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Alonissos island news and views

Alonissos is a small, picturesque Greek beach holiday island located in the Sporades chain near the popular holiday island of Skiathos. It enjoys special 'eco' status as the centre of a marine park and this Greek holiday island offers laid back, relaxing Greek island holidays for fans of unspoilt beaches and woodland walks. The port of Patitiri is the main holiday centre with a scattering of pebble beaches around the coast.

mediterranean monk seal
Alonissos bans plastic bags

Beaches on the holiday island of Alonissos look set to be free of plastic bags next summer as island authorities impose a blanket ban. Hotels, shops, restaurants on the islands have agreed to prohibit the use of plastic bags across the island. Alonissos is one of the Sporades group of islands and lies at the heart of a marine conservation area designed to offer protection to rare animals such as the endangered Mediterranean seal. Alonissos Mayor Petros Vafinis said the plastic bag ban has been agreed by the whole island in a move that is designed to protect the island's environmental status. Greek island holidaymakers are well aware of the blight of plastic bags on beaches throughout Greece. Not only are they an unsightly blot on many Greek beaches, but they are also a danger to marine wildlife. They can be mistaken for jellyfish and swallowed by marine creatures such as seals which then choke on them. Petros Vafinis said: "Plastic bags take 400 to 500 years to disappear and are very damaging to both land and sea. We discussed it at the municipal council and decided to go ahead with the idea, with the help of the Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal and the Mediterranean SOS Network." Now island hoteliers and shopkeepers have stopped importing plastic bags and have replaced them with paper. Even shops selling souvenirs are to use paper bags despite the added expense. It adds to the island's recycling programme that began in 2012 and a campaign to limit the use of plastic bags on Alonissos which was launched earlier this year. Natalia Roumeliot, projects coordinator at the Mediterranean SOS Network, added: "Alonnisos is a small island with tremendous environmental value and has a very positive stance when it comes to environmentally friendly practices." The Network is to donate 2,000 paper bags and launch its own awareness campaign aimed not only as islanders but at Alonissos holiday visitors as well. Hopes are high that the island will have rid itself of plastic bags completely by the end of the 2016 holiday season. Last May the European Parliament called on member states to limit the use of plastic bags in shops and supermarkets. Surveys show that each Greek uses an average 242 plastic bags each year. The EU hopes to cut that to 90 by the end of 2019 and to 40 by 2025. The aim on Alonissos is to cut this to zero within a year. Natalia Roumeliot said: "Reducing the use of plastic bags is important for the environment. This might sound somewhat ambitious, but I think Alonissos will succeed."

Greek island ferry bad weather
Greek ferry hopping

High winds and big waves make boarding this Greek ferry a scary operation. Thousands of holiday visitors drive their cars onto Greek Island ferries over the summer holiday months but an island hopping trip in the car out of season can be a different proposition entirely. Getting a car on board a ferry when the wind is blowing and the waters are choppy can turn out to be a tricky business, as this video shot on the island of Alonissos shows. Nothing is too much trouble for the ferry crew of the Apollo Hellas as they give the drivers as much help as possible, but with the ferry boat riding high as the waves hit the harbour walls it is a small miracle that the drivers get aboard without being catapulted into the sea. This film footage was shot in October when strong winds made hitting the boarding plank a hit and miss affair and drivers were forced to time their power run up the ramp at exactly the right moment. High waves were really rocking the boat several feet above the harbour wall and leaving its boarding planks dangling in mid-air on each wave crest. It was up to the drivers to punch their pedals at the exact moment that the ramps lay flat on the harbour wall – just a few seconds to get aboard safely. Too soon and they risked ploughing into the raised ramps, too late and the car could have been flung into the air and into the raging sea. Scary to watch, even more scary to attempt. Thankfully, they all got aboard safely but it gives a new meaning to island hopping on a Greek ferry. This one is the Apollo Hellas is operated by Hellenic Seaways. It can carry 1,500 passengers and 98 cars and runs on the ferry route year round from Alonissos to the mainland port of Volos calling at the popular Greek holiday islands of Skopelos and Skiathos on the way. Can I take a holiday rental car on a Greek Island ferry? This is a question often asked by holidaymakers and the answer, unfortunately, is not very often. Many car rental agencies in Greece, especially those that operate on smaller islands, do not allow customers to take their hire cars for a ride on a Greek ferry. Cars can get 'stranded' on other islands in bad weather or, if they are involved in an accident on another island, recovery can be a very expensive operation. Also, there is the increased danger of damage on a ferry as holiday car hire visitors try to manoeuvre vehicles in the small deck area aboard or indeed if someone else bumps into them. In practice, island visitors will often rent a car and drive it aboard a Greek ferry anyway without telling the car rental agency of their plans. That is fine if nothing goes wrong, but it can prove a very expensive trip if things don't go to plan and the car gets damaged or stolen on the 'wrong' island and insurance companies refuse to pay out. Given the huge availability of car hire on most Greek islands, most holidaymakers will choose rent a vehicle for a few days on one island, hop on a ferry as a foot passenger and hire another car of motorcycle when they get to their destination. On small islands like Alonissos, most of the resorts are within walking distance of the port, have a bus service or are reached by taxi anyway. If you do hire a car in Greece, take nor that driving can be more stressful than at home. Roads in the Greek Islands are not always the best and streets through villages can be very narrow and confusingly complicated. Signs are often absent, small or even just plain wrong. Many roads have few lights and with narrow lanes, steep bends and sharp drops, driving at night can be a real challenge. Greek drivers too are not the most courteous and holiday drivers should expect nothing but contempt and a few sharp 'toots' on the horn. That said, if you want experience the real back roads of Greece, especially on larger islands, then hiring a car is almost essential. But whatever you do, don't try to board a ferry in high winds and choppy seas. The video was filmed by Dimitris Papavasileiou. Article based on a story published by Keep Talking Greece

