Aegean Sea Sanctuary

Orca Rescues Foundation is very proud and excited to part of the Advisory Panel for this wonderful Sea Sanctuary situated on the  Greek Island of Lipsi,  in the Aegean Sea.

 

Planning has been in process since 2010 and now that the release of 4 bottlenose dolphins has been agreed, in principle, from Barcelona Zoo, we together with you our supporters can all realise our dream and release them to a life in a natural seaside sanctuary.


Check here for the press release

Frequently Asked Questions

The Project

What is the aim of the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary?

The aim of the Sanctuary is to provide:
- dolphins from aquaria around Europe with a natural sea lagoon where they can retire from dolphin shows or research projects and live out their lives in a natural environment. Wild behaviour will be promoted for maximum stimulation and enrichment, as well as the highest standard of animal welfare.
- An innovative, natural rehabilitation centre for marine species (dolphins, turtles, seals) found in stranding events, to reduce the stress on animals and increase the probability of recovery and release.
- A “gold standard” for the development of protocols that will serve as a model for future dolphin sanctuaries worldwide.

How long has this concept been in action?

The preliminary work for the site selection and development planning was initiated in 2010. Five possible sanctuary sites were identified around 5 islands of the eastern Aegean Sea. After a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of each site and extensive discussions with the local authorities and communities, Vroulia Bay in Lipsi island was selected to be the first Sanctuary location to be developed. Following the site identification, it was necessary to spend more than two years for the appropriate preparation of the local communities, as well as the communication and cooperation with the local and regional authorities. Equivalent preparation has also been carried out in two other bays, located in two nearby islands, which in the future could also serve as sanctuaries, should there become a need for more locations to host more
formerly captive dolphins. The lease of the building and surrounding land and the preparation of the area to transform it into a suitable Sanctuary site started in early 2015. Since then the construction work has begun and an expanding, international network of experts and scientists has formed; who are contributing to protocol development alongside numerous other aspects of this endeavour.

How will this project benefit the local community? Is the project supported by the local and national community?

The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary has received an overwhelming amount of support from local communities around Lipsi and nearby islands and is working in close cooperation with the Lipsi Municipality and the relevant regional and national authorities. The latter are supporting all licensing / permit processes for the construction and operation of the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary. The Mayor of Lipsi, Mr. Fotis Maggos stated in relation to the project “We are honoured to have this important conservation effort happening on our island of Lipsi. The community here has engaged in this concept with open arms and we look forward to supporting the efforts of this project far into the future.” Additionally, the local community will greatly benefit as there will be a number people visiting the island due to the Sanctuary such as scientists, researchers and students, thus contributing to the local economy.
On a national level, there is considerable amount of support and as the project progresses, the list of supporters will only grow.

How much money will it cost to set up and be operational?

For Phase 1 to be completed an absolute minimum of $600,000 is required.
Phase 1 includes acquiring the required licenses and permissions for the operation of the Sanctuary, rehabilitation centre and veterinary unit and the cost of construction, equipment and outfitting of the Sanctuary’s operational base and veterinary clinic. Additionally, there are more expenses associated with the development of the numerous gold- standard protocols related to the operation of the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary. As funding is gradually becoming available and the need for the creation of the first Sanctuary is immediate; at this early stage of development, Archipelagos Institute and partners have agreed to self-fund the costs of the development and testing of the protocols. This allows maximum efficiency in this process, so that valuable time is not lost.

How will funding be sustained for the lifetime of the project?

The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will strive to function sustainably to lower the
operational cost of the facility. Once the Sanctuary is complete, the funds will come from the following sources:
- The entity releasing the dolphins to the Sanctuary : the donors that will potentially
allocate the dolphins to the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will be required to ensure
sufficient funds are available to provide the animals with lifetime care.
- Donations: the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation will facilitate ongoing
crowd-funding sources and communication with previous donors that will continue to be a source of funding. The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary has received strong interest from several foundations, both in Greece and abroad, but also from large companies owned by Greeks living abroad. In addition, the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation is working with international NGOs and consultants to raise funds for the project on a permanent basis.
- Educational programmes: the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will be a training centre for veterinarians and national authorities and a research centre for marine scientists. The training fees of these courses will partly cover the operational costs of the Sanctuary. The Archipelagos Institute has 17 years of experience in offering training courses to students and scientists. In 2016, when the first zero-data collection
opportunities were available in the Aegean Sanctuary, over 700 students from 22 countries participated.

Will the public be able to visit the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary?

There are no plans in the initial phase for the facility to be open for public viewing. However,there will be cameras, underwater cameras and hydrophones located around the bay making it possible to view the animals online or in video releases made available to the public. At a later stage of the rehabilitation process, an educational centre will open to the public. The public will be permitted to visit the centre and follow an educational itinerary. It will be possible to watch live-streaming of the dolphins on a screen and from windows exposed to the bay without disturbing the animals.

