The island of Gyaros, in the Northern Cyclades island complex at the Aegean Sea of Greece, hosts a rare colony of the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seals and a number of unique marine habitats and species. It is an area that local fishermen consider as appropriate for the creation of a marine protected area (MPA). Gyaros serves as a laboratory for the design, establishment and management of a new MPA. Through the implementation of ecosystem based management, maritime spatial planning and participatory methods, it is intended to promote the development of adjacent communities, support sustainable fisheries and conserve biodiversity. During all stages of the MPA’s development, all of the key stakeholders (especially local) will be involved.
A participatory co-management will be established to drive the process, resolve conflicts and decide on trade-offs towards balancing nature conservation and local development. The inspiring CYCLADES LIFE “Integrated Monk Seal Conservation of Northern Cyclades” project seeks to integrate elements that are considered essential for a successful MPA. It strives to set an example for protecting vulnerable Mediterranean marine biodiversity and ensuring the sustainability of local community livelihoods.
Despite its relative small size, the Mediterranean Sea is characterized by rich and unique marine biodiversity. At the same time, it is a densely populated basin with intense human uses such as maritime traffic, uncontrolled coastal development, and tourism. These pressures threaten the region's natural richness. Despite regional and national conservation efforts, only a small portion of the Mediterranean Sea's total surface area is currently under protection. Functioning MPAs cover less than 2 percent of its area. To date, conservation efforts, and MPAs design and establishment, have been fragmented and mainly include single-species approaches. Conflicts between human use and nature protection have not been properly addressed nor resolved, especially at the national and local level. Political volatility in the region and the recent financial crisis have not allowed the achievement of long-term sustainability of conservation efforts, especially the effective management of MPA. There is a need to develop model cases and form a network of coastal and marine areas, where communities generate innovative solutions for conserving the Mediterranean biodiversity and promoting sustainable local economies.
The key elements of the CYCLADES LIFE initiative are: ( ) The establishment of a participatory co-management scheme with proper MPA management mandates. (2) The development of an EBM and MSP process that includes the participation of all key stakeholders. ( ) The establishment and operation of a guarding system, based on state-of-the-art technology, such as radar, high definition cameras and drone, that can be operational and sustainable in the long-term. (4) The establishment of sustainable fishing practices in the area to support local fisheries. (5) The promotion of sustainable tourism practices. (6) The development and implementation of a wide in scope, but feasible, monitoring plan that covers key elements of the area's natural and human environment. The project CYCLADES LIFE “Integrated Monk Seal Conservation in the Northern Cyclades” is implemented by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Greece, the coordinating beneficiary, and the Ministry of the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, the Decentralized Administration of the Aegean, the Development Corporation of Local Authorities of Cyclades SA, Harokopio University, MOM/ Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Mediterranean Monk Seal, and Tethys Research Institute. CYCLADES LIFE is supported and co-financed by the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union and the Prince Albert ΙΙ of Monaco Foundation. The project duration is July 2013-June 2017.
This new, four-year initiative is in the first year of operation. Therefore, it is still premature to draw conclusions in terms of key lessons learned.
It is still too early to be able to measure specific impacts or to deliver specific outcomes. However, a monitoring scheme has been designed and is being implemented. It is designed to assess the results of this initiative and its impact on the natural environment and on the local livelihoods.