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The National Marine Park of Zakynthos

Zakynthos is one of the most important loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta nesting areas in the Mediterranean. Finding refuge in the marine area of the Bay of Laganas is actually a matter of survival for this beautiful but critically endangered species. Caretta caretta reaches Zakynthos in summer after having travelled thousands of kilometers across the Mediterranean territory. During oviparity period, the female turtles head to the shore at night and dig with their back fins big holes in the sand, where they place 120 small eggs the size of ping pong balls. They then head to the sea leaving behind their traces in the sand, a sign that marks the holy ritual of birth.
After forty to sixty days the first eggs begin to “burst”. The little turtles remain protected for a few days more in the warmth of their nest until their body takes its final shape. A strong memory instinct will lead them back to the sea, where they will embark on their fascinating journey of life. They may return—adults this time—to breed and nest in the same place that they themselves were born. Unfortunately only one out of a thousand will survive since they will be exposed to many dangers, mostly associated with human activity. That is the reason why the Marine Park had been founded there in the first place.

Actually, the National Marine Park was founded in 1999, in order to preserve the natural environment and conserve the ecological balance of the marine and coastal area of the Bay of Laganas and Strophades Islands. It encompasses the marine area of the Bay of Laganás, the sea turtle nesting beaches and a zone of land adjoining them, the wetland of Keri Lake and the two small Strophades islands. It includes a total of 36 km2 of terrestrial territory and another 90 km2 of marine area. The area features a variety of habitats, including sand dunes and Posidonia oceanica beds. It is home to the critically endangered Sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) and submerged reefs as well as hundreds of species of flora and fauna, some of which are of great importance. A resident population of the critically endangered species, the Mediterranean monk seal monachus monachus, is also present on the west coast of Zákynthos.

The observation of the sea turtles is a permitted ecotourism activity since it increases the environmental consciousness of the visitors. Nevertheless, respect for the rules and conditions that safeguard the harmonious coexistence between humans and those unique creatures are indispensible.

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Monday, September 2, 2013