The Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) is one of the most endangered species on the planet and Europe’s most endangered marine mammal. Greece hosts the largest reproductive population in Europe (approx. 250-300 individuals) and almost half of the world’s population of this rare species.
The effective protection of the species requires detailed knowledge about its biology and population status. This is however hampered by the fact that monk seals in Greece live and reproduce throughout hundreds of islands and islets in the country and along a coastline that is more than 16,000 km long.
A prominent role in monk seal conservation has been undertaken by IUCN Member Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal (MOm), a Greek environmental, non-governmental and not-for-profit organisation. For over 25 years MOm, has been dedicated to the research, conservation, treatment and rehabilitation of this species; it has also been involved in education and awareness raising of the general public and in policy actions on a national, European and international level for the preservation of the Mediterranean Monk Seal.
The main achievement of MOm, among others, has been the initiation and operation of the Monk Seal Rescue and Information Network in Greece. It represents an invaluable tool that since 1991 has led to the treatment and rehabilitation of 61 monk seals and the successful release of 36 animals back to the wild. MOm has also played a key role, along with other numerous stakeholders and competent authorities, in the establishment of two Marine Protected Areas in Greek seas in the Northern Sporades and the Dodecanese. Moreover, MOm has formulated two National Conservation Strategies for the preservation of the species in Greek seas.
Since 1988, MOm has been the main driving force that identified the breeding nuclei of the species in the Northern Sporades and in the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia. However, MOm’s recent research has brought to light other monk seal populations and has shown that there are additional core areas for the species. For example, on the island of Evoia, which MOm’s researchers have been systematically monitoring since 2012, numerous resting and six reproductive shelters providing refuge to approximately seven pups and their mothers on an annual basis, have been identified. MOm has installed digital cameras in the main reproductive shelters where they have already recorded thousands of photographs, videos and unique vocal sounds (video). The scientific efforts on the island of Evoia will continue until the end of this years’ reproductive period in December 2013.
Despite great efforts, with only one third of Greece’s coastline thoroughly surveyed, it is unknown today how many other important areas for monk seals in Greece are still to be discovered.