Louise-Océane grew up in the southwest of France by the sea, surfing, swimming in the waves and spending as much time in the water as possible.
After multiple family holidays to Hawaii she became fascinated by the marine life over there and knew at that point she was going to orientate her life and career around the marine environment.
This passion brought Louise-Océane to Plymouth after an open day visit inspired her to study BSc (Hons) Marine Biology with Coastal Ecology. After graduating in 2021, Louise-Océane has taken the next step in her career and now has a role as Mission Planner for the Phœnix Expédition. In February 2022 she is to embark on a four-month long, low-carbon expedition trip across the Atlantic to meet the people who are regenerating the ocean.
Joining the Phœnix Expédition
Louise-Océane's ambition after graduating was to visit different marine restoration projects around the world and to document and help them. The original aim was to do it by herself, hopping on different boats as a crewmate and exploring the world by sailing. However, in February 2021 she had a call with Pascal, the captain and founder of the registered charity Phœnix Expedition and plans changed.
“Pascal had the boat and was planning on doing a similar expedition but on a bigger scale. I was asked to join to develop this project. For almost one year I’ve been working alongside him and a few other people to make Phœnix Expédition something real and impactful.”
Louise-Océane's role is quite broad, finding herself in charge of organising the different marine restoration projects they are going to visit, managing social media communication with journalists, as well as finding sponsors and fundraising through a crowdfunding campaign.
She is the chair of the charity that is Phœnix Expédition, so will not be earning any money with this expedition.
“I’m helping to raise money so we can fund it, so everything is voluntary-based.”
Louise-Océane is also part of the crew and will be in charge of sailing Phœnix – a Jeanneau Sun Fast 36 – with the rest of the crew from France to California.
Aims of the voyage
Phœnix Expédition is a sailing expedition with the aim to visit, document and help people who contribute to the regeneration of marine ecosystems. They will meet scientists, communities, charities that are actively contributing to the restoration of five key marine ecosystems: seagrass meadows, coral reefs, mangrove forests, kelp forests and oyster reefs.
Coastal ecosystems are home for the majority of biodiversity and they’re also important carbon sinks. Unfortunately they are disappearing globally at a scary rate. If we lose them, we lose the marine biodiversity within them and also hinder the capacity of the ocean to store carbon.
“By contributing to the regeneration of coastal ecosystems we can bring back biodiversity and at the same time make sure the ocean can play its role in the carbon cycle. Restoring marine ecosystems is crucial if we want to tackle biodiversity and the climate crisis.”
With a departure in Brittany, the crew will first meet scientists aiming to restore flat oyster reefs – the cold coral reefs of Europe that have been completely destroyed. After setting sail from Brittany for the Canary Islands, they will meet scientists attempting to restore seagrass meadows.
Crossing the Atlantic will see them reach Martinique and St Martin, where they will meet projects aiming to restore coral reefs and mangroves. The Phœnix will next cross the Panama Canal and sail up along the West Coast of the Americas.
A stop in Costa Rica will see them meet a coastal community restoring mangrove, before a stop in Baja California in Mexico to visit a project of kelp forest restoration. Their final planned stop is San Diego, California.
Preparing to cross the Atlantic
There have been many different aspects of preparation before the Phœnix's departure. On the navigation side of things, Louise-Océane completed her Day Skipper sailing course with the Royal Yachting Association in Plymouth and then trained on the Phœnix with the rest of the crew.
She has also had to help to prepare to live and work on the board safely. As well as managing high amounts of emails, calls, meetings and grant applications to raise enough money so the project could happen with the right sponsors and partners.
“Everything I have been doing for the project has been new to me: project management, social media, building a community, making a fundraising campaign, having calls with corporates to raise money… nothing that I had done before or learnt throughout my degree in marine biology. So it’s been really challenging in a way, starting everything from scratch.”
Phœnix's crew is made up of four people including Louise-Océane, who is the marine biologist onboard. Pascal is the captain and founder of the whole expedition. Bénie, is the first mate, and will be in charge of helping Pascal and the security and life on board. Anatole, is the videographer, who will be responsible for shooting and editing all the videos. As they all are sailors, they will take turns taking the helm during the day and at night.
Louise-Océane cannot wait to set sail. She believes it will be really rewarding to be at sea and to be able to think about their journey ahead while remembering how far they have travelled.
“It’s been a few intense months trying to juggle everything, being out of my comfort zone and mainly being behind my laptop or on the phone. Being at sea and visiting the projects will really make all the hard work worth it.”
Hopes and fears
Louise-Océane acknowledges that living on a boat while sailing at night and during the day will be challenging. Adapting to another rhythm, being awake at night, sleeping less than what she would normally do in one go, will mean it certainly will be mentally and physically challenging.
She also knows that living with three other people on a small boat for four months will bring extra challenges, but these will be balanced out with loads of lessons and rewards.
“I’m really looking forward to the projects we’ll visit, to meet those people that are dedicating their lives and careers to the restoration of such incredible and important ecosystems. They’re the real heroes doing the hard work. I want to learn alongside them and highlight their actions.”
Being obsessed with water, Louise-Océane is really looking forward to life at sea and being able to see it all the time. Other pleasures include having no Wi-Fi or phone and to have no obligations to reply to emails and WhatsApp texts – with only the wind to worry about and to enjoy watching sunsets, sunrises, full moons and dolphins at the bow – a great way to slow down and enjoy life at its purest.
It is the first big project Louise-Océane is embarking after finishing university and she hopes to learn more about marine ecological restoration and to get a better sense of how she can get involved in this field. By exploring different places, and spending time at sea, she hopes to find out a bit more about herself, too.
“What do I like, where do I see myself, what are my strengths… I’m learning professionally a lot of things that go beyond marine biology, which will hopefully give me the tools required for all my career.”
The Plymouth experience
“Doing this incredible degree has opened my mind to the marine world, and the real threats marine biodiversity is facing. Why are we not talking about it more? From the first day, my lecturers have challenged us to think outside of what we’ve previously known.”
In her final year, Iectures from Dr Robert Puschendorf about ecological restoration convinced Louise-Océane that she wanted to focus on this topic.
“Robert actually supported me in the most incredible way with my ideas, and he’s been following the whole process of thinking about doing it to actually being part of the Phœnix crew. He even put me in touch with the project we’ll visit in Costa Rica.”
“Support from my lecturers, including Dr Louise Firth, has been extraordinary. They’ve always been behind me, supporting and encouraging me and my ideas.”
Time studying at Plymouth has also taught Louise-Océane to create her own opportunities.
“We were told to go out of our classroom and to talk to people, to volunteer with charities, to help other scientists and projects. It just seemed that everything was possible, that we could achieve whatever we wanted to.”
As Louise-Océane looks forward to setting sail on this latest adventure, it certainly seems that everything is primed for the expedition – and the next step in her career – to succeed.