The nature in Greece is of great diversity and it varies a lot. More than 6,000 plant species have been recorded, of which 700-750 are original – meaning that they can be found only within the boundaries of Greece. That is a large number of widespread species relative to the size of the country, due to the isolation of the numerous mountains and islands.
Equally rich is the variety of fauna species living, nesting, propagating or migrating in the Greek regions. The fauna consists of a rich mixture of European, Asian and African species. The freshwater fish fauna is one of the richest in Europe: 107 species, of which 37 are endemic, in the standing and running water systems of the country. Moreover, 40 endemic subspecies have been recorded.
There are at least 18 species of amphibians and 59 species of reptiles, approximately 60% of which inhabit the broader areas of the Greek wetlands. About 407 bird species have been recorded, of which 240 nest in Greece. The mammals of Greece include 116 species, of which 57 belong to IUCN endangered species categories.
Even though it’s a relatively small land area, Greece contains an astonishing variety of ecosystems. Wetlands, old-growth forests, fertile shallows, and thousands of islands contribute to Greece’s biodiversity. Three quarters of the country is mountainous. The mountains, yet unexplored, are very beautiful and full of life. They are covered with deep gorgeous forests and give rise to some of the most spectacular views.
Even though Greece is a relatively small and mountainous region it is home to an astonishing one hundred fifty endemic species of plant and animal life. However, more than fifty of these species are endangered. This can be due to the over-growth of the human population in this small European nation, as well as the pollution that has resulted from it.
The Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) is one of the world’s rarest mammals and is characterized “critically endangered”.
The Mediterranean monk seal is a coastal species. In recent times, it has used caves for rest and reproduction rather than the beaches it used historically. Cave usage seems to be a response to human persecution. The Mediterranean monk seal feeds on a variety of fish and cephalopods. It is active during the day. Virtually all births currently occur in caves and grottoes in sea cliffs.
The Mediterranean monk seal occurs in groups or “colonies”. The largest colonies have occurred on the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa, with one colony including as many as 300 seals at one point. The remainder of the seals have been dispersed through the Mediterranean and Black Seas in a number of much smaller colonies, usually including about 5 – 6 individuals (up to about 20 individuals) each.
The Mediterranean monk seal is now restricted to a handful of small and scattered colonies in the Ionian and Aegean Seas and the southern coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean, as well as scattered populations in northwest Africa on the coasts of Western Sahara and Mauritania, and the Desertas Islands, Madeira. It is thought that just two of these populations are viable, in Greece and northwest Africa.
Hunting for its skin prior to this century reduced the population considerably. More recently, the main threats facing the Mediterranean monk seal are deliberate killing by fishermen who perceive the species as a competitor for fish, entanglement in fishing gear, disturbance and habitat loss through development and tourism (including recreational diving), disease, and the effects of toxic algal blooms.
The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), is an oceanic turtle distributed throughout the world. It is a marine reptile, belonging to the family Cheloniidae. Loggerheads are considered an endangered species and are protected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Untended fishing gear is responsible for many loggerhead deaths. Turtles may also suffocate if they are trapped in fishing trawls. Turtle excluder devices (TEDs) have been implemented in efforts to reduce mortality by providing the turtle an escape route.
In particular, sea turtles can be caught when bottom trawling is used by the commercial shrimp fishing industry. In order to catch shrimp, a fine meshed trawl net is needed. This results in large amounts of other marine organisms being also caught as bycatch. When a turtle gets caught or entangled in a trawl net, it becomes trapped and is unable to return to the surface. Since sea turtles are air-breathing creatures with lungs, they eventually drown.
Loss of suitable nesting beaches and the introduction of exotic predators has also taken a toll on loggerhead populations. Efforts to restore their numbers will require international cooperation since the turtles roam vast areas of ocean and critical nesting beaches are scattered among several countries.
Matala beach in Crete is spawning ground for the endangered sea turtles Careta-Careta, here the sea turtles lay their eggs. The period of egg laying is during the summer months when the female Careta-Careta sea turtles visit the beaches at night and by digging in the sand they create nests and in a depth of half a meter lay their eggs. The eggs, after a period of 60 days, hatch and the young turtles make their maiden voyage to the sea. This first route is vital for their life and their constant struggle to survive.
Environmental deterioration at Prasonisi in Rhodes island: Due to the big number of tourists that gather there, Prasonisi has lost its pristine beauty and there is great evidence of environmental damage. Windsurfing and Kitesurfing tourists tend to drive all around the beach with scooters and cars. As such, the sand has a solid feeling now and it is almost like concrete at certain parts of the beach. The protected turtle “Careta Careta” used to hide its eggs at the specific region but this rarely happens anymore due to the lack of environmental management of the territory. Local authorities should act drastically and not allow vehicles at the specific destination. This should be the very first step for a sustainable ecosystem there.
