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Monk seal statue marks Rock’s nature heritage

Monk Seal & Pup Statue Unveiled 2017 ( Photo John Bugeja) 20-09-17 Minister for Heritage, Climate Change & Environment Prof. Hon John Cortes unveil special statue at the 2nd Europa Advance Battery

Environment Minister Dr John Cortes unveiled a statue of a monk seal mother and pup at the 2nd Europa Advance Battery yesterday, marking Gibraltar’s nature heritage ahead of this year’s Calpe Conference which starts today.

The location, soon to become the Viewing Platform for the Gorham’s Cave Complex World Heritage Site, was specially selected as it overlooks a site known to have been occupied historically by this now-rare Mediterranean marine mammal.

The unveiling is part of an awareness campaign which is being promoted by the Italian Gruppo Foca Monaca-Onlus.

The group was initiated following the international alarm for the risk of extinction of the Mediterranean Monk Seal.

This is the only seal species that lives in the Mediterranean and it is classified as the most threatened mammal in Europe and one of the rarest in the world.

From about 300 individuals left in the 1970’s, the number is now believed to reach about 700 individuals.

After the installation of similar sculptures on the island of Marettimo in Italy, and on the island Vis in Croatia, two new sculptures are being installed now, one on the Greek island of Othoni, and the one in Gibraltar, in collaboration with the Gibraltar Museum.

The aim of this initiative is to establish relationships of friendship between the various small Mediterranean communities that are united by an ‘unusual destiny’, having hosted in the past - and in some cases even today - the very rare seal.

The idea of spreading small statues to local coastal communities of the Mediterranean where the presence of the Monk Seal was well-documented in the past, was presented by Marco De Salvo, and supported by the Gruppo Foca Monaca.

The first statue was placed in Marettimo. Made of natural basaltic stone, by the Tarquinian artist Guilio Cosini Bagada, it is now housed in the main harbour square in the small island off the west coast of Sicily.

The statue to be unveiled in Gibraltar, of an adult seal kissing and protecting her pup, is a symbolic image also reproduced by Guilio Cosini Bagada sculpting the rock.

The sculpture was supervised by Emanuele Coppola, a wild-life film maker, and head of the Gruppo Foca Monaca.

Mr Coppola was present at the ceremony along with Count Louis Vitetti Martini who has sponsored the statues.

The unveiling will be part of a series of events this week, which includes a symposium on species reintroductions and tracking followed by the Calpe Conference on re-wilding, events organised by the Gibraltar Museum, and supported by the Ministry for Heritage, Environment and Climate Change.

Commenting ahead of the unveiling, Dr Cortes expressed his delight at the opportunity of having the sculpture in Gibraltar.
Being one of only four locations in the Mediterranean it highlights once again Gibraltar’s prominent role in the field of nature conservation and its place within the Mediterranean community, he said.

The Calpe Conference was launched yesterday with a pre-conference symposium held at the University of Gibraltar.

The symposium saw a variety of speakers both local and from abroad ranging from Spanish journalist Benigno Varillas to Curator of the Gibraltar Museum Clive Finlayson.

The Calpe Conference focuses on natural history and nature conservation.

The Minister for Environment, Dr John Cortes, will officially open the conference today but gave a taster of his talk at yesterday’s symposium.

Dr Cortes discussed the reintroduction of species in Gibraltar’s nature with an emphasis on the barbary partridges and how the birds are surviving on the Rock.

He spoke about species that once lived on the Rock or are now scarce such as the eagle, owl and raven.

“In the same way that nobody would get rid of the emblematic barbary macaque, the barbary partridge has become a feature and seems to be very well adapted for Gibraltar,” Dr Cortes said.

“The numbers decreased for a number of reasons such as the succession of vegetation. As the vegetation, construction, feral cats and the populations of the gulls increased the population of barbary partridges decreased to very few pairs.”

He highlighted this as a good example of the reintroduction of a species to the Upper Rock.

Dr Cortes showed slideshow of photos of wildlife on the Rock and discussed how the reconstruction of Sandy Bay recreated a “rich area of reef” that is bringing back species that were once lost from Gibraltar.

The idea of reintroducing reptiles to the eastern side of the Rock is something Dr Cortes is looking into. The reptile’s, predominantly small lizards, used to live on the isthmus and Dr Cortes is considering whether to reintroduce the species.
The conference officially starts today with professionals from the UK, Sweden, France and Denmark will be sharing their knowledge on natural predators and conservation.

The conference will continue both tomorrow and Saturday where a further nine speakers will lecture an audience.

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