Cem O. Kıraç and N. Ozan Veryeri, SAD-AFAG
The existing regulation on disturbance of Mediterranean monk seals in caves along the Turkish coast was amended exactly as proposed by SAD-AFAG in January this year and published by the DG Fisheries & Aqua Products in the Official Gazette on 13 August 2016. The amended regulation reads as follows: “It is forbidden to use any light source inside, dive by any means into, enter by swimming or any other way into, wait or anchor in front of either underwater or surface entrances to caves used by Mediterranean monk seals”. The amended version of the related article was published in both, the Professional Aqua Product Fishery Circular No 2016/35 and the Recreational Aqua Products Fishery Circular No 2016/36.
Although the threats for monk seals along Turkish coasts greatly differ from region to region in the country, disturbance to monk seals in sea caves, their ultimate refuge along the remote coasts, is a real menace for the species. The problem is especially prominent in popular diving locations with cliff and rocky shores, such as in Çeşme, Kuşadası, Bodrum, Fethiye, Dalaman, Marmaris, Kaş, Kekova, Kemer, Antalya and Alanya, where monk seals still breed and are present permanently. Suitable sea caves are the only places within the species’ habitat for reproduction and resting, and therefore play a crucial role for the continued survival of this rare marine mammal.
The previous version of the regulation, in force since 1991, simply read “it is forbidden to use any light source inside and diving by any means into caves where monk seals live”, which also has been proposed by SAD-AFAG, in the very first National Monk Seal Committee meeting in Ankara in January 1991. However, over time it has been realized that some of the tourism stakeholders, mainly daily excursions boats and some tourist diving companies, have been diluting the above mentioned article of the Aqua Products Circular and claim that letting their customers enter the monk seal caves by boats or by swimming, is not covered by the previous regulation and for this reason they have the freedom to enter sea caves as they please. Therefore, SAD-AFAG deemed it necessary to prepare an amendment submitted to the DG Fisheries & Aqua Products (under the Ministry of Food, Agriculture & Husbandry) in January 2016 with its official communiqué dated 5th January 2016 and No. SAD-16/03 given below, filling-in the “legal gaps” that were misused by some stakeholders.
In the same proposal to the new Aqua Products Circular, SAD also proposed in cooperation with other relevant NGOs such as the Recreational Underwater Hunters Society (İzmir), the Development of Artisanal Fishery Society (İstanbul) and the Recreational Line Fishery Society (Ankara), the prohibition of fishing of two demersal fish species; Dusky grouper Ephinephelus marginatus and White grouper Ephinephelus aeneus, whose stocks have been heavily depleted in Turkish seas. The DG Fishery and Aqua Products (BSÜ GM) has accepted the proposal and these two demersal fishes are included in the list of species completely banned for fishing in the next 4 years period from 2016 to 2020. It is believed that one of the best ways to suppress the increasing populations of Lessepsian species and invasive aquatic species along the Turkish coasts of the Levant Sea and the Aegean Sea is to help recover populations of originally resident species such as groupers, sea bass, sea bream and dentex. Supporting marine ecosystems in a holistic approach will surely have a positive impact on the conservation of endangered predator species such as monk seals, sea turtles and shark species.
Further information in Turkish: