Vol. 4 (1): May 2001

Obituary: Théodore Monod

Respected French biologist, geographer and environmentalist Théodore Monod died at a nursing home in Versailles on Wednesday 22 November 2000 at the age of 98.

From 1939 to 1965 he directed the Institut Francais d’Afrique Noire in Dakar, Senegal, from where he undertook long expeditions into the Sahara, studying the desert’s fauna and flora. In the former Spanish Sahara (now the disputed western Sahara), he was the first scientist to undertake a detailed study of the Coast of Seals (Côte des Phoques). Between 1923 and 1948 he produced several monographs on the monk seal colony’s status, history and exploitation.

Associated Press portrayed him as a “tireless traveler who found spiritual and psychological strength from the desert… a vegetarian [who] once trekked 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) in the Sahara without a single watering hole to prove he could exert himself physically without eating meat.”

He was appointed to France’s Academy of Sciences in 1963.

Aside from gaining international renown for his knowledge of the desert, Monod will also be remembered as one of the most outspoken advocates of his day for conservation and animals. In his 1932 monograph on the monk seal, he wrote: “One has to hope that the necessary actions will be undertaken to prevent the total disappearance of these fascinating mammals, threatened, like so many other species, by the harmful stupidity of man.”

Despite advancing years and failing health, he nevertheless lent his support to the ultimately successful 1994 campaign spearheaded by the International Marine Mammal Association and the Bellerive Foundation to prevent Mediterranean monk seals being captured in the western Sahara by Antibes Marineland, a French marine circus.

Monk seal publications by Th. Monod

Monod, T. 1923. Note sur la présence du Monachus albiventer Bodd. sur la côte Saharienne. Bulletin du Muséum National d’histoire Naturelle No 1: 555-557.
Monod, T. 1932. Phoques Sahariens. Terre et la Vie (12): 257-261.
Monod, T. 1945. Un Ordre Nouveau de Mammiferes pour la Faune d’A.O.F. Notes Africaines (25): 14-15, Fig. 9-10.
Monod, T. 1948. Le Phoque Moine dans l’Atlantique. Publ. Inst. Zool. Porto (34): 8-19, 1 pl.
Monod, T. 1979. Le phoque “moine” - Pourquoi? Notes Africaines 162: 50-51.

France peddles lost cause

Following a long tradition in peddling the lost cause of Mediterranean monk seal captive breeding, France raised that controversial issue yet again at a recent RAC/SPA meeting in Valencia, Spain.

Under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, and as one of those multiple, hydra-like appendages of the Mediterranean Action Plan, RAC/SPA (Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas) was convening its Fifth Meeting of National Focal Points for SPAs (Valencia, 23-26 April 2001).

Agenda item 8b was to focus on the UNEP “Action Plan for the Management of the Mediterranean Monk Seal” [see Further Reading, below], as part of an assessment of RAC/SPA’s progress in implementing its objectives.

When the French spectre of captive breeding re-materialised, to the shock of all those who had considered it long dead and buried, the RAC/SPA secretariat insisted that a working group be established to debate its merits.

Animated discussions dominated the subsequent conclave. To most observers, it will come as no great surprise that the ghost of captive-breeding-past came in the guise of Port Cros. The French marine park has been angling for captive bred monk seals since at least 1986, usually in partnership with Antibes Marineland, a French marine circus.

Developments at Valencia suggest that few lessons have been learnt from the captive breeding fiascos that engulfed Antibes Marineland and the French authorities in 1990 and 1994. Indeed, the apparent resurrection of the Port Cros plan was enough for the representatives of Greece and Turkey to express alarm and to contact their respective advisors at home for consultations.

The proponents of captive breeding are reported to have justified their views with the same tired clichés used in their previous campaigns, apparently oblivious to recent history or current events. Central to the pro-capture argument is that monk seals continue to decline despite the great efforts expended to save them in their natural habitat. It is here that inaccuracy and selective interpretation creates the myth. There are, however, several indisputable facts that are unflattering to the captive breeding cause, among them: (1) In areas where properly-managed reserves have been established, monk seals are staging a recovery. (2) While the vulnerability of the Mauritania/Western Sahara colony has always played into the hands of the pro-captive camp – not least of all because of political instability – a comprehensive Regional Recovery Plan enlisting the range states is now almost ready for implementation. (3) Those captive breeding fans who claim that in situ efforts are failing are, virtually without exception, the same people who have never lifted a finger to help Monachus monachus survive in the wild.

According to reports received before we went to press, the RAC/SPA-appointed working group eventually concluded that it had insufficient information at its disposal to render judgement on the complex issues of captive breeding and translocation. Although it was agreed that the species continues to decline, the majority view was that in situ protection still holds the best chance of preventing the monk seal’s extinction. Greece and Turkey, in particular, expressed their strong opposition to captive breeding. Other countries – Tunisia, Morocco, Albania and Italy – while voicing opposition for now, also expressed the view that scientific research is required to further the aims of artificial recolonisation of the species – most notably through translocation. According to some reports, Croatia indicated its support for the French argument. At the plenary session, Monaco called for the establishment of an expert group that would design a programme of emergency measures, with a fixed timetable and assigned responsibilities – a potentially ominous development.

