The Origins: 1908 - 1919

The origins of the Commission go back to July 1908 when the 9th International Congress of Geography, meeting in Geneva, agreed to a proposal advanced by Prof. Vinciguerra (1) of Italy that, in the interest of marine fisheries, it was opportune to promote the oceanographic exploration of the Mediterranean Sea. A special committee composed of Prince Albert I of Monaco (President), of Professors Vinciguerra (Rome), Krümmel (Kiel), Cori (Trieste), Regnard (Paris), and of Cdr Navarete (Madrid) was mandated to lay the foundations of a future Commission of the Mediterranean. It is worth noting that at the same Congress the creation of a Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Atlantic was recommended, but history and fate decided otherwise.

(1) Prof. Vinciguerra became the main promoter of the concept which he presented to the 4th International Fishery Congress in Washington and published in 1909 as: Decio Vinciguerra (April 1909). Sur l'opportunité d'une exploration océanographique de la Méditerranée dans l'intérêt des pêches maritimes. Bulletin de l'Institut océanographique, Monaco, n° 138, 10 p.

Monaco, 30 March 1910
Inauguration of Museum Oceanographic in Monaco
Signatures of the participants
who took part in the founding meeting

On 30 March 1910, in Monaco, at the invitation of Prince Albert I, the special committee, minus Dr Cori, met for the first time in the splendid, brand-new Musée Océanographique which had just been inaugurated (see photo above). In addition eleven renowned scientists - who were among the guests at the Museum inaugural celebrations - were invited to join the discussions. These focused on a proposal jointly prepared by Profs. Vinciguerra and Krümmel, profiling the contour of a "rational exploration'' of the Mediterranean and centered on collecting hydrological and biological data (from plankton to fishery catches) on a regular basis. After a few modifications the proposal was adopted, including a key demand by Prince Albert I that in the future Commission countries be represented at the governmental level in order to give more weight to the recommendations of scientists. It was then agreed to meet in Rome the following year, but armed conflicts postponed the meeting till February 1914 (1st Plenary Assembly) when the bases for a Constitutive Assembly composed of the States bordering the Mediterranean and the Black Seas were laid. The advent of the Great War prevented Spain to welcome the Inaugural Meeting later in the year.

Madrid, November 1919
Session chaired by Prince Albert I of Monaco

Madrid, November 1919: CIESM is at last able to hold its Constitutive Assembly (2nd Plenary Assembly Meeting), following preparatory meetings in Rome and Paris (June, October 1919). The opening ceremony, on 17 November, is presided over by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, with at his side Prince Albert I of Monaco who would lead the working sessions through the next days and serve as first President of the Commission. The Conference is attended by Representatives of Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Monaco, Spain and Tunisia - the seven founding Member States of the Commission - together with observers from Turkey. CIESM becomes after ICES the second intergovernmental science organisation in the world.
The 'founding fathers' (all men indeed) are pictured around and behind Prince Albert I in the photograph (left), including Dr Jules Richard seated next to the Prince who was elected Secretary General of the Commission for the next five years.

   Explorations: 1920 - 1939

Five scientific committees are rapidly created to serve the Commission: Marine Physics; Chemistry; Meteorology; General Biology; Applied Biology (Fisheries).

Among the very first recommendations of the Commission to its Member States figure the creation of marine stations, the consolidation of existing ones, the systematic exploration of the Mediterranean Straits, the preparation of a bathymetric map, and studies on the biogeography of "useful species".

These recommendations soon lead to the foundation of Marine Stations in Algiers (1921), Castiglione (1921) and Salammbô (Tunisia, 1924). At the same time, oceanographic campaigns are carried out by three Member States on behalf of the Commission: two Italian scientific vessels - the Tremili and the Marsigli - explore the Bosphorus and then the Strait of Messina; the Giralda from Spain studies the Strait of Gibraltar, while the French vessels La Perche et l'Orvet focus their investigations on the Gulf of Gabes.

