Cap Blanc

Valuable places of refuge

© Pablo Fernández de Larrinoa/CBD-Habitat
Protection measures are showing results: The prospects for Monk seals are beginning to look up as numbers increase. © Pablo Fernández de Larrinoa/CBD-Habitat

Cap Blanc, with its stormy seas and steep cliffs, is a peninsula on the Mauritanian Atlantic coast. It is here that the largest colony of Mediterranean monk seals is to be found. Not that the storm-battered cliffs of Cap Blanc offer an ideal habitat for the seals but the caves which the ocean has hollowed out of the rocks are hard for people to reach and are used by the seals as valuable places of refuge.

Positive developments and fresh dangers

EuroNatur has been supporting the protection of this monk seal colony since the end of the nineteen-nineties. Experienced seal protectors from the Spanish EuroNatur partner CBD-Hábitat maintain a constant presence at Cap Blanc. It is thanks to their efforts, combined with the readiness on the part of local fishermen to refrain from fishing in the area of the monk seal caves that the population of monk seals is now continuously increasing. Despite this welcome development the long-term survival of the monk seal colony is still far from being secured. One threat which has been growing in the last few years is the illegal industrial fishing near the protected area. Not only do the trawlers cream off the seals' natural source of food, the seals are also in great danger of being caught in the fishing nets and drowning.

How does EuroNatur support its project partner in protecting the monk seals at Cap Blanc?

  • Keeping a watch on the monk seals: Daily checks on the cliffs and video surveillance of the caves, where the monk seals have settled, help to make it possible to save animals in distress.
  • Extending our knowledge: With the aid of camera traps the behaviour of the monk seals is followed and examined to find out more about the ecology of these animals.
  • Expanding their habitat: In building an observation station to the north of monk seal protection area the seals can now be offered better protection from the activities of illegal fishers and other sources of disturbance along this stretch of the coast.
  • Creating perspectives: Measures for the further training of fisherman and aid in building of local infrastructure produce an improvement in working and living conditions for the local population and create a readiness in them to accept the protection project.
  • Building trust: Together with our partner CBD Hábitat we are working on explaining the aims of the project to increase this acceptance on the part of the local population.

What we have so far been able to achieve- a selection of important successes:

  • In the last few years together with our partner CBD Hábitat we have managed to create conditions in which the numbers of these shy marine mammals have slowly begun to grow again.
  • In 2001 a protection area was designated for the monk seals. The area comprises six kilometres of rocky cliffs around the caves and a one-kilometre-broad stretch of the adjoining ocean.
  • In October 2009 a monk seal pup was born directly on the open beach outside the safety of a cave. The last record of such an event was in the 15th century.
  • The monk seals are gradually losing their fear and are no longer hiding away in the caves but can be found in larger groups on the beach resting and nursing their pups.
  • In the meantime the local fishermen have accepted the protection area and there are fewer and fewer instances of violation of the conservation rules.

Partners: CBD Habitat and OceanCare

Sponsoring: EuroNatur donors and sponsors, OceanCare, Mava Foundation

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Mysterious and threatened: the Mediterranean monk seal is among the rarest of mammals in Europe. We want to secure the last surviving population of these endearing sea mammals.

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