At a rate of three missions a year, until 2020 “Monaco Explorations” will study marine biodiversity in oceans around the world aboard the ship Yersin.
Reconciling humanity and the oceans. This is the motto of the ‘Explorations of Monaco’, a large-scale scientific project which was launched at the Oceanographic Museum. The adventure is put together by Prince Albert’s determination to relaunch scientific expeditions under the Monegasque banner. Just like Albert I did in his time. And it was in honor of his great-grandfather that the Sovereign announced the project last week, evoking his memory “of scientist always demanding selflessness, generosity and developed action. The 21st century explorations of Monaco have a central objective: to know and to identify the ecosystems of the marine world in order to advance scientific research and develop mediation. With three missions per year, the campaign is to start in September, from Monaco, and continue until 2020, exploring all the oceans of the world.”
A floating laboratory
Prince Albert-I had his ship Princess Alice as his marine ally, Prince Albert II has Yersin, an 80-metre-long ship, baptized in June 2015 in the waters of port Hercules; created by French scientist Francois Fiat, whose mission is to put his boat to the service of the Principality. “My main motivation is adventure,” smiled François Fiat, proud of Yersin (named after the Franco-Swiss explorer Alexandre Yersin), a true floating science centre, which can accommodate 40 people and has two laboratories, conference rooms, workshops and modern equipment. An environmentally-responsible boat which can sail for ten days without any waste; fitting with the spirit of the project. In the background, the task of reflection and research rests with a scientific committee. Professor Patrick Rampal and ten senior officials in the field of oceanography chose the areas of exploration. Among them is Director of the French Polar Institute, Yves Frenot, who brings his expertise as a logistician for the oceanographic campaign. “The interest of an adventure like this is to be complementary. These are long-term projects that cannot be done with national fleets, which respond to more punctual, targeted and repetitive calls,” he explains.
First step: Macaronesia
The committee is currently awaiting proposals to constitute research axes which can be explored during the campaigns aboard the Yersin, with an emphasis on marine biodiversity. “The ocean is, indeed, the last continent that we still have to explore,” notes the CNRS biologist Françoise Gaill, another scientist involved in the project. After crossing the Mediterranean in September, the first mission will take place in the Atlantic Ocean, in Macaronesia, West of Africa and in Europe. Research will focus on the monk seal, an endangered species in Madeira and the giant lizards of Cape Verde, which have become almost non-existent. It is the area that Prince Albert-I had already explored, and where, 120 years later, a Monegasque expedition will return to. To establish this project in accordance with the values of the Prince, the government will invest three million euros this year into the project. The sum was doubled by the contribution of private patrons who wished to help to the adventure. “We will have two angles of attack,” promises Robert Calcagno, campaign manager,“With science and awareness, we’ll seek the enrichment of knowledge and help convince the general public through mediation.”
During an interview in the gardens of the Prince’s Palace, the Sovereign evoked his desire to relaunch scientific expeditions under the Monegasque banner and take part in certain missions. Like his expedition to the North Pole in 2005.
What was the origin of these scientific explorations of Monaco that will be launched in September?
It began with a discussion between Robert Calcagno, Bernard Fautrier and François Fiat. The latter is the ship owner of the Yersin, intended to make his vessel available for scientific expeditions. It is a formidable vessel and her owners are wonderful people, members of the Yacht Club who love the Principality. Encouraged by their proposal, we wanted to focus on sensitive places of the planet.
Were these expeditions part of a certain Monegasque tradition initiated by Prince Albert-I and Commander Cousteau in particular?
Of course, and that’s what I like about this project, they are an inspiration, but I am neither Prince Albert-I, nor Commander Cousteau (laughs). The first one showed us the way, the second pointed to the dilemma of protecting certain species in the marine environment, which is, unfortunately, still valid. This widespread awareness of the dangers facing the oceans must continue. I have been following this path for a few years now. The challenge now is to see how we can contribute to a wider awareness.
How was the mission program for this exploration established?
In collective agreement with the members of this project. We will try to visit some of the last and best preserved places in the world. Notably the Coral Ecosystem or the marine protected areas in the Mediterranean. But we will also cover all the seas, with real scientific themes at each stage, and we will communicate our findings. The public has the means to be more aware, but there is still a long way to go before most people understand what is happening in terms of pollution, climate change, the extinction of certain species, overfishing, the need to protect ecosystems that are vital to the health of the oceans. Dangers are everywhere and future generations will inherit this situation. That is why we have chosen to act.
How will you raise public awareness?
We must launch alerts that lead to actions. If it doesn’t start now, it will soon be too late. Scientists don’t always agree on the different scenarios but we obviously have very little time to minimize the impacts. A pedagogical program encompasses these explorations in order to reach younger generations, especially school children. There will also be communications in different scientific spheres. Then we will work with local partners, at every step, to raise awareness and achieve better results. If one does not involve the inhabitants, it will not work, they must take part in the project.
Will you personally participate in these expeditions?
Of course, as much as my schedule will allow. I cannot leave for three months at sea like Prince Albert-1 (laughs). I would join the expedition once or twice a year on different sites. I think it will be exciting. And I am very happy to be able to live this adventure.
Are there any particular sites that you are looking forward to discovering?
I have the chance to know most of the areas we will explore. There is a place in the Pacific which I have always wished to see, the Line Islands. We will also go to the Galapagos Islands. It will be interesting because I went there forty years ago, I would like to see how the environment has evolved. And if we have the opportunity to return to the poles, it would be, of course, with great pleasure.
You put your image at the service of this adventure. Do you think it’s important to personify these explorations?
I don’t do it for my ego. I do this because it is a project that originated in Monaco, and it carries the environmental concerns of the Principality. Because of that, I could not, not to be the spokesman. But it is also a team effort.
The Principality will largely fund these expeditions, without any brand sponsors. Was that your intention?
It was, in my view, it is important that the Principality make a substantial contribution. This may seem like a lot of money, but this expedition is part of an international effort to increase awareness about what the oceans bring us. Our survival ultimately depends on them. So I think it’s a good investment. Then we found patrons who completed the funding.