Folllowing the death of Prince Albert I, the seat of the Commission is transfered to the Oceanographic Institute in Paris in 1924. That same year Dr Edouard Le Danois is elected Secretary General, a position that he will assume until the onset of World War II. At the same time, Italy is elected to the Presidence of the Commission in the person of Senator Prof. Vito Volterra who will be succeeded at this prominent post by Great Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel from 1929 till 1940.

The "Bulletin de la Commission Internationale pour l'Exploration Scientifique de la mer Méditerranée", first published in January 1920, was replaced in 1926, by the series of "Rapports du Congrès" which continues until now. The ambitious publication, sheet after sheet, of the "Faune et Flore de la Méditerranée" is also decided then. Between 1927 and 1934, under the expert supervision of Prof. Louis Joubin, hundreds of marine species, carefully described by 40 leading taxonomists, were published at irregular intervals in this series.

Louis Joubin
Prof. Louis Joubin, ca 1929

This period is also one of geographic consolidation, as the founding Members are joined by Romania (1925), the Kingdom of Serbs (1927), Turkey (1928) and by territories then under British, French or Spanish mandate: Cyprus, Palestine (1929), Syria, upper-Lebanon (1930), Spanish Protectorate of Morocco (1933). CIESM now covers most of the Mediterranean perimeter as well as a good part of the Black Sea coast.

Caminito del Rey
Photo taken during a field visit to the old Caminito del Rey
by the National Delegates to the CIESM 7th Congress in Malaga (1929)

As a result CIESM scientists become accustomed to distant railroad trips as the Congresses visit in turn Athens (1921), Paris (1922, 1923), Madrid (1924), Venice (1926), Malaga (1929 - see photo above), Paris (1931), Naples (1933), Bucharest (1935) and again Paris (1937). Then, dramatic turns in European history cancel all plans of holding the 1939 Congress in Venice...

   A new start

The Second World War nearly signalled the end of the Commission. In its immediate aftermath, the United Nations Council was seriously tempted to impose a new world order in the region, favouring a scenario whereby newly created UN agencies would operate alone in the Basin. The Mediterranean nations resisted the pressure, ultimately imposing their wish to keep control of the interests of their own region. The joined efforts of their National Committees, spontaneously reconstitued after the war, allowed for a 'renaissance' of the Commission. In February 1951 (at last) the 12th CIESM Congress could take place in Paris, then the seat of the Commission, after a gap of 14 years...

With Jean Furnestin (see photo to the right), elected and reconfirmed as Secretary General through the period 1954-1966, the Commission will know a remarkable development. A man of character and vision, well respected in international circles (he served as President of ICES as well for five years from 1958 to 1963), he restores CIESM on solid scientific foundations and works hard to attract new Member States, starting with the newly independent nations of the Basin. Together with Prince Rainier III of Monaco, elected for the first time President of the Commission in 1956, he oversees the adhesion of Egypt and Israel in 1962, followed by Algeria (1963) and Tunisia (1964).

Keen to defend the scientific mission and authority of the Commission over the whole region, Professor Furnestin insisted that newly created UN Agencies such as UNESCO/ IOC, IAEA and FAO/ CGPM should work in close harmony with, and not independently from, CIESM interests in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. This led to trustful and fruitful collaborations that still endure today... except in matters of fishery science where the CIESM Board never agreed to leave the fish out of its reputed biological oceanography sector.

Prof. Jean Furnestin
CIESM Secretary General
(1954 - 1966)

The President of the Commission, increasingly concerned by the vulnerability of the ocean to the assaults of man, encouraged the creation of two new Committees - Marine pollutions, Marine radioactivity - and more broadly the integration of marine protection concerns into CIESM work. As an example, CIESM organized the International Symposium on Marine Pollutions caused by Microorganisms (Monaco, 1964).

In 1966 a modification of the statutes allows non-coastal States with a long-standing commitment to research in the Mediterranean Sea to join. This will enable Germany and Switzerland to become CIESM members a few years later, in 1969 and 1970 respectively. During the Bucharest 1966 Congress, a record number of 270 scientific communications are presented. On that occasion, Cdt Jacques Yves Cousteau is elected Secretary General and will serve in this function until 1988. During this long period, the activities will essentially revolve around that of the scientific committees, now ten in total (Physical and chemical oceanography; Marine geology; Marine radioactivity; Microbiology, biochemistry and marine pollutions; Plankton; Benthos; Marine vertebrates and cephalopods; Lagoons; Island environments; Man under the sea), while the international initiatives of the Commission become less visible.