The European mink (Mustela lutreola), also known as the Russian mink, is a semi-aquatic species of Mustelid native to Europe. It is listed by the IUCN as Endangered due to an ongoing reduction in numbers, having been calculated as being more than 50% over the past three generations. During the 20th century, mink numbers declined all throughout their range, the reason for which having been hypothesised to be due to a combination of factors, including climate change, competition with (as well as diseases spread by) the introduced American mink, habitat destruction, declines in crayfish numbers and hybridisation with the European polecat.
The Crete spiny mouse (Acomys minous) is a threatened species of mouse endemic to Crete. It is characterized by the coarse, stiff hairs on its back and tail and a notably grayer coloration and more pointed face than other species of spiny mice. Its fur color varies from yellow to red, gray or brown on its face and back, with white fur on its underside. It is a nocturnal forager, feeding mainly on grass blades and seeds, and builds only a very rudimentary nest.
The Cretan Shrew (Crocidura zimmermanni) is a species of mammal in the Soricidae family. It is endemic and exclusive to the island of Crete. Its natural habitat is temperate shrubland, and is threatened by habitat loss. On Crete it is found in the mountainous highlands, having been displaced from lower altitudes by the Lesser White-toothed Shrew (Crocidura suaveolens) which has taken over the ecological niche.
The Audouin’s gull is a near-threatened (NT) species of bird in Greece and nearby regions. Its life is threatened by over commercial fishing, which is depleting the species of its main food source. This bird lays its eggs on the ground, and the overpopulation of goats in its territory makes natural breeding difficult.
The Cretan Frog (Pelophylax cretensis) is a species of frog in the Ranidae family. It can only be found in Crete. Its natural habitats are Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation, rivers, intermittent rivers, swamps, freshwater lakes, intermittent freshwater lakes, freshwater marshes, intermittent freshwater marches, and plantations. It is threatened by habitat loss.
Salmo peristericus, or the Prespa trout is a variety of trout, a freshwater fish in the Salmonidae family. It is endemic to the Lake Prespa watershed at the border area of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia.
Four populations are known, one in the Agios Germanos stream in north-western Greece, the others in the Brajcinska and Kranska rivers and the Leva Reka stream in the Republic of Macedonia.
Luschan’s Salamander (Lyciasalamandra luschani) is a species of salamander in the Salamandridae family. It is found in Greece and Turkey. Its natural habitats are temperate forests and Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation. It is threatened by habitat loss.
Bottlenose dolphins are among of the best-known cetaceans worldwide. In the Mediterranean Sea, however, modern cetacean field studies did not start until the late 1980s. Bottlenose dolphins have been studied only in relatively small portions of the basin, and wide areas remain largely unexplored. Research and monitoring of population abundance and status must therefore play a major role in filling the gaps in knowledge.
Whilst intentional killing was likely the most important cause of mortality until the 1960s, important ongoing threats include incidental mortality in fishing gear and the reduced availability of key prey caused by region-wide overfishing and environmental degradation.
Common dolphins were once abundant throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Today they are declining rapidly, surviving only in portions of their former range. In western Greece, the sea around the island of Kalamos is their last stronghold, or at least it used to be. So why are the dolphins disappearing? Only 30 kilometers away from Kalamos is the Amvrakikos Gulf where coastal bottlenose dolphins are thriving. Why is there such a drastic difference in the health of these two dolphin populations?
Watch the interesting video with Giovanni Bearzi, the President of the Tethys Research Institute in Italy, and his research team studying on the ecology and the behavior of common dolphins around Kalamos.
Management measures that could benefit bottlenose dolphins, involving sustainable fishing, curbing marine pollution and protecting biodiversity, are already embedded in much existing legislation and a large number of treaties. Compliance with those existing commitments and obligations represents the highest management priority. It is important that the public put a pressure on the government to apply the existing law.
Experts participating in a regional Red List workshop organized in 2006 agreed that Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins qualify as ’Vulnerable’ according to the IUCN Red List criteria.
• GAWF – Greek Animal Welfare Fund
• Hellenic Ornithological Society
• Whale Trackers
• Threatened species in Greece
• Accobams – (Aggreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic Sea)
• Cetacean Alliance – Preserving whales and dolphins of the Mediterranean Sea
• Tethys Research Institute – A non-profit organisation for the study and the conservation of the marine environment.
• 1% for the planet
• Greenpeace International
• Shark Alliance – Protect the European Shark
• Client Earth
• Oceana Europe – Protecting the World’s Oceans
• Archelon – the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece