Cave Diving and Encounter With Mediterranean Monk Seal

Dear sea lovers,

Lets  dive into a popular issue in terms of nature conservation that has not been widely discussed. We are in the high season and diving activities have already started. Diving, whether for sports or entertainment or scientific purposes, become very popular in the country nowadays.

Of course, when performing this activity we somehow intervene nature and have an interaction with other living creatures. We all should be conscious about nature ethics and understand our possible impacts as default.

The responsibility for protection of Mediterranean monk seal and other endangered marine species in Türkiye do not belong only to conservationists but also to variety of target groups from diving tourism industry to yachters. It is certainly a universal matter. How lucky we are that this rare marine mammal still lives and breeds  in our country.

Well… Why does the Mediterranean monk seal disappear? There are 5 main reasons, but non of them are natural causes, i.e. all of these reasons stem from human activities. The first enemy of the Mediterranean monk seal is urban development in pristine bays and coasts and not well planned coastal constructions, this is what we call “habitat destruction”. Perhaps, we are the nation that loves concrete most in the world. The space in this text are not enough to explain what we have lost due to coastal habitat destruction in our history! For the Mediterranean monk seal, the second reason for its decline is depletion of fish stocks as a result of over & illegal fishery. Consequently, top predators such as  Mediterranean monk seal suffer reduction of prey, which ultimately effects the species’ survival. Coming back to our subject; another negative factor is cave diving… We realize, based on our experience since 1987, that Mediterranean monk seals feel uncomfortable and extremely disturbed when people visit  their caves. As wild animals, Mediterranean monk seals are naturally disturbed because of human presence in coastal caves, the last shelters of them. Actually, until the times in early 20th century, monk seals had sunbathed and colonized on open beaches and coasts in the Mediterranean basin. However, nowadays, monk seals can only be seen in remote coastal zones with caves of underwater or surface entrance, where they struggle to survive and reproduce and raise pups… see monk seals in Turkey

For this endangered coastal marine mammal whose world population is only about 700, there is a basic concept that everyone can easily understand; the pristine coasts and remote coastal caves are critical for Mediterranean monk seals, because these caves have a vital importance of reproduction and survival needs of the species. Therefore pristine coasts covering suitable coastal caves must be protected very strictly. It is a known fact that the coastal caves are the last refuges for the Mediterranean monk seals. Such caves are damp, dark and are exposed to stormy weather conditions effecting all inhabiting seals regardless of age stages; adults, juveniles or pups. Nevertheless, Mediterranean monk seals have to use these coastal caves to survive. In other words, the sea caves along the remote coasts and islands are the last shelters of Mediterranean monk seals.

In Türkiye, as commonly practiced, illegal penetrations into seal caves -by boat drivers, swimmers and divers- happen mostly in Bodrum, Kaş, Kuşadası, Foça, Mordoğan, Fethiye, Alanya and Kemer. Infringements including penetrations into seal caves are unfortunately common. This well-known phenomenon is explicitly documented by SAD-AFAG and the Middle East Technical University – Institute of Marine Sciences (METU-IMS) in their studies and publications.

I would like to make a friendly advice for those who tackle around seal caves on purpose or unrealized; although stated clearly in the laws not to penetrate into monk seal caves, we -as divers and swimmers- should respect nature more and keep away from such caves, not simply based on legislation, but based on the universal ethical values and scientific findings. We desperately need to leave monk seals -the real owners of seas- alone in their “bedrooms”, coastal caves.

I wish a clean and healthy Mediterranean ecosystem.

With my best regards.

Cem O. Kıraç

Editor’s Note