Royalty comes to Woods Hole on a mission to protect world’s oceans
WOODS HOLE — On the ground floor of the Marine Biology Laboratory, His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco bent over a fishy-smelling tank.
One of the laboratory’s managers, David Remsen, lifted a small, dripping egg sack from the water and held it up to the flashlight on his cellphone. As the brown pod shone red to reveal the growth inside, the prince cracked a smile.
“How’re you doing?” he said to the eggs inside, drawing a laugh from his entourage and from scientists.
It’s not every day royalty comes to Cape Cod. On Monday, Albert traveled here from the city-state on the French Riviera to celebrate the start of a partnership between the laboratory and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which he founded in 2006 to focus on international environmental issues — a cause dear to his family.
“All the institutions that are here make this place at the forefront of marine biology and marine sciences in general,” the prince said in an interview with the Globe. “That reason alone is enough to encourage us to partner and to help in the process of getting a better understanding of our seas and oceans and try to better protect them.”
Earlier that day, Prince Albert went out on a working research vessel, the Gemma, and watched scientists haul nets into the rusty boat. He helped sort through marine life that had splashed on deck, showing an enthusiasm for science that impressed many on board.
As he strolled around the laboratory, peering at experiments and marine life, he wore baseball caps from the Marine Biology Laboratory and the foundation clipped to his tailored trousers, their brims swinging against his leg.
“It’s a part of this country that is dear to my heart,” Albert said, referencing his undergraduate years at Amherst College and adolescent summers spent on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.
An affiliate of the University of Chicago, the laboratory is an education and research institution founded in 1888 that focuses on biology and marine science. Similarly, the prince’s foundation has worked to protect bluefin tuna, monitor the Mediterranean, and stop deforestation worldwide. It also sponsors more than 400 smaller projects worldwide, such as the Woods Hole initiative.
“Seas are covering more than 70 percent of this planet,” said Bernard Fautrier, vice president and chief executive of the foundation. “It’s not just planet earth. It’s also planet sea.”
The foundation provided the Marine Biology Laboratory with a $100,000 gift to develop a website to help scientists study and identify different species, Fautrier said.
“There’s a tremendous amount to be gained by comparative biology,” said David Mark Welch, the director of the division of research and a senior scientist at the lab. “It’s very hard to do those comparisons right now because the information is spread out in different places and the information is very hard to access.”
Welch recalled times when he watched, frustrated, as students had to spend most of their time at the laboratory amassing data, rather than running experiments. The website would rectify this problem by becoming a central Internet library for information about marine animals’ DNA and the ways marine environments are changing due to climate change.
The prince’s focus on marine biology and diversity follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, Prince Albert I of Monaco, who died in 1922. The late monarch was an avid oceanographer and marine scientist, trekking to the Arctic, allowing scientists to use his fleet for research, and founding the famous Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.
“Of course he’s a great example, not only for myself, but for a number of scientists and people who love the sea and who think that it is vitally important for our future that the question of oceans be put higher up on the international agenda,” the prince said in the interview.
“The leadership of the prince is doing a lot of things to bring consciousness about the environment, which is so much part of Monaco,” said Maguy Maccario Doyle, Monaco’s ambassador to the United States and Canada. “Environmentalism, it’s part of the Monaco DNA.”
On the tour of the marine lab, Prince Albert inspected a coral blanching project that could help scientists understand the strain placed on coral in warming tropical waters. He observed how the laboratory team grows squids for use in widescale scientific studies, a marine replacement for lab rats and fruit flies. He even peered through a microscope and conducted an experiment with precise scientific equipment.
“He not only cares, but he knows the science,” Welch said. “He’s clearly excited to be here.”
After a luncheon, the prince listened as professor Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, spoke about the importance of science to combat climate change. When he mentioned that global carbon dioxide levels are currently at 410 parts per million, Albert shook his head.
The prince was scheduled to return home to Monaco Monday night after a weekend on the Cape.