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At the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, heat stroke on the North Pole

Polar mission, the new exhibition event, challenges without Manichaeism on the future of these territories of ice threatened by global warming. Paradoxical in the realm of bling-bling? Not necessarily.

An exhibition on the poles in Monaco: some will see it as a paradox. Alert on climate change from the top of this Rock symbol of excess, lulled by the sound of helicopters, punctuated by a number of construction sites per square kilometer to make Anne Hidalgo pale: a joke! Let them not go too fast. This would be to forget that the principality counted among its members one of the first polar explorers: the sovereign Albert I – son of Charles III, creator of the Société des Bains de Mer and at the origin of the stroke of genius which transformed Monaco into capital of games… It goes to show that Monegasque ambivalence is not new!

Between 1889 and 1907, the “ learned prince » conducts four expedition campaigns in Svalbard, in the north of Norway, on its laboratory vessel, the Princess Alice II. Returning to dry land, in 1910 he founded the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, a sumptuous neo-baroque palace suspended from the cliff. For the centenary of the death of this pioneer, the museum is devoting a two-year exhibition to the polar lands, frozen guardians of the smooth running of the planet.

Long protected from human desires by their remoteness and the harshness of their climate, the poles are no longer the sanctuaries they were. The godmother of the event Mélanie Laurent aptly summarized it during the inauguration, Thursday, June 2: “The bioacoustician Michel André placed microphones in the most remote places on the planet to answer this question: is there still a place on earth without human sound? The answer is no. So let’s listen to our poles. »

Figures that send shivers down your spine

Listening to the poles to protect them is what invites Polar mission, starting by teaching the visitor to distinguish North from South. Did you know that the polar bear was the prerogative of the Arctic, the penguin of the Antarctic? That the Arctic was inhabited, not the Antarctic? In addition to a panorama of the species and the links that unite them – the microscopic krill being essential to the colossal humpback whale –, the exhibition introduces the great figures of the polar expedition, from Jean-Baptiste Charcot to Jean-Louis Étienne. Some figures, gleaned along the way, are chilling. In Antarctica, the temperature has gained 3 to 4 degrees in fifty years, compared to 1 to 2 in the rest of the world. As for polar bears, there are only 25,000 left.

Did you know that the polar bear was the prerogative of the Arctic, the penguin of the Antarctic?

A playful approach and a certain sense of showmanship make it possible to escape the moralizing tone that sometimes weighs down environmental discourse. At the entrance, the visitor, promoted “ report to the poles “, is given a press card, sesame to access multimedia content. A few rooms further on, a 650 m² cube lined with screens offers an immersive encounter with bears, whales and other penguins. Thanks to the computer-generated image in real time, the seals, larger than life, seem to react to our caresses. Suddenly, under our feet, the pack ice cracks. Trapped on a glacier that has become an ice cube, the polar bear is wasting away before our eyes.

It’s all over, the man killed the polar bear, move on, there’s nothing left to see? Far from there ! The other pitfall that the Monegasque exhibition carefully avoids is Manichaeism. “ We do not want to defend the environment against man. In addition to its threats, climate change has some positive consequences for the development of the Inuit economy “, estimates the director of the museum, Robert Calcagno, who advocates a “ reasonable blue economy “. Jean Malaurie’s collection – also 100 years old this year – shows the habits and customs of these people from the North – who should no longer be named “ eskimos », contemptuous nickname meaning « raw meat eater “.

What to do ?

Once you have swapped the ice cap for the overheated bitumen, in the 25°C ambient of summer Monaco, a question remains. What to do ? “ No one can do everything, but everyone can do something », philosopher Robert Calcagno. Before invoking the memory of his predecessor, Commander Cousteau, at the head of the museum for more than thirty years. In 1990, to counter mining projects in Antarctica, he launched a petition that collected more than a million signatures. A year later, the Madrid Protocol will follow, which defines the South Pole as a zone of peace and prohibits the exploitation of its resources.

Among the small gestures that do a lot, the most pleasant is perhaps still… going to the museum! Each entry for “ Polar mission » contributes to the Albert-Ier and Prince-Albert-II foundations, which finance research projects such as « Tara Arctic » (2013) or « Ice Memory (2025). Five centimes are also allocated to the fund for marine protected areas, the largest of which, in the Ross Sea, was initiated by a prince… A certain Albert II.

Polar mission at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Av. Saint-Martin, 98000 Monaco. Such. : + 377 93 15 36 00.

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