The Ocean, a planetary library : Interview with Maud Fontenoy

A legendary sailor, Maud Fontenoy is the first woman to cross the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by paddling, aboard her canoe 7.5 meters long and 1.6 meters wide.

In 2013, she crossed the North Atlantic, west-east, solo and unassisted. 117 days at sea, 3,700 km traveled. She was then 25 years old. 2 years later, she made the same bet and crossed the South Pacific, from east to west, from Peru. After 72 days at sea and 6780 km, it reaches the Marquesas. Time Magazine named her “Personality of the Year” that year.

In 2007, she became the first woman to go around the world against the current in 150 days, under sail and without assistance. 3 capes crossed and a dismasting from which she left in extremis.

Always committed to sea education, in 2008 the sailor founded the Maud Fontenoy Foundation, recognized as being of general interest and supported by a committee of emeritus experts. It participates, in France and around the world, in the preservation of the ocean. In 2019, she was appointed Ambassador to the Ministry of National Education and Youth, for sea education and sea classes. Here she tells us about her love of the sea and the mission incumbent on her.

You dedicate a large part of your life to preserving the ocean. What messages do you want to send?

Learning about the Ocean should be given as much attention as researching the atom or conquering space. What the ocean brings us is equal to its vastness. It enchants us, attracts us, fascinates us. The Ocean is breathtaking, both palpable and elusive. Its mysterious horizon dances before our dazzled eyes and seems to slip away under the solitary bow of our ships. On all this beauty depends our future. What if, in the mysterious depths of these twenty thousand leagues under the sea, rested many of the answers to the needs of our societies for oxygen, food, energy, jobs, medicines, precious metals and so many others treasures? A fragile environment, we destabilize it however, without always being aware of it. By hurting it, it is a multitude of solutions essential to our future that we are destroying. First producer of oxygen on Earth, principal climatic regulator, pot of humanity, primary role of the water cycle…

We know so little about the ocean. Today, more than 22,000 marine molecules are being studied for the development of new drugs. Did you know that AZT, the treatment for AIDS, comes from herring? As for marine energies, they alone could supply the entire planet with electricity. Marine creatures inspire us with quantities of new medical, aeronautical, robotic… but also food technologies, by providing us with what to feed cultivated lands without destroying them with chemical inputs. And that's without forgetting the natural role of reefs, mangroves, marshes, beaches, which protect the coasts and our homes from the fury of storms or rising waters.

It is indeed an ocean of futures that it is. An ocean of solutions, magic and futures to preserve. Although we know the depths of the Ocean less well than the surface of the Moon, we already know enough to fully appreciate the vital importance of these mysterious bodies of water, of which we need today, more than ever, preserve integrity.

Panorama of a coast as a background from top view. Turquoise water background from top view. Summer seascape from air. Nusa Penida island, Indonesia. Travel - image

What are the primary missions of the Maud Fontenoy Foundation ?

Raise awareness, educate and act. Only education can reassure and appease in the face of human and environmental issues. It is the key to change. Since 2008, the Foundation has been involved in France and internationally to preserve the ocean. It carries out educational actions on the marine environment for the young generation and the general public with the support of scientific partners and the Ministry of National Education with which it is mobilized for sea education and relaunch of Sea Classes. Each year, more than 60,000 classes in France work on the foundation's educational programs. From kindergarten to high school, we offer all teachers in France and overseas free educational kits to work on marine creatures and energies, food, biomimicry... Classes also have the option of registering to the challenges that we offer them. I am always more amazed at the incredible ingenuity of the children and the passion that emanates from the projects we receive. The Foundation designs its educational tools according to two strong values: solidarity and the power to act personally. We also carry out solidarity actions in France and internationally.

What links with the school environment do you maintain ?

I have been focusing on the school environment for over 20 years. From school to school, meeting thousands of students and admirable teachers, I am committed to this essential education in the Ocean, in all that we owe it and all that it brings us. We have the will to act and we have the resources to do it. It’s time to understand the fabulous links that connect us to this salty immensity. Because, if the Ocean is a world library whose books contain a profusion of solutions for the survival of humans, the vast majority remain ignored, having never been read. We are able to send a robot to Mars, but we only know a tiny part of the blue expanses that characterize the planet. It is essential to increase our knowledge. Climatic crises, declines in biodiversity… These are increasingly complex phenomena that societies will have to understand and face. They will have to learn to anticipate problems, to approach crises with pragmatism and intelligence.

What place do you give to biomimicry ?

At a time when the environment is a major concern, flora and fauna are particularly scrutinized. Biomimicry is everywhere and never ceases to surprise us. Engineers and artists thus discover an organization of matter and forms that goes beyond their own capacities of imagination and calculation.
Biomimicry has become an ally because nature is able to build efficiently on a large scale, she knows how to save energy and material, use local biodegradable resources and she always chooses non-toxic materials. Who would have thought that the architecture of the Eiffel Tower, one of the most famous buildings in the world and which attracts more than 6 million annual visitors, would be inspired by the femur? The strongest bone in the human body is capable of supporting a ton of weight in an upright position. This incredible resistance is explained by the fact that it is made up of several thousand spans in the form of plates or columns, linked together forming a network. Just like in the femur, the metal curves of the Eiffel Tower form a trellis made of bars and metal ties that allow the tower to easily stand up against the wind!

Living things have taken millions of years to optimize their adaptation. Why not take advantage of this progress to draw on it for unprecedented structural, morphological or thermal performances? We design, at the Foundation, educational materials where biomimicry has its full place. We have dedicated a complete booklet to him, developed in partnership with Biomimicry Europa, and I have enjoyed writing several books for the general public that give pride of place to biomimicry inspired by marine life. Through education, we can empower new generations to adapt to this changing world. We have to innovate, invent, change codes, as we know how to do in medicine, economics, architecture or robotics.

If the Ocean is a world library whose books contain a profusion of solutions for the survival of humans, the vast majority of these works remain ignored, because they have never been read.