Gulf of Amvrakikos

Gulf of Amvrakikos

Ionian Dolphin Project: Protecting Dolphins in Western Greece

The region around the island of Kalamos in the inner archipelago of the Ionian Sea was once famous for its rich biodiversity. Nearly 150 common dolphins were known to live there in the early 1990s. Then the fish stocks were depleted and the dolphins disappeared. In 1991 Tethys Research Institute started a long-time study on common dolphin ecology and behaviour in the region. The scientists witnessed the collapse of the population. A joint study by OceanCare and Tethys proved that industrial fisheries had deprived the dolphins of their prey, and that the fishing methods had badly damaged the local ecosystem. In May 2010 the Government of Greece finally implemented the EU’s ban on beach seining.

Another population of around 150 bottlenose dolphins north of Kalamos, in the Gulf of Amvrakikos, is more stable and has been monitored by OceanCare and Tethys since 2001. Yet, their situation is also tenuous. The dolphins rarely leave the 400 km² basin that is connected to the Ionian Sea only through a narrow channel. As a result, they are dependent on the quality of their limited habitat. As part of a National Park, the Gulf of Amvrakikos has been largely unaffected by the fishing industry, leaving  plenty of food available for the dolphins. Water pollution is the critical issue the dolphin face. Untreated wastewater from fish farms, nearby villages and agricultural facilities has been causing excess fertilisation of the water, making it ever more cloudy and oxygen-deficient. This is suffocating the entire ecosystem and all of its living beings;  an urgent situation that needs to be averted.

Important Engagement with the Local Population

For many years, the researchers have maintained close contact with the local inshore fishermen. Now these fishermen are reporting important observations at sea, and are interested in stewardship of the marine habitat. The fishermen of Kalamos, for instance, have voluntarily agreed to increase the mesh size of their nets and to spare fish during the spawning season.

Lectures at schools and “Dolphin Days” are some of the public outreach activities OceanCare and Tethys use to raise awareness in local communities about the ecological relationships in their marine environment and about the need for dolphin protection. Local school boards plan to incorporate the lectures in their curricula. Greek media are constantly reporting on the research activities.

Unforgettable Encounters

Research participants help maintain the important conservation work carried out in Western Greece, by funding the Ionian Dolphin Project. Aboard the ocean-going inflatable crafts, they carry out important observation work and identify the surveyed dolphins through individual photo-identification. This data provides crucial information on the size and development of populations around Kalamos and in the Gulf of Amvrakikos. Encounters with dolphins in the wild will leave research participants with unforgettable memories.

Dates and Facts

Residing in the research station in Vonitsa
Conducting research aboard an inflatable craft
Course language: English
Participants: 5 per week

Dates, costs & reservation 2017: Ionian Dolphin Project