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Genesis

1963
ANGER AND ACTION

In the 1960s, most of the towns on the mediterranean coast discharged their sewage directly into the sea. Only a few pioneering ecologists were fully aware of the seriousness and the dangers of marine pollution. One of them, Paul Ricard, protested against a project to discharge the residue of bauxite processing (red sludge), off Cassis (near Marseille).

A major anti-pollution crusade was launched. “Beware of provoking, poisoning, messing up the sea, she is capable of getting her revenge. And if you continue to treat the Earth with derision, one fine day it will laugh in your face” wrote the French poet Jacques Prévert. “It is premeditated collective suicide” asserted Dr. Alain Bombard, freshly crowned with glory after his exploit of crossing the Atlantic as a voluntary shipwreck victim in 1952.

› Portrait of Dr. Alain Bombard (in French)

1966
FOUNDATION OF THE OBSERVATORY OF THE SEA

The protests against the discharge of red sludge at Cassis gained momentum and reached the capital, Paris. There was a succession of parades and press campaigns ; a poster was published : “No, the Blue Sea (La Grande Bleue) must not become the Red Sea”

Despite this mobilisation, the bauxite project was finally recognised as of public interest and went ahead, after analyses showed that the industrial waste discharged into the sea was not toxic.

But for Paul Ricard, the combat against pollution was not a lost cause. In 1966, he gave his campaign a new boost by founding with Dr. Alain Bombard the Observatory of the Sea on the island of Les Embiez (near Toulon, Provence). Its mission : to know the sea and to protect it.

Paul Ricard asked Dr. Alain Bombard to head a laboratory to study and monitor marine pollution.

Microbiology, oceanography and zoology laboratories were set up in 1968. Commandant Philippe Tailliez and Professor Jacques Chouteau, of the Faculty of Sciences at Marseille university, provided support for the first research projects.

A research partnership was developed with the shipping company Compagnie Générale Transatlantique on the acclimatization of Japanese shrimps ; fruitful contacts were established with the Japanese aquaculture industry.
Activities were also organized to publicise the Institute’s work : lectures, participation in international conferences, etc.

In 1972, Prof. Chouteau became president of the Scientific Committee, and Dr. Alain Bombard was appointed General Delegate.

The Observatory of the Sea had already been in operation for five years when the first French Ministry of the Environment was created, then referred to as the ‘ministry of the impossible’ (‘Ministère de l’impossible’).

1973
A TEAM OF RESEARCHERS

A new boost : Prof. Chouteau offered the post of Director of Research at the Observatory of the Sea to Prof. Nardo Vicente.

This young university lecturer and director of the marine biology laboratory at the Faculty of Sciences at Marseille - Saint-Jérôme took up the challenge and appointed his team. This multidisciplinary team was initially made up of Dr. Yvan Martin and Dr. Claude Lucain ; then Dr. Pierre Escoubet, Dr. Alain Riva and Dr. Patrick Lelong came to join them (see photos below).

Almost forty years later, Prof. Nardo Vicente, today Emeritus Professor of Marine Biology, is still the Institute’s Scientific Counsellor. Dr. Jean-Luc Bonnefont is Director of Research.

AT THE TIME, THIS DEVELOPMEN WAS A REAL EVENT ON THE FRENCH MEDITERRANEAN COAST
Designed by a renowned aquariologist, Dr. Rothley, a public aquarium opened its doors at Saint-Pierre fort on the island of Les Embiez. Each year, 50 000 visitors come to observe a hundred or so species of the fauna and flora of the Western Mediterranean. The facility also houses a museum and a library. At the time, this development was a real event on the french mediterranean coast, as there were only two public aquariums : one at Banyuls-sur-Mer (S. France, near the Spanish border) and the other at Monaco.

CLEAN UP THE BEACH DAYS
At Les Embiez island, Clean Up the Beach Days (Journées Propreté des plages) were organized with the support of teachers. This was a first !
Up until 1987, generations of school children were thus made aware of marine pollution by making the symbolic gesture of collecting some solid waste matter from a beach.

THE MAGAZINE ‘BULLETIN DE L’OBSERVATOIRE DE LA MER’ (BULLETIN OF THE OBSERVATORY OF THE SEA)
In 1974 the first edition of the Bulletin de l’Observatoire de la Mer was published, later to become Océanorama (1986). This general interest magazine became a reference in France for the presentation of scientific information to the general public. In the same year, two studies by Professor Vicente and Dr. Bombard were published : The main sewage outfalls in the Mediterranean (Les principaux émissaires en Méditerranée) ; Discharges into the sea and sewage treatment (Les rejets en mer et l’épuration des eaux).

GROUPE PAUL- ÉMILE VICTOR
Dr. Alain Bombard was a member of the Groupe Paul-Emile Victor for the protection of man and his environment. Founded by the famous polar explorer, this discussion group , including Jacqueline Auriol (first woman test pilot in France-1951), the physicist Prof. Louis Leprince-Ringuet, the volcanologist Dr. Haroun Tazieff, Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Jacques Debat, met regularly at Les Embiez island (photo below). Prof. Vicente was mandated to carry out the first work on ecological planning in the coastal environment, with the aim of highlighting the compatibilities and incompatibilities of the various uses.

MALACOLOGY
Presided by Prof. Vicente, the annual congress of the French Malacology Society was held at the Institute, at Les Embiez (1976). It was held there again in 1983 and 1989.