Fondation Albert II sets sail, by Tristan Rutherford

Camper & Nicholsons SEA+I Magazine, February 2021

Prince Albert I dedicated his life to oceanography. In 1873 the 25-year-old purchased Hirondelle, a 32m pleasure yacht built by Camper & Nicholsons, then turned it into an ocean laboratory. The Prince of Monaco undertook 28 maritime expeditions. He even discovered Princess Alice Bank of the Azores, a mile-high seamount and aquatic playground for swordfish and whale sharks. His standing legacy is the Oceanographic Museum, which commands the world’s great yacht harbour from the Rock of Monaco. 

 

In 1906 Prince Albert I sailed further still. His 63m expedition ship, Princesse Alice II, mapped the frigid northwest of Spitsbergen, a Norwegian island high in the Arctic Circle. The sovereign-scientist measured temperatures, took photographs and spotted snow white colonies of polar bears. 

 

The experience turned the explorer into an environmentalist. After visiting the White House in 1921, Albert I delivered a blistering speech to the Washington Academy of Sciences. He described the majesty of whale watching off Corsica. Then decried "steam trawlers" ruining seabeds "that are fitted for breeding". The prince also called for ‘reserved districts’ to protect marine areas before it was too late. 

 

In 2006 HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco sailed in his great-grandfather’s wake. The Sovereign photographed the same Spitsbergen coast, now known as Albert I Land. Prince Albert II compared the expedition images taken 100 years apart. The comparison was tragic. Ice had retreated across the 79th parallel. Albert I’s call for marine protected areas had been largely ignored. His great-grandson decided to dedicate his energy to tackling climate change, promoting biodiversity and providing universal access to clean water. The result is the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. 

 

Olivier Wenden is the Foundation’s Vice President. On behalf of His Serene Highness, it has supported more than 580 environmental projects since its creation in 2006 for a total grant of €70m. “The Foundation’s central aim is to support initiatives that bring development and income to local communities,” Wenden explains. Board meetings where action and funding are decided are chaired by the Foundation President, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco himself. 

 

“The MedFund is a good example of initiatives we support,” continues Wenden, who previously worked for the Conseil National, Monaco’s 24 member parliament, followed by a position at the Principality’s Foreign Office. “This trust fund led by Monaco, France, Tunisia, Spain and Morocco helps develop Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).” The seven MedFund supported MPAs include the Karaburun-Sazan Marine Park in Albania. Centred around one of the Mediterranean's largest uninhabited islands, the park covers shipwrecked Roman galleys, barely visited beaches and 55 species of mammal including the rare monk seal.

 

The MPA concept is similar to the ‘reserved districts’ that Prince Albert I called for a century ago. “In the late 1990s, UN Member States also targeted the preservation of 10% of the oceans by 2020,” explains Wenden. “Unfortunately only 3% of the Mediterranean is protected”. Half of that protected zone comprises the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, which was founded by the governments of Monaco, Italy and France. The sanctuary is the reason why luxury yachts regularly spot fin whales and striped dolphins between Corsica and the Italian and French Rivieras. “With the MedFund reaching €20m, it can offer long term support to MPAs,” says Wenden. This will support greater biodiversity and bigger fish, which will benefit all 22 countries across 46,000km of Mediterranean coast.  

 

The Small Islands Organisation, or SMILO, offers support to idyllic islands familiar to every Mediterranean sailor. “These little islands, like Levant near St Tropez or Tavolara off Sardinia, share challenges of biodiversity and tourism management,” explains Wenden. “On Zlarin Island in Croatia,” where red coral supports bluefin tuna and iridescent orange seahorses, “a zero plastic charter has been signed by all the restaurants''. And on Kerkennah, a sandy squiggle 20km from mainland Tunisia, the Foundation has helped SMILO fund “a plastic waste management plan for the island’s fishing industry,” where octopus have been landed since Roman times. 

 

Can luxury yachts, which value Monaco as the industry’s epicentre, be part of the Prince’s environmental plan? “I think yacht companies have already been doing amazing work,” says Wenden. (Camper & Nicholsons supports Mission Blue, the biodiversity NGO set up by Dr Sylvia Earle, to promote 122 MPAs, or ‘Hope Spots’.) “A decade ago our first yachting initiative, the Wood Forever Pact, promoted the use of timber sourced from sustainable managed forests. More owners now request alternatives to teak,” which is illegally exported from Myanmar, home to half the world’s wild teak forests, which take 80 years to mature. 

 

“More recently the Foundation has worked with the Yacht Club de Monaco,” continues Wenden. “The result is the SEA Index.” Using benchmark data from shipyards, operators and owners, the Index will assess the environmental performance of the 2,017 yachts in the world over 40m, including the 54 superyachts delivered in 2020. “The Index will promote eco-friendly behavior,” claims Wenden, “as we can compare consumption and impact”. Other Foundation projects have highlighted low impact yachting initiatives, like reducing sulphur emissions from diesel engines and using non-toxic antifouling products. 

 

The Principality has a final weapon in its fight for biodiversity, clean water and climate change: celebrity allure. “During the next Monaco Yacht Show in 2021, the Foundation will host its fifth Monte-Carlo Gala for Planetary Health,” explains Wenden. The 2020 edition seated scientists and environmentalists alongside A-list movie stars. Auctioned items included an artwork from street artist Banksy. Plus an incredibly daunting tennis match, with the winning bidder partnering the world’s number one, Novak Djokovic. 


A final Gala auction prize was a week's charter for 12 guests aboard La Datcha, a 77m Ice Class explorer yacht, which charters with Camper & Nicholsons from €740,000. It shows that luxury yachting can raise awareness and boost funding for the industry’s most noble cause. Just as Albert I proved a century ago.

for another day. 

Tristan Rutherford writes about superyachts for Boat International and Camper & Nicholsons SEA+I Magazine