Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
- The Project
- Animal Management and Care
- 1. THE PROJECT
Q1.1: What is the aim of the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary?
A: 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 stranded, 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.
Q1.2: How long has this concept been in action?
A: The preliminary work for the site selection and development planning was initiated in 2010. Five possible sanctuary sites were identified around five islands of the eastern Aegean. After a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of each site and extensive discussions with the local authorities and communities, Vroulia Bay around 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 at 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 endeavourr.
Q1.3: How will this project benefit the local community? Is the project supported by the local and national community?
A: 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 researchers, vets 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.
Q1.4: Who are the advisors to the sanctuary?
A: The project is led by:
Anastasia Miliou - Scientific Director
Dr. Guido Pietroluongo - Lead Veterinarian and Director of Animal Welfare
Thodoris Tsimpidis - Chief of Operations
And is supported by:
Sanctuary Education Advisory Specialists SEAS
Orca Rescues Foundation
Q1.5: How much money will it cost to set up and be operational?
A: For Phase A to be completed an absolute minimum of $600,000 is required.
Phase A 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.
Q1.6: How will funding be sustained for the lifetime of the project?
A: 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 enterprises releasing the dolphins: The institution that will potentially allocate the first dolphins to the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary have offered to cover the welfare costs associated with the dolphins for their entire lifespan conditional to essential funds for the infrastructure being sourced.
- 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 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 biologists. 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.
Q1.7: Will the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary be open to the public?
A: There are no plans for the facility to be open for public viewing. However, there will be 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, after the arrival of the dolphins and the start of the rehabilitation process, an educational centre will open for 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.
Q1.8: Who will be allowed to visit the sanctuary when it opens and how will the number of visitors be limited?
A: 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, as well as small parties of donors who have supported the sanctuary. All visitors will follow strict protocols and codes of conduct in order to minimise disturbance to the animals.
- 2. LOCATION
Q2.1: How was this sanctuary site chosen?
A: 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 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 10cm. This bay is ideally sheltered to serve the purpose of a sanctuary.
- High marine biodiversity with 64 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 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.
The map below shows specifications of the sanctuary area. The volume of water contained in Section 1 corresponds to 61 Olympic sized swimming pools, Section 2 corresponds to 165 Olympic sized swimming pools and Section 3 corresponds to 325 Olympic sized swimming pools.
Q2.3: Is the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary located in a Natura 2000 area?
A: 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. It is worth noting that the proposed protected areas are only terrestrial and not marine protected areas. Throughout Greece there are 162 proposed sites for protection but only 24 of these sites are legally established protected areas.
Additional preventative action will be taken to prevent the development of an aquaculture plant in the surrounding areas.
Q2.4: How many dolphins can the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary accommodate?
A: 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 well-being. Following their successful rehabilitation, the sanctuary will expand its hosting capacity by extending to the surrounding bays.
Q2.5: Can the sanctuary be expanded?
A: 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 sexes is so far undecided. The use is allowed and possible, but at this point remains flexible based on future need.
Q2.6: How much boat traffic will be around?
A: 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.
Q2.7: What type of boundaries will be used and how resistant are they?
A: Copper boundary nets will be used to enclose the bay. Additionally, there will be a floating dock system that will act as a barrier between wild dolphins and formerly captive dolphins.
Q2.8. What type of security will be applied to the surrounding areas?
A: 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 licence 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 by-invitation only visitors to the site, will include academic researchers who will aim to contribute to the research carried out and also to expand the knowledge produced from this sanctuary, as well as government officials and a limited number of small school student groups. Priority will be given to the small island schools of the nearby area.
Q2.9: Do you have all essential utilities available ?
A: The Sanctuary and its facilities will be fully equipped with all the utilities needed to ensure that the dolphins receive optimal 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 far as possible, and minimal outside sources are needed.
- 3. ENVIRONMENT
Q3.1: Has the environmental impact study been carried out?
A: 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.
Q3.2: How will the additional organic waste from the dolphins be managed?
A: The sea current runs in and out of the bay and safety boundaries which maintain the dolphins within the area will have wide enough boundaries to ensure continued 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 marine detritivores (i.e. holothurians) that will accelerate the breakdown of organic matter.
Q3.3: How will a healthy ecosystem be maintained?
A: 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 fish, invertebrate species and naturally occurring marine detritivores to manage organic waste. Additionally, there will be constant water quality testing done. 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 species (Tursiops truncatus) where the animals can find the natural conditions in terms of stimuli essential for their psychological health and echolocation.
- 4. ANIMAL MANAGEMENT AND CARE
Q4.1: How will the dolphins be fed?
A: 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 will be reviewed by a nutritionist expert regularly. The ideal situation is 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 stunned fish at the surface, then they will be encouraged to eat only live fish underwater, gradually eliminating the surface interaction. 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 control will help to control their health status, which will be the top priority of the sanctuary.
Q4.2: How will you prevent disease transmission?
A: There will be no direct contact between the resident and wild animals. The sanctuary will have two safety borders, creating a controlled zone where interactions will be prevented. More specifically, there will be a 10m minimum separation between nets 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 strandings.
Each dolphin will have a full epidemiological check-up prior to arrival and will be placed at the quarantine area before introduction to the sanctuary space.
Q4.3: Will animals be released to the wild?
A: Past case studies of dolphins have shown that it may be feasible to release wild-caught dolphins who 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.
Q4.4: What is the breeding policy?
A: 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.
Q4.5: Will the animals be used for research purposes?
A: Research is not the aim of the sanctuary. However, certain data and information could be collected and studied from a distance, like behaviour changes and adaptation of the animals to the new space. The veterinary records, cameras, hydrophones and viewing points will be used to collect the information.
Q4.6: Will the animals remain under stimulus control at the sanctuary?
A: There will be efforts to minimise human contact, this being reduced to health checkups. 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.
Q4.7: How will the animals be transported?
A: 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 to do so. 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.
Q4.8: How will you ensure the health and welfare of the animals?
A: The sanctuary will host a vet 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 at least one marine mammal veterinarian. All medical care before, during and after the rehabilitation will be provided as well as constant monitoring of the health status of the animals hosted.
Q4.9: How will a crisis or disaster will be managed?
A: 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.
Q4.10: Could orca be placed in the sanctuary?
A 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.
Q4.11: Will there be other species in the facility?
A: To prevent disease transmission, other species like monk seals and 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, 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.
Q4.12: Will the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary rescue animals and attend strandings?
A: A 24-hour rescue team will be established to respond to and rescue animals from strandings. The Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation has extensive experience in stranding response and for conducting necropsies and sampling of dead stranded animals. 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.
Q4.13: How will you rehabilitate stranded animals?
A: Currently, there is no facility in the eastern Mediterranean 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, strandings inevitably occur, creating a vital need for a veterinary facility to treat and rehabilitate seals, turtles, and dolphins. 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.
In Greece, there is a Cetaceans Sightings and Strandings Databank running since 1945 and managed by ARION Research Center for the Rescue and Care of Cetaceans. ARION is a Greek network that provides first aid and professional veterinary care to stranded, dead or alive, cetaceans in Greek waters in collaboration with many NGOs, associations and the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.