In the third in our series of All-Atlantic Conversations, Joanne Sweeney interviews Romain Troublé, Executive Director of the Tara Ocean Foundation, on the impact of an All-Atlantic approach.
The Tara Ocean Foundation is working on the microbiome of the water column of the ocean. They are trying to address this question with genomics and understand how this microbiome is affected by climate change, by pollution or plastics, for instance, all the chemicals in the rivers of the Southern Atlantic.
What do you think will be the ultimate impact of All-Atlantic cooperation?
Yeah. Well, the Northern Atlantic is very well known for a long time now. Are the Galway Statement and all the effort has been put into the Northern Atlantic. But when you’re an oceanographer and you look at the ocean, of course, most of the water in the North Atlantic is coming from the South Atlantic. And so, to understand better the situation of the Atlantic as a whole, we really need to make a huge effort on the Southern Atlantic. And this is what we are going to do with Atlantic-All and also other projects. And also, there is a lot of work to do between Africa and the South, Latin America. That’s also a nice chunk if I wanted to take that.
As an oceanographer, you spend a lot of time at sea. Can you tell us what works that you are doing that is making an impact to the All-Atlantic vision?
With The Tara Ocean Foundation of the Atlantic-All Program, we are really working on the microbiome of the water column of the ocean. On the surface, down to the bottom of the ocean, we try to collect the species that we have there, between viruses, to bacterias, and micro algae and also organisms that are feeding on them. And trying to address this question with genomics and understand how this microbiome is affected by climate change, by pollution or plastics, for instance, all the chemicals in the rivers of the Southern Atlantic. And this will, of course, give us a lot of insight into how this machine is producing so many services every day. So, it is we are breathing oxygen. We are using these proteins made by this microbiome of the ocean for our daily use. They’ll eat for many people. But also, these microorganisms in a microscopic world are storing a lot of CO2 as well, capturing the CO2 to the ocean. So, there’s a lot to understand in this biology.
The challenge might seem as vast, as deep, or as wide as the sea is. So, what can a partnership do? You spoke initially about a lot of the sea comes from the South Atlantic. So, what does a partnership model look like for you between north and south?
It’s key to understand the connectivity of this Atlantic and to better understand the Northern Atlantic. We need to have insight from the Southern water that’s coming in. And yeah, in the sea and there is this place, a very specific place in the South Atlantic, which is the Amazon River Plume. And this plume is completely affecting what is the water that is going north to the North Atlantic. And understanding better what’s going on there and try to connect this with what we understand. The Northern Atlantic is really key today to better understand our planet in the world. And this water of the Atlantic is affecting Europe straight in the end. So, we really need to better understand what’s going on there.
Prior to the Galway Statement and the Belém Statement being signed, and then being actioned on by projects like yours. Was the cooperation lacking? Did you really need those statements to bring you together and to work closer together?
Yes, I mean, this Belém Statement is taken together Brazil and South Africa and the European folks in joint projects, which is not very common. And also, it’s a fantastic way to transfer capacity from the Northern countries, from Europe to these countries. To share experiences, to share the protocols, the approaches that we are taking to understand this genomics of the ocean, in fact. And so, this is very important and also the fact that there are funds going with it is also is fostering a lot of cooperation much better than before, that’s for sure.
We’re looking ahead to the All-Atlantic 2021 Connecting Acting Cooperating Conference that’s going to be happening under the EU presidency, hosted by Portugal and coming from The Azores. It’s going to be a hybrid event. What are you looking forward to?
I think we are human. We are a social animal. And since a year now, all this project has been launched, none of us has met. We all met to a Zoom or electronically, and it’s not going to work this way. I mean, we have to get in touch with each other, to bump into each other and to exchange ideas straight face-to-face and this is key, I think. Of course, this hybrid, with this even with the hybrid, I’m not sure we can succeed in such an event, but at least we have dedication workshops with small people groups and try to exchange on the approaches. The difficulty of all these Atlantic research programme it’s hard to align us together in this common goal. And this can only be achieved if we meet, I hope, I assume physically.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on your own work over the past year?
Yeah, of course. Who has not been impacted by this COVID today in the world? So, it’s a huge impact. And we had to move back the departure, the start of this mission that we are doing now. And, of course, it’s a mess doing rotations and scientific quotations in different harbours, that we stop by. It’s going to be a mess for the coming six months. You have to come as well. So, it just the beginning of it. But despite all this constraint, we have managed to leave, to start the project in December. And we already made six months of sampling, which is about 6,000, 8,000 samples collected from the ocean. And so, this it’s a success. Of course, it’s a lesser success in terms of outreach, because we cannot meet people in the harbours. But we try to do it digitally and it’s better than nothing. So, but the science is going on. And the first batch of samples has already been sent to arrive in the lab, although it’s not easy to start.
What’s your message then to other projects on the South Atlantic and who are intrigued by the collaboration that you’ve been able to be part of and to succeed in so far? Is there some words of encouragement, advice, or even motivation to say collaboration is the future for a shared ocean?
Yeah, of course, collaboration is the future. Of course, we need to also collaborate on the wording we use to ocean literacy we use, to convince people that this ocean is important for all of us in our daily life. And sometimes it’s very hard for them to understand. You say is going through a simple world, simple storytelling. We need to tell the story of research of the ocean. This is adventure, in fact, huh? For us people who are spending our lives into the ocean, science is the daily routine. But for 99% of the population of the planet, and, of course, in this other, in the Atlantic, this is adventure. Being at sea, even going on the pedal, is an adventure. ISo, going at sea with researchers, same thing.
The ocean with devices, this is science fiction for many people. And I think we need to find a way to tell this story of this research we do all together on the ocean, on this Atlantic. So, that’s the challenge to do. And that’s what we try to do at Tara, it’s 10 years now, but we really need to find the way to tell stories. People like stories.
People absolutely love stories as human beings. We’re connected by stories. So, I guess that those stories will be shared, albeit they might have to be online when it comes to the All-Atlantic 2021 Conference in June.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights. And, of course, you will also be at the conference. And for those of you who are watching, if that has sparked your interest, be sure that you register.