Who will be allowed to visit the Sanctuary during Phase 1 ?

A visit to the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will be on an invitation-only basis focused on rescue and rehabilitation. The research base will accommodate researchers, students, veterinarians and technicians, and in certain circumstances, small parties of donors. All visitors will follow strict protocols and codes of conduct in order to minimise disturbance to the animals.

Location

How was this Sanctuary site chosen?

The Bay of Vroulia in Lipsi is considered as an ideal site for the Aegean Marine Life
Sanctuary due to the following factors:
- minimal human presence and activity in the bay and the surrounding areas.
- Construction of new buildings is prohibited in this section of the island as the land is public.
- The bay is sheltered from the rough seas and the temperature profile is ideal to host
dolphins. During preparation work to select the site, wave heights as well as other sea parameters (temperature, pH, salinity, etc.) were recorded. It is important to note, that during days with strong northerly winds, the largest wave height that was recorded in the mid part of the bay was 30cm, whereas, in the inner part of the bay, it did not exceed 10 cm. This bay is ideally sheltered to serve the purpose of a sanctuary.
- High marine biodiversity with 64 native species recorded so far and in the broader
marine area, in the eastern Aegean Sea, numerous endangered and protected marine species have been recorded.
- The site is remote enough to minimise human disturbance, but not too remote to be problematic to access. Near Lipsi island there are two international airports, on Samos and Kos islands, as well as one smaller airport on Leros island and four heliports. For more than half of the year there are regular boat connections to the larger islands with modern speed boats, and for the remainder of the year, there are regular boat connections to nearby larger islands with ferry boats and smaller passenger boats. Throughout the year there are also direct ferry boat connections to the main port of Greece, Piraeus (Athens).
- Overwhelming support from the local community and authorities provides the ideal conditions for this project to move forward without any obstacles.

Is it located in a Natura 2000 area?

Yes. Lipsi island has been characterised as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the code of GR4210016 and as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) under the code of GR4210010 within the Natura 2000 network. The above areas are not considered as national reserves and they only include terrestrial zones and not marine. Throughout Greece, there are 162 proposed sites for protection but only 24 of these sites are legally established protected areas and Lipsi island is not one of them.

How many dolphins can the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary accommodate?

The actual capacity of the Aegean Marine life Sanctuary has not yet been defined and
remains a matter of discussion among the experts and scientists involved in the development of
the Sanctuary. It is estimated that it will be able to accommodate ten dolphins. During the first
phase, the Sanctuary will host a limited number of dolphins. The exact number is yet to be
decided and it will depend upon the exact strategy that the Sanctuary will follow. The Sanctuary
will ensure that the dolphins are kept under the best possible living conditions; which will include
providing them with the appropriate care to improve their physiological and psychological
wellbeing. Following their successful rehabilitation, the Sanctuary will expand its hosting
capacity by extending to the surrounding bays.

Can the Sanctuary be expanded?

Yes. The initial plan for the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary involves only one of the four ‘arms’
of the inlet. With the current agreement for use of the land and waters of the bays, the
Sanctuary is permitted to expand operations into the neighbouring inlets. Whether these
additional inlets will be used as a general expansion of the Sanctuary or as separate enclosures
for injured animals or animals of different sex is so far undecided. The use is allowed and
possible, but at this point remains flexible based on future need.

How much boat traffic will be around?

The bay is deeply located in a system of inlets at the remote end of a sparsely populated
island. During the tourist season, there is a boat presence but with the construction of the
barriers and the installation of buoys and signs informing tourists of the importance and private
nature of the area, boat traffic will not be a disturbing factor. It is expected that once the
Sanctuary is operational, the bay area will be inaccessible to boats.

What type of nets will be used and how resistant are they?

Copper alloy fencing will be used to create a safety boundary at the mouth of the bay. Once it
is installed, it is expected to last for about twenty years. Throughout this time, it will be
constantly monitored for signs of any damage. Additionally, there will be a floating dock system
that will act as a barrier between wild dolphins and those in the Sanctuary.

What type of security will be applied to the surrounding areas?

