The National Marine Park of Alonnisos, Northern Sporades (NMPANS)

 

PERMITTED ACTIVITIES

In areas where approaching is permitted, swimming, observation of the seabed, 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/Yura, where it is allowed only if special permission is granted. Approach to certain islands in the zone requires special permission from the responsible authority.

 

 
 

The National Marine Park of Alonnisos, is the first to be founded in Greece and is thought to have the cleanest waters in the European Union. It is situated in Eastern Central Greece, in the region of the North Sporades Islands, which belongs to the administration of the district of Skopelos, in the Prefecture of Magnesia.

Alonnisos is the largest island in the Park. The Park also comprises of six smaller islands (Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Skantzoura, Piperi) and 22 uninhabited islands and rocky outcrops.

FOUNDED: By Presidential Decree G.G. 519/92 on 28/5/92

AREA: Zone A (strict protection): 1587 Km² - Zone B (protected area): 678 Km²

COMMUNITIES: Restricted to Zone B. The largest of these are Patitiri, Old Alonnisos, Votsi and Steni Vala.

GEOLOGY: Limestone rock dominates the area. Its main characteristics are the steep rocky slopes that 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.

SPECIALCONDITIONS: 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.

Islands in Zone A

a. Kyra Panagia

The ancient island of Kyra Panagia is the first island to be met in the northern part of the Park. It is hilly but fertile with a rounded relief and is the largest island in Zone A of the Marine Park. The island is mainly covered by dense macchia vegetation and is rich in olive trees. The interior of the island consists of areas covered by holly, 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. There are two deep bays that provide natural harbor for sailors. These are: Agios Petros (St. Peter) to the south and Planitis (Planet) to the north.

 

At Agios Petros there are the remains of a Neolithic settlement from around 6,000 ­ 5,000 BC. It is thought to be the oldest settlement in the Aegean. In the 5th Century BC, the island belonged to the Athenians but was captured by a pirate from Skopelos called Sostratos in 351BC. Philip of Macedon then persecuted Sostratos and reclaimed the island again for Athens in 346BC. Philip had offered to give Kyra Panagia back to Athens after they had complained about his capture of the island. However, Egisippos and Demosthenes rejected this ‘gift’ in famous speeches. In 341 BC, Skopelos reclaimed the island but Philip’s Navy was sent to remove the invaders once again. When it came under rule by the Romans in the 1st Century AD, the island was renamed “Polyagios”, which means “many goats”. As time went by, the name was altered to Pelagos.

There is also an unexplored shipwreck from Byzantium times beneath the sea at Agios Petros but the island is most famous for its monastery of the Virgin Mary. The monastery, as explained in more detail later, is part of the Megisti Lavras monastery on Mount Athos and is one of the monasteries of Agion Oros. In 1963 Saint Athanasios in Constantinople bought it from the Byzantine Kings to provide other monasteries with oil, meat, honey and wheat. Before this, another monastery existed at Agios Petros but was abandoned and the ruins can still be seen.

The monastery was restored in 1905 and then renovated again in 1992, with the aid of a donation from the Potations family. It now provides refuge to a few of the Orthodox faith who come to stay occasionally and one who remains in residence all year round. Their cells are located in the north of the building. Processes such as making olive oil, bread and wine are now abandoned but the tools remain for people to see. As the island belongs to Agion Oros, there has been no other human inhabitance and thus nature has been preserved.

The Living Conditions of the Monks at Kyra Panagia

Life was hard for the monks at Kyra Panagia. They would spend their time making olive oil, wine and other food to send to the monastery of Megisti Lavra on Mount Athos as well as praying and preaching. 

To make the olive oil, the monks used mules to pull two huge stones in the shape of rollers, made from volcanic rock, around in circles on top of the olives. This process was also used to crush coal. The mules were replaced every day and their direction changed regularly to avoid boredom. Once crushed, the olives were put into envelopes to filter out the liquid. Water was boiled and added to the olives to speed up the process of extracting the oil. You can also still see the old water wheel that the monks once used to pump water to the monastery. When the oil/water mixture leaked out, it was left to cool. As it cooled, the water and oil would separate and the oil would be scraped from the top. The whole process was very hard work. Some of the monks stamped on grapes with their feet to make wine. This process is called patitiri, after which the port in Alonnisos is named.

There is a chamber (the basilica) downstairs in the centre of the courtyard in which the monks would pray. In order to wake everyone up for prayer, a monk would walk around the monastery banging a small piece of wood. He would start banging half an hour before and strike the wood at regular intervals until the time he wanted everyone in the chamber. When it was time to eat, the monk would bang the larger piece wood that hangs by the door to the praying chamber.

b. Yura

Proceeding northeast, the next island one meets is Yura. Its relief is striking and bold and its precipitous, rocky shores awe-inspiring. It has little in the way of forest cover or maquis ­ the myrtles, heaths, arbutus, cork oak, and ilex that traditionally cover Mediterranean coastal hills and mountainsides.

