Alonissos – A Marine Park and Ecotourism Haven

When people think of Alonissos, its renowned National Marine Park usually comes to mind. Located in the azure waters of the Northern Sporades, the park is a crowning jewel of nature and biodiversity.

Explore the enchanting villages and magnificent beaches that surround this Marine Park. Whether you prefer to walk or relax, Alonissos has it all!

The National Marine Park of Alonissos

Dedicated to the preservation of seabirds and wildlife, including the endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), Alonissos is a natural sanctuary that offers tranquility on pristine beaches, awe-inspiring scenery, vibrant culture, and traditional Greek cuisine. Immerse yourself in the National Marine Park’s unspoiled environment to encounter a variety of flora and fauna, or explore the island’s historic landmarks for an enriching cultural journey.

The Marine Park of Alonissos was established in 1992 through a Presidential Decree, and has been an official member of MedPAN (Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean) since 2007. Protective and research efforts are ongoing to ensure that this spectacular marine wilderness remains unspoiled.

While local government and businesses have stepped up efforts to develop ecotourism, they still face numerous major challenges. For instance, critics claim that fatal flaws in the 1992 Presidential Decree will prevent Alonissos from achieving its full potential as an ecological and cultural haven. They point out that public works projects fail to dovetail with the Marine Park’s concept, and that regulations penalise traditional land use activities that did much to shape the islands in the first place.

Another major challenge involves the influx of visitors whose interests are not aligned with the mission of the Marine Park. This conveyor-belt kind of tourism generates fast profit margins, but also brings a number of short and long-term threats to the Park’s ecosystem.

The Islands of the Park

The islets of the Marine Park are rocky, with a wild character and dense macchia vegetation. The most visited of them is Kyra Panagia (Pelagos, Pelagonisi), the site of a recently-renovated post-Byzantine Monastery dedicated to the Birth of Virgin Mary. There are also wide areas of orchards, and hilltops with a view of the surrounding countryside.

Other islets worth a visit are Skantzoura with its 17th-century Monastery of Evangelistria and the island’s old town, Kokkinokastro. Archaeological findings on the islet of Gioura include a Cyclops’ cave and remains of prehistoric villages. There are also ruins of a monastery, the Church of St. George and a lighthouse.

The most popular way to get around the islands of the National Marine Park is by boat. A variety of tours depart from Patitiri and the port of Steni Vala. The best time for boat trips is early morning or late afternoon, when the sea is calm and the sun is not yet hot. Besides visiting the islets of the Park, visitors can enjoy snorkelling, hiking and swimming. Depending on the tour, one may also be able to take in the sights of Alonissos, such as the main town, Patitiri and Chora with its old-style houses and narrow streets. Moreover, they can admire the rich biodiversity of the region, which includes hundreds of plant and animal species and a wealth of archaeological finds.

The Park’s Mission

Among other things the Park concentrates on protecting and researching the dwindling populations of the Monk Seal. It does so with the support of local fishermen and a local seal rescue and rehabilitation center, which cares for orphaned pups until they are strong enough to return to their natural environment. Besides its scientific work the Park also spreads awareness of environmental protection.

Sadly, this is still not enough. Local indifference towards ecology is exacerbated by a similar nonchalance about cultural preservation. It is perhaps no coincidence that the treasures currently gracing Alonissos’s Historical and Folklore Museum were once destined for the Municipal rubbish dump.

Alonissos’s crystalline waters, which are home to loggerhead sea turtles and hundreds of fish species, attract many tourists for snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, and sailing. In addition, the Marine Park offers beautiful points for hiking and nature photography.

Alonissos also has its share of traditional charm with stone-paved alleys and quaint churches. Moreover, the secluded Kokkinokastro beach is ideal for tranquility and sun-soaked relaxation. Those seeking adventure can venture to the top of Mount Steni Vala to admire the picturesque landscapes and enjoy a breathtaking view. And, of course, there are also many things to do on the islands that make up the Park, like island hopping and exploring the stunning flora and fauna.

The Park’s Environment

Despite the restrictions of a marine park, Alonissos has a thriving tourism industry. The port of Patitiri is home to hotels, restaurants, a yacht charter and a branch of MOm (Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal). Day boating trips leave the port daily to many beaches, including Leftos Gialos with water that shimmers in shades of blue green. A 5th century BC shipwreck was discovered here, revealing 3,000 amphorae. Other tours visit the monastery of Agios Petros, the ruins of a Byzantine church and the impressive 29m lighthouse.

Visitors to the marine park can swim and snorkel, take pictures or record video and walk around areas where access is permitted. The park is also a great place to see archaeological sites from the prehistoric and classical period and the Byzantine era.

But critics say the local authority has not done enough to cultivate a tourist image that dovetails with the Marine Park concept. And, after 14 years in the wilderness, a management body has still not been appointed to establish precise operating procedures and a listing of regulations that vary by zone designation.