Almost half of the world’s remaining population of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal lives in Greece. This makes the implementation of effective protection measures in the country an overall conservation priority for this extremely rare and fragile species. In order to safeguard the future of Monachus monachus in Greece, the threats facing the species must be identified and evaluated so that appropriate mitigation and conservation measures can be implemented. A consensus of expert opinion holds that the following factors (often inter-related) are the main threats to Mediterranean monk seals:
• Deliberate killing. According to data from necropsies performed over the past 25 years in Greece, deliberate killing is the most frequent cause of death for Mediterranean monk seals. Deliberate killing may account for more than 50% of recorded deaths for adults.
• Drowning from accidental entanglement in fishing gear. That is a serious threat for the Mediterranean monk seal in Greece. Seals usually get entangled in static gear used by coastal fisheries. Accidental drowning may account for more than 46% of recorded deaths for sub-adult monk seals.
• Overfishing. Human overfishing may pose a serious threat to the survival of monk seals since overexploitation of marine resources can lead to food scarcity, which in turn can negatively affect reproduction rates, pup and juvenile survival rates, and ultimately the viability of the entire population.
• Habitat degradation and destruction. Increased human activity in coastal areas has led to the gradual degradation of suitable monk seal habitat. This threat has been a factor for several centuries now, leading the species to change its original behavior of hauling out on open beaches and forcing it to hide in and occupy marginal habitats (i.e., marine caves). This in turn has had a negative effect on the overall survival chances of the species.
• Pollution. According to recent scientific information, the increased pollution levels found in Mediterranean monk seal tissues from Greece might pose a significant threat to the survival of the species.
• Stochastic natural events. Mass die-off events caused by a virus or a biotoxin, such as the one that have been implicated in the mass die-off of monk seals at the Cabo Blanco region in 1997 are a chronic risk that threatens the survival of the Mediterranean monk seal in Greece, especially since the population level is so low. One mass die-off from a disease outbreak, biotoxin or extreme weather event could have a devastating impact on the remaining seals.