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Opening in Portugal

Deeper than Light opens in Portugal

Following its official opening at UNESCO House in Paris, MAR-ECO’s  “Deeper than Light”, continues to Portugal where it opened Tuesday 12 June. In Portugal, the exhibition is not only opening in a new location, but the location itself, PLANETA MAR, opened for the first time.


PLANETA MAR is part of an ambitious urban renewal programme involving the waterfront of Matosinhos, a village / suburb on the north-western edge of Porto.

The parallels with a similar renewal programme in Monterey Bay, California are astounding. Both involved villages dependent on a fishery and cannery that collapsed suddenly and permanently, with devastating effects on the local economy. If determination and enthusiasm are anything to measure by, Matosinhos may soon enjoy some of Monterey’s success as the renewal project progresses.

PLANETA MAR will be a science discovery centre located right on Matosinhos’ splendid beach. The centre represents a collaboration between the community of Matosinhos and the research institute, Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental (the Interdisciplinary Marine and Ambient Water Research Centre, CIIMAR).

It aims to engage school children in observation and collection activities on their own beach doorstep. Students will be encouraged to take their findings into a lab at the centre where they can learn more about the relevant biology and ecology for the organisms they find. In addition to this “hands-on” activity, PLANETA MAR will host travelling / temporary exhibitions about marine / aquatic themes.

5000 years of beach living

According to dolmen evidence there has been a human presence in in the Portuguese community of Matosinhos, beside and north of Porto, for 5000 years. It is hard to imagine those days looking at today’s parasurfers catching air over the crashing waves and the clumps of beach volleyball players diving into the sand.

And yet as you walk along the Matosinhos boardwalk past the broad expanse of sand and rolling waves, past where the rocks and tidepools start to appear, you have a feeling of walking through of centuries of shared experience; the beach, the sea and human beings.

Here on Matosinhos beach the ocean is ever present. The breakers roll relentlessly along the shore, while the prevailing winds whip white spume off the crests. Looking beyond, the ocean surface stretches to the horizon, more or less monotone and flat.

With hundreds of years of fishery experience, the local inhabitants know that the inner world of the sea is far from monotone; but what is the deep sea really like?

"Deeper than Light"

Most exhibitions follow a classic presentation style and address the five “basic” questions: who, why, how, what and where? The designers of “Deeper than Light” have deliberately chosen to focus primarily on just one of these; what lives in the deep sea, in a world deeper than light?

The “what” involves a synergy of science and technology driving each other to enable us to better understand and experience the deep sea.

“Deeper than Light” is an exhibition emphasising  the experiential aspect – it is about experiencing the deep-sea, the unknown, …

As such, it is an appropriate metaphor for inviting the public to ‘experience’ the renewal of Matosinhos as well as inviting them into the amazing realm just beyond their own doorstep / beachfront.

In addition to preserved samples of some deep sea animals, the exhibition includes magnificent photographs, and artwork – paintings and technical drawings – based on the reflections of artists who participated in research cruises.

Through their eyes, exhibition visitors are invited to experience the mystery and magnificence of the amazing creatures found in this extreme environment.

Improved technologies, samples of which are included in the exhibition, are enabling researchers to document organisms in their native deep sea environments and to discover fabulous, fragile-bodied organisms that we had no idea populated these waters in such numbers.


The exhibition is based on an international research project, MAR-ECO, that is unique in modern times; an exploration to the relatively unknown waters around the northern mid-Atlantic Ridge. Extending from 2001 to 2010, MAR-ECO unites around 120 specialists, researchers and students from 16 different countries in a common quest to find out “what” lives in these waters. In 2006 the MAR-ECO Project was awarded the European communities prestigious Descartes Prize for Science Communication.

Opening at PLANETA MAR

Over 30 people from local universities, research centres and the Matosinhos Municipal Council attended the official opening of PLANETA MAR and its first temporary exhibition, “Deeper than Light”. It was hosted by the Norwegian Embassy in Portugal.


Article about the opening (in the Portuguese press)

Kristin Andréasson, the Cultural Assistant who represented the Norwegian Embassy, underlined the importance of the sea to both Portugal and Norway and how the Norwegian foreign Ministry is proud to be able to support initiatives that involve both countries, such as this one.

The Deputy Mayor of Matosinhos, Nuno Oliveira, stated that the discovery centre initiative was a very important one for the community.

Residents of the area have lived in close contact with the sea, literally for thousands of years. They are irreparably linked to the sea, but now there is increasing understanding that the sea is also linked to them. Initiatives such as a marine environment discovery centre will build better understanding of this relationship.

Professor João Coimbra, the director the CIIMAR, the research institute that is in partnership with Matosinhos Municipal Council to develop the discovery centre, spoke about how important it was for research institutes to seek out opportunities to interact meaningfully with the public.


Professor Ricardo Serrão Santos, a member of the MAR-ECO Steering Committee and Director of the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOP) at the University of the Azores, gave a brief presentation of the MAR-ECO project with highlights from the GOSars cruise of summer 2004.

Researchers from DOP are active in MAR-ECO research. They are also involved in building on the MAR-ECO model to develop research projects exploring other Ridge and Frontal regions in the southern Atlantic. A number worked with the Portuguese Public Broadcasting network to make a documentary following a major MAR-ECO research cruise in 2004. This documentary will form part of the “Deeper than Light” exhibition.

MAR-ECO researchers from Portugal have been particularly active promoting interactions with schools. Carla de la Cerda Gomes, a graduate of DOP, has considerable expertise and experience developing school programmes. She has now formed her own company, Oceanoscópio, which promotes school programmes in marine science. Carla travelled to Matosinhos to participate in the Opening and to share some of her expertise with leaders of the new discovery centre.

The Opening in Matosinhos was also hosted by the Norwegian Embassy in Portugal. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry has provided critical support to MAR-ECO’s travelling exhibition initiative, making it possible for this international tour to take place.
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