Since 5 September, Prince Albert II has been in Portugal for diplomatic, historical and scientific visits. On 5 September, the Sovereign Prince visited Lisbon and met HE Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President of the Republic of Portugal, at the Belém National Palace. Together, they discussed relations between the two countries, environmental protection issues and, more specifically, the topic of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Then, the Prince went to Funchal, on the Portuguese island of Madeira, for the first stage of the Yersin ship, which is on its Explorations of Monaco in Macaronesia trip. Arriving in Madeira on 18 August, the scientific ship dropped moorings two days later with its teams of scientists and specialists on board to begin the first mission of the “Explorations de Monaco”, a vast campaign that will be carried out for three years all over the world, on the initiative of Prince Albert II. This first scientific stage is also of historical significance because HSH Prince Albert II has followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather, Prince Albert I.
As early as 21 August, the first operations at sea began, with a journey round the three islands of Desertas, a Portuguese archipelago about forty nautical miles from Funchal, the capital of Madeira. These islands have the particularity of sheltering a protected marine area, in which lives a colony of Mediterranean monk seals, a species in danger of extinction. “There are between 40 and 44 monk seals here,” explained Pierre Gilles, the director of the mission in Macaronesia. The rest of the population, between 400 and 700, is in Morocco, Mauritania and Greece. It is the most endangered species in the world. Beginning the Explorations of Monaco here was obvious.” Especially since the Prince Albert II Foundation of Monaco is committed to the protection of monk seals in Greece… The Portuguese colony is not the most important but proves to be particularly fragile because of its isolation. Hence the urgency of protecting it.
During his visit to the island of Madeira, the Sovereign Prince inaugurated Place Albert I in Funchal, in the presence of local authorities and a Monegasque delegation.
HSH Prince Albert II then attended the opening of the exhibition “The Prince explorer, Albert I of Monaco discovers Madeira”, to be held at the Museum of Natural History in Funchal until 7 January 2018. This exhibition, carried out by the Archives of the Prince’s Palace in coordination with the Oceanographic Museum, the Audiovisual Archives of Monaco and the Museum of Natural History of Funchal, has been designed as a travel diary which follows Prince Albert’s route to Madeira between 1879 and 1912.
It was also on the island that Prince Albert I of Monaco, then heir to the throne, met the Duchess of Richelieu in 1879, for the first time; she later become Princess Alice when he married her in 1889.
On Wednesday 6 September, Prince Albert II visited the Church of Our Lady of Monte, which houses the statue of the Virgin of Monte, patron saint of Madeira, and the tomb of Emperor Charles I of Austria (1887-1922), beatified by John Paul II in 2004. HSH the Sovereign Prince concluded his visit to Monte by returning to Funchal and boarding a famous Carros de Cesto.
The Sovereign Prince also participated in a workshop of experts who will present a synthesis on the monk seal, currently one of the most threatened species. As part of the protection program implemented by the local government, the Explorations of Monaco provide teams from the Yersin Institute of Forestry Conservation and Nature and specialized divers to complete the cartography of the monk seal habitat on the northern part of the island of Madeira. Since 20 August, 10 researchers from three different organizations have also taken turns drawing up an inventory of the biodiversity in the waters of the little-known archipelago.
Over ten days, the scientists gathered on the Yersin were not focused only on the monk seal. They had time to carry out several other studies. For two days, a team of five ornithologists from Madeira embarked on the scientific vessel to study the interactions between seabirds and cetaceans, tuna and other small prey fish. Some species of birds exist only here and are therefore fragile. “These ornithologists used our equipment to cover a distance and a very important surface,” said the Monegasque scientist.
The Yersin also hosted three scientists from the Marine Biology Station in Funchal, who carried out a survey of sediments between the main island of Madeira and the Desertas. “They found a new seaweed, black coral, and left with 250 samples. It is a blessing for their future work in the laboratory, on the biodiversity of these sediments.” And then recently in Macaronesia, three divers, with the help of underwater scooters, carried out a census of marine ecosystems north of Madeira, 22 meters deep and 50 kilometers of coastline. A project that would last three days, to catch fish, algae compositions and invertebrates.
7 September was devoted to discovering the desert islands, an uninhabited archipelago off Madeira, by exploring two caves and observing monk seals, cetaceans and seabirds. Prince Albert I had repeatedly explored these deserted islands during his visits to Madeira. The Yersin will remain in Macaronesia until early October.