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Meet the crew: Oceanographer Laurent Lebreton

Meet Oceanographer: Laurent Lebreto 🇫🇷 (40)

Laurent will be joining us as a researcher from Tahiti to Fiji!🏝

What initially sparked your interest in plastic pollution?

As a trained physical oceanographer, I started my research on plastic pollution in 2010 by adapting numerical models for oil spill pollution to simulate the transport of floating plastics in the global ocean and reproduce the formation of ocean garbage patches in subtropical oceanic gyres. The initial motivation was mainly curiosity and environmental awareness. I rapidly realized that the field of plastic pollution science was very young, and I saw it as a blank canvas for a scientist where observational techniques had to be invented and with many questions still to be answered, leading me to focus my career on this field in the years that followed. 

What do you hope to achieve with your research during this voyage?

We hope to better understand floating plastic accumulation and sources in the South Pacific, which is largely understudied compared to the North Pacific, where we have been concentrating our research efforts in previous years.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming project on board?

We will be collecting samples at the surface of the South Pacific using manta trawls (equivalent to a surface plankton net), allowing us to estimate concentrations of microplastic pollution in this remote region of the ocean. We will also conduct visual surveys and deploy cameras pointing at the ocean surface to target and estimate occurrences of larger floating plastics. Finally, we hope to survey remote islands for accumulated plastic on beaches. We will analyze the beached plastic to identify the type of objects and visible markings such as languages, brands, and dates of production, allowing us to identify the cause and likely origins of pollution.

Why did you choose to conduct your research aboard Bark EUROPA?

Our research group has been fortunate to collaborate with Bark EUROPA in the past to conduct similar research in the Atlantic Ocean, where the crew voluntarily borrowed sampling gear and collected data for us. This time, we have been invited to join the mission in the South Pacific, and I look forward to participating in this adventure.

What specific aspects of the Tahiti to Fiji voyage are you most eager to explore?

Sampling the sea surface in this understudied region is a real opportunity to further our understanding of global oceanic plastic pollution and expand our observational effort. The visit to remote islands is equally exciting as uninhabited islands collecting ocean plastics can provide key information on sources of pollution.

Have you ever been on a research expedition at sea before? If so, how do you think this experience will be different? 

Yes, I have participated in research expeditions at sea previously, but I have always been on motorized research vessels. Taking part in a research mission onboard a tall ship is new to me, and I expect the operational procedures to vary from traditional research missions since for example we will be traveling with the wind and be much more dependent on weather conditions.

What's one surprising fact you've learned about the ocean or the creatures that call it home?

The number of species living in the ocean is still unknown. New species are discovered every year. We still know very little about the ocean's depth. Only about a quarter of the seabed has been mapped to date, while we have already been able to map other planets and moons entirely. That makes the field of ocean exploration very exciting for a scientist.

If you could choose any marine animal to encounter on this trip, which would it be and why?

Loads of dinoflagellates! For mesmerizing bioluminescence at night.

Beyond research, what are you most looking forward to experiencing on this adventure?

Sailing on a tall ship, eager to observe and learn first-hand from the sailors how to maneuver her.

What do you do when you are not on the ship?

I love surfing, gardening, cooking, playing board games, and renovating my old house.

Is there anything else you haven't mentioned now and would like to share?

I have been living in Aotearoa, New Zealand, for the past two decades so conducting research in the South Pacific Ocean and visiting other Polynesian islands hold a very special value to me.

Will you join Laurent on this voyage? Or explore other areas of the Pacific with us? Find all Pacifc voyages here!

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