The Mediterranean Monk Seal Project is protecting a critically endangered and iconic species – the only seal native to the Mediterranean Sea. Mediterranean Monk seals are semi-aquatic mammals, meaning they need land to survive as much as they need water. As their resting place borders the human habitat range, one of their greatest threats to survival is habitat degradation and human-wildlife conflict. With a combination of targeted outreach activities and cave monitoring programs, the team hopes to preserve the Turkish coastline as a safe-haven for Mediterranean monk seals.
•Awareness events with key stakeholders
•Cave monitoring equipment
•Decreases disruption to monk seal habitat
•Increases monitoring of monk seal habitat
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Awareness & Outreach
The Akdeniz Koruma Derneği, also known as the Mediterranean Conservation Society, is a Turkish NGO established in 2012 with multiple areas of work as an organization. One of their areas of focus is the conservation of the Mediterranean monk seal. These seals are one of the rarest marine mammals in the world and one of only two remaining species of monk seals. And also an iconic species as it is the only native seal species to inhabit the Mediterranean. According to the latest estimates, there are only 600 to 700 Mediterranean monk seals left in the world. Within this population, it is estimated that there are around 150-200 individuals living in Turkey. This makes the Turkish population of Mediterranean monk seals one of the most important and vulnerable subpopulations of the species.
Monk seals live a large portion of their lives on land and close to the coast, using coastal caves to rest and take care of the young. Due to this semi-aquatic nature, they are particularly exposed to serious threats such as habitat destruction, accidental entanglement with fishing gear, deliberate killing, fishing, and marine/land pollution. Human intrusions and pressure are a particular stress factor which can cause them to leave safe coastal areas, and at times abandon their young.
Recognizing that protecting Mediterranean monk seals requires a multi-faceted approach, the Mediterranean Conservation Society is monitoring seal caves with cameras and working with a variety of stakeholders, including touristic boat operators, water sports operators of hotels, local schools, and fishing cooperatives in the project area. You can learn more about these in the areas of work section.
Using a variety of cameras, the MCS is monitoring of the caves on the 710-kilometer coastline from the Gulf of Gökova to Kaş-Kekova. This helps them keep track of when the seals are there, how often they’re there, and which caves they like the most. They’re even figuring out which seals are which so they can keep track of them individually (kind of like a seal ID card). This information helps to identify where the species is exposed to possible dangers in caves and the effects of these dangers, allowing for the planning of conservation efforts to protect the species.
The projects’ current goal is to expand their network of collaborators who make a commitment to respect monk seal habitats. They will also continue their cave monitoring work to surveil the monk seal habitats and better understand how they are used by the monk seals.
Areas of work
Due to the critical conservation state of these seals in the Mediterranean, the research needs for this species are very focused on monitoring the population health and their habitat use as this information can have a direct impact on the policies created to conserve the species. The team has regularly published the data they have collected, including projects and novel attempts to help protect the species. Independent of the success of these projects, it is important for this information to be distributed to inform the scientific community so that efforts can be aligned with each other.
Besides being an NGO, which works primarily with the local and Turkish community, a lot of their work focuses on engaging and mediate with stakeholders of the ocean. In the case of the Monk seals, a complex issue due to economic conflict of interests, the team is trying to raise awareness, and to some degree surveil boating behaviors, of those most likely to interact with monk seals.
Through the ‘Friend of AKD’ boat program, touristic boats agree to a list of conservation-friendly actions and sustainable boating practices and are provided with a flag to show their support. The Society conducts regular patrols of the region to ensure compliance with these rules, including not entering coastal caves or feeding/interacting with the seals. They are also working with water sports operators of hotels to provide responsible water tourism briefings and project posters to display in their sales points.
The Society is committed to educating the public on the importance of monk seals and their protection. To this end, they visit local schools to do workshops with children focused on conserving monk seals and their habitat, using educational materials such as an animation video, a species card game, and providing notebooks with coloring pages and species/habitat facts. They also visit fishing cooperatives in the project areas to speak about the importance of monk seals and their protection, linking the conservation efforts to the overall health of the marine ecosystem.
Operating with national citizens, closely cooperating with the coastal community and their enforcement agents, they are in a great position to advocate for the ocean and their stakeholders in Turkey. Although turkey has established some Marine Protected Areas, the enforcement of these regulations is not in place. The team does regular patrols of marine protected areas and reports any infractions to local enforcement agents.
The Mediterranean Monk Seal project is undertaking all scientific monitoring activities under the coordination of the Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change, the General Directorate for Protection of Natural Assets, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the General Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks.
They are coordinating activities closely with the National Parks Authority for their working region, which is essential as it is the governmental body responsible for the national species conservation plan for the Mediterranean monk seal.
The ultimate goal of these activities is to communicate the importance of establishing core protection zones in coastal caves suitable for monk seal use and regulating human activity in these areas through enhanced enforcement by regional governance bodies.