Scuba diving will be the main approach to study coral reefs during this 21/2-year expedition in the Pacific Ocean. This activity required the implementation of a rigorous framework to ensure a high level of security.
During the expedition, the schooner will visit about 40 islands in the Pacific. Coral reefs surrounding each island will be sampled and observed (coral, sea grass, sediments, plankton and fish). This work therefore involves scuba diving. The collection of scientific data will require 4-5 days of work at each island with 4 dives a day involving in total up to 8 people, each of them diving twice a day.
Considering the frequency of dives, priority has been given to safety. A rigorous protocol has been implemented which defines the rotations of the dive teams, lists details of the nearest hyperbaric facilities, evacuation and re-immersion procedures, etc. Most dives will be performed at shallow depths (10 meters max) to minimize nitrogen saturation and decompression stops. In case dives deeper than 40 meters are considered, a hyperbaric physician will embark aboard Tara. If necessary, he will be able to operate the inflatable hyperbaric chamber set up aboard the schooner in Lorient with the support of the French Defense Health service.
The dives are under the responsibility of both the hyperbaric chief operator and the Captain. During the Tara Pacific expedition, 2 professional divers and diving instructors, David Monmarche and Jonathan Lancelot, will take turns as hyperbaric chief operator. They will establish a routine around these days of diving, security and maintenance of diving equipment (completely renewed for the occasion). They will also be the link between the scientific teams to ensure continuity of routines and sampling protocols. Therefore, whether in Panama or in Samoa, samples will always be collected in the same way.
David Monmarche (hyperbaric chief operator) © Maéva Bardy / Fondation Tara Expéditions
As a professional diver (class II mention B), the hyperbaric chief operator will oversee the scientific dives carried out in a professional setting. This concerns scientists and sailors with a valid certificate of qualification to work under hyperbaric conditions. These dives are subject to the Labor Code and will comply with MT92 tables (issued by the Ministry of Labor in 1992) regarding the number and depth of decompression stops to be performed, depending on the dive maximum depth and duration.
The hyperbaric chief, as a diving instructor (Brevet d’Etat d’Educateur Sportif 1er degré – BEES1), will also oversee recreational dives that relate to all persons on board without a professional certificate. For instance, artists-in-residence, journalists or local scientists who will need to go underwater for their work. These recreational dives will be conducted under the responsibility of the diving instructor on board, in the same conditions as in a French diving club.