Conservationists are celebrating exciting new footage that reveals an endangered Mediterranean monk seal making use of an artificial breeding ledge they have created to aid in the species’ recovery. The footage, which shows a young adult female, is the first time that this species has been recorded using an artificial ledge, raising hopes that this unique habitat restoration effort will boost efforts to save monk seals from extinction.
Mediterranean monk seals breed in caves within Gökova Bay, part of the Aegean Sea off the south-west coast of Turkey, over 300 square kilometres of which is an actively managed marine protected area. Historically, monk seals would have hauled out on beaches across the Mediterranean to breed, but human disturbance, persecution and predation have pushed them to more marginal habitats such as marine caves. In recent years earthquakes in the area have collapsed a number of caves, reducing suitable breeding sites. Due to these cave collapses, loss of beach habitat and successful conservation efforts that have resulted in a growing monk seal population, there are now more seals than there are suitable breeding caves in the bay, hindering their further recovery. Until conservationists intervened, only three suitable breeding caves could be found across the entire 400 km stretch of coastline in Gökova Bay.
The species needs very specific light conditions and a small, sheltered pool within the cave where mothers can teach their pups how to dive and feed – as well as a dry ledge to give birth on. With support from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the artificial ledge was constructed by Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (AKD) conservationists in August 2019 and a young adult female monk seal was found to be using it in February this year.