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Nadia Ounaïs, the Operational director of the Oceanographic Institute, provides below a short account of the history and exhibits of the Monaco Oceanographic Museum, a stunning establishement located about 25 km from the Acropolis convention center. ASLO delegates will be offered a 20% discount on the entrance fee to the museum.
Reprinted from L&O Bulletin 17.4.
An impressive white-stone structure overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from a height of 90 metres, the Oceanographic Museum is the founding work of Prince Albert I of Monaco, who was both a great scholar and a great humanist, defender of peace and patron of the Arts and Sciences.
Born in 1848, Prince Albert I of Monaco dedicated much of his life to the study of the sea and oceans. After a long period of military and maritime training and several years of travel on the Seven Seas, the Prince embarked on an oceanographic career, encouraged by such scientific personalities as Alphonse Milne-Edwards.
Very early, Prince Albert I understood the importance of relationships between living creatures and their environment, the influence of great natural phenomena on life in the oceans and the life cycle.
Albert I of Monaco was also the “instigator and promulgator” of the oceanographic science he contributed to create. This is why he founded the Institut Océanographique in 1906. The Institut Océanographique, Fondation Albert Ier, Prince de Monaco exercises the activities for which it was created by its founder through two establishments located respectively in Paris and in Monaco.
While the Paris establishment is oriented essentially towards teaching, the Museum in Monaco is more generally dedicated to communication and research.
The Oceanographic Museum was inaugurated on 29 March 1910.
The Oceanographic Museum today displays in its exhibition halls and its aquarium the wonders of life in the seas, recent developments and the latest discoveries marking progress in marine biology and oceanography. Its missions are:
The library, regularly augmented by new works, offers researchers and the public a unique collection of books and periodicals on Oceanography.
The oceanographic Museum has several large collections, all relating to the sea.
The most important of the Museum’s collections is made up of Natural History samples and specimens collected during Prince Albert I’s campaigns.
This collection includes ten of thousands of specimens including a large number of type specimens [used by scientists to describe new species. Even today, researchers come to Monaco from all over the world to consult the type specimens in the collection, a key reference for determining the justification for defining new species.
The Museum also features a large collection of naturalist paintings and drawings, ethnographic artefacts and artworks, models, films and photographs.
The permanent exhibition, A Sailor’s Career, presents the work of its Founder. In particular, there is the laboratory onboard L’Hirondelle, one of Prince Albert I’s ships from which observations were made that led to the discovery – rewarded by a Nobel prize in 1913 to Dr Richer – on the phenomenon of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a cataclysmic physiological allergic-type phenomenon linked to the specific properties of certain toxins. Thus, anaphylaxis began as an oceanographic discovery!
Other exhibitions, permanent and temporary, present scientific and artistic themes. The latest, titled Polar Ice, for future generations... presently on display at the Oceanographic Museum, is a genuine manifesto. It takes visitors deep into the polar world, with its wealth and fragility, asking the essential question: “what will remain of our Planet for future generations?”
Thus, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco brings together Art and Science in a single venue to give them their true dimension: that of life, expressed in one Europe’s finest and oldest aquariums.
The Aquarium displays over 6,000 specimens belonging to 400 fish species and 200 invertebrate species from the Mediterranean and tropical seas. These animals are shown in their magnificently recreated natural settings. This absolutely unique presentation is made possible thanks to highly sophisticated techniques based on the implementation of natural ecological processes. Living coral reefs are this Aquarium’s great originality, with 90 tanks reconstructing the true image of the different marine ecosystems as they exist in the wild.
The Aquarium of Monaco has always been a precursor in the display and maintenance of live corals. Today, the techniques developed by the Aquarium team have led to reproducing over 70 species of hard coral in the coral farm located in the Museum’s underground floors, thereby reducing the need to collect samples in the wild and even opening up the possibility of restocking in depleted areas.
The reef ecosystems reconstructed in aquaria are natural laboratories in which a range of different studies can be carried out by the Museum itself or affiliated independent laboratories like the Scientific Centre of Monaco. Work is carried out on hard coral ecophysiology, notably calcification, photosynthesis, respiration and response to ultraviolet radiation.
Coral ecosystems, especially when they are well stocked and vibrant with a rich and colourful fauna, have a powerful impact on the public. The majority of visitors are overwhelmed by an emotion that encourages a willingness to observe and understand. Special emphasis is placed on threats to these ecosystems (acidification of the Oceans, rise in sea level, increase in seawater temperature) and on the need for citizens to adopt a conservation ethic.
Reconstructed biotopes provide reef-dwelling species with ideal living conditions. Many invertebrates and fishes reproduce regularly in these aquaria and many species are raised in captivity using state-of-the-art techniques derived directly from aquaculture; they include such threatened species as seahorses and the Banggaï cardinal fish.
New challenges for the Oceanographic Institute…
Jean-Louis Étienne, a physician and explorer, is the Oceanographic Institute’s new Director General since October 1st, 2007. He is assisted by Nadia Ounaïs, Operational Director of the two establishments in Paris and in Monaco. Jean Louis Étienne is a medical doctor and a member of the Interministerial Commission on the Polar Environment, Jean-Louis Étienne has participated for 30 years in many scientific and educational expeditions to the Himalayas, Greenland, Patagonia and in polar regions in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. With teams from the Institute in both Paris and Monaco, the prime objective will be to renew the Foundation’s vocation, which is to provide information and make better known the marine environment and oceanography to as broad a public as possible. Jean-Louis Etienne promotes ambitious projects, including adapting museography to the new tastes of the public which is increasingly interested in interactivity and modernized displays. He also wishes to renew with what had been done in their day by Prince Albert I and Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Director of the Museum from 1957 to 1988: to ‘bring sea spray’ into the Oceanographic Institute by organizing expeditions on oceanographic vessels, thereby adding an educational dimension to scientific missions and striving for the great adventure of oceanographic research to open up to the public rather than remaining the sole domain of scientists.
Musée océanographique de Monaco
Établissement de l’Institut Océanographique, Fondation Albert Ier, Prince de Monaco
Avenue Saint-Martin, MC 98000 Monaco
Tel: + 377 93 15 36 00 - Fax: + 377 93 50 52 97
For further information: http://www.oceano.mc
Opening hours in January 2009: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM