Marine Environment Laboratories, Monaco

The IAEA’s three marine environmental laboratories in Monaco use nuclear and isotopic techniques to study the environmental impact of radionuclides, trace elements and organic contaminants and offer mitigation strategies to governments. These tools are also used to help experts from around the world monitor and address climate change, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.

The first IAEA laboratory in Monaco was established in 1961 under an agreement with the Principality of Monaco to undertake studies on the effects of radioactivity on the sea and on marine life. Over the years the activities of the laboratory expanded with the changing nature of pollution in the oceans and came to include the study of pollutants such as such as pesticides, polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs), petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as well as toxins associated with harmful algal blooms.  

The laboratories have provided essential scientific and analytical support for studies of pollutants worldwide: in the Atlantic, North and South Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Antarctic Oceans and the Far Eastern, Mediterranean, and Black Seas. Regional studies have been conducted in the Gulf, the Irish, Kara and Caspian Seas, New Caledonia and the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls.

Today, the three laboratories in Monaco assist Member States in assessing coastal and marine pollution and improving seafood safety by developing analytical methods for the measurement of contaminants. They also apply stable isotopic techniques to study pollution processes and identify the sources of coastal pollutants. This information helps decision-makers implement pollution monitoring programmes to protect the marine environment and support the delivery of ecosystem services. The laboratories also produce certified reference materials to help laboratories worldwide calibrate their instruments and thereby generate reliable quality-assured data. They also organize training courses for scientists from around the world on the analysis and monitoring of contaminants in the marine environment.