The area where the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary is situated belongs to the Natura 2000
network which prohibits potential development in the area. The only other activity allowed is
animal farming. Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation has established a positive and
cooperative relationship with the farmers on the neighbouring land. The number of animals in
the surrounding area is small and local farmers have agreed that the locations where the
animals are aggregated will remain far away from the bay. At the entrance to the Sanctuary
area, there is fencing with a gate and no-entry signage at 800m from the bay. Entrance without
a permit in this location is illegal and trespassers can face direct prosecution, based on a law
against livestock theft. With regards to accessing the site from the sea, as soon as the first
license is issued, there will be a local regulation issued by the local port authority, which will
define a marine zone in which access will not be allowed. Additionally, the invite-only visitors will
include academic researchers who will aim to contribute and expand the knowledge gained from
this Sanctuary, government officials and a limited number of small school student groups.
Priority will be given to the small island schools of the nearby area so as to reciprocate all the
support that was given to the Sanctuary.

Do you have all utilities?

The Sanctuary and its facilities will be fully equipped with all the utilities needed to ensure
that the formerly captive dolphins receive the required amount of care. It will be functioning
completely on renewable energy sources. A small hybrid renewable energy unit (six
photovoltaics, one wind generator) and one electric generator will be installed as well as a small
unit for the production of biodiesel from recycled cooking oils. Communication is achieved
through a satellite-based phone/internet systems (as there was no mobile phone coverage in
the area) which is powered by renewable energy. The water supply will be from rain collection
and desalination as much as possible, and minimal outside sources are needed.

Environment

Has the environmental impact study been carried out?

An expert consultancy with years of experience in conducting environmental impact
assessments (EIA) in protected areas of significant ecological importance has been hired in
order to undertake the EIA for this project. They will also be conducting a range of other
assessments in order to prepare the necessary documents for the licensing for operation of the
Sanctuary.

How will the additional organic waste from the dolphins be managed?

The sea current runs in and out of the bay and safety boundaries which maintain the dolphins
within the area will have wide enough specifications to ensure optimal flow. A solar-powered
propeller-based pump will be installed in the bay to supplement the existing current. This will
help move waste out of the bay to the edge of the island, where larger currents will disperse it,
preventing build up. The pump has been designed ensuring minimal noise production.
Additionally, Archipelagos Institute will work to increase the biomass of naturally occurring
native marine detritivores (i.e. holothurians) that will accelerate the breakdown of organic
matter.

How will a healthy ecosystem be maintained?

The marine ecosystem of the bay is a very diverse one, consisting of seagrass meadows that
shelter numerous marine organisms. More than 30 fish, 30 invertebrates, and 1 sea turtle
species have been recorded within the bay to date. In order to maintain a healthy ecosystem
once the dolphins arrive, the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will work on selectively enriching
the bay with certain native fish, invertebrate species and naturally occurring marine detritivores
to manage organic waste. Additionally, there will be constant water quality testing undertaken. It
still remains to be assessed whether the filtration of some form of bioload removal system is
needed beyond the natural flow of the currents in the Sanctuary. Moreover, the bay, where the Sanctuary is located, is a natural habitat for the Bottlenose dolphin species (Tursiops truncatus), where the animals can find the natural conditions in terms of stimuli essential for their psychological health and echolocation.

Animal Management and Care 

How will the dolphins be fed?

The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary team will ensure that the dolphins get all the nutrients
needed and will assist each individual according to its specific needs. The diet, as well as the
nutritional condition of the animals, will be regularly reviewed by specialised nutritionists as well
as veterinarians. The ideal situation expects that dolphins will learn to hunt live fish, which will
be introduced to them. The live fish will be sourced from a local sustainable fish farm.
To achieve this, a rehabilitation protocol will be applied from the very beginning: first the
dolphins will be fed by hand at the surface as they use from the original captive structure, then
they will be encouraged to eat underwater gradually eliminating the surface interaction. First,
with stunned fish, then with live fish only. Dolphins will have the opportunity to forage and feed
by themselves at all times. The process is gradual and may take some years for some animals whereas others may never succeed. Observation of the underwater behaviours with cameras and hydrophones and weight controls will help monitor their health status, which will be the top priority of the Sanctuary.

How will you prevent disease transmission?

There will be no direct contact between the resident and wild rescued animals. The
Sanctuary will have two safety boundaries, creating a controlled zone where interactions will be prevented. More specifically, there will be a 10m minimum separation between boundaries to
avoid transmission from breathing splashes. Decontamination and sterilisation of equipment and
personal gear will prevent transmission between resident animals and those attended to from
stranding events. Each dolphin will have a full epidemiological check-up prior to arrival and will be placed in the quarantine area before introduction to the Sanctuary space.

Will animals be released into the wild?

Past case studies of dolphins have shown that it may be feasible to release wild-caught
dolphins that were placed in a public display facility given that they were held captive for four
years or less. Any time frame greater than this or for animals born in captivity may make it
impossible for them to survive in the wild. Each individual’s records, abilities and social situation
will be monitored in order to decide what’s best for its safety and welfare. The Sanctuary aims to
provide life-term care to dolphins that are deemed unsuitable to be released into the wild.

