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CYCLADES "Integrated monk seal conservation in Northern Cyclades" (CYCLADES Life)
Start date: Jul 1, 2013, End date: Jun 30, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is a priority species for conservation, according to Annex II of the Habitats Directive. It is also designated as a “critically endangered” species under the IUCN Red List; and is included in Annex III of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive – as a key indicator of the status of the marine environment. One of the rarest seal species globally with an overall negative population trend, there are an estimated minimum 170 Mediterranean monk seals in the Greek seas, the largest population of the species in the Mediterranean. Regular monitoring since 2004 has revealed that the project area (the Natura 2000 network site, “Nisos Gyaros Kai Thalassia Zoni”, which includes the island of Gyaros and a surrounding marine area) hosts one of the most important breeding nuclei of the species, with an observed pupping rate of some seven births per year. Moreover, the ‘original’ behaviour of the species – which has been observed occupying open beaches for resting and reproducing – indicates both the existence of a large breeding colony in the area and excellent seal habitat. Gyaros is estimated to have a Mediterranean monk seal population of approximately 70 individuals, excluding pups. However, the particularly confined area of the island, the few coastal caves and beaches suitable for rearing pups, and the island’s proximity to other areas of intense human activities (fisheries, shipping, tourism, etc) are significant risk factors and point to the critical need to protect the site. Objectives The project aims to establish a unique protected area on the island of Gyaros and its adjacent marine area. This effort will be based on the Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) approach, encouraging the participation and active involvement of local stakeholders from the adjacent islands of Andros and Syros. Specific objectives are: The conservation and protection of the local Meditteranean monk seal population; The protection and improvement of the conservation status of the species’s habitat, and in particular of Posidonia beds, reefs and partially submerged marine caves; The overall protection and improvement of the conservation status of the Natura 2000 site; The active participation and involvement of local stakeholders in the conservation and co-management of the protected area, according to EBM principles; and A positive change in local stakeholders’ conceptions, attitudes, and conduct towards the marine environment of their area. Expected results: A study on the status of the natural/ human environment of Gyaros and a legislative blueprint for the designation of the area as a Wildlife Refuge (WR) and a Marine Protected Area (MPA); A reduction in incidences of illegal activities, especially those related to fisheries, and effective regulation of human activities threatening the conservation of the marine environment of the area; An increase in the abundance of the monk seal’s main prey, the common octopus (O. vulgaris) in the project area; A reduction of the threat posed by fishing gear to new-born pups and juveniles; An improvement of the conservation status of the targeted habitat types, through the implementation of in-situ conservation actions; Communication actions targeting more than 250 000 people in total, including environmental education activities for some 2 500 children; and Improved knowledge of the project’s results among the scientific community through six national and international conferences.

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