Reviving the Mediterranean Monk Seal Population

Wednesday, 09 Aug, 2023

Sea Shepherd’s Monachus campaign in the Tuscany archipelago has gotten off to a great start in 2023.

Octopus freed from a trap by Sea Shepherd crew on the Sea Eagle. Photo Willem van der Heever / Sea Shepherd Global

"The Tuscany archipelago is a natural site of the monk seal," said Sea Shepherd Italy's director, Andrea Morello, who explains that, after last year’s successful campaign, that it looks like the monk seals are recovering there. “We spotted one early this year in Capraia (see video). The key? They now have less illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels in this archipelago, and plenty of octopus to eat -- their favorite food -- which makes up approximately half their diet.

In 2022, through agreements made with the Arcipelago Toscano National Park and the Guardia di Finanza of Tuscany, Sea Shepherd Italy began patrolling the park’s coastline to prevent poaching. But what they found was startling: an extensive network of illegal fishing, made up of tens of thousands of octopus traps, lying on the seabed along 40 kilometers of coastline. A true environmental disaster, among the most appalling ones Sea Shepherd Italy has ever encountered.

The crew managed to confiscate over 7600 pots, handing them over to the Financial Guard, and saving thousands of octopus lives (read more about it here).

Photos of Mediterranean Monk Seals donated by Harry Thomas.

This year, Sea Shepherd returned onboard the Sea Eagle, side by side with Guardia di Finanza (GdF) once again, ready for action.

The strategy of the Italian GdF is to allow the legal fishermen to share the position of their fishing gear. Normally they should pull their traps out when the legal season comes to an end (octopus traps are banned during the reproduction season, July 15 to August 15th). Thanks to this strategy, we still confiscated 3,400 traps. The good news: there are zero illegal traps in the water during the reproduction season this year.

Thanks to last year's incredibly successful campaign, our efforts are paying off. "You can see our impact, there’s more life already, both for octopus and even squid. It’s incredible. If you think about it, one pregnant female octopus in a trap can have 1200 eggs, so you can imagine with hundreds of traps taken away, how much more life there is now."

Rigorous documentation on the campaign ensures that every life saved is accounted for, and so far the statistics are looking: "This year there are 50% less octopus traps in the protected area compared to last year," says Morello. And that can only be good news for the Monk seals.

The Monachus campaign's successes in the Tuscany archipelago serve as a testimony to what our crew’s unwavering dedication, combined with innovative strategies, can achieve in our marine conservation mission.

Learn More About the Monachus Campaign

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