by Melina Marcou,
Department of Fisheries and Marine Research,
Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, Republic of Cyprus
Monitoring Programme and Surveys
Monk seal surveys had previously been carried out in Cyprus in 1997, 2005-2006 and 2011. These surveys, along with the sighting records, identified a small number (<10) of monk seals still inhabiting the seas around Cyprus. A number of caves were examined along the coastline of Cyprus during the surveys for existence of suitable monk seal habitats. According to the findings, sea caves located in Akamas area and Cape Greco area, both areas part of the Natura 2000 network, are likely to be suitable monk seal habitats. In addition, sea caves in the Limassol and Xylofagou areas were recorded and the presence of the monk seals was confirmed.
In addition to the surveys, the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research (DFMR) has been implementing a monitoring programme since 2011, with visits to the previously discovered sea caves, recording the presence / absence of monk seals, as well as any signs of occupation by monk seals. Furthermore, a database is being maintained, recording sightings of the monk seals around the island of Cyprus.
Through the implementation of the monitoring programme, it is noted that the monk seals are often sighted in the wider area of the sea caves. The most important finding through the monitoring programme is the confirmation of monk seal breeding in Cyprus! More specifically, in November 2011, a seal pup, with an estimated age of 1 month, was discovered in one of the sea caves of the island. This is an important finding, since we have now confirmed that this critically endangered species is using the sea caves in Cyprus, not only for resting purposes, but also for breeding. It is extremely important for the survival of this critically endangered species, to protect its habitat.
The major threats to the monk seal in Cyprus are considered to be loss and degradation of habitats, urbanisation of the immediately adjacent areas, and tourism/recreational pressures. Most monk seal habitats are included in the Natura 2000 areas for which preliminary management plans have been prepared. No monk seal by-catch has been noted in Cyprus.
Monk seals have been protected, among other species, in Cyprus since 1971 by the Fisheries Law (CAP 135) and Regulations made up to 1990 (Reg. No. 273/90). Moreover, monk seals are included in Annex II of the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity (SPA Protocol) of the Barcelona Convention, which Cyprus ratified with the Law No. 20(III)/2001.
Monk seals are a Priority species (Annex II) in the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and for their conservation the designation of Special Areas of Conservation is required. The Habitats Directive has been transposed to the national legislation in 2003 with the Law on the Protection and Management of Nature and Wildlife, No. 153(I)/2003. The Natura 2000 network in Cyprus is being set up through this Law.
Apart from the above national, regional and EU legislation, there are a number of other provisions in the fisheries legislation that are indirectly relevant to the protection of monk seals, such as the prohibitions on the use of explosives, fish resource management measures, especially those concerning the limitations on fishing effort, seasonal restrictions on nets setting at water depth less than 5 m, closed seasons for trawling etc.