The RAC/SPA secretariat’s bias towards captive breeding has never been much of a secret. More difficult to explain, however, is why a supposedly neutral institution should behave like a dog with a bone when it comes to such a controversial issue.

While captive breeding is listed as a possible measure in the UNEP Action Plan, it is explicitly cited as an option only if “all other attempts to reverse the species’ decline fail.” This may offer some explanation for the habit of pro-captive breeders to paint routinely in situ conservation efforts in a negative light.

More recently, captive breeding and other invasive procedures have played a far more prominent role in RAC/SPA documents, a development that probably owes more to the self-serving interests of individual bureaucrats than well-reasoned scientific debate. Indeed, throughout the rather sordid history of monk seal captive breeding, proponents have consistently treated open debate and scientific review with a mixture of apprehension and suspicion.

The historical record also suggests that the breeders appear to be suffering from a bout of collective amnesia:
  • During November 1990, over forty prominent marine mammal scientists signed a ‘Statement of Concern’ calling for the first captive breeding attempt by Marineland/Port Cros to be postponed pending comprehensive review by the IUCN Seal Specialist Group and the wider scientific community.

  • During September 1994, over forty prominent marine mammal scientists signed a ‘Statement of Concern’ calling for the second Marineland/Port Cros captive breeding attempt to be postponed pending review.

  • During 1995, over 70 key scientists and conservationists endorsed the Mediterranean Monk Seal Conservation Guidelines (based on conference resolutions spanning some 20 years of informed debate), an entire section of which is devoted to captive breeding.

Captive breeding aside, it remains unclear what progress, if any, RAC/SPA has made in fulfilling the legitimate objectives required of it under the terms of the Action Plan. Among other priorities, the Plan calls for the creation of a network of reserves, non-disturbing scientific research, an international information campaign, and fund-raising initiatives.

We hope to provide further details of the RAC/SPA assessment in our next issue.

Meanwhile, a free copy of the book Monk Seals in Antiquity and a free Monachus.org bookmark will be sent to the first 20 readers who can identify tangible RAC/SPA progress in implementing the 1987 monk seal Action Plan.

Further reading

Johnson, William M. & David M. Lavigne. 1994. Captive Breeding and the Mediterranean Monk Seal – A Focus on Antibes Marineland. International Marine Mammal Association Inc., Guelph, Canada. 1-44. [Available in the Monachus Library].
Johnson, William M. & David M. Lavigne. 1995/1998. The Mediterranean Monk Seal. Conservation Guidelines. Multilingual Edition. International Marine Mammal Association Inc., Guelph, Ontario, Canada.1-152. [Available in the Monachus Library].
UNEP/MAP. 1987. Action plan for the management of the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus). United Nations Environment Programme, Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP). Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas, Tunis, Tunis & Athens. [Available in the Monachus Library].

Editor’s note: Limited numbers of the Johnson & Lavinge publications cited above are still available in hardcopy form. Please write to the librarian@monachus.org if you wish to obtain a copy.

Rampant tourism will destroy Mediterranean, warns WWF

As representatives of the travel and leisure business gathered in Berlin on 1 March for the world’s leading trade fair on global tourism, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) issued a stark warning on the industry’s negative impact on Mediterranean ecology and culture.

Of particular concern are industry projections that tourism in the Mediterranean basin is set to rise from its current level of 220 million annual visitors, to 350 million in 20 years. Believing that this will spur uncontrolled development and ecological and cultural degradation, WWF has appealed for the industry to commit itself to “responsible tourism development” and to accept that key areas should be set aside for the conservation of biodiversity.

There is little sign as yet, however, that the industry will pay much heed to such appeals. Although cognisant of its role in the decline and regional extinction of the monk seal, the industry has so far conspicuously refused either to acknowledge its responsibility or to become a constructive partner in the conservation process. Mass tourism remains a clear and present danger to the monk seal, particularly in the last strongholds of the species in the eastern Mediterranean, destroying habitat through haphazard coastal construction and driving the animals away from even remote refuges through harassment and disturbance.

Analysing WTO (World Tourism Organization) statistics in a separate briefing document, WWF warns that, of the Mediterranean’s total 46,000 km of coastline, 25,000 km is already urbanised and has “exceeded a critical limit.” [WWF projection maps of the Mediterranean, comparing the impact of tourism activity in 1995 with anticipated impact in 2005, are available online at: www.panda.org/resources/publications/water/mediterranean/medpo_down.htm.]

