In the field

The work which we perform in the field, on the Cap Blanc Peninsula, is our main task. There we are essentially occupied with the surveillance work and maintenance of the Seal Coast Reserve, as well as tracking the monk seal population.

  1. Creation, surveillance and maintenance of the reserve

    Our primary objective since we began to work on the Cap Blanc Peninsula in the year 2000 has always been to
    protect the breeding caves. To do so, along with our local partners we created the Seal Coast Reserve, which is home
    to the breeding caves and their immediately surrounding areas, preventing disturbances and the placement of fishing nets in the area. To delimit
    the reserve and make it visible to everyone, information panels and red banners were put
    in place on the sea cliffs which could easily be seen from both land and sea.


    Once the reserve was created, it required surveillance, which is
    why we have conservation agents who constantly watch over the reserve 365 days a year.

    Marine surveillance

    Our constant presence allows fishermen
    lto see that the area is under
    constant surveillance, which dissuades
    them from going there to fish. If any
    nets are detected, they are removed
    and delivered to the local authorities.


    On-land surveillance

    Surveillance on the coast has eliminated the
    human disturbances in the seal’s resting and
    breeding areas, allowing for the recovery of
    open-air beaches and other areas abandoned in the past.
    Moreover, we clean all of the garbage
    which the ocean washes up onto the
    beaches once per month.

  2. Identification and Tracking of Monk Seals

    We perform individualized tracking of all of the individuals in the Cap Blanc population.
    The photo-identification catalogue of the adult and early adult portion of the population currently contains 70 early adults,
    97 adult females and 75 adult males. This amounts to a total of 242 identified individuals, a figure which does not even take into account the youngest part of the population. Therefore, the total population is estimated to be made up of approximately 330 individuals.

    We use different techniques to track the population:

    • Photo-identification: This consists of monthly photo sessions of the colony’s individuals taken by our experts.
    • Video surveillance: Similarly, we have installed surveillance cameras inside of the breeding caves, which helps us detect everything that happens in them.
    • Photo-trapping: This is a system which is put in place on the cave walls that are most difficult to access; it takes photographs automatically.
    • GPS: Tracking via satellite is essential to expanding our knowledge about the seals and the threats to them once they go out to sea: their movements, their feeding areas, whether they use other coastal areas inaccessible to us, sites where there may be more caves, etc.

At our office

A large part of the work we do in the office involves performing detailed analyses of all the data which we obtain in the field: data from the photo-identification sessions, the video recordings, photo-trapping and tagging via satellite, producing the individual animal identification catalogue, building the demographic observatory of the population, etc. Moreover, we play another important role: that of designing and developing the materials and methodologies which allow us to perform better tracking of the Cap Blanc population. In recent years, we have developed two innovative techniques which are providing us with new and valuable information:
  • Non-invasive GPS:
    The International Action Plan establishes that the species tracking methods must not be invasive. In other locations, the seals are normally captured, immobilized and sedated in order to be able to attach the satellite transmitters onto their fur. In our case, we would cause great disturbances to the seals if we performed such an operation. Therefore, in 2007, CBD-Habitat’s technicians began developing a new way to put GPS receivers onto the seals which, while minimizing disturbances, allows us to obtain the information we need. It is a complex bracelet that is 100% handmade. It is placed onto the seals’ ankles while they sleep in order to track the locations of their movements once they swim out to sea.
  • Photo-trapping with an automatic cleaning system:
    Photo-trapping consists of putting a photographic camera in place that takes images in a discreet and autonomous manner. This system is especially useful to us, because the seals’ tendency to take refuge in caves make it difficult to track them on a routine basis. The problem is that between the moisture, the sea spray from the waves and the sand from the desert, the lenses of the first cameras we put in place were completely covered up within one day. To solve this, we designed an automatic cleaning system that keeps the lenses clean at all times, while allowing us to take photographs of the caves for periods of more than six months, without any sort of maintenance or intervention.
Colocación Pulseras al MN 2152 y 2180-C1-09-01-13 (10)

In society

Another of our most important tasks within the framework of the Action Plan is to carry out activities to support the local population in the Cap Blanc area, mainly in the nearest city, Nouadhibou. The goal is to improve the living and working conditions of the artisanal fishermen, and to inform and increase awareness amongst the school community. To achieve these goals, we carry out the following activities:

The creation of the first interpretive center for a protected area in West Africa:

an educational center where people in the area can learn what a monk seal is, become more aware of the grave danger of extinction which the seals face and learn how they can help contribute to their conservation.

Centro de interpretación
Environmental education:

The goal is to inform and increase awareness among the population, especially schoolchildren who reside in the monk seal colony’s surrounding area, to create a framework of coexistence with them for the future.

Training and sensitization courses, and providing safety equipment to improve working conditions in the fishing industry:

Fishermen are key role-players in the work towards monk seal conservation, and it is essential that they be provided with the information and equipment they need to help out with this task.


The future

Of course, in terms of the future, our fundamental work and greatest motivation is to keep on working
to continue the monk seal population’s recovery in Cap Blanc. To this end, we are evaluating the possibility
of expanding the reserve to improve the conditions for its protection. Likewise, we are concerned about knowing what way
the colony’s expansion is headed, as it gradually recovers. Therefore, we have carried out somewhat
more than 150 km of explorations along the coastline bordering with the reserve, and we have identified 29 caves
that could potentially be used by the seals.