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14th September, 2015

Translocation déjà vu


CBD_Habitat_screenIn declaring the Mediterranean monk seal colony at Cap Blanc in Mauritania/western Sahara “closed” [see blog], is Spanish NGO CBD-Habitat edging ever closer to resurrecting a plan that would see seals artificially translocated to other areas? The theory is that this would minimise the risk to the colony posed by mass mortality events, while helping to recolonise areas historically occupied by the species. Unfortunately, as earlier abandoned attempts to translocate or captive breed monk seals proved, the devil is in the detail.

With other signs indicating that a new translocation plan might already be on the drawing board, The Monachus Guardian has requested clarification from CBD-Habitat on no fewer than seven occasions, but has received no reply. Ironically, earlier, discredited and ultimately abandoned attempts to translocate monk seals — with all the attendant risks of seals being wounded or killed during capture and transport — were roundly condemned for their lack of transparency.

The Monachus Guardian’s view — shared by many involved in monk seal conservation — is that translocation should be examined carefully as a potential option in the recovery of the species, but only through wide and open consultation with the wider scientific and conservation community. While previous efforts to translocate or captive breed monk seals have routinely tried to sideline potential critics, others rightly insist that critics are precisely what are required in order to design a project that can highlight and mitigate potential risks. Pursuing controversial and potentially risky projects through the “backdoor” does a disservice to the Mediterranean monk seal and conservation at large.

12th December, 2014

New EU LIFE project for Madeira’s monk seals

LIFE Madeira Monk Seal – Mediterranean monk seal conservation in Madeira and development of a conservation status surveillance system
Duration: 01-JUN-2014 to 30-MAY-2018

LIFE13_NAT_ES_000974_MAPThe project LIFE Madeira Monk Seal aims to resolve known threats to the monk seal and improve its long-term conservation in the Madiera region. It specifically seeks to address conflict between the habitat needs of the seal and human activities in coastal areas.

The project plans to draft and have formally adopted a new Monk Seal Regional Conservation Plan in the Madeira archipelago. It aims to increase the intervention capacity of Madeira’s Natural Park Service, as the competent authority, to tackle threats or risk situations for the species. It will also directly intervene to restore and protect habitats used by the seal for reproduction and rest, including beaches and submerged or partially submerged sea caves.

The project plans to develop a new monitoring protocol and surveillance system for the monk seal. It will take non-invasive methodologies developed for monitoring high-density populations and adapt them for use with the scattered and low-density seal population. It will also establish well-defined indicators and base-line values for the monk seal´s demographic status and the different influences affecting it.

Expected results:

  • An official Monk Seal Regional Conservation Plan in Madeira;
  • Increased capacity of the Natural Park of Madeira to intervene along the coastline to tackle threats or emergency situations for monk seal individuals;
  • Surveillance systems, indicators and baseline values for monitoring of the monk seal and its habitat;
  • Demonstration of the success and potential transferability of non-invasive monitoring methods for such scattered and low density populations;
  • Improved protection and increased availability of high-quality terrestrial habitats used by monk seals;
  • Better implementation of regional legislation for the protection of marine vertebrates;
  • Improved attitudes and engagement towards monk seal conservation;
  • Reduced threats and disturbances from fishermen, tourism operators, tourists and local inhabitants, including reduction of accidents and entanglements in marine debris and abandoned fishing gear; and
  • Contribution to the International Action Plan for the Recovery of the monk seal in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic that is being developed by Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania in the framework of the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS/UNEP).

Further information

Center map

7th December, 2014

IUCN – Best breeding season yet for Mediterranean Monk Seal colony

This year has seen the best monk seal breeding season since 1997 at Cabo Blanco, Mauritania. The colony stands now at around 250 individuals, marking an ongoing recovery from the mass die-off in 1997, which saw the 300 strong population plummet by two thirds.

Mercedes Muñoz Cañas, Project Technician with CBD-Habitat, explains more about the season’s births and project objectives on the IUCN website:

“So far the project team have counted 67 seal births at the colony and the 2014 breeding season has not yet closed! According to Mercedes this is a new record for the “Costa de las focas“ – a sanctuary that constitutes the biggest hope for the recovery of this Critically Endangered species […]”  — Read More at IUCN – Best breeding season yet for Mediterranean Monk Seal colony.

