Cave Diving and Encounter With Mediterranean Monk Seal

Dear sea lovers, lets  talk about a popular issue in terms of nature conservation that is not widely discussed. We are in the high season and diving season already started. Diving, whether for sports or entertainment or scientific purposes, become very popular nowadays.

Of course, when performing this activity we intervene nature and have an interaction with other living creatures. As being conscious about nature ethics, outdoor sportsman, researcher or tourist; we should understand and be aware of this fact default.

The responsibility for protection of Mediterranean monk seal and other endangered marine species in Türkiye do not belong only to us but also world, it is certainly a universal matter. How lucky we are that this rare marine mammal lives and breeds  in our country’s territorial waters and coasts.

Well… Why does the Mediterranean monk seal disappear? There are 5 main reasons but non of them are natural, all of which stemming from human activities. The first enemy of the Mediterranean monk seal is opening pristine bays and coasts to the construction, i.e. 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 the depletion of fish stocks including fish, octopus and lobster as a result of illegal fishery. Consequently, predators such as  Mediterranean monk seal suffer reduction of prey, which will effect the species’ survival. Coming back to our subject; another factor is cave diving… We realize, based on 24 years experience with the field studies, that Mediterranean monk seals are uncomfortable when people visit  their caves. As wild animals, Mediterranean monk seals are disturbed because of human presence in coastal caves that are the last shelters of them. In the early 20thcentury, monk seals were sunbathing and could be seen on open beaches and coasts in the Mediterranean basin. However, with exceptions, seals can now be seen only on the coastal caves with underwater or surface entrance, where they reproduce and raise pups as well…

For an endangered species whose world population about 600-700, there is a meaning that everyone can easily understand; the coastal caves are critical for Mediterranean monk seals because these caves have a vital importance of the reproduction and survival needs of them. Such coasts covering coastal caves should be protected very strictly. It is the fact that the coastal caves are the last refuges for the Mediterranean monk seals. Coastal caves are their ultimate homes. However, without exception, all such caves are damp, dark and are exposed to stormy weather conditions effecting all inhabiting seals regardless they are adult or juvenile. Nevertheless, Mediterranean monk seal, has 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 common practices, illegal swimming and diving into seal caves happen mostly in Bodrum, Kaş, Kuşadası, Foça, Mordoğan, Fethiye, Alanya and Kemer. By professional or amateur, scuba or skin divers, penetration into seal caves is a well-known phenomenon. This is explicitly documented both by SAD-AFAG and the Middle East Technical University – Institute of Marine Sciences (METU-IMS) in their several field studies. I would like to make a friendly advice who tackle around seal caves on purpose or unconcious; although written in the laws not to penetrate into monk seal caves, we -as divers and swimmers- should respect more to be kept away from such caves based on the universal values and act in accordance with scienctific findings rather than legislation. We really need to leave the real owners of seas, monk seals, alone in their “bedrooms” as their last refuge.

I wish a clean and healthy Mediterranean ecosystem.

With my best regards.

Cem O. Kıraç

Editor’s Note