Alonissos island shop in Chora
Alonissos lifts gold

Alonissos island lifts gold beach award. The Greek holiday island of Alonissos has picked up a gold award for the quality of its beaches and for its eco-tourist facilities. The gold medal was awarded to the islands of both Alonissos and Samothraki by the Quality Coast Association under the auspices of the European Coastal & Marine Union (EUCC). Awards are handed out each year to the greenest, cleanest and most sustainable coastal destinations in Europe. In an assessment of the world's most beautiful, clean and pleasant beaches they ranked Samothraki 7th and Alonissos 17th from more than 800 beaches in 30 countries. The Greek island of Alonissos is one of the Sporades group, off Greece's east coast, that includes the popular holiday destination of Skiathos as well as the islands of Skopelos and Skyros. The Marine Park of Alonissos and Northern Sporades was established in 1992 to protect endangered species, notably the Mediterranean monk seal monachus monachus. The area is an important habitat for many species of fish, birds, reptiles and Alonissos is increasingly valued by nature lovers, and by walkers who come from far and wide to walk the many woodland trails that cross the pine carpeted island. Locals have done much to clear, mark and signpost the interior walking trails of Alonissos. For example, the walk from the old hillside Chora to the port at Patitiri is now signposted, surfaced and lines with street lights. Alonissos also has several good beaches, mainly stone and shingle, and its surrounding waters are considered to be some of the cleanest in the entire Mediterranean. QualityCoast aims to create a worldwide network of coastal communities that promote natural, cultural and social values as well as maintaining high quality tourism. Experts use 110 indicators to assess the standards of beaches and coastal communities. Awards to the top beaches range from bronze, silver, gold and, since 2007, 29 coastal communities from 10 European countries have received the QualityCoast Award. Azores beach in Portugal ranked 1st on the list, followed by the Cretan beach of Ierapetra and the Gozo & Comino beach in Malta. It has been shown that holiday visitors are increasingly interested in sustainability issues when choosing their holiday destination and tourism experts believe tourism eco-labels will be common feature of travel brochures and websites. Whilst the Blue Flag scheme awards honours to individual beaches and marinas, QualityCoast is concentrating on sustainability of ecological projects in the whole area of coastal destination including towns, villages and islands. Alonissos is especially attractive to those looking for a quiet get-away and a traditional Greek island holiday.