In 1988, Professor François Doumenge, new Director of the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco is elected CIESM Secretary General- a post he will hold until 2007- and enables the adhesion of Malta in 1990.

   Marine science for a better governance of our seas

In 1991, under the impulsion of Prince Rainier and Prof. Doumenge who are determined to see CIESM regain pre-eminence in the international arena, the Board creates the post of Director General of the Commission to oversee, on a permanent basis, the international research and policy activities of CIESM. Professor Frederic Briand, a French-born marine scientist trained at the University of California, former Head of conservation science at IUCN and at the time UNESCO Director for North Africa, is selected and appointed to this position by the Board. There follows a period of rapid scientific extension and reforms.

Three new Member States (Croatia, Slovenia, Ukraine) join in 1992, followed by Lebanon in 1995. In June 1992, the President and the Director General travel to Rio de Janeiro, where Prince Rainier addresses the World Earth Summit, calling the attention of the Heads of States gathered there to the uniqueness and fragility of the Mediterranean world and asking for better UN protection of the High Sea. In the same year, CIESM is invited by the European Parliament to prepare an independent, in-depth assessment of Mediterranean marine pollution.

A major reform of the governing bodies of the Commission, signalling the increasing engagement of CIESM Member States in terms of both policy and budget, soon proves necessary. It starts with the creation in 1995 of an Advisory Committee- eight National Representatives elected from the Board to facilitate the evolution of research objectives in line with the priorities of Mediterranean populations. It continues with the restructuration and fusion of CIESM eleven scientific Committees into six, a challenging task which is achieved, after much consultation, at the 1998 Congress in Dubrovnik.
This series of reforms allows for smooth integration of cross-disciplinarity in research strategy and planning, and for better concertation among the scientific committees. Overall this leads to a stronger impact of CIESM on international fora. Further, committee Chairs are now elected by their peers by secret ballot and Congresses are held on a triennial basis.

From 1995 onward, the Director General launches a number of major publications covering emerging issues, in order to enhance the scientific impact and international visibility of the Commission: the CIESM Science Series, the rich collection of CIESM Workshop Monographs today reaching 50 volumes, the production of four illustrated Atlases of reference on Exotic Species - Fishes, Crustaceans, Molluscs, Seaweeds - and finally the CIESM Science Policy Series.

27 September 2001: Prince Albert of Monaco, just elected President of CIESM,
together with Prince Rainier III and Professor Frederic Briand.(photo: Charly Gallo)

In September 2001 the Principality of Monaco - this time in the person of Hereditary Prince Albert - is re-elected unanimously to the Presidence of CIESM (see photo above). The same year sees the production of the first CIESM / Ifremer high-resolution multibeam map of the complex Mediterranean seabed which reveals, with a degree of precision never achieved before, the subduction zone between the African and European plates. Portugal joins the Commission in 2004. In the following year, after a break of 80 years, CIESM resumes its oceanographic explorations with two multi-disciplinary cruises (focused on deep waters of the south Tyrrhenian Sea) onboard research vessels graciously lend by Italy.

The 38th CIESM Congress (2007, Istanbul - see photos below) presents some 850 scientific communications, i.e. three times more than the numbers reached in 1966.

Thanks to the budget consolidation, another wave of reforms allows the launch in rapid succession of carefully designed CIESM programs, established over the long-term to monitor trends of key variables across the entire Basin. They involve 60 associated coastal Institutes, that carefully apply the same CIESM sampling and analytical protocol on all shores. Today CIESM programs provide essential data on warming trends in the deeper water layers, on introduced species, on the contamination of food chains, on jellyfish blooms, of the tropicalization of biodiversity, on sea level change, etc.

