The Mediterranean monk seal was abundant in Madeira in the 15th century according to the accounts of the first Europeans to land on its coasts. Unfortunately it was persecuted for its fat and skin and almost disappeared entirely. By the middle of the 20th century, as a result of fishing pressure also, monk seals remained only in remote and inaccessible parts of the archipelago. In the 1980s, it was estimated that only 6-8 individuals remained in the Desertas Islands. Such paltry numbers did not augur well, but in 1988 the Madeira Natural Park Service began a programme to recover this population, leading to the creation of the Desertas Islands Nature Reserve in 1990, as well as the substitution of non-selective fishing techniques, which slowed the decline and prevented imminent extinction. Since then the programme has been maintained and numbers have gradually increased, up to the current estimate of 30-40 individuals.
Accordingly, in recent years the Madeira Natural Park Service has recorded an increasing number of sightings on the island of Madeira of animals coming from the Desertas Islands. This recolonization is creating a clear change in the conservation status of the species, since there is increased contact with human activities like fishing, scuba diving, cetacean watching, etc. It is, therefore, necessary to redefine strategies to reduce these threats, improve protection of the monk seal and its habitat, and implement a conservation status surveillance system in the archipelago for both, allowing future updates and monitoring. These are the foundations and objectives of this project.