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At the Forefront of Ocean Research and Conservation: IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco Turn 60


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaking at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the IAEA Environment Laboratories, at the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco. (Photo: F. Pacorel/Institut océanographique de Monaco)

The role of the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco in helping conserve the ocean for future generations by applying nuclear technologies was emphasized at last week’s events that marked the 60th anniversary of the labs. These unique laboratories within the United Nations system investigate the effects of radioactivity and pollution on marine ecosystems.  

Prince Albert II of Monaco, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Oceans Peter Thomson and representatives of 65 IAEA Member States joined Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the celebrations that took place at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco.

“The work of the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco is unique,” said Grossi. “For sixty years, these labs have been helping countries confront marine pollution, seafood safety and other emerging challenges. We are helping them achieve their own sustainable development goals.”

In his address, Mr Grossi paid tribute to the vision of Prince Albert I, who identified marine pollution as a major environmental concern already in 1959, when internal conventions related to the protection of the environment were non-existent.

“If we are here today, we owe it to that noble tradition that you, Monsignor Prince Albert II, have decided to personally continue and to support in the way you and the Principality of Monaco have been doing for the past six decades,” Mr Grossi said. 

Prince Albert II spoke of the important work of scientists. “The dialogue between laboratories like yours and political authorities is one of the keys to our future,” he said. “The time has come for humanity to tackle the great problems of the Ocean with the best resources at its disposal, so that it can more quickly overcome the obstacles so deeply anchored in the very roots of civilisation.”

In his address, Mr Thomson spoke of the ongoing United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

“The UN Decade’s slogan is ‘The Science We Need for the Ocean We Want’. The IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco have a special global role in the provision of the ocean science we need,” he said. “With red alert for humanity now having been declared, that role will only deepen the significance of these laboratories’ undertakings.”

He urged countries to support the efforts of the IAEA as they forge ahead in building “That Science We Need for that Ocean We Want.”

The anniversary celebration featured a photo exhibition showcasing the contribution of nuclear science to ocean conservation, hosted at the museum. Scientists from all over the world sent video messages, which were broadcast at the event, along with a film about the work of the laboratories. A full recording of the event is available here.

Climate Action, Plastic Pollution and more

Since 1961, the laboratories have advanced and enhanced the use of nuclear applications to inform evidence-based strategies for the sustainable management of the marine environment, covering issues such as pollution, harmful algal blooms, seafood safety, microplastics and climate related ocean changes.

As the largest ecosystem on the planet, the oceans play a key role in climate regulation and are also a powerful source of nature-based solutions to the changing climate. The IAEA laboratories collaborate with a wide range of research institutions in assessing carbon sequestration rates in coastal environments using nuclear techniques, including using radioactive isotopes for sediment dating.

In-depth knowledge on carbon sequestration can help expand the natural carbon sinks in coastal ecosystems that have the capacity to absorb CO2 emissions entering the ocean and thus help in mitigating ocean acidification.

“The global problems linked to marine environment are so urgent – be it on water level, sediment or the fish. All these environmental concerns are studied by scientists at IAEA’s dedicated laboratories. And the work ahead to be done is enormous,” said Mr Grossi.

At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) that will convene in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021, the IAEA will explain how nuclear science and technology can contribute to climate adaptation, including with respect to ocean acidification.

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