“Under the Pole” exploration program to discover marine forests
These are modern researchers. Jean-Louis Etienne are deep-sea divers trained by Ghislain and Emmanuelle Bardout, and for 15 years they have crossed the world’s seas to witness the beauty and richness of the world’s seas as part of the “Under the Pole” program. the sea Their specificity: they put their diving skills at the service of science and popularity.
Underwater animal forests are at the heart of the latest exploration component: DeepLife or Beneath the Pole IV. From 2021 to 2030, the goal is to explore these hitherto little-studied ecosystems. Together with biologists from the CNRS, the program’s divers explore the so-called mesophotic zone, where light decreases and changes the ocean. “In imagination, it is thought to be a desert, a deep ocean. In fact, it is another world,” recalls Emmanuelle Bardout. “Our job is to make the invisible visible.” His companion Ghislain adds:“Everything changes with the depth. The color of the water, which can vary from green to deep blue, clarity because there are less microorganisms or sediment. Each depth has its own characteristics.“.
Rich and fragile ecosystems
For several years, they have concentrated their dives in the area between 30 and 150 meters. Among other things, they allowed researchers at CRIOBE (Center for Insular Research and Environmental Observatory) in Moorea, French Polynesia, to explore the deepest coral ever discovered. The functioning of the coral reef begins to reveal its secrets thanks to hundreds of cumulative dives. The forests they began to visit (in Svalbard and the Canary Islands in 2022) now appear to be very rich, but also very fragile ecosystems.
Their slow growth prevents rapid rebuilding, for example, in case of a trawl passage. A meter high, dense and multifaceted array is centuries old. For those who discover them, the spectacle is fascinating. “These are dense clusters. To get inside, you have to spread the branches to get inside. In the Canary Islands we have seen many different species, branching corals, filamentous corals, but always these forests are the habitat, the nest, the support of other species.“says Ghislain Bardout.
“Everyone participates in the functioning of the ecosystem”
Fish, algae, bacteria are abundant in these forests. Like on earth. For Lorenzo Bramanti, a researcher at the CNRS in Banuilles-sur-Mer and co-director of DeepLife, a paradigm shift in scientific approach is needed. “Instead of studying each species, we should understand these animal forests as on Earth, as a population of different species, each of which participates in the functioning of the ecosystem.“. Therefore, through functional ecology, we must try to understand the life of these animal communities. Because corals, gorgonians and other hydrozoans are not plants, but animals. Organisms that live closely with other organisms such as fish, algae, algae, bacteria.
These ecosystems are also vulnerable to climate change. The last heat wave experienced by the Mediterranean in the summer of 2022 resulted in near 100% mortality down to a depth of 30 meters. On the other hand, the maritime forests beyond seem to have resisted. Hope, but it must be documented, insists Ghislain Bardout. For that, we need to better understand these ecosystems and, in particular, what they are used for. “What we want to know is how well we humans can or cannot interact with them. What are the limits of our influence on fishing, tourism, or more generally, so as not to disturb or contribute to their destruction?
Educational caravan for public awareness
That’s another aspect of Under the Pole: participating in knowledge and then sharing it with the public. Raising awareness of the importance of the oceans is at the core of the program, and to that end the team has developed a new tool during the lockdown: an educational caravan that will start passing through Brittany in the coming days. A beautiful one-room traveling museum that brings together photographs, maps and documentaries to talk about the oceans, their inhabitants and their importance to our life on Earth. For scientific intermediary Capucine Coquet, “We condition the good health of the marine environment by our actions on land. It is wrong to think that there is land on one side and sea on the other. The two communicate. The caravan is an opportunity to rethink our relationship with the ocean”.
DeepLife program, caravan: Ghislain and Emmanuelle Bardout know how to lead several projects at the same time. Last and not least is indeed the construction of a new ship along with a second observation capsule. The sailboat WHY NOT will be larger than the current WHY to accommodate 18 divers and scientists. Equipped with, among other things, a decompression chamber to prevent any diving accidents, there is still time on paper to complete the financing. As for the capsule, it is the second copy of this innovation developed by Ghislain Bardout and his team: a bubble that can stay under the sea for up to 3 days without returning to the surface to mix in the middle. . An observatory that Jacques-Yves Cousteau would not deny.