ENERGY OBSERVER in the Caribbean: a partnership committed to preserving the environment and biodiversity

By ENGIE - 22 July 2020 - 12:30

Following its transatlantic crossing, ENERGY OBSERVER has been sailing in the Caribbean since May. In this extraordinary sanctuary of biodiversity, the crew have been in contact with marine and terrestrial ecosystems, with a wealth of different species. Besides the need to protect it, biodiversity has become a source of inspiration for making human activities more environmentally friendly. The same approach drives ENGIE and its solutions for cities, buildings and industrial sites.


ENERGY OBSERVER reached Fort de France, Martinique, at the end of April after a 9,000-km Atlantic crossing in complete energy autonomy, with no possibility of a stopover for refueling or replenishment because of lockdown. Since May, the crew, which includes a member with a doctorate in marine biology, has been touring the Caribbean and discovering the exceptional ecosystems in this part of the world. 


Discovering the biodiversity of the Caribbean 

At the beginning of June, the crew made their only stopover on an uninhabited island where an ecosystem is thriving in spite of the lack of a water source: Ile Fourchue. Vegetation has two possible strategies for survival: surface roots that can capture the rare raindrops optimally, or grooves that allow them to recover their own evapotranspiration. 


While ENERGY OBSERVER had the privilege of sailing in a picture-postcard setting, the crew was also confronted with the other side of the coin.


During the last two months of their odyssey, they explored the richness of the biodiversity of the mangroves, where a very high density of fish take refuge. The region is also well known for the paradox of sargassum, which is a scourge for the beaches from an ecological point of view as well as for human activities, but acts as a protective raft in the open sea. Massed together on the surface of the water, it offers physical protection to the fauna. Hundreds of fish, invertebrates and even sea turtles are able to live thanks to this ecosystem. 

During its voyage, the vessel has also encountered pilot whales, members of the dolphin family that grow to a length of 6 meters. The ability to observe such species up close is one of ENERGY OBSERVER’s great achievements, made possible by its low noise footprint: “We emit 1 kHz of sound, while they communicate at between 4 and 24 kHz,” explains Jérôme Delafosse, founder of the project and documentary-maker. “The same cannot be said of cargo vessels.” 

To help in filming these discoveries, ENERGY OBSERVER has signed a partnership agreement with the CNES (the French National Center for Space Studies). Satellite photos will help the crew to identify the areas to be explored. This data is essential for documenting the scale of climate change, particularly in terms of marine life and rising oceans.

Sailing in the Caribbean also means sailing over coral ecosystems. They constitute only 1% of the ocean habitat, yet are home to 25% of underwater life. Rich in many interdependent species, they are home to fish that feed on algae that are harmful to the survival of corals. “When many species are playing the same role, we have what is called ecosystem redundancy, which makes an ecosystem resilient,” explains marine biologist Katia Nicolet. The same principle is also applied by ENERGY OBSERVER, whose multiple onboard technologies combine to make it energy self-sufficient. 


Inspiration from nature for developing sustainable solutions

Recognizing the inspiration provided by the workings of nature for the development of sustainable human activities, ENGIE is committed to promoting biomimicry. In 2020, the Group will once again be a partner of Biomim’Expo, an event that promotes solutions inspired by nature.  


With the 82,000 m² Ecotone mixed development zone due to open in Arcueil in 2023, ENGIE is applying biomimicry principles in the field. “The project borrows from the shape and structure of a dragonfly’s wing. It is large in relation to the insect’s body but at the same time flexible and resistant,” explains Sylvie Dao, CEO of Aire Nouvelle, a subsidiary of ENGIE specialized in sustainable real estate, to the Journal du Grand Paris. “The walls are designed according to the principle of a double skin, changing with the seasons and making it possible both to adapt to temperature variations and to optimize the building’s energy consumption.” 


Innovative solutions for protecting biodiversity

In line with the French National Biodiversity Strategy, the Group has committed to limiting the impact of its activities on ecosystems since 2011. Biodiversity is now a key objective of ENGIE’s CSR strategy and the Group has pledged to implement ecological site management for all its industrial activities by 2030. 


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For several years, ENGIE has already been working to limit the impact on biodiversity of its industrial and energy production sites “On wind farms, for example, we take action to protect birds and bats, explains Caroline de Zutter, an engineer engaged specifically on biodiversity issues at ENGIE Lab Crigen, the Group’s research laboratory. “We need to be able to allow species to move around, by reducing the fragmentary elements of ecological continuities, such as urbanization and overbuilding, to which our industrial sites or cities can contribute.”

Similarly, Bioscyance, an internal ENGIE Group start-up, has developed a solution to avoid chemical treatments in industrial facilities in contact with seawater. The injection of a marine biopolymer prevents the deposit of organisms, bacteria, algae or shellfish on the surface of the installations. 


Guided by its purpose of “acting to accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral economy”, ENGIE is fully committed alongside ENERGY OBSERVER to protecting biodiversity, whether on land or in the oceans.

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