© 2017 MOm/Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal

Background - ©Frédéric Larrey/Thomas Roger

CONSERVATION

By protecting the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal we protect the entire marine ecosystem of Greece for the present and future generations. Therefore, the design and implementation of sound conservation and management practices for the Mediterranean monk seal are amongst the key priorities of MOm.

Through its research activities, ΜOm collects important information on the biology, ecology and behavior of the Mediterranean monk seal and the threats the species faces. The thorough analysis of this data is used then to design and implement effective protection measures for the Mediterranean monk seal and its habitat in Greece.

MOm’s actions to protect the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal in Greece include:

• The promotion of the establishment of protected areas for Mediterranean monk seals in the country. 
• The rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of sick, wounded and orphan monk seals. 
• Mitigating negative monk seal – fishery interactions. 
• Formulating a National Strategy for the conservation of the species. 

Hellenic Rescue and Information Network (RINT)

The Hellenic Rescue and Information Network (RINT) for the Mediterranean monk seal was established by MOm in 1991 and is part of the national program used to scientifically monitor and protect Monachus monachus in Greece.

The success of the RINT is based on the voluntary participation of more than 2,000 members from local Port Police authorities, fishermen’s cooperatives, veterinary authorities, coastal municipalities and environmentally-aware citizens. Important information on monk seal sightings from throughout Greece is collected with their help.

The RINT is used to collect specific information regarding the:

• Biology and ecology of Mediterranean monk seals
• Status of Mediterranean monk seal populations in Greece
• Causes of death and the threats to Mediterranean monk seals
• Interactions between Mediterranean monk seals and commercial fisheries

Η Information collected by the RINT allows MOm to detect mass mortality events and enables MOm’s Rescue Team to respond in emergency cases, e.g., when sick, wounded or orphan monk seal pups are found and require human assistance to survive.

The information from the RINT on monk seal sightings and the scientific data collected by MOm are used to better understand the still poorly-understood biology of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal and to implement effective conservation and management measures.

How does the RINT operate?

Upon receiving a monk seal sighting report (either by phone at the 24-hour Monk seal hotline: +30 210 5222888, or by email / electronic form), a rapid, preliminary assessment of the situation is made and any of the following scenarios might occur:

1) For a live animal not in distress:
All information is recorded in the database of MOm.

2) For a live animal in distress:
• In the case of orphaned, sick or injured monk seal pups that are in urgent need of medical attention, the MOm Rescue Team is mobilized and assistance is provided on-site or the animal is transported to the MOm Monk Seal Rehabilitation and Reintroduction Center, where it will undergo an intensive rehabilitation program.
• In the case of an injured adult monk seal, treatment is carried out on site.

All rescue and rehabilitation actions of MOm are carried out following the specific protocols that have been developed by MOm for the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal and have been approved by the veterinarian in charge of the rescue operation.

 

3) For an animal found dead:
Necropsies are performed in order to determine the cause of death and to collect important biological samples that are used to study this poorly-understood species.

The RINT has collected more than 4,500 reports of monk seal sightings throughout Greece since the inception of the program. In addition, the Rescue Team of MOm has responded to more than 60 emergency cases and carried out more than 120 necropsies, which have provided biological samples that maintain the unique Mediterranean monk seal tissue sample bank curated by MOm.

Useful links:

Mediterranean monk seal sighting form
I have seen a monk seal, what should I do?
Become a member of the Hellenic Rescue and Information Network

Rescue and Rehabilitation

One of the most important actions of MOm is the rescue and rehabilitation of sick, wounded and orphan monk seal pups and their reintroduction to the wild. A key element for the success of this action is the operation of the Hellenic Rescue and Information Network (RINT); this Network enables MOm to detect in time monk seals in distress and provide them with the necessary veterinary assistance.

Taking into account the National Strategy for the protection of the species, MOm has established and is operating the Monk seal Rehabilitation and Reintroduction Center. The Center has been operating since 1990 and is the only specialized rescue Center for Mediterranean monk seals in the eastern Mediterranean. The Center follows strict protocols that guarantee its scientifically-sound operation.

The goal of the Center is to increase the survival chances of Mediterranean monk seals that would otherwise not survive on their own in the wild. Usually the animals that enter the rehabilitation program are orphan pups that are still nursing. Their treatment may last as long as five months and their reintroduction takes place only after they are absolutely healthy and able to survive on their own in the wild. In the case of an injured or sick adult Mediterranean monk seal, the duration of the treatment is much shorter and is usually conducted on-site.

 

The rehabilitation and reintroduction program of MOm is carried out under the scientific supervision of the Veterinary School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. To date, ΜΟm and members of the Hellenic Rescue and Information Network have successfully treated 35 animals in the field and 25 monk seal pups at the Rehabilitation facility. Of the 25 rehabilitated pups, 11 have managed to survive and were successfully reintroduced to their natural environment.

In 2005, MOm monitored for the first time the reintroduction process of a rehabilitated animal with the use of a satellite tag. Satellite tags are typically placed on the back of a seal prior to its release and can provide real-time information to scientists on the whereabouts and behaviour of the rehabilitated animals released back to the wild. The use of a satellite tag in the 2005 case to remotely monitor a rehabilitated seal in the wild confirmed the success of the rehabilitation and reintroduction program of MOm. At the same time, it has enabled the researchers at MOm to collect important information on the development, behaviour and diving capacity of the Mediterranean monk seal.

Additional information on how the rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of a critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal pup is carried out can be found here.

