Artificial reefs: “Entire cities submerged” – Interview with Nicolas Floc’h

© Noelie Pansiot / Fondation Tara Expéditions

A native of Brittany, Nicolas Floc’h joined the Tara team during the Tokyo stopover. He is a visual artist and teacher at the Ecole Européenne Supérieure d’Art de Bretagne (EESA). For a month, he will dive alongside the Tara scientists exploring coral reefs. Meet Tara’s new artist-in-residence.


Nicolas Floch japon 2013 _ 23mArtificial reef, Japan 2013,  23 meters depth. © Nicolas Floc’h


You’ve made the ocean your favorite subject. Can you tell us about your background?

When I was 12, I dreamed of becoming a fisherman. At 14, I worked the fishing seasons in La Turballe. At 17, I interrupted my studies for a year to embark on fishing boats. Afterwards I went back to high school, then university and completed a Master’s at the Glasgow School of Art. I do sculpture, installations, photography, video, and also performance art. The sea is one of the themes that runs through all my work.


You embarked in Japan, a country you already know.

This is not insignificant since I’ve been developing a project on artificial reefs since 2010. An artificial reef is an architectural structure made of metal or concrete, immersed at depths between 10 and 80 meters, designed to help restore degraded habitats or produce biomass. In Japan, there are whole submerged cities. About 20,000 sites exist under the surface, each one consisting of several thousand, or even tens of thousands of reefs. Some have towers that can reach 35 meters high. True underwater urbanization!


What is the aim of your work on artificial reefs?

I inventory these architectures, documenting them in 3 dimensions through my sculpture. I reproduce them before their immersion, using the same materials but at one-tenth their real size. Once underwater, the structures evolve and quickly become inaccessible. I also dive in and around these submerged structures to document and photograph them.


Nicolas Floch japon 2013_19mArtificial reef, Japan 2013, 19 meters depth. © Nicolas Floc’h


This work on artificial reefs enables me to understand their functioning, but also to observe their pros and cons. There is no ideal system, but over the course of my research I found that they generate biomass and provide sustainable shelter. I believe we can’t consider their function only as habitats. Artificial reefs will also change fishing practices. Once submerged, these huge structures no longer allow the passage of trawlers. Methods of fishing are being reconsidered. We have to use lines and traps – more selective, gentler techniques. Fishing must become more sustainable. I’m very interested in this modification of fishing practices.


What do you expect from your residence aboard Tara?

Tara is an old dream! When I heard about Tara Pacific, I’d already been working on reefs for several years and it was kind of obvious for me to want to join the schooner. But there’s often a gap between desires and reality. I’m extremely happy to be able to join the expedition.

My goal here is to work on coral. The ocean is huge. The more we go underwater, the more we realize the extent of the subjects to approach and study. I believe Tara gives us access to a better understanding of this world through exchanges with scientists. The work I’m about to perform on board is in line with what I was doing before embarking but clearly Tara will offer an additional dimension. The schooner works on a very large scale, a planetary scale. So, it’s the same thing for me: I’ll be working on a different scale.

Propos recueillis par Noëlie Pansiot

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