First Forum of the Monk Seal Alliance Working collectively for the effective conservation of the Mediterranean monk seal
The Monk Seal Alliance (MSA) organised its very first forum from 31 January to 2 February 2023, in Athens, Greece, bringing together the entire community of stakeholders working to protect the Mediterranean monk seal with the ambition of co-constructing conservation action plans for the species and its habitat, throughout its range, and getting stakeholders to commit to harmonising research programmes and sharing data.
In his opening speech, Olivier Wenden, Vice-President and CEO of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, recalled the progress made by the Monk Seal alliance since its launch in 2019, when the MAVA, Segré, Thalassa and Sancta Devota foundations joined the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to create this initiative, which has since included a new member, the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation.
" HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco's commitment to the monk seal is long-standing, almost as long-standing as his Foundation, but this collective initiative has given it a new dimension (...) Our ambition, from the outset, was to bring together conservation players around the main monk seal distribution areas, by mobilising significant resources - financial, of course, but also technical and human - and thus promoting the coherence of initiatives and the sharing of experience and data, to enable this species to be managed on a relevant scale. "Olivier Wenden emphasised.
This was an opportunity to highlight the fact that the MSA has already committed more than €2.7 million to eight programmes selected in the framework of the call for projects launched in 2020. Eight programmes that have enabled effective action to be taken forward both in favour of seal colonies and in improving tools and methods.
This first MSA forum is part of the new call for projects which will be launched next March, for a financial envelope of around 3 million euros over the period 2024-2027. The call for applications will focus on certain priorities, such as habitat protection and data monitoring and sharing, and will be based on an evaluation of the impact of actions already carried out.
A total of 42 participants from 14 countries in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Basin exchanged views on their respective work and possible collaborations to improve the scope of local initiatives. The work carried out within the framework of projects supported by the Monk Seal Alliance was also presented, as well as the results relating to the common indicators developed by the IUCN Med project assessing the conservation status of the species.
At the end of the discussions, the participants worked in small groups on the definition of conservation actions that they could implement in each sub-region, which could be proposed in the framework of the MSA call for projects, scheduled for March 2023. They also agreed on a framework for studying and monitoring harbour seal populations. Finally, more than half of the participants signed a Declaration of Intent to collaborate on the creation of a data exchange platform.
The Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Natural Environment & Climate Change Agency formalise a partnership
As part of the forum, the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, as coordinator of the Monk Seal Alliance, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Natural Environment & Climate Change Agency (NECCA), the national agency for marine protected areas in Greece, in order to collaborate on the coordination of field activities, the transfer of knowledge and the integration of stakeholders in projects supported by the MSA in NECCA's areas of intervention.
This collaboration will allow, on the one hand, a better knowledge and understanding of the biology of the Mediterranean monk seal through the collection and evaluation of scientific data and, on the other hand, to establish a better level of public awareness of the objectives and goals of the conservation of this emblematic species of the Mediterranean.
The partnership also aims to promote a better involvement of the different stakeholders - such as NGOs, public services, local and regional authorities - and users such as fishermen, boat owners, charter companies, divers, in order to achieve the conservation objectives of the species.
The Mediterranean Monk Seal
The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) was once common throughout the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the adjacent Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the two remaining ancient seal species (the other is the Hawaiian monk seal) and both are threatened with extinction. A third species, the Caribbean monk seal, became extinct in the 1950s.
Decades of hunting, deliberate and accidental killing by fishermen, disease, pollution, depletion of fish stocks, and habitat destruction and disturbance have taken their toll on seal populations. By the year 2000, their numbers had fallen to around 400-500 seals.
National and regional conservation measures such as the creation of marine protected areas, collaboration with fishing communities and awareness-raising among various stakeholders have been successful: the current population is estimated at around 800 individuals, concentrated in a few key sites in the Mediterranean (mainly around Greece, Turkey and Cyprus) and in Madeira and Mauritania in the Atlantic. But conservation measures must be long-term, coordinated and extensive to maintain this positive trend and ensure that the species can continue to thrive.