The Sporades are a group of islands in the northern Aegean Sea, belonging to Greece. They are known for their emerald waters, sandy beaches, pine forests and rich biodiversity. Among the Sporades, there are two main attractions for nature lovers: the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades and the Marine & Zoological Parks in Greece.
The National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades
The National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades was founded in 1992 as the first marine protected area in Greece and the largest in Europe. It covers an area of about 2,260 km2, including the island of Alonnisos, six smaller islands (Peristera, Kyra Panagia, Gioura, Psathoura, Piperi and Skantzoura), and 22 uninhabited islets and rocky outcrops. The park aims to conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the region, especially the endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), which finds shelter in the caves and coves of the park. The park also hosts a variety of other marine and terrestrial species, such as dolphins, whales, turtles, seabirds, reptiles, amphibians, plants and fungi. The park offers opportunities for ecotourism, diving, hiking, birdwatching and educational activities. Visitors can explore the park by boat or by land, following the network of trails and paths that connect the villages and sites of interest. Some of the highlights of the park are:
- The island of Alonnisos, which is the only inhabited island in the park and the main base for visitors. Alonnisos has a traditional character, with stone houses, narrow alleys and picturesque harbors. It also has a rich history, dating back to the Neolithic era. Some of the attractions on Alonnisos are the Old Town (Chora), which offers panoramic views of the sea and the islands; the Museum of Alonnisos, which displays archaeological and folkloric exhibits; the Byzantine Monastery of Kyra Panagia, which is located on a hill overlooking the homonymous island; and the Seal Information Center, which provides information and awareness about the Mediterranean monk seal and its conservation.
- The island of Peristera, which is located opposite Alonnisos and is accessible by boat. Peristera is uninhabited and has a rugged landscape with rocky shores and steep cliffs. It is famous for its underwater archaeological site, where a shipwreck from the Classical period (5th-4th century BC) was discovered in 1985. The shipwreck contained a large cargo of amphorae (clay jars) that were used to transport wine, oil and other goods. The site is open to divers who want to explore this ancient treasure.
- The island of Kyra Panagia, which is also known as Pelagonisi or Pelagos. It is one of the largest islands in the park and has a distinctive shape that resembles a pregnant woman lying on her back. The island is uninhabited except for a few monks who live in the Monastery of Kyra Panagia, which was built in the 16th century on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Athena. The island has a diverse flora and fauna, including rare orchids, wild goats, rabbits and birds. It also has some beautiful beaches, such as Agios Petros and Planitis.
- The island of Gioura, which is one of the most remote and mysterious islands in the park. It is uninhabited and has a rocky terrain with steep slopes and caves. It is home to a unique species of wild goat (Capra aegagrus giouraius), which is endemic to Gioura and endangered. The island also has a rich mythology, as it was believed to be the residence of Cyclops (one-eyed giants) in ancient times. One of the caves on Gioura is called Cyclops’ Cave and contains stalactites and stalagmites that resemble human figures.
- The island of Psathoura, which is the northernmost island in the park and has a volcanic origin. It is uninhabited and has a flat landscape with black sand beaches and low vegetation. It is known for its lighthouse, which was built in 1895 and is one of the tallest in Greece (28 meters). The lighthouse can be visited by boat or by helicopter.
- The island of Piperi, which is located in the center of the park and is considered the core of the marine protected area. It is uninhabited and has a rocky coastline with caves and arches. It is the most important habitat for the Mediterranean monk seal, as well as for other marine species, such as dolphins, whales, turtles and fish. The island is strictly protected and access is prohibited to visitors, except for authorized researchers and park staff.
- The island of Skantzoura, which is the southernmost island in the park and has a hilly landscape with pine forests and olive groves. It is uninhabited and has a rich history, as it was once a pirate base and a refuge for monks. It has a Byzantine Monastery of Evangelistria, which was founded in the 9th century and is still active. The monastery has a library, a museum and a guesthouse for pilgrims.
For more information about the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades, visit its official website: https://alonissos.gr/en/marine-park/overview.html
The Marine & Zoological Parks in Greece
Besides the National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades, there are other marine and zoological parks in Greece that offer visitors the chance to see and learn about the wildlife of the country and the world. Some of these parks are:
- The Attica Zoological Park, which is located in Spata, near Athens. It is the largest zoo in Greece and hosts more than 2,000 animals from 350 species. It has a variety of exhibits, such as the World of Reptiles, the African Savannah, the Greek Fauna, the Cretan Garden and the Dinosaur Park. It also has a dolphinarium, where visitors can watch dolphin shows and interact with them.
- The Cretaquarium, which is located in Gournes, near Heraklion. It is one of the largest and most modern aquariums in Europe and displays more than 2,000 marine organisms from 200 species. It has a variety of tanks, such as the Mediterranean Sea, the Tropical Seas, the Coral Reef and the Shark Tunnel. It also has interactive exhibits, educational programs and research activities.
- The Aquaworld Aquarium & Reptile Rescue Centre, which is located in Hersonissos, near Heraklion. It is a small but unique aquarium that showcases the marine life of Crete and other regions. It also rescues and rehabilitates injured or unwanted reptiles, such as snakes, lizards and turtles. It offers visitors the opportunity to touch and hold some of the animals.
- The Aqualand Water Park, which is located in Agios Ioannis, near Corfu. It is one of the largest and most popular water parks in Europe and features more than 40 slides, pools and attractions for all ages. It also has a zoo corner, where visitors can see animals such as monkeys, parrots, ponies and rabbits.
- The Thessaloniki Zoo & Botanical Garden, which is located in Kalamaria, near Thessaloniki. It is a small but diverse zoo that hosts more than 300 animals from 100 species. It has exhibits such as the African Savannah, the Asian Forest, the Australian Outback and the Farmyard. It also has a botanical garden with more than 500 plant species.
For more information about these and other marine and zoological parks in Greece, visit this website: https://www.visitgreece.gr/experiences/nature/marine-and-zoological-parks/
The Sporades are a great destination for nature lovers who want to explore the marine and zoological parks of Greece. The National Marine Park of Alonnisos Northern Sporades offers a unique opportunity to see the Mediterranean monk seal and other rare species in their natural habitat. The Marine & Zoological Parks in Greece offer a fun and educational way to see and learn about the wildlife of Greece and the world. Whether by boat or by land, by water or by air, by sight or by touch, there is something for everyone to enjoy in these parks.