A focus on Opus 2 of the Okeanos project … After dolphins in Egypt and before the final meeting with sharks, Monaco's little ambassadors and Pierre Frolla set off for Réunion, to dive with humpback whales
Tara, Pauline, Clément and Sasha, who are aged between 11 and 15, are taking part - under the aegis of Pierre Frolla, four times World Champion Free Diver and Director of the Ecole Bleue ("Blue School") in Monaco - in the Okeanos project, which is supported by the Prince Albert II Foundation. Since 2010, these "little ambassadors" for environmental protection have been travelling all over the world to meet the great marine animals. When their expeditions are over, they will recount their unusual adventures to the public, particularly children, via televised documentaries and lectures.
For the first phase of the Okeanos expedition, the little ambassadors, helped by Jimmy, 18, Christopher, 19 and Pierre Frolla, set off, after a year of intensive training at the Ecole Bleue, to meet dolphins in Egypt. This adventure was followed by the television programme Thalassa and gave rise to an 18-minute documentary. This first experience highlighted the need to observe, take stock of, and immerse oneself in the world of marine mammals to better understand them and become aware of their fragility. The young team prepared a report and made a detailed study of the behaviour of dolphins; this provided material for lectures and links with schools.
The second phase of the expedition focussed on the children's meeting with the great humpback whales of the Indian Ocean, whose population is estimated today at less than 20,000 individuals, i.e. 10% of their original number.
Each year, during the southern winter, the humpback whales return to the waters of the island of Réunion to give birth, teach their calves and show them how to hunt. It's an ideal opportunity to observe them, count them and take stock of them, while diving with them.
Six months of training were needed to teach the little ambassadors to understand the behaviour of mammals, master the techniques of free diving at a depth of up to 12 metres, use underwater cameras and keep a record book.
On 26 August 2012, the team members flew to the island of Réunion, where they were introduced to the Megaptera association, enabling them to dive close to the whales. At the end of each mission, the children had to update a logbook, composed of photos, remarks and observations, to be used as a basis for a series of lectures that they will give in their respective schools in the near future. The entire expedition, which will be the subject of a documentary, was filmed by film director Jérôme Espla, and also followed by the photographer Francine Kreiss, whose photos will appear in a book about the adventure.
After their encounters with dolphins and whales, the little ambassadors will set off with Pierre Frolla to meet the great sharks of South Africa. Diving with sharks, including the Great White Shark, is part of "everyday life, or almost" for Pierre. A species that, in the end, is more under threat than threatening, whose decline (and its consequences) is worrying the scientific community …
Photos: Copyright Francine Kreiss