The National Marine Park of Alonissos
The National Marine Park of Alonissos is the first to be founded in Greece. It is located in Eastern Central Greece, in the region of the North Sporades Islands. The Sporades administratively belong to the district of Skopelos in the Prefecture of Magnesia. Alonissos is the largest island in the Park. The highest level of local government within the Park is the County Council of Alonissos. The Park also encompasses six smaller islands (Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Skantzoura, and Piperi) and 22 uninhabited islands and rocky outcrops.
FOUNDED: By Presidential Decree G.G. 519/92 on 28/5/92
Brief Description of Zone A
AREA: Zone A (strict protection): 1587 Km² – Zone B (protected area): 678 Km²
COMMUNITIES: Restricted to Zone B. The largest of these are Patitiri, Palia Alonissos, Votsi and Steni Vala
GEOLOGY: Limestone rock dominated the area. Its main characteristics are the steep rocky slopes which run down to the sea and the caves, which are an important part of the habitat of the monk seal. Different types of soil are encountered.
CLIMATE: Mediterranean, with a wet winter and dry summer. The average annual temperature is 17º C and the average rainfall is about 515mm
SPECIAL CONDITIONS: The geographic isolation of the area, its morphology, the limited degree of human interference and the excellent condition of the natural environment make the land and sea areas of the Park an ideal habitat for many threatened species of plants and animals.
PERMITTED ACTIVITIES: In areas where approaching is permitted, swimming, observation of the sea bed, amateur photography and filming are allowed. There are specific restrictions on amateur fishing. Hunting is strictly forbidden in the entire Zone A except for the island of Gioura, where it is allowed only if special permission is granted. Approach to certain islands in the zone requires special permission from the responsible authority.
KYRA PANAGIA: The ancient island of Alonissos which is also referred to in the later years as Pelagos or Pelagonisi, is the first island to be met in the northern part of the Park. It is hilly, with a rounded relief and has two deep bays, Agios Petros (St. Peter) to the south and Planitis to the north, which are safe natural havens. The island is mainly covered by dense macchia vegetation. The interior of the island consists of areas covered by holly (Quercus coccifera), small open areas, rocks and hilltops with a view of the surrounding country. In the east of the island is a recently repaired post-Byzantine Monastery dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin Mary.
GIOURA: Proceeding northeast, the next island one meets is Gioura. Its relief is striking and bold and its precipitous, rocky shores awe-inspiring. Phrygana dominate the island, which also has areas covered by holly. The “cave of Kyklopa” in the interior is of particular beauty. The rich avifauna consists of 31 species and several mating pairs of birds of prey. A species of wild goat (Capra aegagrus) is also found on Gioura. Many believe that this is endemic to the island. The main reason for the declaration of the island as a Scientific Research Refuge and the special regulations which apply to it is the protection of the above species and of the caves which are part of the habitat of the monk seal.
PSATHOURA: This is the north-easternmost point in the Park and its landscape is completely different. It is a small, flat island of volcanic origin and may be visited freely. All the activities referred to above (swimming, observation, filming etc.) are allowed. Clusters of lentisc and areas covered with heather make up the barren landscape. It is worth noting that plant species not found in the rest of the Park may be seen here, e.g. the sea lily (Pancratium maritimum), the Hemlock and the brooms (Imula viscosa). In the south, the white sands of Mandraki contrast the black rocks of andesite. In the east, the visitor can make out what is considered as the remains of an ancient, sunken city. In the north, the large lighthouse built in the last century by French engineers, signals to the international shipping routes of the North Aegean.
PIPERI: The island of Piperi is the core of the Park and is strictly protected. Its approach by any vessel without special permission is forbidden. The aim of the restrictions is the protection of the most important part of the habitat of the monk seal in the Park, and also of the birds of prey which live and reproduce on the inaccessible rocks of the island, which are also home to some rare plant species. Piperi has precipitous, rocky shores and its vegetation is dominated by pine forests, although there are also some holly, frygana and chasmophytes to be found on the cliffs. There are 33 species of birds and it is estimated that the island is home to about 350 – 400 pairs of Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae).
SKANTZOURA: Skantzoura is a flat island with an even relief. The series of low hills end on shores of white marble. It is covered by macchia vegetation and frygana, and there is a forest of low cedars (Juniperus sp.) Skantzoura and the nearby rocky outcrops of Strongilo and Polemika constitute an important habitat for Audouin’s Gull and Eleonora’s falcon. It has been a monastic centre in the past. The monastery located in the centre of the island, is closed nowadays.
Brief Description of Zone B
PERMITTED ACTIVITIES: The entire area of ZONE B is open to visits and there are no specific restrictions, with the exception of free camping and the lighting of fires. Swimming and walking are amongst the simplest and most interesting ways of coming in contact with the natural environment. In addition, amateur fishing is allowed according to the rules laid down in the Fisheries Code.