18th October, 2013

Pup trapped in gill net released in the ‘Coast of Seals’ Reserve

by CBD-Habitat Foundation

The ‘Costa de las Focas’ Marine and Coastal Reserve was created in 2001 by CBD-Habitat Foundation with the support of local fishermen and regional authorities, with the objective of protecting the breeding caves of the last Mediterranean monk seal colony in the world, located on the Cabo Blanco peninsula (Mauritania). Since then, every single day, the surveillance team has been present to prevent the setting of fishing gear and deter goose barnacle pickers and other potential threats or disturbance to the breeding caves and vicinity. → Continue reading Pup trapped in gill net released in the ‘Coast of Seals’ Reserve

25th October, 2012

Monk seal fisheries interactions

Recent Publications

González, Luis Mariano and de Larrinoa, Pablo Fernández. 2012. Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus distribution and fisheries interactions in the Atlantic Sahara during the second half of the 20th century: 1-9. DOI: 10.1515/mammalia-2012-0046, October 2012. [Online purchase €30 / $42]


The most important surviving colony of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) inhabits the Atlantic Saharan coast. The population has not recovered despite the cessation of commercial sealing in the second half of the 20th century. We report the distribution of the monk seals within the region from 1940 to 1989 and their interactions with fisheries, from data gathered through interviews of fishermen. Our study shows a notable decrease in the seals’ range during the study period. Observations of seals on open beaches and exposed rocks decreased, while observations in caves increased. Important negative interactions between monk seals and fisheries were detected, with the most frequent interactions being bycatch in gillnets and bottom trawl nets. Reports obtained from fishermen clearly indicate that the seals were still being deliberately killed on land during the 20th century, which likely caused the extirpation of seal populations hauling out on beaches. We recommend that mortality due to fishery bycatch be added as a contributing factor to the decline of the monk seal populations in the region from 1940 to 1989. We also recommend conservation measures such as the establishment of a permanent marine reserve along the Atlantic Coast of the Cap Blanc Peninsula.

Keywords: Atlantic Sahara; distribution; endangered species; Mediterranean monk seal; seal-fishery interactions.

3rd October, 2011

A tribute to Didier Marchessaux and the monk seals of the Western Sahara

Spanish filmmaker Rafa Herrero Massieu has released a brief film tribute to biologist Didier Marchessaux and his colleagues Alain Argiolas, Gerard Vuignier and Ely ould Elmine, who were killed in a landmine explosion on 16 October 1988 while researching the important Mediterranean monk seal colony in the disputed Western Sahara.

August / Agosto from Rafa Herrero Massieu on Vimeo.

21st January, 2011

Monk seal and hump-backed dolphin are threatened by fishing activities off coast of Mauritania

Media Watch, Plataforma SINC, Press Release, 21 January 2011

Monk seal approaching artisanal fishers in Mauritania (Photo: A. Aguilar)

Catalan researchers have studied the marine trophic network in Mauritania, on the north west coast of Africa, which is an extremely heavily exploited fishing area, as well as being home to two of the world’s most threatened species of marine mammal – the monk seal and the Atlantic hump-backed dolphin. The results of the study show that industrial and traditional fishing activities along the coast are putting these mammals and local marine ecosystems at great danger.

→ Continue reading Monk seal and hump-backed dolphin are threatened by fishing activities off coast of Mauritania

1st November, 2010

LifeWeb partnership gives multi-million dollar boost to protected areas

United Nations Environment Programme, Press Release, 28 October 2010

Spain-UNEP LifeWeb Partnership to Raise Incomes and Improve Conservation in Protected Areas in Asia, Africa and Latin America

Nagoya, Japan,  28 October 2010. More than fifteen protected areas, including one managing monk seals off Mauritania and another in Sumatra that is home to orangutans, tigers and elephants, are to receive a US$6.8 million conservation boost.

Today, at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, the government of Spain and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a new partnership for protected areas under the LifeWeb initiative.

→ Continue reading LifeWeb partnership gives multi-million dollar boost to protected areas