For several decades and until 2002, Gyaros was under a military restricted status and the area, apart from military exercises, was practically protected from most human activities. Following that period, when the site opened to the public, locals started spotting individuals of the Mediterranean Monk seal Monachus monachus, one of the most endangered species and rare marine mammal in Europe.
The dozens of field surveys that were carried out between 2004 – 2007 by MOm, an Associated Beneficiary of the “CYCLADES LIFE” project, proved that the Mediterranean Monk seal population of Gyaros is one of the most important breeding nuclei of the species on a global level. The Monachus monachus colony of the island holds the highest number of newborn pups recorded in a single breeding season in the eastern Mediterranean and the highest birth rate recorded in the world.
Based on its significance for the Mediterranean Monk seal, but also for the other rare species and habitats that are hosted on the island and the broader area (the 3 nautical miles marine area around its coastline), in 2011, Gyaros was listed in the Natura 2000 European Network, the network of environmentally important areas of Europe.
© Α. Bonetti/ WWF Greece
Moreover, during the last few years, fishermen of the Cyclades islands have expressed, through their official representative body, the need for the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) aiming at the conservation of local fish stocks. The fishermen have committed to support and respect the necessary measures towards the development of sustainable fisheries in the area.
Taking into serious consideration all the above facts, in 2010, the environmental NGOs WWF Greece, MOm and the Tethys Research Institute, joined forces, combining their experience and in-depth expertise in marine, fisheries and marine mammals conservation, to develop a new initiative for the long-term conservation of Gyaros, as one of the most valuable habitat of the Mediterranean Monk seal in the world.
The initiative’s ambitious goal is to successfully create an effective and sustainable Marine Protected Area, based on an Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) plan, in which humans and nature could coexist in harmony. A Marine Protected Area that would prove to be a model MPA in order to extend across the wider Cyclades island complex and the Aegean Sea and be utilized throughout the Mediterranean region.
Over the last three years, several other authorities and bodies shared the same vision and supported the new initiative.
The result: In 2013, the European Commission approved for funding, through the LIFE+ Nature financial instrument, our project proposal entitled CYCLADES LIFE: “Integrated monk seal conservation of Northern Cyclades” and so our challenging but rather exciting journey began!