The rehabilitation and reintroduction program is carried out in collaboration with:

 

Important Areas

The coastal and marine environment of Greece is the most important habitat for the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal in the world. According to the most authorative estimates the Greek monk seal population makes up more than 90% of the entire European population and almost 50% of the total population of the species worldwide. The species is widely distributed throughout the 16,000 km of coastline and the more than 4,000 islands and islets in Greece – this fact is confirmed each day by information on monk seal sightings received by the Hellenic Monk Seal Rescue and Information Network (RINT).

Since the establishment of MOm our knowledge regarding the distribution of the Mediterranean monk seal and the status of the main populations of the species in Greece has increased significantly. Until the mid 1990ies the monk seal population in the Northern Sporades Islands was considered to be the most important in the Mediterranean Sea. Systematic research efforts and the operation of the Hellenic Monk Seal Rescue and Information Network by MOm have shown however that more important areas for the species exist in the country, such as the island complex of Kimolos – Polyaigos and the island of Gyaros in the Cyclades Islands and the island complex of northern Karpathos – Saria – Astakidonisia in the Dodecanese Islands.

Species richness, also known as biodiversity, is a good indicator of the health status of an ecosystem; the Mediterranean monk seal is a symbol of Mediterranean biodiversity. The presence of the species in an area is the perfect indicator that the entire ecosystem is intact. At MOm we believe that the protection of coastal areas for the Mediterranean monk seal is important, not only for the conservation of Monachus monachus and the protection of the entire marine environment, but also for the prosperity of the local human communities and of Greece in general. It is not a coincidence therefore that the economy of several coastal areas depends on the effective management of local biodiversity.

Important milestones in the protection of Mediterranean monk seal habitat are the establishment of the National Marine Park of Alonissos, Northern Sporades and of the marine protected area at Northern Karpathos, Saria and the Astakida islets. The establishment of these two protected areas is a direct result of the intense actions of MOm and its partners (i.e. other environmental NGOs, public and private entities, universities etc.) to safeguard critical monk seal habitat. MOm has also recently submitted to the Greek authorities a special environmental study and concrete proposals for the establishment of a marine protected area at the island complex of Kimolos – Polyaigos. Finally, based on scientific data provided by MOm to the Hellenic Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change and the competent European authorities, the island of Gyaros and a 3-mile marine area around it were designated in 2010 a Natura 2000 area; this is the first step in the essential protection of the area.

Information from the Hellenic Rescue and Information Network and the field research carried out by MOm indicate that there are possibly many more important areas for the Mediterranean monk seal in Greece. The goal of MOm is by 2020 to have explored the entire coastline of Greece and to have identified all the important areas for the species in the country. The information from these research activities will enable MOm to design and promote the establishment of a functional network of marine protected areas in Greece that will secure the survival of the species in the country.

 

Monk seal and fisheries

Deliberate killing of adult monk seals by fishermen, accidental entanglement and drowning of juvenile monk seals in fishing gear, and damages to fishing gear by seals, are just some aspects of the troubled relationships between Mediterranean monk seals and fishermen in Greece. Considering the endangered status of the species and the financial crisis impacting Greece and its fishing communities, it is imperative that we find effective solutions to these negative interactions for the survival of the species, as well as the fishing industry.

In order to find effective solutions to these problems, MOm developed an “Action Plan for the mitigation of monk seal and fisheries interactions in Greece” in 2009, in cooperation with several national and international experts. This Action Plan proposes concrete legislative, management, financial and technical measures that focus on securing the viable management and protection of fisheries resources, while at the same time the main food items of the Mediterranean monk seal are protected. These measures seek to also relieve the financial burden to coastal fishermen resulting from the damages caused by seals to their fishing equipment and catches.

Useful link:
LIFE – MOFI

 

National Conservation Strategy

The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is listed as “endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Since the largest population of monk seals survives in Greece, effectively managing and protecting them in Greek territorial waters is one of the most important priorities for the overall conservation of the species.

In 1996, MOm formulated the first National Strategy for the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal in Greece in cooperation with “Archipelagos – Management of Marine and Coastal Areas”. This Strategy outlined all the actions and legislative and management measures that needed to be taken in order to safeguard the future of the species in Greece.

Here you can find a PDF copy of the “Strategy for the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus in Greece” 1996.

Το Within the framework of the European Community program LIFE - Nature: “MOFI - Monk seal and Fisheries: Mitigating the conflict in Greek Seas”, MOm updated the National Strategy in 2009 to address issues of concern through 2015. This new Strategy sets specific goals and outlines the concrete actions that need to be taken in order to achieve the overarching goal of the Strategy, which is “the recovery and long-term survival of the Mediterranean monk seal in the Greek Seas”. All actions currently promoted by MOm on a national level for the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal are in line with this new updated National Strategy.

Here you can find a PDF copy of the “National Strategy for the Protection of the Monk seal in Greece, 2009 - 2015”.

 

Legislation

The critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal and its habitat have been under strict legal protection in Greece since 1981, through a number of legislative measures, and the inclusion of European policies and guidelines into the Greek legal system has considerably increased the legal protection afforded to the species.

On a European level, two important European Community laws are relevant to the conservation of monk seals in Greece:
1) The Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992, on the conservation of natural habitats of wild fauna and flora (also known as the “Habitats Directive”


2) The Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament of 17 June 2008 (a.k.a. the “Marine Strategy Framework Directive”).

On an international level, the Mediterranean monk seal is considered “Critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and is therefore included in several international Treaties, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (a.k.a. “CITES Convention”), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (a.k.a. “Bonn Convention”), and the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (a.k.a. “Bern Convention”).

More information on the Legal protection of the Mediterranean monk seal can be found in the “National Strategy and Action Plan for the Conservation of the Mediterranean Monk seal in Greece, 2009 – 2015”.