Prince Albert II of Monaco visited Woods Hole on Monday, and met with scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). He also announced that his foundation, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, will be supporting research at MBL for the first time.

The Marine Resources Center at MBL is home to tanks upon tanks of sea creatures — corals and sharks and thousands of cephalopods.

But for the first time on Monday, it played host to the reigning monarch of Monaco.

After going out on one of MBL’s research boats, The Gemma, Prince Albert II peered into tanks, and even — at the invitation of Bret Grasse, manager of cephalopod research at MBL — fed an octopus.

“It’s an honor, having the prince here. Someone of that environmental stature, and someone who’s been integral in putting good conservation policies in places,” Grasse said. “At the very least I hope that he thinks that cephalopods are amazing animals and super cool.”

Beyond that, on a more serious note, Grasse said he’s grateful the prince’s foundation — which focuses on funding research on biodiversity, climate change and water resources — has decided to support research at MBL.

“Our oceans are greatly under threat, despite their size and their vital contributions to humanity,” Prince Albert II said, in brief remarks to a group of scientists and trustees from MBL, after his tour of the Marine Resources Center. “This is the central issue of our time, an issue that is urgent and at the same time eternal, an issue for today and for future generations. To move forward at the United Nations, in Monaco, or here on the beautiful New England coast, we have only one resource, and that is knowledge, understanding, and science. Our sole resource is all of you.”

The prince also announced that his foundation will be funding SeaBase, a new project from MBL.

Prince Albert II peers into one of the many tanks at MBL.
Samantha Fields WCAI

David Mark Welch, director of the division of research, said SeaBase is “part of a broader initiative that MBL is engaged in around the idea of genomes and microbes of marine organisms.”

Effectively, it will be an easily searchable database of critical research on the genomes and microbiomes of marine animals like octopuses and skates, as well as the environmental changes occurring in their habitats.

Welch said it's intended to help scientists and students find answers to questions about things like the global distribution of different species, how that distribution has changed over the decades, and how different species are adapting to climate change.

“The oceans have a wealth of information that we really just are barely tapping yet, and in the meantime we’re killing it,” said John B. Kelly, president of the U.S. chapter of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. “If we let the oceans deteriorate … and we lose biodiversity, we’re going to lose the secrets that nature gives us and that research will open and unlock. Enabling us to solve things like Alzheimer’s or find cures to cancer.”

Both Kelly and Welch said they hope this is just the beginning of a long relationship between the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Marine Biological Laboratory.