Earlier in the day, before this evening’s cocktail party (the previous blog), I find myself standing at the back of the press conference room waiting for Prince Albert II of Monaco to announce their new three year scientific expedition around the world, when I notice that National Geographic’s, explorer-in-residence, Enric Sala, is standing at the lectern, preparing to introduce the session.
Now, if you have ever heard Enric talk, you will know that he is exceptionally good at captivating an audience.
The announcement he is about to make is a part of Monaco’s voluntary commitment to the United Nations Oceans Conference, where nations have come together to address the Sustainable Development Goal 14 - to conserve life underwater.
This scientist, who has successfully campaigned to protect thirteen marine protected areas around the world, conserving an area of around 14,500,000 square kilometres, has created an impressive legacy.
Explorers and geographic societies have striven for thousands of years to excite the public about the natural world, and I would place Enric into this category.
And in three years time, I predict that that Prince Albert II will also become known in modern history for his work.
If you have read ‘The Invention of Nature’ (Andrea Wulf) about Alexander Von Humbolt, the lost hero of science, then you will probably know what I am talking about.
Every now and again, there are a few individuals who appear each century to make a huge impact on our understanding of the natural world.
Alexander was a 17th century explorer, who travelled the world to collect knowledge about Nature and the habitats in which it thrives.
He recorded how our human connection to Nature was changing as society began to shift towards more intense resource extraction; and his adventures eventually led to the genesis of the discovery of the discipline of ‘ecology,’ which focuses on showing how life is interconnected.
His work would also influence the creators of the conservation movement, including the work of John Muir, America’s ‘Father of National Parks’, who inspired the creation of the first protected areas on the planet.
I recently read this enthralling, page-turning book, and I can’t help but notice there are parallels between Alexander’s story and Prince Albert II of Monaco with today’s announcement of Monaco’s three year scientific mission to explore the world.
Like Alexander, the Prince is driven to explore, to discover the secrets of Nature, and most significantly, he is dedicated to creating a cultural shift in society where people reconnect and care more deeply about Nature.
The Prince, inspired by his own Great, Great Grandfather, Prince Albert I, is carrying on this tradition, which is ingrained in his heritage.
This ancestor dedicated his life to oceanography, recording numerous oceanographic studies, maps and charts on expeditions, and even financially supporting scientific quests such as to the Arctic and Antarctica.
As Enric describes it to me, Prince Albert II is using ‘discovery’ as a way to conserve the ocean.
“It is the old exploration tradition of Captain Cook, and Charles Darwin and Alexander Von Humbolt - we are living the dream, and the most important thing is that we are helping these places to stay in good health for generations to come,” says Enric.
Enric is one of the leading scientists, who will join Prince Albert II’s voyage.
He will be a part of a team that will explore the deepest depths of the ocean, being the first to record the discovery of new creatures.
The team’s mission is also to help spread public awareness and increase protection for the ocean.
“Decades ago, Jacques Cousteau and his boat, the Calypso, and a wonderful team of divers got everybody excited about exploring the ocean,” says Enric
“Now there are 800 TV channels and there are a hundred people working on the ocean so that sort of excitement doesn’t exists anymore, but I hope the Monaco explorations, especially with Prince Albert, are going to get that excitement back.”
Right now, on the sun-kissed Mediterranean coast of Italy, the Prince’s team is making the final touches to its scientific ship called the Yersin.
Then, next month, when the boat leaves Monaco’s harbour, it will mark the moment of a new era of ocean discovery and conservation - even if the world doesn’t know it yet.