Approaching Kyra Panagia island
Clear Alonissos delights

Clear delights of Alonissos marine park. No one on holiday in Alonissos can fail to note the crystal clean waters that surround this, one of the less visited of the Greek holiday islands in the Sporades group. The clear water is, in part at least, a result of Alonissos being the centre of a National Marine Park, the first to be founded in Greece. An excellent guide to the marine park can be found on the Albedo Travel site with details of Alonissos geology, climate and wildlife. The marine park, founded in 1992, covers more than 1,500 sq km of the north Sporades islands and Alonissos is the largest island in the park. The marine park also includes six smaller islands of Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Skantzoura, and Piperi with 22 uninhabited islets and rock outcrops. The park is split into two zones, A and B, with the 678 sq km in Zone A the most strictly protected. In Zone B areas permitted activities include swimming, diving, photography and filming but there are restrictions on fishing. Hunting is outlawed in Zone A except for the island of Gioura, where it is allowed by special permission. Even approaching certain islands in Zone A requires special permission. The region's isolation and the limits of human activity make the islands and sea areas of the park an ideal habitat for many threatened species of plants and animals. The most notable of these is the Mediterranean Monk Seal monachus monachus whose habitat is restricted to small uninhabited islands, inaccessible rocky shores and caves. The Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of the largest seal species at 2-3 metres long and an average weight of 250 kg. In the past, the seal was hunted intensively and even today it is hated by fishermen for damaging nets and reducing fish stocks. The Monk seal is now top of the list of endangered marine mammals in the EU and it is estimated that only about 600 survive in the Mediterranean Sea and on the North Atlantic coast. But the marine park is also an important habitat for many species of fish, birds, reptiles and mammals. Other endangered species that find protection in the park include the Red Coral coralium rubrum, Eleonora's Falcon falco eleonorae, Audouin's Gull larus audouinii, Shag phalacrocorax aristotelis, and the wild goats of Gioura capra aegagrus.

Mediterranean Monk Seal
Greeks ignore fate of seals

Greeks care little for the fate of endangered dolphins and seals in the Mediterranean, claim wildlife and ecology experts. Despite the marine mammals being vital to the ecology of the Mediterranean, many are routinely killed by becoming entangled in fishing nets. There is evidence that some are deliberately killed by fishermen to protect fish stocks. Experts from Society for the Protection of the Monk Seal (Mom) said: 'While all indications that the Greek seas as a valuable venue for the survival of these rare species their presence is necessary for the ecosystem of the Mediterranean, the majority of Greek public opinion ignores the importance and even the existence marine mammals in our country.' Now Mom, in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (UK), the Institute of Cretacean Research have launched a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of marine mammals in Greek waters. They claim the accidental tangling in fishing gear is responsible for 23% of deaths the rare Mediterranean seals. And they claim that 27% are deliberately killed by fishermen. In the past 20 years of the 1,460 marine mammals reported dead on the Greek coast 147 were killed by humans. They say 106 dolphins were killed by entanglement in fishing gear while 40 were deliberately killed. The Mediterranean Monk seal has been on the 'critically endangered' list for 14 years while six species of cetaceans found in Greece including the blower, common dolphin, porpoise and bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphins and stachtodelfino are now classed as endangered. The National Maritime Park of Alonissos was the first to be founded in Greece and comprises Alonissos and six smaller islands as well as uninhabited rocky outcrops and was set up to try and protect rare maritime species. The Greek seas play permanent host to the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), in striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) , the zifio (Ziphius cavirostris), the sperm (Physeter macrocephalus), the stachtodelfino (Grampus griseus), the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus). A further five species of marine mammals visit Greek seas including the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), the perjury (Pseudorca crassidens), northern minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), the mesoplodontas (Mesoplodon sp.) And stenoryncho dolphin (Steno bredanensis).

Mediterranean monkseal is endangered
Monk seal pup

Alonissos tends monk seal pup. A Mediterranean monk seal pup (monachus monachus) is currently being cared for at a seal rehabilitation centre on the Greek island of Alonissos. Conservationists rescued the two-month-old monk seal, one of only about 600 of the creatures that remain in the wild.  A research team based on the Greek holiday island spotted the pup in February while watching a seal colony in the south-western Aegean Sea.  Workers are feeding the seal and aim to return it to the wild. With fewer than 600 individuals remaining the monk seal is now believed to be the world's second rarest seal and is classed as one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Once common in the Mediterranean it is believed that habitat loss, fishing and tourism are to blame for the sharp decline since World War Two. Known to inhabit open sandy beaches and shoreline rocks in ancient times, the Mediterranean monk seals now mostly lives in remote underwater caves. Colonies were once common throughout the Mediterranean as well as the Marmara and Black Seas.  The species was also common on  the Atlantic coast of Africa and the Atlantic islands of Cape Verde, the Canaries and the Azores. Now there are just two monk seal population left, one in the seas around Alonissos and the other off the coast of north-west Africa. The National Marine Park of Alonissos Northern Sporades was aet up in 1992 partly to protect the monk seal habitat. It is the largest marine protected area in Europe and includes Alonissos, the six smaller islands of Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Psathoura, Piperi and Skantzoura as well as 22 uninhabited islets and rock outcrops.