A survey for monk seal habitats on North Corfu

on 10/06/2021

We are making a start for protecting one of the rarest marine mammals in the world, which lives in our seas and coasts: the monk seal!

Help us make the first step, by making a financial contribution to fund the project!

Why monk seals

The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), is among the world´s rarest marine mammal species. It is classified by the IUCN as Endangered and the total population is estimated to consist of ~700 individuals (Karamanlidis & Dendrinos 2015). In the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, it is listed as a “priority species” for which Special Areas of Conservation are required. The Eastern Mediterranean hosts the largest remaining reproductive population of the monk seal with ~400 individuals in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. From these ~400 individuals in the NE Mediterranean, an absolute minimum of 20 adult and subadult individuals live and reproduce in the central Ionian Sea, Western Greece; with respect to juveniles and pups, however, their number is definitely considerably higher.

Why in NW Corfu

The landscape of Corfu is known to be hospitable for monk seals. Othoni and the caves of NW Corfu are known to host monk seals. The presence of monk seals has been confirmed also through the sad event of one dead animal in Liapades, NW Corfu, in 2020 and through a few strandings of dead seals along the SE coast of Corfu in the last decades (Marianna Giannoulaki, Hellenic Center of Marine Research, pers. comm.).
But Corfu island has never been systematically surveyed and marine caves suitable for the monk seal are practically unknown, even though sightings of seals have been reported from several sites, some of them in the last two years. Consequently, monk seals remain largely unproctected. To change that, field surveys are the first important step.
Broadly, in Greece, habitat loss and interaction with fisheries have been identified as the main threats to the population. Habitat loss is ongoing through expanding human activities along the coastlines, tourism in particular. Interaction with fisheries involves mainly deliberate killing by fishers due to seal damage to catch and gear and accidental deaths in fishing gear but deliberate killing is gradually decreasing due to public awareness actions. Two MPAs have been properly established in the Aegean Sea and one in the south Ionian Sea. All other habitats throughout the Greek seas still lack specific protection measures.


The surveys are being organised by the Ionian Environment Foundation, in response to calls from communities in NE and NW Corfu to protect their marine ecosystems and will be conducted with an official permit from the ministry of Environment and Energy of Greece. Archipelagos – Environment and Development is an environmental organisation based in Kefalonia, which has been working for the monitoring and protection of monk seals mainly in the central Ionian Sea since 1985. As an expert organisation for monk seals it has been tasked by the Ionian Environment Foundation to conduct these surveys for monk seals’ habitats on North Corfu.

Team: (1) Aliki Panou, biologist, principal investigator, (2) Dr. Luigi Bundone, environmental sciences, technician, and (3) Dr Anastasios Anestis, biologist, field assistance.

What and how

The monk seal´s terrestrial habitats, i.e. marine caves with a beach inside, suitable for resting and pupping will be registered, as also the potential evidence of use by the seals. Based on the previous experience in the central Ionian Sea, we will systematically survey for a total of 10 days the coastline (a) around Erimitis cape, NE Corfu, and (b) the NW part of Corfu which is quite promising as it contains numerous marine caves and is less populated than the rest of Corfu. If possible, the islets Othoni and Mathraki at the north of Corfu will also be surveyed. An inflatable boat will be used for this purpose and the experienced team will enter the caves taking all measures not to disturb the seals. Every suitable cave with a beach inside will be recorded, i.e. position, exposition, size, etc., and potential monk seal evidence (tracks, feaces and/or the physical presence of the species) will be registered.


The direct output of the project will be:

  1. the first systematic catalogue of marine caves suitable for the monk seal in the study area
  2. the evidence for monk seal use of the caves investigated if any
  3. the accurately informed local population about the need to protect this rare and endangered species and the inclusion of local observers in reporting sightings.

Furthermore, and in case the use of caves by monk seals is confirmed, the project will considerably support coastal and/or marine protection. Under adequate protection measures, this sub-population may also serve as a nucleus for the re-colonization of the entire Adriatic-Ionian Basin, especially with respect to nearby Albania.
The results will be submitted by form of a report to the Ionian Environment Foundation, which will then distribute it to the local groups, which have been involved and interested. Data and recommendations for protection, measures are to be submitted to the management bodies of protected areas and to the Ministry of Environment and Energy.

Donate to support this project

Donations are requested for the surveys on NW Corfu specifically. They are to be made online at the donations page on the website of the Ionian Environment Foundation noting ‘NW Corfu monk seals’ as a reference.

Blogpost authored by Costas Kaloudis, executive director of the Ionian Environment Foundation.