• Prince Albert II, Monaco, exploration, ocean

    Prince Albert II of Monaco at a press conference during the Ocean Conference at United Nations headquarters in New York City on June 7. The prince discussed his Monaco Explorations initiative, which in July will see scientists start conducting research in nine remote ocean areas during a three-year circumnavigation of the globe aboard the Yersin, a specially equipped, environmentally friendly ship. (Photo: Andrew Lovesey/Canadian Geographic)

Floating islands of plastic. Water temperatures rising. Acidification increasing. Rampant overfishing. The world’s oceans are in a dire state. And one of the best-known royals in the world is doing something about it.

Initiated by Prince Albert II of Monaco, the recently launched Monaco Explorations expedition will set sail in July on a three-year, round-the-world journey to conduct multidisciplinary scientific research in nine remote ocean areas (see map below). With a goal of “reconnecting humanity to the sea,” the scientists and crew will circumnavigate the globe aboard the Yersin, a 76-metre “clean ship” that’s outfitted with six scientific laboratories. The expedition will be led by Robert Calcagno, director of the Institute Oceanographic in Monaco.

If you’re surprised that the health of the world’s oceans are of concern to the prince, you shouldn’t be. After all, the monarch of the tiny principality on the shores of the Mediterranean not only grew up with the sea on his doorstep but also inherited an interest in its health, thanks to his great grandfather, Prince Albert I of Monaco, considered to be one of the fathers of oceanography.

Here, the prince discusses that family legacy, Monaco’s history of conservation and how the Monaco Explorations expedition will play a role in helping study and maintain the health of the world’s oceans.

On how his family’s legacy inspired Monaco Explorations

The vision and legacy of my great-grandfather, Prince Albert I of Monaco [considered a pioneer of oceanography], are still very much with us in Monaco today. His articles, books and correspondences were well known, but his journal, which we recently rediscovered, isn’t. Reading his accounts and ideas from his different expeditions was fascinating. More than 100 years ago he was the first, to my knowledge, to talk about the importance of protecting terrestrial and marine species, and establishing parks and reserves at sea or on land. His journal showed how there was a real concern for what was not then known as “the environment” but as nature in general. Although he wasn’t scientifically trained, he was very close to scientists and worked with them. He also loved to explore and had a very curious mind. So that’s a very strong legacy.

On how growing up in Monaco shaped his outlook about the world’s oceans

Growing up in a Mediterranean country, you tend to look out at sea and interact with it because it’s right there at your doorstep. I think that, along with the creation of my foundation, made me more interested in environmental issues and propelled me into a different dynamic, giving me a real sense of urgency about the dangers that make our environment and the situation of the oceans critical. We need to act now, together, to try and better understand the mechanisms that put our global ocean into danger. If we do this, we might gain a new vision of the ocean and how we’re intimately connected to it.

On the expedition’s multidisciplinary approach

On different legs of the expedition there will be different groups of scientists with different objectives. For instance, there will be a study of seamounts and how they work, which isn’t understood very well yet, and research in the role of the ocean as a climate regulator. That kind of approach will give us a better understanding globally of what the situation is. I’ve got a curious mind, and I know that you can’t just look at one subject, one part of the equation; you have to look at the big picture. Doing that by having all these disciplines come together will give you a better understanding.

On why Monaco is taking a leadership role in exploration

It not only has to do with the legacy I explained and the legitimacy that comes with that but also with trying to establish Monaco as part of the international community. Yes, we’re a small country and city-state, but we can be part of the global effort to try and better understand our oceans. We’re not the only ones who can do this, or the best ones, but we do want to try and play our role.