LIFE Project Cover Photo

CYCLADES "Integrated monk seal conservation in Northern Cyclades"

Reference: LIFE12 NAT/GR/000688 | Acronym: CYCLADES Life



Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is a priority species for conservation, listed in the Annex II of the Habitats Directive. It is also designated as a “critically endangered” species under the IUCN Red List; and is included in Annex III of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive – as a key indicator of the status of the marine environment. One of the rarest seal species globally, it has an overall negative population trend. There are around 170 Mediterranean monk seals in the Greek seas, the largest population of the species in the Mediterranean. Regular monitoring since 2004 has revealed that the Natura 2000 network site, ‘Nisos Gyaros Kai Thalassia Zoni’, which includes the island of Gyaros and a surrounding marine area hosts one of the most important breeding nuclei of the species, with an observed pupping rate of some seven births per year. Moreover, the ‘original’ behaviour of the species – which has been observed occupying open beaches for resting and reproducing – indicates both the existence of a large breeding colony in the area and excellent seal habitat. Gyaros is estimated to have a Mediterranean monk seal population of approximately 70 individuals, excluding pups. However, the particularly confined area of the island, the few coastal caves and beaches suitable for rearing pups, and the island’s proximity to areas of intense human activities (fisheries, shipping, tourism, etc.) are significant risk factors that point to a critical need to protect the site.


The CYCLADES Life project aimed to establish a unique protected area on the island of Gyaros and its adjacent marine area. This effort will be based on the Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) approach, encouraging the active involvement of local stakeholders from the adjacent islands of Andros and Syros. Specific objectives included: the conservation of the local Mediterranean monk seal population; the protection/improvement of the conservation status of the species’ habitat, in particular of Posidonia beds, reefs and partially submerged marine caves; and a positive change in local stakeholders’ conceptions, attitudes, and conduct towards the marine environment of their area.


CYCLADES Life led to the designated and established of a Wildlife Refuge in the marine area around the island of Gyaros. This new Marine Protected Area was established based on the Ecosystem Based Management approach. The project improved habitats, and greatly increased the knowledge of seals, birds and plants in the Natura 2000 site Nisos Gyaros Kai Thalassia Zoni, which includes the island of Gyaros and a surrounding marine area.

The project team systematically monitored the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) population in Gyaros. They improved the seals habitat through clean-up campaigns of the beaches, sea caves and sea bottom, removing debris that is potentially hazardous for the seal and other species. This included removing ghost fishing gear, especially from Posidonia (seagrass) beds. Project actions led to improvements in the conservation status of Mediterranean monk seal, Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), and Posidonia bed and reef habitats.

The project team purchased and installed radar equipment and a high definition camera on Gyaros to monitor vessel traffic and support the surveillance against illegal fishing. Monitoring was greatly improved through the establishment of the radar on the Gyaros mountaintop, as well as by the project team's patrols. They also purchased a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and training personnel to operate it remotely.

A good knowledge base was established, for the first time, for Gyaros' terrestrial and marine environment (species and habitats). The project team discovered, for the first time, a large Yelkouan shearwater colony on Gyaros. The project team also installed and tested artificial dens for enhancing the octopus population, with encouraging preliminary results. The project team reviewed the relevant literature, and produced technical reports on marinehabitats, fisheries, and the status of birds, and the flora and fauna, of Gyros. They produced a Special Environmental Study (SES) for the formal designation of the Natura 2000 site of Gyaros as a Marine Protected Area. The SES was submitted for formal adoption to the Greek Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change (HMEECC).

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with the Coast Guard for the establishment of collaboration for the full and continued implementation of the guarding system. A key part of the projects success was the establishment of a good relationships with the competent authorities and relevant stakeholders. This included the establishment of a Consortium of Stakeholders to ensure the long-term sustainability of project actions.

The project team successfully demonstrated a good example of the Ecosystem Based Management and Spatial Planning approach. This provides a model that could be replicated and adapted for other areas.

The project contributes to the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, by targeting improvements in the conservation status of species and habitats listed in their annexes. It is also of high relevance for the EU Biodiversity Strategy, as well as for the Common Fisheries Policy, the Marine Framework Strategy Directive, and national Greek policy concerning protected marine areas.

An extensive socio-economic survey was also conducted on the nearby islands of Syros and Andros. This was accompanied by the organisation of seminars for local stakeholders in Syros and Andros, along with a wider environmental education campaign. Socio-economic benefits include enhanced potential for sustainable ecotourism activities with the involvement of local people, improved fishing yields, and improved and protected natural habitats for future generations.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Reference: LIFE12 NAT/GR/000688
Acronym: CYCLADES Life
Start Date: 01/07/2013
End Date: 31/03/2018
Total Budget: 2,237,346 €
EU Contribution: 1,677,977 €
Project Location:


Legal Status: PNC
Address: Lembessi 21, 11743, Athens, Ellas
Contact Person: Constantinos Liarikos
Tel: 302103311987

LIFE Project Map



  • Mammals


  • environmental education
  • marine ecosystem
  • protected area
  • endangered species


  • Directive 2008/56 - Framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (17.06.2008)
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directive (21.05.1992)
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020” (03.05.2011)


  • 1120 - Posidonia beds (Posidonion oceanicae)
  • 1170 - Reefs
  • 8330 - Submerged or partially submerged sea caves


  • Monachus monachus


Type Code Name


Name Type
Decentralised Administration Authority of Aegean, Greece Participant
Development Corporation of Local Authorities of Cyclades S.A., Greece Participant
Istituto Tethys ONLUS, Italy Participant
Harokopio University, Greece Participant
MOm/Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal, Greece Participant
Ministry For The Environment Energy & Climate Change, Greece Participant


Type Resource
Project web site Project's website
Publication Layman report
Publication After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Video link "Video presentation of project actions for open public event in Syros June 2015" (10'06) -
Video link Cyclades LIFE: Integrated management & sustainable development: Surveillance System Installation on Giaros island, CYCLADES LIFE Project [EL-EN - 5'26] -