What is the breeding policy?

The Sanctuary will operate under a strict non-breeding policy. Depending on the social
structure of the group arriving at the Sanctuary, the breeding control will be done by maintaining
single-sex populations, or by using contraception on females.

Will the animals be used for research purposes?

Research is not the aim of the Sanctuary. However, certain data and information could be
collected and studied without direct contact with the animals, like behaviour changes and
adaptation of the animals to the new environment. The veterinary records, cameras, hydrophones and viewing points will be used to collect the information.

Will the animals remain under stimulus control at the Sanctuary?

There will be efforts to minimise human contact, reducing it only to necessary health checks.
However, depending on the individual’s needs, more interaction between dolphins and staff may
be required for those being hand-fed or under chronic treatment. Dolphins will follow a gradual
process of desensitisation to human contact.

How will the animals be transported?

Depending on the place of origin of the dolphins, they will be transported to the Sanctuary by
plane, boat or road. An animal will not be transported if it is determined by the specialised
veterinarians that it would not be safe. A specially designed dolphin stretcher will be suspended
into a carrier that can hold water and has foam to support the dolphin's weight. The dolphin will
be continually sprayed down to allow thermoregulation. Veterinarians and dolphin caregivers will
attend to the dolphins during the transport ensuring first aid when necessary. The animals will undergo transport simulations prior to their actual transportation to the Sanctuary in order to
minimise associated stress.

How will you ensure the health and welfare of the animals?

The Sanctuary will host a veterinary clinic with all the facilities and equipment necessary for
health monitoring, first aid and caring for dolphins and other species including sonography,
haematological analysis and a quarantine pool. There will be a group of full-time staff living on site that will include specialised marine mammal veterinarians. All medical care before, during and after the rehabilitation will be provided as well as constant monitoring of the animals’ health status. The staff will monitor constantly the animals’ physical condition and behaviour, adjusting when necessary the measures to promote health and welfare and reporting any unexpected changes or concerns. The environmental conditions will be maintained as much as possible stable in order to protect the health and welfare of the animals reducing the risk of stress and injury.
All the work will be in accordance with the international environmental, health and safety legislation and codes of practice for protected species.

How will a crisis or disaster be managed?

If there is a situation where the integrity of the dolphins’ safety is compromised, such as with
the case of a hazardous material spill, the dolphins can be extracted from the bay and maintained on land in the quarantine pools. In the event of an earthquake or another event where shore side facilities are affected, an emergency management protocol will be followed, which may include the transportation of the animals to another enclosure.

Could orca be placed in the Sanctuary?

No. Although orcas (Orcinus orca) are usually present in the Straits of Gibraltar, they are
considered occasional species encountered in the Mediterranean Sea. The natural
characteristics of the Sanctuary bay of Lipsi island (depth, temperature, prey presence, etc.)
make the habitat unsuitable for them.

Will there be other species in the facility?

To prevent disease transmission, other species like monk seals (Monachus monachus) and
sea turtles will not be allowed in the same space with dolphins coming from dolphinaria.
However, the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will operate as a rehabilitation centre for marine
mammals, sea turtles and birds and it will provide assistance for them in different spaces, taking
all the necessary precautionary measures to ensure a safe environment for all animals.

Will the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary rescue animals and attend stranding events?

A 24-hour rescue team will be established to respond and rescue animals from stranding
events. The Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation can count on the help of extensively
experienced specialists in stranding response. All marine species in need of first aid or
rehabilitation will undergo a medical examination, and will receive veterinary treatment as
needed. If permanent care is necessary, the individual will remain in the Sanctuary in a
designated long-term refuge bay, which will be separate from the resident dolphins.

How will you rehabilitate stranded animals?

Currently, there is no facility in the eastern Mediterranean Sea that can provide medical
treatment for injured marine species, other than a few in-land facilities. Since the area is home
to many populations of marine animal species, stranding events inevitably occur, creating a
vital need for a veterinary facility to treat and rehabilitate seals, turtles, and dolphins when it is
possible. Since the Sanctuary will be situated in a natural bay, it will reduce stress associated
with the treatment and recovery process thus increasing the probability of a more successful
release.

How to help

What can I do to assist?

We are at a critical stage of near-completion, and have dolphins urgently waiting for a
Sanctuary facility. Your support is needed in order to complete the necessary infrastructure, as
well as secure funds for the sustainable operation of the project over the coming decades. Your
donation is urgently needed to fund items such as a specialised safety boundary at the entrance of the Sanctuary bay, government licenses, and all capital costs associated with such a long-awaited project. Startup funds needed: $600,000 and annual operating budget: $300,000.

Where can I donate to the project?

There are different fundraising platforms where you can make a financial contribution

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