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Key Dates:

Call for Papers
Summer 2008

Abstract Submittal Deadline
3 October 2008

Authors Notified,
Student Travel Grant Recipients Notified
December 2008 

Schedule Posted
January 2009

Meeting
25-30 January 2009

From the Russian Zoological Station
(1885) to the Oceanographic Observatory
of Villefranche (1989)

Isabelle Palazzoli, CNRS-University of Paris6, Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche, BP 28, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer, France; palazzoli@obs-vlfr.fr; Jean-Claude Braconnot, CNRS-University of Paris6, Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche, BP 28, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer, France; braconnot@obs-vlfr.fr; and Paul Nival, CNRS-University of Paris6, Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche, BP 28, 06230 Villefranche-sur-Mer, France; nival@obs-vlfr.fr

Repreinted from L&O Bulletin 17.2

The Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer began as the Station Zoologique. It owes its existence to the richness of the planktonic fauna in the Bay of Villefranche, a consequence of the geological and hydrological characteristics of the area. The Bay of Villefranche, in the N.W. Mediterranean Sea, is surrounded by elevated summits. There is virtually no shelf; the hills plunge into very deep bottoms waters which are easily accessible from the coast using small boats. The Ligurian current hugs the coast, and runs from east to west. The bay then constitutes a sort of ‘appendix’ of the nearby deep open waters offshore, and so contains an exceptionally diverse pelagic fauna ranging from macroplankton like meduses, ctenophores, siphonphores, mollusks, tunicates, to annelids as well of course the micro-, nano-, pico-, and femtoplankton.

Records of scientific interest in the pelagic fauna go back to the early 1800’s. The zoologist François Peron and his ‘painter’ Charles Alexander Lesueur visited the area in 1809 based on reports and aquarelles found in the archives of the Natural History Museums of Paris and Le Havre. Much later, several scientists re-discovered the richness of the fauna in Villefranche. Carl Vogt, from the University of Geneva, on a journey back from Rome, made a stopover in Villefranche, where he saw fishermen on the beach bringing in gelatinous animals in their nets. Enthusiastic, he returned several years later and remained until the publication in 1868 of his monograph « Sur les animaux inférieurs de la Méditerranée » (On the lower animals of the Mediterranean), i.e. salpes and siphonophores. Voigt advocated the creation of a permanent laboratory in Villefranche. The first such attempt was by Jules Barrois of the University of Lille and his collaborator Hermann Fol of the University of Geneva who installed in 1882 a marine laboratory in a small tower of the Villefranche “lazaret” (a former quarantine building). As Barrois was a renowned scientist, Charles Darwin himself responded favorably to his request to support the installation of a marine laboratory in Villefranche.

The foundation of a permanent installation finally occurred through the efforts of Alexis Korotneff of the University of Kiev. The Russian Navy had use of ‘ galleys’ (reportedly prisons) built by the Duke of Savoy on the bay. The Russian Navy had used the buildings for storing coal and as a hospital, which become known as ‘The Russian House’. Standing empty for many years, Korotneff appealed to the Russian Navy and was granted use of the buildings for the installation of a marine laboratory in 1884. He invited Barrois and Fol to join him. However, the collaboration was short-lived. In early 1888, Fol vanished rather mysteriously in the Atlantic and Barrois retired to his property on the bay, where he continued research in his private laboratory.

As Korotneff was alone, “ The Russian House” became the Russian Zoological Station (Fig. 1) and with meager means welcomed students and scientists from around the world. The day to day direction of the laboratory was left to Michel Davidoff who perfected techniques of preserving biological specimens and won prizes in shows in St. Petersburg, Bordeaux, and Marseille. The Station acquired a motorboat the ‘Velelle’. The station scientists undertook soundings of the Bay of Villefranche to produce charts of the bay topography; they began systematic sampling of the plankton and recording of salinity and temperature data.

The year 1915 marked the death of the Korotneff in Odessa, Russia and the arrival in Villefranche of Grégoire Tregouboff who studied first in Kiev and then at the University of Montpellier. He managed to keep the Zoological Station alive through the Russian Revolution and World War I. In 1931, the station became finally French. It was ceded to the Faculty of Sciences of Paris which was responsible for the administration of two other marine laboratories: one on the Atlantic coast in Roscoff and the other in Banyuls on the Mediterreanen coast near the border with Spain. The Zoological Station was administratively part of the Arago Laboratory in Banyuls. Tregobouboff presided over the Zoological Station until 1956, when he retired from administrative duties. However, he continued research in his own fashion. He made deep dives in his capsule « Galeazzi », then in the bathyscaphe FNRS III. In 1957, he published with support of CNRS (the national science agency of France), a massive handbook on the Mediterranean plankton, which is still a vital classroom resource.

Paul Bougis, replaced Trégouboff as head of the Zoological Station. He managed the aquisition of a 20 m oceanographic vessel, N.O. Korotneff, and in 1974 brought together the separate research laboratories of geology, physics, chemistry, embryology, and oceanography with the creation of the ‘Station Marine of Villefranche.’ In 1989 the Station Marine was officially made a field campus of the University of Paris: l’Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer. First run by Jacques Soyer, then Micheal Glass, the campus is now under the direction of Fauzi Mantoura. It is the most important oceanographic institute in France with a permanent personnel of approximately 150 and about 75 temporary personnel, which are distributed in three ‘laboratories’, or super-departments, of Oceanography, Developmental Biology, and Geology.