International tourist arrivals in 1999 (excluding domestic arrivals) totalled 219.6 million, a 4.7% increase over 1998 figures. Projections indicate that arrivals may swell to 350 million by 2020. Receiving almost one third of all international income derived from tourism, Mediterranean tourism receipts totalled 131.8 billion U.S. dollars in 1999. “Over the last three years,” declares WWF, “two thirds of the income returned to the hands of less than 10 tour operators from northern Europe.”

The cost of setting up and maintaining a network of monk seal protected areas would be a drop in the ocean compared to such annual mega profits, but the industry has yet to demonstrate that it is willing to play any role at all in the conservation of the species.

Appeals from former UN envoy Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and others, for the industry to become a constructive partner in the conservation process, have so far fallen on deaf ears. The World Travel and Tourism Council – the industry’s business leaders forum – continues to project a green image for the public while conspicuously ignoring the plight of the Mediterranean’s emblematic endangered species.

For further information:

Aga Khan, Sadruddin. 1999. Guest Editorial: A little imagination. Why the billion dollar mass tourism industry should do something to save the Mediterranean monk seal. The Monachus Guardian 2(2): November 1999.
Bacquet, Xavier Jacques. 2000. Letters to the Editor. Tourism in the Dock. The Monachus Guardian 3(2): November 2000.
Giammatteo, Claudia. 2000. Four Thorny Issues. The Monachus Guardian 3(2): November 2000.
Johnson, William M. & David M. Lavigne. 1999. Mass tourism and the Mediterranean monk seal. The role of mass tourism in the decline and possible future extinction of Europe’s most endangered marine mammal, Monachus monachus. Monachus Science. The Monachus Guardian 2(2): November 1999.
Johnson, William M. 1998. Monk seal myths in Sardinia. The Monachus Guardian 1(1): May 1998.
Savas, Yalcin. 1999. How tourism has ruined the coastal habitats of the monk seal on the Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey.The Monachus Guardian 2(2): November 1999.
WWF. Simone Borelli, Stefania Minestrini & Luigi Guarrera. 2000. Responsible tourism in the Mediterranean. Principles and codes of conduct. World Wide Fund for Nature, Rome: 1-17. [Available in the Monachus Library].
WWF. Simone Borelli & Marco Brogna. 2000. Responsible tourism in the Mediterranean. Current threats and opportunities. World Wide Fund for Nature, Rome: 1-17. [Available in the Monachus Library].
WWF. 2001. Tourism threats in the Mediterranean. Background information: 1-4. [Available in the Monachus Library].


WWF. 2001. Destruction of the Mediterranean by mass tourism poses a challenge for industry, warns WWF. Press Release, 1 March 2001. www.panda.org/news/press/news.cfm?id=221

‘Ecotax’ to sting tourists in Spain

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that the regional parliament of the Balearic Islands has approved a new ‘ecotax’ to be levied against visiting holidaymakers. According to lawmakers, the money raised will be reinvested in environmental protection and tourism infrastructure on Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza, three of the Mediterranean’s most popular destinations.

All visitors to hotels, hostels, guesthouses and campsites will be required to pay the daily tax (excluding children under 12), which will range from 0.5 – 2 Euros (40 cents to $1.80) depending on the category of accommodation. An initial plan to levy the tax at the airport was defeated when the Spanish airport authority refused to cooperate.

The local government hopes the tax will raise $60 million a year, to be invested in “infrastructure maintenance and environmental projects on the islands.”

Mediterranean communities keen to fund alternative development projects and the management of marine protected areas are likely to be watching events closely, believing that the so-called ecotax might be an idea whose time has come.


Associated Press. 2001. Spanish tourist site OKs ‘ecotax’. Thursday, April 12, 2001. Environmental News Network (ENN):

New at the newsstands

Volume 3 of The Monachus Guardian (including Monachus Science) is now hot off the presses, with wide-ranging articles and news reports from as far afield as the eastern Aegean, the Florida Keys and Midway Atoll in the Pacific. For the first time, TMG is now in full colour, and has been printed in Switzerland using a new, filmless digital offset process. This hard copy version, intended primarily for decision makers, libraries and those unable to access the Internet, incorporates both the May and November 2000 issues. The publication is made possible by the generous financial support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the IFAW Charitable Trust (ICT).

Those wishing to be added to the mailing list should write to IMMA Inc. or contact the Librarian: librarian@monachus.org.

At your convenience

It may come as news to some readers, but this entire issue of The Monachus Guardian can be downloaded into your computer at the click of a mouse for easy off-line browsing or hard copy printing. Thanks to upgraded software, the Acrobat download file even maintains its internal hotlinks, ensuring ease of navigation.

If this makes more sense to you than staying on line or saving each page separately (yes, some people are known to do that…) then click on the link below.

All you need to view the file is the Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have it installed on your system, it can even be downloaded free of charge…


“Tourism infrastructure should be designed and tourism activities programmed in such a way as to protect the natural heritage composed of ecosystems and biodiversity and to preserve endangered species of wildlife…”

– World Tourism Organisation, Global Code of Ethics for Tourism


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