Rising from the deep seafloor where three continental plates meet, the Azores Archipelago stands as a grand oasis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, underwater volcanoes host highly specialized fauna and rugged seamounts hold vibrant, thriving sponges and coral gardens. Forever loved by the whales, adventurous sailors, and its people, the rich heritage of the Azores Archipelago has become globally renowned and cherished. To flourish into future generations, stakeholders believe that these marine ecosystems need to be preserved by a comprehensive network of marine protected areas (MPAs).
Mission Blue, international ocean conservation nonprofit, recognizes the Azores Archipelago as a Hope Spot in support of a coherent network of MPAs that extend from the surface of the sea all the way down to the deep seafloor.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, says, “The Azores Archipelago is a magnet for life. It really is a magical place.” She continues, “Launching the Azores as Hope Spot is so logical – just ask the whales. They know how special this place is. This used to be a place where whales were killed and now people are making a living by respecting the whales and having people come out and visit them as fellow citizens of the planet.”
Christopher Pham, Azores Hope Spot Champion, adds, “The inclusion of the Azores as a Hope Spot is a significant step in our mission to promote the protection of this unique place.” Pham works as a research associate at the Okeanos research center of the University of the Azores specializing in deep-sea ecosystems and plastic pollution.
In 2019, the Regional Government of the Azores announced the Blue Azores program, in partnership with the Oceano Azul Foundation and the Waitt Institute that will lead to the declaration of 15% of the Azorean Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) as new no-take marine reserves. However, more work is needed in the conservation of the Azores marine territory, namely the implementation of MPA management plans and a strong Marine Spatial Planning policy, both in progress.
Perhaps what makes the Azores Archipelago such a precious gem of the sea is its rare and richly valuable ecological and biological qualities. The Azores contains a key portion of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – the most prominent ocean floor feature in the Atlantic Ocean. Here, the ocean is divided into eastern and western deep basins and hosts hydrothermal vent ecosystems. Seamounts in the Azores may act as essential “stepping stones” allowing the faunas from Madeira and Canaries, Africa and the Mediterranean Sea to reach the center of the North Atlantic.
Click here to explore the interactive Hope Spot StoryMap, hosted on ESRI.
Amazing Alonissos – The all round dive vacation destination
In early summer we were given a wonderful opportunity to visit Alonissos in the Sporades Islands in the northern Aegean Sea. This green and forested island sits at the edge of the Alonissos National Marine Park, the largest marine protected area in Europe. Our main focus was to be scuba diving, but during our short stay we were especially impressed with all of the other activities and experiences available on Alonissos for the discerning vacationer.
The scuba diving was really outstanding. In contrast to some areas of the Mediterranean, the marine biodiversity here was impressively diverse and abundant. Our short stay meant we just had a small taste of the diving available, however our hosts at Alonissos Triton Dive Center treated us to some exceptional sites from their impressively long list. The variety of marine life we encountered was a delight: large Gorgonian sea fans, many species of nudibranchs, small pipefish to large groupers, octopus, and much more.
One of the most incredible experiences was the chance to dive the oldest accessible shipwreck in the world, the Ancient Shipwreck of Peristera underwater archeological site from 500 BC … an amazing dive site with a very unique automated underwater museum monitoring system in place to protect its archaeological heritage. It was a busy but hugely satisfying few days of diving and we could certainly spend much longer on this idyllic isle!
Greece has a huge number of beautiful islands to visit, so why choose Alonissos?
This island is one of the quieter Greek islands and as such has a very relaxed and welcoming feel, where you can find an authentic slice of the Aegean region. And, it is really easy to get there — so many airports in the UK offer flight connections directly to Skiathos (the hub of the Sporades) that you should not have to drive more than 100km in the UK to an airport.
