Since its foundation 30 years ago, the Greek Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal (MOm),has been actively involved in the conservation of this critically endangered flagship species in Greece. It has systematically addressed all the major conservation problems – deliberate killing, accidental entanglement in fishing gears, overfishing, habitat degradation and other, threatening the survival of the monk seal in the Aegean and Ionian Seas.
Some of the main activities undertaken by MOm include:
- Since 1990 the Emergency Rescue Team of MOm has intervened in 86 cases of Mediterranean monk seals in distress; in 55 of these cases the animals were successfully released back to their natural environment (64% success rate). Given that the Greek monk seal population stands at only 300 seals, such a rate of success is important for the species survival. A rehabilitation and reintroduction centre was created to assist this work and "Hellenic Rescue and Information Network for the Mediterranean monk seal" was established, which monitors the seals in Greece. It also operates observation hotline, where people can report encounters with animals and the rescue team can help mitigate potential conflicts or rescue individuals in need.
- Since 1990, Mom’s field research resulted in the discovery of 4 new important pupping sites which were officially proposed for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network and accepted by the Greek authorities.
- By raising awareness and fruitful cooperation of MOM with fishermen in the process of development of management plans for key sites (e.g. Alonissos National Marine Park, Regional Marine Park of Northern Karpathos, Saria and Astakidonision, and Gyaros Island), the deliberate and accidental killing of seals by fishermen (or fishing nets) was significantly reduced. In the region of Gyaros island, and with the agreement of local fishermen, MOm established 1000 artificial octopus dens near the main pupping areas in order to increase the abundance of prey for the monk seal thus reducing the pressure from the competing fishermen.
- For the past 30 years, MOm has created educational packages, visited schools throughout Greece and helped teachers inform their students (~2 million children were reached over the years).
- Since 1990, MOm has created Information Centers at the islands of Alonissos, Skopelos, Skiathos, Syros, Milos, Kimolos, Fournoi and Karpathos. In addition, through media outlets such as website, Facebook, TV spots and documentaries, MOm has managed to sensitize a large portion of the public (estimated 4 million people have been reached).
MOm’s work was instrumental in developing and updating the National Strategy for the Protection of the Monk Seal in Greece. As a direct result of its actions, in 2015, the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) was down-listed from "Critically Endangered" to "Endangered" on the IUCN Red Data List of endangered species.