Maud Fontenoy’s relationship with the oceans dates back to her earliest childhood. Only a few days after her birth, she set off with her parents and brothers to sail around the world for some fifteen years. She subsequently became the first woman to row single-handed and without assistance across the North Atlantic from west to east. She would later row across the Pacific from Peru to the Marquesas Islands in 73 days before leaving Réunion Island in 2007 to sail around the world against prevailing currents.
In addition to these numerous exploits, the French sailor has been active for many years in the field of environmental education through a number of associations. Now aged 37, this mother of three has decided to turn her full attention to the cause of saving the oceans with the Maud Fontenoy Foundation, which she established in 2008.
The contributions of the oceans are innumerable. They regulate the climate and guarantee the presence of fresh water on Earth. According to the United Nations, they feed half the world’s population (more than 4,500 kg of fish are caught every second). Finally, they produce over 50% of the oxygen we breathe and represent the planet’s most active lung.
With a view to making young people aware of the different roles played by the oceans and their importance to the future of humanity, the Foundation proposes a range of programmes – approved by the French Ministry of Education – in schools around the country. Organised with the scientific assistance of several specialist entities including the National Scientific Research Centre, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, UNESCO and UNICEF, they are distributed free of charge to teachers with monitoring guaranteed throughout the year.
Intended for pupils, and in particular those who do not have the means to go on holiday or who have never seen the ocean, rewards are provided at the end of the year in the form of sailing trips. Similarly, summer tours are organised on a regular basis on beaches along the entire French coastline.
The Foundation, which has ten permanent employees and is supported by such celebrities as Marion Cotillard and Luc Besson, also manages a number of activities abroad, in particular in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Morocco where associations are only too willing to relay the programmes.
The Maud Fontenoy Foundation is also active in the economic sphere. It would like to promote a different vision of environmental protection, more realistic and less alarmist than traditional ecological dialogue, for example by highlighting the opportunities for action and sustainable investment linked to the conservation of the oceans. As an illustration of this, the ocean represents one of the most powerful economic sectors in France as it employs more than 300,000 people.
The Foundation notes that sea winds and currents could breathe new life into the energy sector with marine energy accounting for up to 25% of the European energy mix by 2050.
Furthermore, the oceans provide us with medicines, oxygen and of course food while sea routes now account for 90% of global transport.
Maud Fontenoy is confident for the future and tends to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. In addition to the fact that young people are increasingly well informed, a range of initiatives launched around the world to save the oceans gives reason for optimism. This is the case with the American government’s recent announcement of the creation of the largest marine sanctuary on the planet. The United States has decided to increase six-fold the size of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean which represents one of the most pristine tropical environments on the planet. Mining and commercial fishing are prohibited there (traditional and recreational fishing will nevertheless continue to be authorised). The sanctuary covers a total of 1.2 million square kilometres around these islands and atolls, which is an area twice the size of Texas.
These measures will help protect the coral reefs and marine ecosystems (in particular the natural habitat of sea turtles, tuna, sharks and manta rays) while also combatting the damaging effects of climate change and ocean acidification in one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet.
Maud Fontenoy is fully aware of the efforts necessary to ensure the sustainable protection of the oceans in the coming years. To encourage the launch of more such initiatives, she is endeavouring to show the way, in particular through her various rowing exploits across the oceans.
Maud Fontenoy, what is the aim of your foundation?
We want to re-establish the link between mankind and his environment. Protecting the oceans is primordial in light of the numerous services it provides. We have no other means of obtaining these services. Saving the oceans means saving humanity. We have stopped counting your exploits as a sailor.
What was the message you wanted to send?
Through my adventures, I wanted to demonstrate that it was not simply a question of strength but more importantly of perseverance and the will to succeed. With determination, anyone can achieve their personal projects: it doesn’t matter how long it takes, you must never give up.
What does the recent decision of the United States government to extend the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument mean to you?
It is an excellent initiative. In Europe, we tend to stigmatise the United States when it comes to ecology, yet this type of approach shows that many Americans are aware of the issue. The same is true of the Chinese. They are often criticised, but I have noticed that they are the first to invest in renewable energies. At the end of the day, it is not because certain countries do not want to be subject to international standards that they do not take action themselves.
How do you see the future?
The population is evolving. It is being asked to make drastic changes which take longer than certain climate issues might require. I firmly believe that they will be achieved through an enthusiastic and dynamic approach rather than by making people feel guilty. Mankind has always adapted to its environment, so I am optimistic.