The development of science in the Principality rose to great heights at the end of the last century thanks to Prince Albert I (1848-1922), whose work, research and expeditions provided the basis of Oceanography.
Prince Albert I, avidly interested in this science, deliberately chose to follow “the career of a navigator”. It was under this title that he was to write his memories as an ocean-going sailor, scientist and philosopher.
It all began in 1866. The young Prince Albert, Heir to the Throne, was in his eighteenth year. Prince Charles III, his father, who never opposed his choice of vocation, entered him in the Spanish Navy where he trained to command a ship and gained the rank of sub-lieutenant.
Four years later, he joined the French Navy and took part as a lieutenant in the war against Prussia.
In 1873, he acquired his first boat, a 200-ton yacht, “L’Hirondelle I” (“Swallow I”) on board of which he made several cruises. Contact with Dr Regnard, Deputy Director of the Physiology Laboratory at the Sorbonne, his former fellow-student at Stanislas College, and Professor Milne-Edwards, Director of the Paris Museum, aroused his scientific curiosity and in 1875, “L’Hirondelle I”, until then a pleasure craft, transformed itself into a real small scientific vessel. Prince Albert sailed in every direction in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic as far as the Azores. Soundings were taken in the sea down to a depth of 3,000 meters – a record for the period !
Having become Prince of Monaco on the death of his father in 1889, Prince Albert had built in 1891 a 600-ton steam schooner “La Princesse Alice I” which was followed in 1898 by “La Princesse Alice II” (1,400 tons) and in 1911 by “L’Hirondelle II” (1,650 tons).
In spite of his responsibilities as Sovereign of a country undergoing considerable political, economic and social change, he tirelessly pursued his expeditions – a total of 28 between 1885 and 1915.
Those between 1892 and 1897 included dredging to a depth by 5,580 metres to the south of Madeira.
Then followed expeditions to Spitsbergen, the Cape Verde islands, along the coast of Brazil, to Norway and North America.
The First World War was to put an end to the oceanographic activities of Prince Albert I. From then on, “L’Hirondelle II” stayed at her moorings in Monaco harbour. In 1923, a year after the death of Prince Albert I, she sailed for England to be sold there.
The work, so fruitful, of Prince Albert I, has been summed up in these words by Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Director of the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco until 1988, taken from his introduction to the last edition, published in 1966, of “The Career of a Navigator” :
“The Prince himself directed 3,698 operations at sea, sending lobster pots and giant nets down to 6,000 metres, providing proof of the endless vertical migrations of pelagic animals, studying the penetration of light, using photography and cinematography, discovering anaphylaxia, suggesting the use of seaplanes for fishing but at the same time denouncing the damage caused by trawling, publishing the first bathymetric chart of the oceans, encouraging depth-measurement by ultra-sonic means and also enthusiastically studying the phenomena of the upper atmosphere which receive from the sea the main elements of their activity.”
In 1906, Prince Albert I founded the Oceanographic Institute devoted to the science of the sea. The Institute consists, in the first place, of an establishment located in Paris, in the Rue Saint Jacques in the heart of the University quarter, responsible for teaching by means of courses and lectures, secondly, the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, the inauguration of which took place on 29th March 1910 in the presence of numerous personalities, heads of state or their representatives and delegates of learned societies from all over the world.
In the speech of welcome he made on that occasion, Prince Albert I declared : “[...] the land of Monaco has raised up a proud and inviolable temple to the new divinity which reigns over intelligences!”
The high quality of the work and researches of Prince Albert I won him esteem and admiration in scientific circles throughout the world.
Elected a corresponding member of the Institute of France under the Academy of Sciences, founder member of the Biological Society of Paris, Doctor honoris causa of several great universities, he created in Madrid in 1919 the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean, of which he was, with King Alphonso XIII of Spain, the first President.
Parallel with his researches in the realm of oceanography, Prince Albert I gave fresh impetus to the science of prehistory, still in its early stages at the beginning of the present century, by having excavations made in the caves of Grimaldi, on the Italian coast near the French frontier, by founding in Paris in 1903, the Institute of Human Palaentology and by creating in Monaco the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology.
Equally enthusiastic over botany, he had the idea of acclimatizing the flora of desert regions in the Principality. He himself chose the site which best suited this process : the cliff of the Observatory, overhanging Monaco and there had undertaken from 1913 onwards the work of establishing the first lines of the Exotic Garden which was inaugurated in 1933 by Prince Louis II (1870-1949).