ALONISSOS: Is the only inhabitated island of the Park. The usual entrance to the Park is that used by the shipping lines bringing visitors to Patitiri, the largest community on the island. Patitiri with a population of about 2000 inhabitants today, used to be a harbour for the mountain village of Alonnisos (today Palia(Old) Alonnisos), where the existing wine presses for the production of grape juice and wine, gave it its name “Patitiri” which means wine press. The population of Alonissos moved to Patitiri after an earthquake in 1965 which made most of their houses uninhabitable. Patitiri is the administrative centre of the island and all public services are based there. The village of Roussoum Gialos and Votsi lie north of the harbour. Organized boat trips from Patitiri take visitors to neighbouring beaches as Milia, Chrisi Milia, Kokkinokastro, Lefto Gialos, Megalo & Mikro Mourtia, Agios Dimitrios etc. and on day trips to permitted islands in Zone A.
There is an asphalt road network mainly in the south of the island. Leaving Patitiri in a westward direction, the road leads up to Palia Alonissos. There is also a footpath for those wishing to walk (20 minutes from the harbour). The scenery here is completely different with narrow roads, narrow paved streets and stone houses in a fortified arrangement for protection against raiders, mostly pirates. The dwellings on the edge of the village have fortified walls and small windows on the outward facing side, doubling as a perimeter wall. There is a striking view of narrow rocky caves and the open sea on all sides. Unfortunately, earthquake damage is evident, although restoration work has begun lately, especially by private owners of the houses. Sections of the old fortifications, well-preserved threshing floors and several churches complete the picture. Towards the north east part of the island lays Steni Vala. The small natural harbour is a refuge for fishing vessels and pleasure craft. With its picturesque view of the surrounding hills and the island of Peristera and abundant fresh fish – as was once the case in all of Alonissos - it is an attractive summer seaside holiday area, with accommodation available in the village. The Rescue Centre, run by Mom-HSSPMS, which cares for wounded and orphaned seals and reintroduces them into the wild, is to be found here. The bond between mother and young, as for all mammals, is vital for the survival of the pups. Often, mainly due to bad weather conditions, pups are separated from their mothers. In such cases, they may be saved by human intervention.
After Steni Vala, newly constructed asphalt road continues north, ending at Geraka Bay and the Biological Station of the Park. During the drive, the view of the neighbouring islands of Peristera and Dio Adelphia is spectacular. In good weather conditions the islands in ZONE A are visible. The northern part of Alonnisos is inhabited only by a few shepherds. Continuing northwards, the macchia vegetation becomes progressively sparser. To the sides of the road, farmers’ dwellings may be seen, some with old oil mills – remains of a forgone way of life. Reaching the area called Diaselo, the large white building of the Biological Station in the distance, indicates the end of the route. The purpose of the creation of the Biological Station is to support scientific activities related to the study of the monk seal and in general, the ecosystem within the Park and acts as a centre for scientific meetings. In the future, it may be also be used as an exhibition and public information centre. The station is equipped to host at least 12 scientists and has a laboratory, freezer for preserving samples and a conference room. A resident keeper with his wife is employed to take care of and maintain the building.
PERISTERA: This is a flat, uninhabited island covered with macchia vegetation. Of particular importance is the ancient wreck discovered off its coast by recent underwater archaeological investigations. The Sporades islands are situated on an important ancient sea route, as it is shown in archaeological findings in the area. The exploration, display and preservation of these findings by the Archaeological Service, in cooperation with other component authorities, are of great importance and one of the aims of the Park’s establishment. Visitors should take the necessary precautions to avoid causing any damage or even loss of such objects through thoughtless actions (eg. through anchoring of vessels) in the areas where wrecks may be found.
