Vol. 9 (2): November 2006
Anatomy of a conference
William M Johnson
An international conference on the Mediterranean monk seal took place in Kemer, near Antalya, Turkey on 17-19 September‚ – unlike previous gatherings, focusing on the political, legal and financial issues that affect the management and recovery of the species.
Held under the UNEP/MAP banner, the conference took place under the wider umbrella of the inaugural Med Blue Week, an event called to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Barcelona Convention, the international agreement that brought both the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) and the Mediterranean Monk Seal Action Plan into being.
Tunis-based RAC/SPA, the agency nominally responsible for advancing MAP’s Mediterranean Monk Seal Action Plan, took the lead role in organising the conference. Co-organisers included the Bonn, Bern and Barcelona Conventions, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Turkish monk seal NGO, SAD-AFAG.
While acknowledging the value of such international gatherings as a crucial means of sharing practical conservation experiences from across the range of the species, some participants also voiced irritation that they or their organisations had been marginalised in the run-up to the conference.
“I was expecting to share the lessons learnt from the different regions, and modify the strategies and action plans according to what is recommended by the real experts working in the field,” said the participant. But now, he continued, “if the government focal points agree, a steering committee will be formed, most probably composed of those who have only ever read about the monk seal in text books, yet who will decide if our efforts in the field are right or wrong. They will also judge which projects merit funding and which do not. For me, it was a disappointment to realize there is such a huge gap between people working in the field and those in the international organisations and conventions.”
Some participants saw other reasons for concern, suggesting that long-established interests in monk seal conservation were opposed to fundamental change that might dilute their influence or trespass on their own turf. Potential members of the as-yet-hypothetical Steering Committee sparked particularly divisive debate, with some insisting that core members must include officials of the Conventions, others that it should incorporate international NGOs and recognized local experience on monk seals, and still others that it should be entirely independent, thereby allowing rational and impartial assessment of projects and their results.
Among those expressing the latter view, Prof. Alex Aguilar at the Department of Animal Biology at the University of Barcelona insisted that a clear separation between the Steering Committee members and those with vested interests in the projects themselves might be crucial for the survival of the species.
“For over 30 years,” Aguilar told TMG, “neither the Action Plan nor the conservation actions so far implemented have served to reverse the declining trend of the species. Unless the direction of the process is changed, I am terribly pessimistic about the future of the species. In this context, and very importantly, if the steering committee is eventually composed of ‘internal’ members, as it looks would happen, I don’t foresee any improvement. The conflict of interests is unavoidable if the setting of priorities and the evaluation of the success of the actions is made by the same people who execute such actions. Science – and conservation is based on science – only advances with peer, external review.”
Others, however, argue that some projects already undergo stringent independent assessment procedures, as is required, for example, by some EU-funded programmes. They add that it is the expansion of “best practice” methodologies in monk seal conservation that is urgently required – along with practical, grassroots action – rather than another layer of bureaucracy.
Though official conference proceedings were not available as this article was being prepared, preliminary information provided by INFO/RAC-MAP and the reports of participants indicate the following conference results and recommendations:
All of these results are, however, unofficial and non-binding unless and until they are approved by the signatory governments of the Barcelona Convention. With the current level of government and NGO opposition they are facing, it is by no means certain any of them will see the light of day.
In tacit recognition of the anxieties and disagreements within the conference hall, Turkish co-organiser SAD-AFAG let it be known that the “financing mechanism and steering committee subjects have not been concluded efficiently; however we hope that these preliminary discussions may be a good starting basis for the near future.” The organisation went on to say that, “we believe that the survival of this endangered species and its endangered habitats [can] only be protected for [the] long-term through cooperation among the states, conservationists and scientists, established on goodwill and trust.”
With many crucial and potentially far-reaching issues still in play on the political front, it is likely to become increasingly difficult for monk seal conservation’s key players to remain on the sidelines without taking a stand or elucidating a policy on these matters.
As far as The Monachus Guardian is concerned, this journal and website has been committed to free and open debate within the monk seal conservation community, and to wide-ranging consultation in the development of international policy, since its inception in 1998.
Ironically, in its latest report to the US Congress, the Marine Mammal Commission states that management of the threats confronting the Mediterranean monk seal “is confounded by a lack of international cooperation and coordination.”
Though we cannot help but agree with that assessment, we also see distinct possibilities of remedying that situation through a cooperative international process that is rooted in dialogue, consultation and, above all, transparency.
Taking the first step on that road must be the responsibility of the organisations most involved in the conservation of the monk seal and its habitat, organisations such as MOm, SAD-AFAG, the Parque Natural da Madeira, CBD-Habitat, the Levant Nature Conservation Society, IFAW and others.
IFAW. 2006. Funding Mediterranean Monk Seal Conservation. Quick scan of possibilities and challenges. Prepared by Bart Romijn, Warner Strategy and Fundraising. Commissioned by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), July 2006: 1-22. [PDF 168KB]
Marine Mammal Commission. 2006. Mediterranean monk seal. Page 99 in Chapter V, Other Species of Special Concern, Annual Report to Congress, 2005. Marine Mammal Commission, Bethesda, Maryland: 1-204. [PDF 5MB]
RAC/SPA. 2006. Blue Week. Agenda [revised]. Conference on Monk Seal Conservation, 17/19 September 2006, Majesty Mirage Park - Kemer, Antalya, Turkey: 1-11. [PDF 950KB]
RAC/SPA. 2006. Blue Week. The Monk seal in the Mediterranean Sea : General situation. Document prepared by Daniel Cebrian Menchero, RAC/SPA: 1-8. [PDF 1.3MB]
RAC/SPA. 2006. Blue Week. Programme and agenda. Conference on Monk Seal Conservation, 17/19 September 2006, Majesty Mirage Park - Kemer, Antalya, Turkey. [PDF 633KB]
RAC/SPA. 2006. Conference on Monk Seal Conservation. Second announcement. Med Blue Week. Antalya, 17/19 September 2006, Majesty Mirage Park - Kemer, Antalya – Turkey. [PDF 310KB]
RAC/SPA. 2005. Portoroz Declaration. 14th Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocols, Portoroz (Slovenia), 8-11 November 2005. UNEP(DEPI)/MED IG.16/13, Annex V: 1-5. [PDF 273KB]
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 449KB]
RAC/SPA. 2005. Evaluation of the Mediterranean monk seal status. Meeting of MAP Focal Points, Athens (Greece), 21-24 September 2005. UNEP/MAP, UNEP(DEC)/MED WG.270/Inf.22: 1-7. [PDF 127KB]
RAC/SPA. 2005. Information report on the status of the monk seal in the Mediterranean. Prepared for the Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) by Dr. Daniel Cebrian. 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 208KB]
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 77KB]
RAC/SPA. 2003. The conservation of the Mediterranean monk seal: proposal of priority activities to be carried out in the Mediterranean sea. Sixth meeting of the National Focal Points for Specially Protected Areas, Marseilles, 17-20 June 2003: 1-45. [PDF 143KB]
RAC/SPA. 2003. Progress report of the activities of RAC/SPA. Report on the activities carried out by RAC/SPA since the fifth meeting of National Focal Points for Specially Protected Areas. Sixth meeting of the National Focal Points for Specially Protected Areas, Marseilles, 17-20 June 2003: 1-29. [PDF 124KB]
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 306KB]
TMG. 2003. Mystery at RAC/SPA Time for pup-catching, says its anonymous expert(s). The Monachus Guardian 6 (2): December 2003.
Triantafillou, K. 2006. 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. The Monachus Guardian 9 (1): June 2006.
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