More at:
According to key messages, distilled by  Mundus Maris  from the so the 2010 State of Fisheries and Aquaculture report of FAO, an estimate of 118 million tons fish were used for human consumption in 2009. That is an important part our "daily bread" as the global average of fish and fisheries products consumption (17 kg / capita in 2009) indicates not-withstanding that many people do not have access to fish and fish products. Additional 27 million tons fish were used for non-human use, mostly for fish meal and oil that is often re-used for aquaculture.

Some 20 million tons of fish were caught illegally, unregulated or unreported.  The damage created by these illicit activities were estimated in the range of US$ 10 and 23.5 billion annually or 10 % to 25% of the value of global fishery at first sales point (2006 of  US$ 91.2 billion). 

Oxyrhynchus: Egyptian Fish God
According to the same report, more than  40 million people work full-time, part-time or occasionally in fish production (fisheries and aquaculture). Perhaps as many as four times more people work in activities associated with fishing and aquaculture (boat building and repair, making and repair of gear, feeding and tending in aquaculture, post-harvest handling of fish, marketing). Women play an important role in both the catching and culture sectors, mostly as entrepreneurs and laborers in pre- and post-harvest activities. Assuming that three other dependent family members take advantage of the sector, this adds up to more than half a billion people, close to 8% of the world population who's living depend directly on fishing and aquaculture.  Their income and thus their life is threatened if we plunder the sea to death - triggering a thrilling flow of events.

p.s.  Some pictures use in this blog are from IMAGGEO on-line open access geosciences image repository of the European Geosciences Union, of which I'm member.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Campus Plein Sud - Mundus Maris

Jonas och Valfisken; Carle Milles 1932 
Mundus maris - Sciences et Arts pour la Durabilité asbl participe cette année encore avec des activités à l'appui de l'agenda de Campus Plein Sud, à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).

L'agenda dans la dixième année d'existence se concentre à nouveau sur les questions de l'eau et de la durabilité, cette fois avec une attention particulière au changement climatique.

Depuis ses débuts, l'ambition de Campus Plein Sud était d'informer la communauté universitaire des nombreuses facettes du développement »dans le Sud global» de façon à remplacer la caricature de la misère ou de l'exotisme souvent peinte par les médias par une compréhension plus nuancée.
Le projet sur ​​le développement et les tests de modules d'enseignement sur des écosystèmes marins dans des écoles pilotes au Sénégal et la Gambie avance. Mundus maris, en collaboration avec des partenaires expérimentés locales, Stay Green Foundation en Gambie et UNI.V.ERE au Sénégal, développe une valise pédagogique, qui sera testée dans le premier trimestre de 2012. Cinq écoles à Hann et Kayar (Sénégal) et quatre écoles à Gunjur et Tanji (Gambie) vont participer. La collaboration a lieu dans le cadre des activités pilotes soutenus par le projet EAF Nansen de la FAO.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Shame going seaward - boats and plastic

Boats, Fisch and Plastic join at sea. A strange mixture, often a deadly mixture for marine life, and a strange way to record our human activities in the geological record at the seabed.

from Mundus Maris:
"Sciences and Arts to Protect the Sea in West Africa"
A recent workshop of  Mundus Maris  takes the focus that "we are living in times of change in the life-support system of our planet and in our societies. Within the lifetime of today's young people we need to accommodate up to an estimated 9 billion fellow-humans, compared to our current population of an estimated seven billion citizens, predominantly living in urban areas. We need to ask ourselves what type of education, knowledge and skills young people need to live peacefully and sustainable with one another. This also begs the question how we may all want to revisit the way we live, exercise our respective professions and relate to nature, the seas, and to our global neighbours of all ages, beliefs, races and gender. The sciences produced assessments of the state of our ecosystems, the climate and the oceans, which are extremely worrying. They also give us a better handle on how we might cope drawing on the knowledge that is already available in the public domain, even create new opportunities for lifting more people out of poverty and live dignified lives." 

Feeding us from the sea feels good, as long as it is done in sustainable manner.  Polluting the sea with substances like wast, toxic sludge or oil as done endangers our environment and spikes the natural cycling of matters. Scientist of future generations will be able to use these spikes to trace events just as radioactive fall out of early test of atomic bombs in the atmosphere was used to trace ground water flows or ocean circulation by looking for Tritium. However there are matters, such as plastic debris,  that litters not only the sea but likely puts a geological marker on the sea-floor, possibly readable for ever as "tracer of shame" by an alien or human marine archaeologist .

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Mundus Maris - or how to eat fish...

Small fish is no food for us
Brusselious differently, or wondering whether will we still be able to buy swordfish, tuna loins, tasty grouper, octopus and native mussels and oysters from near home? Or will we eat jellyfish burger in the future?

What can we learn from the culinary seafood traditions and the culture of the many nationalities that have developed a love for the sea and its food? Quite a few have also settled in Brussels and Belgium leaving a stamp on the eating habits of the European capital.

This is the beginning of a series of articles and activities invited by Mundus Maris, which we will feature in 2012, in the occasion of the year of gastronomy in Brussels, 'Brusselicious', and the growing attention to issues of food, culture and food security further afield.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sciences and Arts for Sustainability - take a look

"Fish Creature with Seven Men" of the Swedish Artist Carl Milles
The international association "Mundus Maris" takes up the mission to provide scientific and relevant indigenous knowledge and encourage artistic expression about the sea in order to promote its restoration, conservation and sustainable use, to further the study, understanding and respect of aquatic ecosystems and associated biological and cultural diversity. Scientists, artists, school teachers, concerned parents from different regions of the world, are joining forces to promote transitions towards sustainability values and practices as well as human and dignified lives. Their objectives include making accessible to non-specialists scientifically validated knowledge [including 'ethno-scientific' knowledge] in ways that facilitate critical engagement and encourage active use of such knowledge for the transition towards sustainability.  They like to encourage artistic expression in response to scientific knowledge reflecting diverse ways of 'knowing' and articulating such knowledge. Social networking and appropriation of knowledge are fostered for understanding marine and coastal ecosystems on one hand and marine cultures on the other; for example by  international cooperation among schools so that works of students and other people gain exposure with the pursuit of knowledge of the sea. Combining different approaches such as to extract relevant information from the best available scientific sources and to promote a better valuation of indigenous knowledge in the pursuit of the transition towards sustainability. Active collaboration between researcher, artists, teachers, students and local communities is found to encourage young people's own research on the fisheries crisis and environmental and social challenges so that schools to enhance their role as platforms for greater collective awareness of the next generations of the importance of safeguarding biodiversity and cultural diversity.