The definition of biodiversity
Biodiversity, according to the Greek legislation, in the relevant statute for the Preservation of Biodiversity (statute 3937, government’s newspaper 60/A/31.3.2011) is defined as
Biological variety” or else “biodiversity” is the variety of living organisms of every origin, including land, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes, which they are part of.”
The variety inside the species, among the species and their ecosystems is also included. The same applies for the variety of the genes inside and among the species.
The preservation of biodiversity and the environmental protection must become our firm value and claim, as biodiversity has the most important role in our lives and it is the necessary recourse not only for the survival of humans, but also the spiritual, cultural and economic development of human kind.
The last few decades the downgrading of the planet’s biodiversity occurs in a rapid pace and the concern and interest of both the world and the scientists in the protection of the environment is constantly rising in order to force for a change in the model of managing the natural recourses and to take measures that will prevent a massive destruction of the planet. Man is the only one to blame for the environmental destruction because of his greed and over-exploitation of nature.
Biodiversity includes all the wide range of species as well as the biological communities and the genetic diversity.
The guide book for biodiversity
The guide book for biodiversity in Sitia aims at making its citizens as well as its visitors more sensitive to this issue through their contact with the natural habitats and environment of East Crete.
It is a small guide book, which will take each visitor to nearby places and unique ecosystems that remain unknown, and will give them the chance to get to know the flora and fauna and avifauna in the region. We believe that the acknowledgement and understanding of the importance of natural habitats in the preservation of the species will be the basic tool and a means of forcing the local authorities to take measures for the protection of biodiversity in Sitia, Crete, Greece and the whole planet.
Our aim in using a text which is clearly not a scientific research but a simple descriptive guide book directed to a traveller, naturalist or a simple visitor is to describe the ecosystems and the natural habitats of Sitia without missing the scientific approach towards the issue.
The writing of the following texts is based on the facts provided by research which was conducted in the area, as well as visits to natural habitats and listing of species out of the Greek and International bibliography and special web references and therefore, there is enough evidence mainly about the Natural regions.
Geomorphology of Sitia
The bas relief in Eastern Crete has a largest outbreak in the western part, where lies the largest mountain of the place, called Diktis. Its highest top is called Sword (Spathi) or Entihtis (2.148 metres high). In the East edge of Sitia lie the mountains of Sitia with their highest peak, Afendis, (1.475 metres high) which stick out northeast to Orno (1.237 metres high). The above mountain is separated by fault direction South and West of Sitia from the mountains of Sitia (Prinias 803 m, Vigla Zakros 711 m, Plagia 819 m), the low extensions of which reach the sea.
There aren’t any huge plains in the region, except for the plains of Sitia and Palaikastro. On the contrary, there are small or large plateaus in the massif, the largest of which are those of Handras and Ziros or smaller ones such as those of Monokaras, Zakathos, etc. Another characteristic of the region is the lack of rivers with constant provision of water throughout the year. However, there are a lot of streams at the mouth of which small wetland ecosystems are created.
The geology of the region has its importance as well. For this reason, the city council is moving forward to institutionalize the Geopark of Sitia, which will occupy the largest area of the Municipality, within the boundaries of the natural park of Sitia, as it is currently called.
The Alpine sections of Crete are prominent in the area of Sitia. These are the “Platy Limestones” “Phyllites and Quartzites” and also “Tripolis” and “Magasa”. Moreover, there are huge sedimentary lines from the post alpine sections and especially rocks from the periods “Miocene”, “Pliocene” and “Pleistocene”. Every visitor can easily notice characteristic fossils in many of the rocks in the natural park of Sitia. Among the special fossils of the park, it’s worth mentioning the discovery of an ancient elephant species skeleton called Deinotherium Giganteum, which is one of the most important findings in the world. In addition, other fossils have been found as well, such as Corals, Urchins (Clypeaster) and Bivalve (Chlamys), Deer (Candiacervus cretensis), Hippos (Hippopotamus creutzburgi), Elephants (Elephas antiquus), Mice (Kritimys catreus, Kritimys, Clemmys).
For more information you can visit the website of the Natural Park of Sitia, on which you can find inclusive description of the geological development in Eastern Crete. http://www.sitia-geopark.gr
The area of Sitia has all the necessary characteristics of an arid Mediterranean climate with a dry season, which is long in duration and very intense. Its other general characteristics are plenty of sunshine, little rainfall, which only lasts for a few months, relatively low humidity, high average temperatures in the summer and mild winter.
The average temperature during the hot months is about 22 C, whereas during the colder months the average temperature drops to 10 C. The difference in the average temperature between the hottest and coldest month is about 15 C. The highest percentage of rainfall occurs during the winter months with fewer showers during the spring and autumn.
The meteorological elements of the region are recorded in two weather stations, which provide deep time series and facts. There are the National Weather Department, which is situated at the airport of Sitia in a 113 metres altitude and the weather station of the National Observatory of Athens from the general hospital of Sitia.
Biodiversity in Eastern Crete
In general, both the landscape and biodiversity of Eastern Crete differs slightly from the rest of the island. Some of the climate characteristics as well as the special morphology and the bas relief of the landscape along with the minimum possible disturbance caused by the unregulated tourism development in the rest of the island, give the region a unique and rare ecological value.
The numerous combinations of ecological parameters create a lot of different types of ecological habitat, and therefore, an exceptional range of flora and fauna as well as a large number of significant habitats. The same factors form a wide range of natural landscape. However, the ecosystems, natural habitats and landscape are characterized by the short stretch that take up, which makes them sensitive and vulnerable both to the human pressure and the natural changes such as the climate change. Sitia is characterized by a cultural and historic wealth closely connected to nature.
All this alloy of man and nature has contributed to the creation of a lot of remarkable landscape, which combines natural beauty and cultural value. For thousand years man’s presence in the land of Sitia and the historical monuments traditional architecture has left behind, the customs and culture compose of a landscape which provides all the distinctive characteristics of a special aesthetic and biological value.
Biodiversity in Crete
Crete lies in the centre of Eastern Mediterranean basin. Its length is 260 kilometres and there are small and bigger islands all around it, which function as arks for the endemic species of flora and fauna. Crete is one of the biggest islands in the Mediterranean but it is very different from the other ones in terms of topography, history, archaeology and anthropological element. In all these fields, Crete has its unique characteristics from the prehistoric period until today.
The climate of Crete is typically Mediterranean. More specifically the climate of the mountainous regions is similar to that of the mainland because of the existence of four large mountains and the important altitude, whereas the coastal areas have the same temperature characteristics as the insular Greece. The position of Crete as well as the mountainous type of its ground causes frequent weather changes regarding the intension and direction of the prevailing winds. The northern coast is affected by the annual winds (meltemia), which are in fact Northeast or Northwest, simoom and dry winds, during the summer. South regions are affected by southerly simoom and dry winds coming from Africa during the winter. From a bioclimatic point of view, the southeast side of Crete is regarded as having semiarid Mediterranean climate and it is the driest region of Greece.
Unlike the mainland, there aren’t any dense forests in Crete. The main vegetation consists of brushwood and bushes, which according to the conditions get a bushy or arborescent form. The brushwood covers the driest and more grazed grounds of Crete from sea level to high mountain zone. Another characteristic of Cretan regions is the wide range of endemic species found almost in every place.
Cretan flora is one of the most important in Europe not only in the number of the species, but also in endemism. It has got approximately 1.750 species and subspecies with 10% of endemism. It is worth mentioning that Britain has only got 1.600 kinds of plants, namely fewer than those found in Crete, which proves the significance of Crete as one of the most important centres of biodiversity (biodiversity hotspot) in Europe.
For million years, Cretan topography, competition and microclimate in every region along with human activity have drastically contributed to the development of an amazing anarchy in vegetation, which is characteristic of the Cretan Landscape.
Fauna is less known than flora and mostly species with a Mediterranean distribution dominate, although there is a large number of South European, Minor Asian and Balkan species. All kinds of reptiles are present in the coastal regions. In fact, there are approximately 1.000 endemic species. Most of them are invertebrate (spiders, insects, etc).
The bas relief and orientation of Crete play an important role in the hydrology of the island. There are very few rivers flowing all year round. Even Geropotamos, which is the longest river in Crete, situated in Messara plain, runs out of water during the summer. Lagoons and fresh water marshes or brackish marshes are formed at the mouth of the river. Rivers dispose of the clay they carry at this spot sealing their bottom. These lakes usually dry up during the summer months. These wetlands are irreplaceable stations for migratory birds in their trip to Africa.
Cretan avifauna is very rich not only because Crete has got a wide range of natural habitats, but also because it is a path for migratory birds. 300 avifauna species have been reported, from which 80 reproduce in Crete. The most important of all is vulture and its population in Balkan reproduces only in Crete.
Biodiversity in Greece
The environment in Greece has exceptional variety and rare biodiversity, which classifies Greece first among the other member states of European Union. There are 30 – 50.000 kinds of fauna. Greece also has the largest population of fish fauna in fresh water in the Mediterranean and more than 400 kinds of birds. This wide diversity in Greece is due to its geographical position, as it is the crossroads of three continents, which are Europe, Asia and Africa, and the coexistence of floristic regions such as the Mediterranean, European (Eurasian) and Iran – Caspian (Pontiac). In proportion to its stretch, the Greek flora is one of the richest in Europe containing more than 6.000 species and sub-species, 1250 of which are endemic.
Moreover, because of the fact that Greece is mountainous and it has got a lot of islands there is isolation and endemism, which results in making a large percentage of the species and sub-species (15%) endemic. Greece is a host country for many endemic, rare and endangered animal species (like the Mediterranean seal Monachus monachus, the brown bear Ursus arctus and the sea turtle Caretta caretta, to name just a few.)
Among the main kinds of ecosystems in Greece, marine ecosystems, lagoons, reefs, coastal marshes, pebbly and sandy beaches, dunes, rocky beaches, rivers, standing water, marshes and swamps, riparian forests, brushwood, maquis, dry grasslands, wetlans, deciduous forests, Mediterranean coniferous forests, montane coniferous forests, subalpine coniferous forests, caves and canyons are also included.
According to the criteria of the Biological Diversity Contract (the contract was signed in 1992 inRio de Janeiro and was ratified by Greece, statute 2204/94) Greek ecosystems are important for the following reasons:
a) Natural regions with minimum or limited human intervention are preserved, resulting in maintaining their natural functions.
b) Biodiversity in terms of natural habitats and ecosystems is important because it provides coastal (shoreline of 13,000 klm), marine and land habitats, which cover the gradations from Central European to the Mediterranean and subtropical ecosystems.
c) The Greek ecosystems contain a large number of species, especially endemic, rare, endangered and migratory ones.
d) The presence of natural habitats with cultural and social importance.
Although, biodiversity in Greece is in a relatively good condition, this natural wealth is being gradually downgraded and at risk. The main causes of this downgrading are:
a) The environmental pollution (air pollution, water pollution, pollution of the ground and organisms due to pesticides and herbicides)
b) The desertification of territories mostly due to the abandonment and over grazing
c) The over exploitation of natural resources, and the intensive agricultural production, the uncontrolled building, the illegal mining, the poaching and the unregulated tourism development
d) The spread of invasive species
e) The climate change