Monitoring the Status of Marine and Terrestrial Habitats and Species

Assessing the status and trends of wildlife populations is essential for evaluating the effectiveness of any management scheme towards protecting rare or endangered species and natural habitats. Thus, it constitutes an integral part of the conservation efforts that will be applied throughout the “CYCLADES LIFE” project.

The crucial question is how to determine whether the management and protection measures implemented were effective towards advancing and securing the conservation of the marine and terrestrial biodiversity of the Natura 2000 area. This can only be answered during the “CYCLADES LIFE” project, through a rigorous process of collecting and comparing the appropriate data, collected both prior and after the conservation measures are applied.

Hence, a year before the completion of the project, the project team will perform sampling activities, by adopting exactly the same methodologies, at the same sites that were studied during the project’s preparatory phase in order to make comparisons and identify any possible differences.

Concerning the marine species and habitats, the samplings will be based on advanced technology, such as Side Scan Solar System, Remote Operated Underwater U-boat (ROV) and Visual Recordings, while the new information generated, recorded in GIS, will allow a successful comparison.

Through this work we will be able to identify and assess possible changes in the coverage percentage of the fragile and sensitive habitats of Posidonia beds and Tragana, and in the status of the main marine species such as the Mediterranean Monk seal, Monachus monachus and the Octopus vulgaris. Through samplings the team will be able to identify any quantitative and qualitative differences, arising from the application of the management and protection measures in the context of the project’s actions.

Especially for the Mediterranean Monk seal, a detailed scientific monitoring plan will be implemented!
Monitoring Mediterranean Monk seal populations, throughout their range on a national level for more than 2 decades, MOm has been a pioneer in the development of new, non-invasive techniques and methodologies for effectively studying the species and acquiring scientific data on key parameters of its biology, behavior, population dynamics, and ecology. All methodologies that will be applied in the collection of data and the assessment of the status of the Mediterranean Monk seal population at the island of Gyaros have been developed and successfully deployed in the study of the species in Greece and are based on standard methodologies used in the study of other Pinnipeds worldwide.

More specifically, monitoring the effects of the conservation actions on Monachus monachus will take place on two different levels:
A. Monitoring the short-term effects. This level of assessment will be based on the evaluation of direct and indirect signs of presence of the species that are collected during surveys of the habitat of the species (i.e. visits to the caves and open beaches used by monk seals in this area), mainly during the reproductive season, and by the deployment of infrared photographic cameras that will provide baseline information on habitat use, demographic status and behavior of the species in the project area.
B. Monitoring the long-term effects. The use of infrared digital cameras is based on the existence of distinct external features on the pelage of each animal that enable individual identification. These features change however over time making the long-term tracking of specific individuals extremely difficult (i.e. continuous photographic tracking is required in order to identify the change on the pelage of each individual). Such information is however necessary in documenting the reproductive history and site fidelity of individuals and for assessing monk seal pup survival and death rates.

Through this work we will be able to:
o    Assess on an annual basis the basic demographic and reproductive parameters for the Mediterranean Monk seal population in the wider area of the island of Gyaros and to understand better the behavior of this shy and rare species.
o    Collected more than 20.000 images of Monachus monachus and to establish a regional Photo-ID catalogue consisting of at least 60 different individuals.
o    To collect approximately 60 biological samples and thus establish “genetic tags” for at least 40 different individuals.
o    Prepare a comprehensive guide for the monitoring of Mediterranean Monk seal populations within Marine Protected Areas in Greece.

In relevance to the terrestrial species and habitats, the field work, during the last year of the project, will focus on reptiles and birds species, and on vegetation and flora. The field team will survey for a second time the broader area of Gyaros, and will collect similar in nature data, using the same methodology with the one applied at the beginning of the “CYCLADES LIFE” project.

Hence, the project team will have the opportunity to identify whether there are noticeable differences in the density, diversity, distribution and population size of the reptile fauna and of the sea birds populations, , but also to record the differences in the distribution, coverage and status of the island’s vegetation.

The collection of scientific data, in conjunction with information on the distribution and intensity of human activities in the project area, will allow the evaluation of the short and long-term effects of the conservation actions implemented during the ”CYCLADES LIFE” project. This work will not only be useful to evaluate the immediate effectiveness of the new Marine Protected Area of Gyaros, but could also prove as a valuable tool for assessing conservation effectiveness in other areas of Greece.