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Vol. 9 (1): June 2006

The funding crunch

Despite generous spin-doctoring to the contrary, there is little tangible evidence that any international conservation organisation is taking monk seal conservation seriously – at least at the present time.

Like most monk seal conservation efforts, The Monachus Guardian has also relied on NGO financial support to operate. Unfortunately, cutbacks striking projects across the range of the species have also obstructed publication of the journal for the last 3 years.

Regular readers will note the absence of key departments of the journal – Guest Editorial, In Focus, Perspectives, Monachus Science and the Letters to the Editor. We hope that these sections will be restored should adequate funding be obtained in the months ahead.

By acting as a forum for international debate and information exchange between geographically divided groups, fulfils long-established recommendations of conservation action plans for the species.

Any leads on possible funding avenues that might keep The Monachus Guardian alive and kicking would, of course, be gratefully received. A document detailing sponsorship opportunities and benefits is available to potential supporters – for further information please contact the Editor.

Due in no small part to the network of correspondents who have submitted news, opinion, articles and scientific papers over the years, The Monachus Guardian has built up a real readership base of at least 30,000 people – among them, students, teachers, researchers and journalists. Realising the significance of this collective achievement, we are doing whatever we can to continue publishing, and we take this opportunity of thanking all of you who have contributed to or voiced support for the project. – William M. Johnson.

The Balearic Islands sponsors The Monachus Guardian

The Monachus Guardian welcomes The Balearic Islands government as an official sponsor of the journal. This modest but important grant helps us to continue reporting news and opinion about monk seal and marine conservation issues from across the current and former range of the species.

In an effort to expand circulation among Spanish readers, the Balearic Islands government is preparing a Spanish-language version of this issue of TMG, which will be made available in due course. An appropriate link will be posted on the current Contents page.

Anyone wishing to discuss the possibilities of arranging or funding translations into other languages (for instance, Arabic, Greek, Turkish) is kindly requested to contact the Editor.

Mediterranean governments vow protection for the Mediterranean monk seal

– Success or failure of efforts to be a “defining moment” for the future of the Mediterranean Action Plan

Mediterranean monk seal

The fate of the Mediterranean monk seal and the Mediterranean Action Plan may yet be inextricably intertwined.

The Mediterranean monk seal featured high on the agenda of the 14th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean, which took place between 8-11 November 2005 in Portoroz, Slovenia and was attended by environment ministers and high-ranking officials from Mediterranean governments [see UN meetings in Athens and Slovenia hear of the monk seal’s imminent extinction, TMG 8 (2): December 2005].

The Coordinator of the Mediterranean Action Plan, Mr. P. Mifsud, gave a presentation on the status of monk seal species in the world, the reasons for their disappearance and the possibilities for recovery of the species in the Mediterranean. According to his words, the estimated remaining number of individual monk seals in the Mediterranean is less than 350. The animals are being killed either deliberately, or by becoming entangled in static nets. Legislation governing protection of the species exists, but is poorly enforced.

The habitat of the creatures is being destroyed in various ways, including by the development of tourism. The Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) and many individual countries are active in efforts to save the species but, although sufficient technical knowledge exists, funding is scarce. He therefore invited the meeting to suggest ways of stopping the deliberate killing of the animals, protecting critical habitats, and promoting the conservation of this important species.

The meeting agreed that saving the monk seal from extinction was imperative. The countries, whether or not they hosted monk seal populations, pledged to work together to fight the disappearance of the animal. Not that the protection of the monk seal had lacked political attention. The 13th Meeting of Contracting Parties had put the issue high on the political agenda, attracting significant financing in the region. Unfortunately, despite those efforts, little progress was being seen and the species was still critically endangered. Nevertheless, it was deemed possible to save the seal, as long as MAP was able to reproduce the positive results that had been experienced by certain projects in the region, such as those in Alonissos, Greece, and Foça, Turkey.

In broad terms, the meeting identified two approaches that were necessary. First, the killings had to be stopped. To achieve this, awareness-raising among fishermen and local authorities was required, and favourable conditions had to be created within their communities to remove the incentive to kill the animals. Second, more marine protected areas needed to be created and further research was required to ascertain to which areas monk seals were migrating. INFO/RAC and RAC/SPA would be instrumental in these efforts. Several countries and NGOs outlined the steps that they were taking for the protection of this and other species from extinction, including scientific research, the creation of species inventories, training and the provision of funding for project activities. It was recalled in this respect that the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species had signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the Atlantic population of the monk seal and it was time for MAP to take similar action for the Mediterranean. It was also recalled that 2010 was a target year with respect to reducing the degradation of biodiversity worldwide. It was suggested that the monk seal could become the symbol of cooperation for achieving this goal. The success or failure of efforts to save the species would be a defining moment for the future of MAP.

