Scientific expedition

ULiège participates in the Tara Pacific scientific expedition

In Research

Photo © David Monmarché - Fondation Tara Expéditions

Researchers from the Laboratories of Animal Ecophysiology and of Genetics and Physiology of Microalgae (InBios Research Unit) have participated to the Tara Pacific Expedition. While the schooner will definitely dock at the port of Lorient, researchers will begin the analytical work in order to understand the mechanisms of acclimatization and adaptation of corals to climate change.


eared by explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries, curiosities of nature for the first researchers or emblematic ecosystems of tropical waters for our contemporaries, coral reefs have fascinated us for thousands of years. Rich in species and highly productive, these marine ecosystems are only matched on Earth by tropical rainforests. While coral reefs are a major source of food for millions of people living in tropical countries, they protect the coastline of an even larger population and represent a significant source of income for countries fortunate to possess some of them. However, due to the global climate disruptions that have been increasing since the 1980s, coral reefs are constantly declining and the postcard image they convey may soon be a thing of the past. It is in this context that the Tara Pacific expedition - in which researchers from the Laboratories of Animal Ecophysiology and Genetics and Physiology of Microalgae (InBios Research Unit) participated - was set up to study the biodiversity and evolution of reef corals in the face of climate change and human pressures.

After having sailed more than 100,000 km, crossed 7 seas and oceans, visited more than 30 countries and 40 archipelagos, the schooner Tara, a boat intended both for scientific research and environmental protection, will dock in Lorient, France, thus ending definitively the Tara Pacific expedition. Based on the experience of the 70 researchers who came aboard, the expedition collected tens of thousands of samples to study the coral reefs of the Pacific Ocean in a unique way.

Stéphane Roberty, Van Dang, Félix Véga de Luna and Pierre Cardol, researchers at the University of Liège, took part (with the help of funding from FNRS, ULiège and ERC) in the expedition in January 2018 during the boat's stopover in Palau, Micronesia. They have joined their collaborators from the Scientific Centre of Monaco, Bar Ilan University (Israel), the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (France) and the Research Institute on Cancer and Aging of the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis (France). For a fortnight, the team took numerous samples and a series of measurements underwater, outside and in the lab in order to better understand the mechanisms of acclimatization and adaptation of Palau's corals in response to ocean acidification and global warming. Indeed, this archipelago of more than 500 islands located in the western Pacific Ocean is a true open-air laboratory because it has naturally more acidic reef areas (pH 7.8) than normal (pH 8.2) where the coral population is large, very diversified and rather resilient to rising water temperatures.

During this mission, the team from Liège was responsible for measurements related to the photosynthetic activity of microalgae living in symbiosis with corals. The objective was to determine whether corals' ability to adapt to these new environmental conditions was related to variations in the mechanisms of photosynthesis and genetic differences in symbiotic microalgae populations. These results will provide a better understanding of the resilience capacities of corals in the face of ongoing climate change. At present, the samples collected in Palau are still being analyzed and the treatment of some of the data obtained will require some time as they will be integrated into the genetic and biochemical analyses carried out in parallel by foreign collaborators.

About the Tara Foundation

The Tara Expeditions Foundation, the first foundation dedicated to the Ocean to be recognized of public interest, is developing, thanks to the schooner Tara, a unique and innovative ocean science to predict and better anticipate the impact of climate change. Tara uses high-level scientific expertise to raise awareness and educate younger generations, but also to mobilize policy makers and enable developing countries to access this new knowledge. The Tara Foundation is a Special Observer at the UN and actively participates in the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda. We want to make the ocean a shared responsibility.


Tara Pacific - Studying coral adaptation to climate change

A team of researchers from the Monaco Scientific Center, the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis and the University of Liège carried out a specific 10-day mission aboard Tara, in the state of Koror, Palau.


Stéphane ROBERTY


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