Monaco’s Musée Océanographique, inaugurated in 1910, is hewn within solid rock and was the original location of the Laboratories when it opened in 1961. The early work of Laboratories focused on the transport of radioactive material by sea, the effects of radioactivity on fish and marine life, the migration of radioisotopes in the sea bed and the chemical and molecular effects of the sea.  1960-1966. Please credit IAEAThe original site of the laboratories in the Oceanographic Museum located in the Monaco-Ville area known as ‘The Rock’. 1973. Please credit IAEA/HOLZINGER HeribertThe conference was organised jointly by the IAEA and UNESCO at Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum on 16-21 November 1959 and was attended by nearly 300 scientists from 31 countries. On the podium from left to right: William Sterling Cole (IAEA Director General), H.S.H. Prince Rainier of Monaco and Vittorino Veronese (UNESCO Director General). 1959. Please credit IAEA.A scientific conference on the disposal of radioactive waste held in Monaco by IAEA and UNESCO. On the podium from left to right: William Sterling Cole (IAEA Director General), H.S.H. Prince Rainier of Monaco and Vittorino Veronese (UNESCO Director General). 1959. Please credit IAEA.Besides the IAEA Environment Laboratories, the museum was home to Monaco’s own marine radioactivity research laboratories and the offices of Jacques Cousteau, who was director of the museum from 1957 to 1988 and a member of the Council that guided the IAEA Laboratories in their early years. 1960-1966. Please credit IAEAWork at the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories, Monaco. 1960-1966. Please credit IAEAAnalysing the concentration of stable elements in marine samples (water, plants, animals, sediments) with the recently acquired atomic absorption spectrophotometer. 1960-1966. Please credit IAEA/HOLZINGER HeribertMarine sediments have a great ability to bind fallout and waste radionuclides, and in shallow seas most of the radioactivity will be found in the sea bottom. The core was obtained from one of the national oceanographic institutions which cooperated with the Laboratories in a five-year programme on radionuclide behaviour in ocean and coastal sediments. 1960-1966. Please credit IAEA/HOLZINGER HeribertObtained from the national oceanographic institutions that cooperated in the five-year programme to study radionuclide behaviour in ocean and coastal sediments. 1960-1972. Please credit IAEA/HOLZINGER HeribertUsed for the study of the impact of radioactivity on the marine environment. 1966. Please credit IAEAStaff member examining plankton under microscope. 1966. Please credit IAEAStaff member at the laboratories. 1966. Please credit IAEAStaff member at the laboratories in Monaco. 1966. Please credit IAEAScientists from the IAEA laboratories in Monaco collect samples of sea water and fresh plankton from the Mediterranean for studies about the effects of radioactivity on the sea and marine life. 1966. Please credit IAEAScientists from the IAEA laboratories in Monaco collect samples of sea water and fresh plankton from the Mediterranean for studies about the effects of radioactivity on the sea and marine life. 1966. Please credit IAEAScientists from the IAEA laboratories in Monaco collect samples of sea water and fresh plankton from the Mediterranean for studies about the effects of radioactivity on the sea and marine life. 1966. Please credit IAEA1966. Please credit IAEAA scientist prepares certified reference materials at the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco. 1978. Please credit IAEA1970-1990. Please credit IAEA1970-1990. Please credit IAEA1970-1990. Please credit IAEAEucidaris tribuloides - a type of pencil sea urchin. 1960-1972. Please credit IAEAA small ocean crustacean which has just shed its shell. 1973. Please credit IAEA/HOLZINGER HeribertResearchers from the Environment Laboratories sample zooplankton using a ring trawl offshore Monaco. 1975-1981.  Please credit IAEABiologist at the Marine Environment Laboratories, Monaco. Date unknown. Please credit IAEABiologist at the Marine Environment Laboratories, Monaco. Date unknown. Please credit IAEAScientist at the Environment Laboratories, Monaco. Date unknown. Please credit IAEAAt the inauguration of the new laboratories site. 1988. Please credit IAEAAt the inauguration of the new laboratories site. 1988. Please credit IAEAScientists from the Marine Environment Laboratories, Monaco. Date unknown. Please credit IAEAPart of research programmes ECOMARGE (ECOsystèmes de MARGE continentale), in the Gulf of Lion and DYFAMED (Dynamique des Flux Atmosphériques en Méditerranée) in the Ligurian Sea. 1986 (date uncertain). Please credit IAEA.Marine Environment Laboratories Survey to study coastal areas contaminated by oil in the aftermath of the conflict in 1990-1991. August 1993. Please credit IAEA/FOWLER ScottMore than two years after the conflict in 1990-1991, scientists carried out an assessment of marine pollution stemming from the war during which 4-8 million barrels of crude oil were released directly into the sea from Kuwait’s Sea Island terminal. August 1993. Please credit IAEA/FOWLER ScottThe IAEA’s Marine Environment Laboratories in Monaco were requested by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to map the extent of war-related pollution and toxic contaminants following the largest oil spill in history (4-8 million barrels) and a further 500 million barrels of oil that were emitted or ignited. August 1993. Please credit IAEA/FOWLER ScottScientists drew upon the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories’ extensive experience in monitoring hydrocarbons and heavy metal contaminants in the region. August 1993. Please credit IAEA/FOWLER ScottScientists drew upon the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratories’ extensive experience in monitoring hydrocarbons and heavy metal contaminants in the region. August 1993. Please credit IAEA/FOWLER ScottAt the request of the French government, the IAEA carried out an environmental assessment at Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls in the South Pacific where nuclear tests were conducted from 1966 to 1996. 1996. Please credit IAEA/ MOUCHKIN VadimMembers of an international team, working on a two-year study of radioactivity at the Mururoa and Fanfataufa Atolls, shown with a collection of ocean water for sampling. 1996. Please credit IAEA/ MOUCHKIN VadimThe study aimed to assess the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls for radiological safety after the end of nuclear testing. The study concluded there were no radiation health effects resulting from residual radioactive material. 1996. Please credit IAEA/ MOUCHKIN Vadim A campaign led by the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Seibersdorf and Monaco from 1996 to 1998, evaluated residual radioactive materials in French Polynesia both in the terrestrial and aquatic environment. 1996. Please credit IAEAA Kullenberg corer is used to collect sediment cores. The Mururoa Atoll can be seen on the horizon and a buoy upper right. 1996. Please credit IAEAMonaco Environment Laboratories. January 1998. Please credit IAEAMonaco Environment Laboratories. January 1998. Please credit IAEAMonaco Environment Laboratories. January 1998. Please credit IAEA1997. Please credit IAEAThe IAEA’s Marine Environment Laboratories were located in Monaco’s Oceanographic Institute building before moving in 1988 to a new location. 1998. Please credit IAEAAssessment of processes controlling the vertical flux of radionuclides in the sea. Date unknown. Please credit IAEAExpeditions to investigate radioactive contamination of the marine environment in the Arctic Ocean. Date unknown. Please credit IAEAThe current Marine Environment Laboratories were inaugurated on 5 October 1998 by H.S.H. Prince Rainier III of Monaco and the IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. Pictured also is H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco. 1998. Please credit IAEAUnderwater photo of hydrothermal field showing important outgassing (mainly CO2) of the bottom sediment. 1998. Please credit IAEAThe Marine Environment Laboratories are outlined in red. 2011.  Please credit IAEA
Last update: 21 November 2019

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