Sir Peter Blake's former schooner is set to make its first visit to Auckland since the death of the great America's Cup-winning yachtsman.

But it won't be Emirates Team New Zealand's securing of the Auld Mug marking its return, but a global expedition to better understand the state of our oceans.

Before Sir Peter was killed in 2001, the sailor and his crew had taken Tara, formerly Seamaster, on a five-month mission to visit ecologically sensitive parts of the planet.

That focus has continued today: Tara has spent the past 15 years leading 11 expeditions around climate change and ocean ecology, covering some 350,000km of the world's oceans.


The Tara Expeditions Foundation's current quest is focused around coral reefs, which cover just 0.2 per cent of ocean surfaces, but provide habitats to nearly 30 per cent of known marine biodiversity.

On board its latest voyage from Fiji to Whangarei were two young Kiwi Blake Ambassadors, Charlotte Borra and Anne-Sophie Page, who worked alongside Tara scientists as they used nets to sample plankton.

Plankton played a crucial part in ocean health and productivity as it formed the base of the marine chain food; phytoplankton also produced half of the world's oxygen and could be thanked for every second breath we take.

Blake Tara Ambassadors Charlotte Borra, left, and Anne-Sophie Page. Photo / Supplied
Blake Tara Ambassadors Charlotte Borra, left, and Anne-Sophie Page. Photo / Supplied

A previous Tara expedition - which discovered nearly 100,000 microscopic marine species and millions of new genes - greatly advanced our understanding of these systems.

The expedition was also been gauging salinity, pH and iron measurements with an estimated 40,000 samples to be collected over a two-year period, ultimately building a clearer picture of the world's largest ocean.

Featuring its week-long visit are a series of events highlighting Tara's work and the issues it explored, particularly to young people.

This had been fundamental to Sir Peter, whose dream was to share the vessel's adventures with "every child, every classroom", and whose legacy is carried on today in New Zealand by the Sir Peter Blake Trust.

"Our young people understand the important role our oceans play from mitigating climate change to providing us with food and recreation opportunities," said the trust's chief executive, Shelley Campbell.


"They want to engage in science and conservation to ensure they are good kaitiaki who sustain these precious natural resources for future generation.

"Now more than ever, New Zealand needs to stand and take its place in the world as ocean leaders, who understand and protect our marine environment."

Sir Peter Blake on the Seamaster - now the research schooner Tara. Photo / Ivor Wilkins
Sir Peter Blake on the Seamaster - now the research schooner Tara. Photo / Ivor Wilkins

Tara will be welcomed into Auckland at midday on Saturday by a flotilla including Steinlager 2, in which Sir Peter won the Round the World Race in 1990, and Aotearoa One.

Coincidentally, its visit was planned well before New Zealand's America's Cup victory and takes place at a time Auckland will be celebrating the win with a homecoming parade.

While berthed in Auckland, visitors and school groups will be able to explore Tara and chat with its crew, while an Auckland Conversations event on Wednesday evening will discuss Sir Peter's environmental legacy and leadership.

Speakers at the talk, held from 5pm at the Waiheke Rooms in the Viaduct Events Centre, include Campbell, Professor Mark Orams, Tara Foundation executive director Romain Trouble and Dr Rochelle Constantine.


Plankton under the microscope in Auckland event

Scientists from New Zealand, France and the US will next week share their latest insights into plankton, in an event at Auckland's New Zealand Maritime Museum.

"Climate change and ocean acidification are already impacting plankton populations," said Dr Colombian de Vargas, founder of Plankton Planet, the non-profit organisation organising the Thursday evening programme.

"The only chance we have to measure the changes is with significant innovation in the way we conduct the science.

"And motivated individuals in the plankton community have proven that they can advance plankton research on a much greater scale than could otherwise be realised."

The effort was being supported by citizen scientists dubbed Planktonauts who gathered plankton samples as they sailed the open ocean and sent them back to the laboratory for analysis.

It was the first citizen science programme in the world that was based on mass sequencing of DNA barcodes from extracts of plankton samples.


Back in labs, scientists used the data to build new models of ocean systems.

"In addition to discussing among ourselves during our scientific workshop, we felt it was important to host a public discussion about where we have been traditionally as ocean explorers and where scientific exploration needs to go in the future," said Kiwi scientist Dr Xavier Pochon, who is co-hosting the event.

"Our ocean is changing rapidly, and we have a responsibility to share the wonders of the ocean with the public as well as explain the need to study and protect it."

Presenters at the event will include de Vargas, US-based scientists Dr Emmanuel Boss, Dr David Gruber, Dr Mick Follows and Dr Manu Prakash, University of Auckland archaeologist Dilys Johns, Kiwi planktonaut John Martin, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr of the Te Toki Voyaging Trust and Campbell.

Opening at the museum on the same night will be a month-long exhibition featuring giant prints of plankton, 3D printed models, lenticular prints and video presentations.