15 Years ago, the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation began to battle for the defense of the rare wildlife of the Greek seas and islands. Among the many rare animals that have been monitored and studied, since last March one stands out: a young monk seal exhibiting unusual behavior. While monk seals normally prefer caves and inaccessible coasts lines as resting sites, Argiro, as local fishermen refer to this unusual seal, prefers residential areas and crowded beaches on the Greek island of Samos.
To protect one of only 450 remaining monk seals worldwide, at first the Archipelagos team tried to deter media attention to Argiro and to minimize human disturbance. The Archipelagos prevented both Greek and foreign media for months. However, Argiro had other plans, and has chosen to claim a place on some of the most bustling and touristy beaches on the island (even though close by there are numerous secluded beaches and caves). Given Argiros’ unique personality and popularity, she has become a powerful symbol to communicate the need to conserve this species. However, the Archipelagos team continues the effort to minimize human disturbance to Argiro, and hopes that the seal will find her way back to her natural habitat in the future.
The efforts to minimize human contact have been carried out through a close collaboration with a wide network of volunteers from the local community made up of fishermen, farmers, tourism professionals, students and teachers, as well as valuable assistance from the local port authorities. This wide network has allowed for over 1600 hours of monitoring of the seal’s behavior over the course of the past five months.
The Archipelagos team is working to facilitate the coexistence between this popular seal and the businesses and tourists located on the same beaches. There is a need to concurrently respect the right of the seal to select a beach to inhabit and the right of business owners and tourists to utilize the same space.
Because sunbathers and business owners alike undoubtedly notice that a seal is sunbathing among them, it was impossible to keep the seal out of the spotlight. The Archipelagos and the volunteers that have been working to protect the seal are hopeful that the majority of her fans aid in the seal’s protection and respect the rarity of the species. Ultimately, we all hope that she will soon return to her natural ecosystem.
In Archipelagos we will do everything to ensure the protection of Argiro. This seal has served as an excellent ambassador of its kind and reminds us that, as in ancient Greece, all wildlife, especially seals and dolphins can coexist in harmony with people.