The “cave of Cyclope” in the interior is of particular beauty. According to Greek myth, Cyclopes were giants with just one eye in the middle of their foreheads. As the Greek myth describes: "Now a rough island stretches along outside the harbor, not close to the Cyclops' coast nor yet far out, covered with trees. On it innumerable wild goats breed; no tread of man disturbs them; none comes here to follow hounds, to toil through woods and climb the crests of hills. The island is not held for flocks or tillage, but all unsown, untilled, it evermore is bare of men and feeds the bleating goats. Among the Cyclops are no red-cheeked ships, nor are there shipwrights who might build the well-benched ships to do them service, sailing to foreign cities; as usually men cross the sea in ships to one another” (The Odyssey, Book IX).

Treacherous underfoot, a trail hewed out of stone spirals its way down into the darkness until at last you reach a large cavern with subtly shaded stalactites and stalagmites. The cave complex is still largely unexplored but archaeologists have discovered stone and bone tools, including hooks, knives, and pots, dating back to 10000 BC. Despite protests by tour agencies on Alonissos, the Cyclops’ Cave remains strictly off-limits to tourists.

Phrygana dominate the island, which also has areas covered by holly. Clinging to its steep slopes are other low shrubs that have adapted to the arid soil, bringing a blaze of burnished red and copper to the island in spring. Here and there, the rare Cretan maple can also be found, and in the east, fig trees reputed to reach a height of five metres. 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 Yura. 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 that apply to it is the protection of the above species and of the caves that are part of the habitat of the monk seal.

b. 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. It was a volcano during the Pliocene Period and its lava consists of Augean andesite with olivine.

Its name comes from its shape because is it shaped liked a straw-hat. 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, 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 between 1893 and 1895 by French engineers, signals for 18 miles to the international shipping routes of the North Aegean.

Some ancient fortresses and ruins from the Neolithic Period have also been found on Psathoura and divers from a nearby island recorded the findings of the remains of a town beneath the sea on the north of the island. According to Greek mythology, ancient towns were called Chrisi (named after an island called Chrisi) and were related to the Greek goddess Gold Athena if they had an analogous sanctuary or a relationship to those who had minks. It has been suggested that Psathoura could be the ancient Chrisi.

d. 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 that 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’s estimated that the island is home to about 400 pairs of Eleonora's falcon.

e. 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. 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 but despite unique architectural features, the monastery has fallen into ruin now. According to local legend, it was at some point during the 1960s that the last monk to inhabit the monastery, brother Nimnos, spied a seal fast asleep on the rocky shore and decided that he’d try to catch the animal. On the Holy Mountain, so it is said, monks turned seals into harness leather, shoes, lamp oil and medicine whenever the need or the opportunity arose. So Nimnos, convinced he was onto a bright idea, crept towards the shore with a length of rope, tying his mule to the neck of the sleeping seal. No sooner had he secured the knot ­ so the story goes ­ than the seal awoke in panic and scrambled into the sea, dragging the hapless mule with it. As the desperate seal plunged beneath the waves to escape, so the mule frantically thrashed about in the water, barely able to keep its flaring nostrils above the surface. Only when the rope snapped on the crude wooden saddle were the two unfortunate animals spared, the mule scrambling ashore, none the worse for wear, the seal streaking off through the Posidonia, its prejudices about humans probably reaffirmed.

Life in the Marine Park

The National Marine Park of Alonnisos was established in 1983 and is the first to be founded in Greece. Whilst the reserve was created with the main aim of protecting the endangered monk seal, it also hosts a high number of rare species of wildlife and is rich in both fauna and flora.  

This area of the Park is an important habitat for many species of fish (about 300), birds (up to 80 species), reptiles and mammals. These include:

The  Mediterranean Monk Seal is the most important mammalian species living in Northern Sporades. One of the most important populations in Mediterranean Sea  (probably more then 60 individuals) lives in Alonnissos National Park, thus indicating the good condition of its marine environment. (Monk Seal Details...)

In the summer the Eleonora's Falcon migrates from Madagascar to the Northern Sporades. The marine park provides them with good refuge. They make their nests on cliffs and rocks, laying two or three eggs during August. These birds face many dangers: during their fall migration to the shores of Eastern Africa many are shot. Tourists disturb their nests forcing the frightened birds to abandon them leaving their eggs unguarded  

As well as the Common Dolphin, beneath the sea of the Marine Park live the Striped Dolphin, the Long-finned Pilot Whale, the Killer Whale, the False Killer Whale, the Bottle-nose Dolphin, the Sperm Whale, and Cuvier's Beaked Whale. The Common Dolphin and the Striped Dolphin are classed as vulnerable, and the Killer Whale and the Sperm Whale are rare species

The Wild Goat of Yura is endemic to the island of Yura and lives on the rocky hills. It is related to the Cretan Wild Goat but is larger and heavier, and the horns are curled. It is on the verge of extinction so the Greek Authorities have launched a special program to study and protect it.  

The Shag is an exclusively marine bird, nesting on rocky coasts and rarely wandering in land or even muddy or sandy shores. It dives deep in the sea to catch fishes, its exclusive diet. It can be found year round in Northern Sporades. The Shag is very sensitive to man's presence and particularly susceptible to marine pollution. They arelisted the Shag as vulnerable.  

Audouin's Gull 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.  

Flora

Sea daffodil -Psathoura

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.

Return to main page