Plastic mission

Tara Mediterranean

Microplastics: pollution adrift

Plastic mission:

between May and November 2014, the Tara Méditerranée expedition scoured 15,000 km of the Mediterranean Sea, with 16 scientists and crew on board.

Each year some eight million metric tons of plastic are discarded into the sea. Bottles, packaging and other waste gradually break down into miniscule fragments, which proliferate throughout the oceans. The capacity of microplastics to penetrate into and alter the environment is a major cause for concern. Ingested by fauna (plankton, fish, birds, etc.), they threaten the whole food chain. Their abundance also encourages the development of a “plastisphere,” a new microbial ecosystem, whose function remains largely unknown. These vagabond residues are even suspected of carrying toxic and pathogenic organisms along with the current. In 2014, in order to study this emerging pollution and its impacts, scientists from the schooner Tara threw their sampling nets into the Mediterranean, which contains the highest density of microplastics in the world. Joining the expedition as on-board correspondent, the photojournalist Noëlie Pansiot followed a particularly fruitful “catch” of… plastic.


High-risk basin:

High-risk basin:

between a coastline saturated with inhabitants and the highest tourist numbers in the world, the Mediterranean Sea is highly exposed to pollution. 90% of the waste found in the sea – the vast majority of which is plastic – comes from the land.


350:

350:

the number of samples taken by Tara Méditerranée, using special surface nets. All of the hauls without exception contained plastic waste.


Jeff Ghiglione,

Jeff Ghiglione,

a CNRS researcher, observes a microplastics sample. Once the expedition is over, the content of each catch is inventoried, with a view to a quantitative and qualitative study of the waste cataloged.


On the lab’s program:

On the lab’s program:

studying the chemical characteristics of the plastic and organic pollutants linked to them. The microorganisms colonizing their surface are also closely observed, as well as the interactions between zooplankton and plastic.


Pollution from beginning to end:

Pollution from beginning to end:

reduced into fragments, plastic affects the marine food chain. Plankton assimilates certain chemical compounds from it, before being eaten by fish… which is in turn consumed by humans, whose health may be affected by the pollutants transmitted in this way.


TARA Méditerranée

TARA Méditerranée


TARA Méditerranée

TARA Méditerranée

 

Noëlie Pansiot: on the trail of the “plastisphere”

When she embarked on board the Tara Méditerranée, Noëlie Pansiot was counting on a unique experience. She was not disappointed: for several months, the young journalist followed an equally ambitious and revelatory mission. Noëlie was able to observe the omnipresence of waste. “I remember anchoring in the South of France, at Port-Cros. The island’s beaches were strewn with cotton buds. Probably thrown into toilets on the shoreline, they had escaped through the wastewater treatment plant gratings and washed up in this protected area.” A striking detail that highlights the urgency of action, especially in terms of our behavior. Noëlie is convinced that education is a priority that must “focus primarily on experience, beyond the classroom.” This echoes the spirit of the Tara exhibitions, which also look to raise awareness on the ground through partnerships with NGOs and meetings with the public. “During our stopovers, everyone donned their guide’s hat to welcome visitors and share with them the issues at stake in our research.” In this way, step by step, information helps to awaken people’s conscience. A path Noëlie Pansiot is pursuing: she will shortly be joining the Tara Pacific mission to follow the study of the biodiversity of coral reefs in South Asia, another ecosystem threatened by human activity.

Bio

Noëlie Pansiot is a photojournalist and assistant director. Since 2009, she has concentrated on reports on the ground and organizing documentary series, which have taken her from the Peruvian jungle to the islands of Oceania, via the shores of Canada.

Find out more

Since 2003, the Tara Expeditions Foundation has been working in favor of the environment and research with a legendary boat, Tara, built for extreme conditions. The Foundation organizes expeditions to study and understand the impact of climate change on our oceans. Initiatives have been made to raise environmental awareness among the general public and young people. Last but not least, it lobbies political and economic decision makers, encouraging them to develop concrete solutions to protect the environment.

Read the full content of the record month