Following years of preparation (and many years of residence in the Principality), a formal Headquarters Agreement ('Accord de Siège') is finally concluded between the Monaco Government and the Commission, granting diplomatic status and full independence to the seat of CIESM. The signature (see photo) takes place at the Monaco Palace in the presence of the Board.
crédit photo: Gaetan Luci / Palais Princier
Prince Albert II de Monaco, Dr Frédéric Briand (à gauche) et le Ministre d'Etat du Gouvernement Monégasque, J.P. Proust.
Légende - Monaco, Palais Princier, le 4 décembre 2009. Autour du Prince Albert II, signature de l'Accord de Siège de la CIESM par le Directeur Général de la Commission, le Dr Frédéric Briand (à gauche) et le Ministre d'Etat du Gouvernement Monégasque, J.P. Proust.

The following CIESM Congress (2010, Venice - see photo below) will even surpass these figures, welcoming 1,000 scientists and a record number of communications (over 900). For the first time the participation of women scientists exceeds that of men. The Headquarters staff continues to expand, which allows the Commission to open new fields of cooperation with OECD and the World Bank in marine biotechnology and marine economics respectively.

39th CIESM Congress, Venice (2010)

During a special meeting in Siracusa, Italy, the Director General supported by CIESM President and the Italian Environment Minister unveils a major CIESM initiative which calls for the creation of eight cross-frontier, coast-to-coast Marine Peace Parks in the Mediterranean.

2013 marks the adhesion of the Russian Federation which becomes a permanent Member of the Advisory Board as well.

Moscow, 4 October 2013 - Signature of Russian adhesion by the Minister of Science, Dmitry Livanov and Prof. Frederic Briand
The new Russian Delegation is welcome at the 40th CIESM Congress held in Marseille which introduces a new format whereby as many as 800 oral communications and 800 posters are presented. Prince Albert II is re-elected for another mandate as CIESM President by the Board which salutes the new scientific collaborations forged by Headquarters with ICES, with the Joint EU Research Centre in Ispra, and with the French Academy of Science.

2014 : CIESM enters the 100th year of its existence - since its First Plenary Assembly in Rome (February 1914) - with a much larger geographic span than initially.

The following years see the Commission develop its outreach in many directions:

A/ Geographically

- eastward, as illustrated by the CIESM East-West International Conference (December 2014) when 100 leading marine scientists, half from the CIESM network and half from the Russian Academy of Science Shirshov Institute, meet in Sochi for intensive seminars on marine biotechnology, marine geohazards, oceanography and marine information science;
- northward :  the 41st CIESM Congress held in September 2016 for the first time in Germany on the site of Christian Albrechts University in Kiel: there Mediterranean participants with a number of high level scientists based in in the Baltic and North seas gracefully invited CIESM invitation to act as moderators of Congress sessions.

12 September 2016, Kiel Congress - inaugural address of Frederic Briand
with map of CIESM Member States in background

- westward : the 42nd CIESM Congress was held for the first time in Portugal, marking the 15th Anniversary of its adhesion to our Commission. Inaugurated by the President of the Republic, and moderated by leading marine scientists from the country, it focused with great success on Atlantic/ Mediterranean exchanges. Monaco is re-elected at The Presidency of the Commission.

- December 2019: by an Act of Parliament, the Republic of Albania becomes the latest Member State of CIESM.

B/ Thematically

In 2020 CIESM opens a brand-new scientific domain for its investigations, when launching its international Seabirds Program. This leads first to the production of an illustrated Atlas of Seabirds in the Mediterranean and adjacent Seas and to the tracking in subsequent years, over thousands of km, of the seasonal migrations of the Yelkouan Shearwater, a secretive, strictly pelagic species.

Our expert taskforce, deployed in Croatia, Malta and Russia, reveals for the first time an axis of biological connectivity between nesting sites in the central Mediterranean and the Caucasian shores of the northeastern Black Sea - spawning grounds for millions of anchovies.

A new DG, a new chapter ...

On September 2023, Prof. Laura Giuliano - selected by the CIESM Board after a thorough international search - officially succeeds Prof. Frédéric Briand as Director General of the Commission.