In Malaysia, this PhD in oceanography discovered water polo at the age of 12 when she met a New Zealand player at the pool where she was already spending most of her time. Four years later, when she returned to France, she joined a water polo club as the only girl on the team.

Marie Barbieux 2
Marie Barbieux

During her adolescence, Marie spent two years with her family touring the Atlantic on a sailing boat. This is how she discovered the wealth and beauty of the ocean.

"I was able to observe dolphins surfing the bow of the sailboat, admire a sperm whale only a few meters away, cross the Atlantic in sometimes difficult weather conditions, and gaze at the stars in a perfectly dark sky,” Marie recalls.

These images, forever engraved in her mind, pushed her to learn more about the vast, still unknown ocean. After a bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Caen Normandy, this sea enthusiast specialized in oceanography at the University of Laval in Quebec before getting a master’s in Oceanography, Marine Environments at Sorbonne University. In parallel, she participates in the Tara Mediterranean Expedition to study the distribution of microplastics in a region particularly subject to pressure from human activity. Through the Tara program, she educated young and old about the essential gestures to reduce their ecological footprint. She then joined the marine station of Villefranche-sur-Mer to carry out a doctoral thesis.

Her research focuses on phytoplankton, the ocean-dwelling microalgae that photosynthesize and contribute half of the planet's primary oxygen production.

"Thanks to our new robots, the BGC-Argo floaters, we have obtained measurements in all oceans with very high spatial and temporal resolution for the first time. My job was to analyze these data from over a hundred floats to better understand the distribution and amount of phytoplankton present in the ocean, "says the Marie.

In 2015, selected for the France national team, Marie continued her career as a high-level polo player. She had the position of "pointe", an attacking role that requires endurance, and both physical and technical prowess. Combining competitions and a doctorate required iron self-discipline on a daily basis. Her days began at 6am with research work, then, from 9am to 11am, she trained at the pool before resuming her research, and working until late in the afternoon. At 18:30, she went to weight training and a practice session in the water until 22h. She also had to juggle weeks of training in Lille and research in Villefranche-sur-mer, not to mention the meeting with the French national team.

During this perilous period of the doctorate, she could count on the support of her superiors, friends and family, but also got particular support from Gaby Gorsky. The former director of the oceanography laboratory at Villefranche-sur-Mer also had a career coaching the men's water polo team in Nice.

"Gaby encouraged me from the start to pursue my dual project and supported me in all my endeavors," says Marie. “He is one of the many people who enabled me to succeed in this project, including help from Annick Bricaud and Julia Uitz, my thesis directors, and David Izidore, then head of high-level athletes at Sorbonne University."

Having made it through that difficult period, Marie is now proud to have obtained her doctorate while representing her country in many international competitions. Being a top athlete gave her the opportunity to learn how to surpass her capabilities through perseverance, patience and the ability to invest in a collective effort.

 "High performance sport has also allowed me to discover many facets of my personality and to work more effectively on my psychological weaknesses. Without this experience, I would probably not be who I am today, "she says.

Next year, the champion wants to be fully involved in her sporting project.

"If I want to have a chance to represent France in the Olympics, I have to investment myself completely," said Marie.

The qualification tournament for the 2020 Olympics will take place next March. Before that, she will have to be selected individually to be able to participate in the European championships in January 2020, and then selected for the qualification tournament. Even then, the French women's water polo team must be one of the top ten qualifying nations to participate in the games.

So while this advanced sportswoman concentrates on qualifying, her passion for oceanography guarantees she will not lose touch with science and new research projects.

Updated on 29 MAR 2019