Finally, the variety of non-diving activities is hard to beat. There are boating day trips into the National Marine Park, taking you to visit secluded beaches and giving you a chance to see some amazing wildlife (such as monk seals, Eleonora’s Falcon, and several species of dolphin to name a few). Both the main port town of Patitiri and the old village of Chora are full of interesting shops, charming alleyways, and restaurants with delicious meals. As an added bonus, the Alonissos cheese pie is a particularly moreish local specialty!
As a holiday destination, Alonissos really had everything one could ask for. Look for our full print article in an upcoming issue of Scubaverse’s own Dive Travel Adventures magazine!
The Municipality of Alonissos (https://alonissos.gr/en/)
Alonissos Triton Dive Center (https://bestdivingingreece.com)
Alonissos National Marine Park (https://alonissos.gr/en/marine-park/overview.html)
Paradise Hotel (https://paradise-hotel.gr/)
Albedo Travel (https://alonissosholidays.com/)
Diving With… Sporades Diving Group in Skopelos & Alonissos Islands, Greece
What is your name?
(Anastasios) Tasos Ktistis
What is the name of your business?
Sporades Diving: Skopelos Dive Center operates in Skopelos island and Ikion Diving that operates in Alonissos island, which is run by my business partner Kostas Danis.
What is your role within the business?
Master Scuba Diving Trainer PADI & Co-Owner of Skopelos Dive Center & Manager of Skopelos Island diving operations
How long has the business operated for?
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
I have been diving since 2012. I am a Mechanical Engineer with a BA in Documentary Photography and since 2012 I am qualified as a Master Scuba Diving Trainer PADI, since 2021 Tec65 diver and since 2022 as a Tec40 Diving Instructor
What is your favorite type of diving?
If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?
We offer our clients a safe and relaxed type of diving in the exciting and crystal-clear waters of the Sporades islands in Greece. Christoforos and Peristera’s ancient wreck are two must dive destinations.
What is your favorite dive in your location and why?
My favorite dive location is the “Christophoros” shipwreck. A 83m long modern shipwreck that sank in 1983 in Panormos Bay in Skopelos island. As a wreck diving lover, I am so excited that as one of our dive locations I get to dive on this amazing site with our clients.
What types of diving are available in your location?
On our dive sites the rocky landscape is dominant with beautiful reefs, walls and caverns that I am sure everyone will enjoy. And of course wreck diving at the “Christophoros” shipwreck
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
The satisfaction and the happiness on our clients’ faces after a dive.
What is your favorite underwater creature?
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
I would say the fact that the Sporades islands have a short summer season (July-August) although the weather is ideal for diving from May till October.
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
Of course we are! First of all, we are all great advocates of the less plastic movement that has started in 2014, not only in Skopelos but also in Alonissos (Ikion Diving). We participate in underwater clean-ups as well as in projects for local management of plastic waste (#zeroplastic with iSea and Re-Shape plastic-funded by Beyond Plastic MED.)
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
We currently aspire to get more involved in Scientific Diving projects by actively supporting the operations through our involvement in EU funded projects, while at the same time we are also exploring the possibilities of Technical Diving as me and my partner of the Alonissos base, Kostas Danis, are certified PADI Tec40 Instructors. We believe that in the future our business will be well known for not only its recreational diving services but also its involvement with the Scientific Diving community through its technical diving services and expertise.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
I believe that SCUBA and in general alternative tourism becomes more inclusive and even more people are interested to get to engage in this type of activities that ultimately protect the environment by raising awareness of the public about the ecosystem of the sea and its significance to a viable future.
Finally, what would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
At Skopelos Dive Center and Ikion Diving Alonissos (Sporades Diving Group) you can create fantastic underwater experiences – including guided dives, PADI courses, and snorkeling tours combining the two islands. It is our goal to create a safe, comfortable experience for divers of all abilities.
Where can our visitors find out more about your business? (This is where you enter your contact details and any specific details on how our audience can reach you)
Skopelos Dive Center (Skopelos Island)
Ikion Diving Alonissos (Alonissos island)
+30 6940 448 004 (WhatsApp: +30 6984181598)