SOCIETY

Exploring and protecting Gyaros’s underwater treasures

There’s a wonderful natural treasure below the waves off the coast of the northern Cycladic island of Gyaros. It’s not a shipwreck or an ancient city, but a vibrant marine habitat with great diversity and ecological significance. Given the pressure on the Aegean Sea from overfishing, overdevelopment and pollution, scientists believe that the creation of a marine park to protect this treasure is imperative.

The wealth of Gyaros’s marine life came to light in the summer of 2014, during research conducted by a team from the University of Patras’s Laboratory of Marine Geology and Physical Oceanography as part of the “Cycladic Life” program, which is coordinated by WWF Greece.

The experts ascertained that more than 50 percent of Gyaros’s seabed is covered by protected seagrass meadows and coral formations. According to WWF, these are habitats that testify to the good health of the coastal environment and provide a haven for many aquatic species.

“Though Greece’s Posidonia oceanica meadows have been studied to a certain degree, their greatest part remains uncharted and we do not know their exact size and distribution,” explains Giorgos Papatheodorou, an oceanography professor at the University of Patras and leader of the research team. “As far as the corals go, we know that Greece has some of the biggest formations in the Mediterranean but only a small part has been charted.”

According to program coordinator Spyros Kontomatas, mapping the 57.3 square kilometer, Natura 2000-protected area around Gyaros will help scientists to come up with the right management measures for their protection. WWF contends that the discovery of this treasure dictates the immediate creation of a marine park that will ensure it is protected.

The “Cyclades Life” program, running from 2013-17, is funded by the European Union. It is coordinated by WWF Greece and has the backing of the government, the Development Agency of the Cyclades, Harokopio University of Athens, the MoM society for the protection of the monk seal and the Italian Tethys institute.