The meeting then discussed in detail the work programme and the recommendations for the 2006-2007 biennium. An assessment of the state of conservation of the monk seal, reviewed by the Seventh Meeting of SPA Focal Points (Seville, 31 May - 3 June 2005), as well as previous studies, concluded that this species will shortly become extinct in the Mediterranean unless urgent and strong measures are taken to protect it. The draft declaration on the conservation of the monk seal was submitted as document UNEP(DEC)MED WG270/17. RAC/SPA, taking into account the threat of deliberate killing of seals by fishermen, has been invited to support the Contracting Parties in their efforts by giving priority to a socioeconomic approach on the basis of previous successful initiatives. Moreover, since the second main cause of extinction was identified as destruction of habitats, the Contracting Parties asked the Secretariat to pursue work on their identification of habitats so that adequate protection measures can be taken.

 Specifically, over the next biennium, Mediterranean governments are asked:

  1. To adopt the draft Declaration on the conservation of the monk seal.
  2. To address the problem of the deliberate killing of monk seals combined with habitat loss existing in areas of major importance for the species, targeting fishermen and other stakeholders, taking into account the most serious threat to the survival of this species, as noted in the assessment of the implementation of the action plan (UNEP(OCA)/MED WG.146/5, Arta 1998).
  3. To make the best possible use of the positive experiences in Alonissos (Greece) and Foça (Turkey) to extend protection and conservation actions to all the other known Mediterranean areas with critical habitats of monk seals.
  4. To ensure that management plans for protected areas containing critical monk seal habitats, as well as legislative measures relevant to the conservation of monk seals, are developed and implemented.
  5. To identify existing or potential critical habitats of monk seals.

Along the same lines, the Secretariat (RAC/SPA) is requested

  1. To assist countries in the implementation of the Action Plan for the Management of the Mediterranean monk seal through management plans, operational tools and capacity building; to this end, to make use of the report UNEP(DEC)/MED WG 232/Inf.6 of the group of experts convened by RAC/SPA in 2002, as already recommended by the Contracting Parties in 2003.
  2. To support countries in the identification of existing or potential critical habitats of monk seals.
  3. To assist countries in organizing awareness campaigns for target groups, with a view to ensuring their participation in efforts to reduce hostility and increase consensus for the implementation of conservation actions.
  4. To strengthen collaboration with relevant bodies, in particular the Food and Agriculture Organization’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (FAO/GFCM) in order to address effectively the problem of the interaction of fisheries with monk seals.

The Meeting adopted the Portoroz Declaration, in which, with regard to the conservation of the monk seal, the Mediterranean governments committed to the following:

  1. To take as quickly as possible all necessary measures for the implementation of the Action Plan for the Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus Monachus) and to strengthen their cooperation to reverse the decline of the species.
  2. To seriously address the problem of deliberate monk seal killing, combined with habitat loss, through action tailored to local communities and involving fishermen and other stakeholders.
  3. To promote information on relevant success stories regarding the protection of the monk seal and exchange experience with all concerned parties and partners.
  4. To further develop, implement and enforce legislative measures relevant to the conservation of the monk seal, including incentive and regulatory measures, together with adequate operational management plans for targeted human activities.
  5. To contribute to the implementation of relevant activities by concerned countries, RAC/SPA and its partners through bilateral cooperation and voluntary contributions.

It is worth mentioning here that the majority of these recommendations and commitments have already been included in previous initiatives within the MAP framework, such as the Action Plan for the Management of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, adopted by Mediterranean governments in Barcelona way back in 1987. Despite frequent repetition, however, little has been done during these 19 years by governments whose territorial waters hold the last surviving monk seal populations. The few success stories, such as those cited in Alonissos, Greece and Foça, Turkey, are very much due to the efforts of dedicated NGOs working closely with the local communities, and even they have faced chronic funding and bureaucratic problems.

In the case of Alonissos in particular, while the Greek State has created the institutional framework for the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal and NGOs like MOm have done much to gain the support of the local community for conservation efforts, the inability of the government to provide effective support through vital funding and administrative mechanisms has repeatedly brought these efforts to the brink of collapse. Unfortunately, a similar state of affairs is also evident in Foça, Turkey. One may therefore be tempted to wonder what exactly has changed now that will ensure a real commitment of the involved Mediterranean governments to the protection of the Mediterranean monk seal?

Another question that arises is whether making the monk seal a symbol of cooperation among Mediterranean states and connecting the survival of the species with the future of MAP would actually be doing the species a favour given the institution’s dubious track record. The question becomes even more pertinent in light of a recent sobering external evaluation report of MAP coinciding with its 30th anniversary, which characterises the Barcelona Convention as “dusty”, as having lost its focus and of being in need of a new vision and a new image. The report also states that the term “MAP” has lost its true value and “for many important actors in the Mediterranean it has come to be synonymous of dispersed and weak action”. Indeed, it could be argued that the inability of Mediterranean governments to take effective action to protect the Mediterranean monk seal over the past couple of decades constitutes a prime example of the latter charge. The report concludes that there is a need for significant changes in order for MAP to reinforce its political clout.

Some believe that this extra political drive may be provided by the much-acclaimed new initiative of the European Commission to de-pollute the Mediterranean by 2020. Termed “Horizon 2020”, this ambitious initiative was officially announced by the European Commissioner for the Environment in November 2005 in Barcelona within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP). Amid concerns that the EU initiative may lead to a costly overlap in time and effort, Commission officials have reaffirmed that it will build on what has been achieved in the region using as its main tool the recently adopted Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development. More importantly, the “Horizon 2020” initiative has the political backing of Heads of Mediterranean States and their Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and its roadmap is currently under development following consultation with all EMP stakeholders. Under agreement is also the new European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), which is anticipated to provide the main financial tool for reaching this goal and is expected to use a “carrot and stick” approach in order to encourage Mediterranean governments step up the pace in implementing their legal commitments. – Kostas Triantafillou.

Further information

RAC/SPA. 2005. Progress report of the activities of RAC/SPA. Seventh Meeting of National Focal Points for SPAs, Seville, 31 May - 3 June 2005. UNEP/MAP, UNEP(DEC)/MED WG.268/4: 1-37. [PDF pdf 449 KB]

RAC/SPA. 2005. Information report on the status of the monk seal in the Mediterranean. Seventh Meeting of National Focal Points for SPAs, Seville, 31 May - 3 June 2005. UNEP/MAP, UNEP(DEC)/MED WG.268/Inf.3: 1-45. [PDF pdf 1019 KB]

RAC/SPA. 2005. Declaration on the monk seal risk of extinction in the Mediterranean. Meeting of MAP Focal Points, Athens (Greece), 21-24 September 2005. UNEP/MAP, UNEP(DEC)/MED WG.270/17: 1-3. [PDF pdf 77KB]

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. [PDF pdf 18KB]

Online credit card donations discontinued

With only limited support received through the secure donation portal, Kagi, The Monachus Guardian has decided to discontinue this facility for the time being. If you wish to support the site and/or journal financially, please contact the Editor.



Dead in the Water

The sea's fauna is equally threatened. The Mediterranean monk seal, one of the world's 12 most threatened species, is being driven to extinction. There were almost 1,000 monk seals in the Mediterranean in 1980, but their ranks have been decimated by hunters and fishermen, and only between 70 and 80 are left today… [sic]

To deal with this alarming situation, in 1975 the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) was adopted under the auspices of UNEP…

Actions, however, have not adequately matched words. By the early 1990's, the MAP was close to collapse, as major contributor nations failed to pay their dues. According to authorities of the plan, not one of its objectives is known to have been achieved. Reporting on the willingness of the Mediterranean nations to take improvement measures, Ljubomir Jeftic, deputy coordinator of the MAP, warned: "Don't be too optimistic." Even if these countries can agree to act, the harm already done might take decades to repair. Observes New Scientist magazine: "Right now, like much of the Mediterranean's wildlife, the MAP looks dead in the water."

What, then, is the future of the Mediterranean? Will it become a dead sea full of stinking, muddy algae? If its future depends only on man, perhaps.

However, the Creator of this planet, Jehovah God, has concern for "the sea, which he himself made." (Psalm 95:5) He has promised that soon he will "bring to ruin those ruining the earth." (Revelation 11:18) After this necessary removal of irresponsible humans who pollute, among other things, the seas, God will restore ecological balance and appropriate biodiversity on our globe. Then "the seas and everything moving about in them" will "praise him" with their pristine, unsullied condition. – Psalm 69:34.

Source: The Mediterranean – A Closed Sea With Open Wounds. Awake! Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site. 2005.

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