Monk Seal - Monachus Monachus
The seal Monachus Monachus or Mediterranean monk seal is a marine mammal which belongs to the seal family. It is represented on ancient Greek coins and passages in Homer describe it basking in the sun on sandy beaches. Today, its habitat is restricted to small uninhabited islands, inaccessible rocky shores and caves. It is one of the largest seal species in the world, with a length of 2-3 metres and an average weight of 250 kg. Its skin is covered by glossy fur which is most commonly grey or brown on the back and a lighter colour underneath it. Newborn pups are about a metre long and weight 15-20 Kg. They have a coat of long, black, wool-like fur with a white spot in the umbilical region. The reproductive period is mainly between the months of May and November. Since the reproductive cycle lasts 12 months (11 months gestation and 6-8 weeks lactation) and the female bares only one pup, usually not every year, the rate of reproduction is particularly slow. The monk sealfeeds on a variety of fish, octopus, squid etc. It requires about 5% of its weight in food daily and may travel large distances to find it. It is an animal of considerable intelligence, curiosity and adaptability. In the past, it has been hunted intensively for its fat and skin. Today, it is often considered to be a natural competitor for fishermen and sometimes does damage their nets to “steal” food. Fish stocks are diminishing continually due to intensive over fishing by tratas and “gri-gri” boats, as well as other legal and illegal practices. This competition for the available food resources is the main reason for seals being killed from time to time in Greece, despite the barbarity of the practice, though the frequency of such deaths fortunately appears to be decreasing. It is noteworthy that in the area of the NMPANS no such incident has been reported during the past few years. Pup mortality is high because the pups are born in areas where human intrusion into their habitat is intensive. Apart from over fishing, pollution and decreased reproductive success due to restricted renewal of genetic material, are also threats which have brought the monk seal to the top of the list of endangered marine mammals in the European Union. It is estimated that only a few hundred individuals remain (about 500) scattered over the whole of the Mediterranean and on the shores of the North Atlantic. Today the largest population of seals in the Mediterranean is found in Greece, spread out over the whole of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, while it is significant that the species has essentially disappeared from the industrialized Western Mediterranean. The above makes it easy to appreciate the importance of the Park in protecting the seals. Because its morphology and position, the Park is an ideal habitat, rich in food. The active participation of the region’s fishermen and the fishing Cooperative of Alonnisos in the protection effort is significant, and has largely contributed to the elimination of the deliberate killing of seals in the area of the Park. Because of its high position in the ecological pyramid the monk seal may be considered as an indicator of the health of the marine environment and is certainly a symbol. Its extinction could be interpreted as foreboding the imminent destruction of the marine ecosystem. The need for protection is imperative if coming generations are to have the joy of meeting it in our seas.
The islands are covered in Mediterranean coniferous forest and macchia vegetation such as the strawberry tree, the lentisc, the phillyrea, the heather, the rhamnus, the kermes oak, often in a form of treelike shrubs, and evergreen trees such as the maple, the wild olive, the phoenician juniper, and the rare tree Amelanchier chelmea. Phrygana is also common and consists of many species. Of particular interest are the chamofytes with several endemic species such as Campanula reiseri, Linum gyranium, Arenaria phitosiana, campanula rechingeri etc. Underwater sea-grass beds of the seaweed Poseidonia, which is particularly important for the development of other organisms and the retention and cycling of suspended particles and various substances in the marine environment, are widely spread and in excellent condition.
The area of the Park is an important habitat for many species of fish (about 300), birds (up to 80 species), reptiles and also mammals. The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus-Monachus), the red corral (Coralium rubrum), Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae), Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii), Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), and the wild goat of Gioura (Capra aegagrus), are few of the most characteristic rare species to be found. Some of the birds to be seen are the eagle Hieraetus fasciatus, the cormorant (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and the white gull (Larus cacchinans), and, nesting among the rocks, the Apus capus and Apus melba, the Rock Nuthatch (Sitta neumayer), etc. The existing flora also favours the presence of species of the family Sylvidae, eg. the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) and the Blackcap (Silvia articapilla). Underwater fauna is also varied, with many benthic and fish species. Various species of dolphins and some whale species are the common dolphin (Delphinus Delphis), the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), the long-finned pilot whale (Gllobicephala melaera), and the whale Physter catodon The richness and variety of wildlife and beautiful scenery justly characterize the Park as an area of great aesthetic and biological value and demand that it be protected and respected by as all.
SEABIRDS OF THE NMPANS THREATENED WITH EXTINCTION
Audouin’s Gull (Larus audouinii)This is one of the endangered species of sea birds. It nests in colonies on small, uninhabited, flat and usually rocky islands. It is a non-migratory species, although it moves about considerably. It feeds mainly on fish and less often on invertebrates, small birds and plant matter. Its worldwide distribution is limited. It nests only in the Mediterranean, mainly in its western part but also in the Aegean. Its total population reaches 8000 pairs and it is estimated that Greece hosts about 40 pairs, with 90% of these nesting in the Park. The population in the whole of the eastern Mediterranean reaches 120-150 pairs The main threat to the survival of the species is its disturbance by man, but competition with the white gull is also important.
Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) This species lives exclusively in sea areas, nesting in small colonies, mainly on rock uninhabited islands with cliffs. It lives on fish. Its total population is estimated to be about 200 pairs and its most important habitats in the Aegean are the Park area and the Dodecanese.
Even today, it is one of the birds in Greece about which little is known both as far as its distribution and ecology are concerned.
Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae) This species nests in colonies consisting of anywhere between a few members up to more than 200 pairs, and are found rocky islands with cliffs. Its diet consists mainly of insects and small migratory birds. It is found on islands on the Mediterranean. Its most important colonies are found in Greece, which hosts 2/3 of its world population. There is a lot of controversy about the size of the population. An average estimation is 4500 pairs. The Park is one of its important habitats.