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Clear delights of Alonissos marine park

- by Jeremy Guest

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.