Scientific activity was notably marked between the two wars by the creation of the Exotic Garden devoted to the preservation and reproduction of the flora of arid zones and by the installation in 1929 of the International Hydrographic Bureau on the port. The International Hydrographic Organization has met there at regular intervals ever since and is currently in the process of the producing the 5th edition of the general bathymetric chart of the Oceans.
But the Man of Science who Prince Albert I was in the widest sense of the term never overshadowed the Visionary with the generous heart who created the Institute of Peace in 1903 nor the far-sighted Head of State who, as an experiences seaman, knew how to keep the Principality on the right track.
After the Second World War, the cave of the Observatory, explored several decades earlier, was opened to the public. It is located inside the very walls of the Exotic Garden. On 20th November 1951, the Prehistory and Speleological Association was formed and in 1960 H.S.H. Prince Rainier III inaugurated the new Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology.
In the Fifties, the oceanography of the Mediterranean made rapid progress and the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean – which today has 17 member countries – took up its activities under the direction of H.S.H. Prince Rainier III, appointed President on 15th September 1956.
Concern with the question of the environment and marine pollution quickly came to occupy the first place in the work of the Commission. In 1959/1960 for example, anxiety at seeing the Mediterranean systematically used as a dumping-ground for radioactive waste was brought to the attention of two meetings organized at the Monaco Oceanographic Museum. These were, respectively, a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency and secondly a congress – plenary assembly of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean.
Simultaneously, the “Atoms for Peace” crusade was launched. Monaco joined it and H.S.H. Prince Rainier III then decided to create the Scientific Centre not only to take part in this international movement but also to complete in general terms the work of Prince Albert I.
The first studies of the Scientific Centre of Monaco were concerned with atmospheric radioactivity resulting from nuclear tests and then turned towards the use of low-level radioactivity for dating purposes, a method used with excellent results in the realms of oceanography and prehistoric anthropology (movement of water masses and carbon cycle).
The Centre also possesses a meteorological station and a seismological station, this latter being linked to a worldwide network for the observation and recording of movements of the earth’s crust. In this connection, it is noteworthy that anti-earthquake building regulations were introduced and made compulsory in the Principality some fifteen years ago.
It goes without saying that concern for the environment cannot leave the Scientific Centre indifferent and so, in order to track down pollution due to micro-organisms, this body carries regular and systematic surveillance of Monaco’s coastal waters.
In 1970, H.S.H. Prince Rainier III took the initiative in launching a Franco-Italo-Monégasque project for co-operation between the administrative, legal, technical and scientific authorities of these three countries bordering the Ligurian Sea.
A three-party agreement known as the RAMOGE Convention (it geographical application being initially from west to east, from Saint Raphaël to Monaco and on to Genoa) was signed in 1976 by the three countries concerned and came into force in 1981. The Scientific Centre in Monaco provides its secretariat.
As President of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean, H.S.H. Prince Rainier III encouraged this international organization to set up a specialized committee to combat marine pollution which regularly organizes, every second year, a series of study days devoted to providing an updated review of the problems of the marine environment in the Mediterranean.
As a result of an agreement reached between the International Atomic Energy Agency – whose headquarters are in Vienna – the Government of the Principality and the Oceanographic Institute, the International Laboratory of Marine Radioactivity has been located in the Principality since 1961.
Co-operating with the Scientific Centre, this laboratory has acquired a considerable amount of experience in measuring radioactivity in the sea. With the support of the United Nations Programme for the Environment, it has developed different forms of surveillance of the marine environment on a worldwide scale.
Scientific information and its diffusion are efficiently provided by the library of the Oceanographic Museum and the bulletins of the Oceanographic Institute, to which should be added the publications of the International Hydrographic Bureau, the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean and the Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology.
In this way, the Principality of Monaco has, for over a century, been participating whole heartedly in the growth of international scientific co-operation which was the desire of Prince Albert I in these key areas of oceanography and anthropology, the protection of nature and the campaign against marine pollution.
This last activity is also undertaken, more modestly but with enthusiasm, by the Monégasque Association for the Protection of Nature which has established the Monaco Underwater Reserve with a surface area of nearly 50 hectares where, in complete calm, numerous species of fish live happily and a vast bed of posidonia grows undisturbed.
In 1971, H.S.H. Prince Rainier III created the “Albert I of Monaco” Prize for Oceanography which has as its object the “stimulation of research-workers by giving the best of them some official recognition of its esteem for work completed, dangers run and discoveries made at sea and under the sea where the unknown is still immense”.