Zakynthos Marine Park
Located just off the southern coast of Zante is a place called 'Turtle Island' (also known as Marathonissi Island). This is home to the famous Zakynthos marine park. Opened back in 1999, it was revolutionary for its time. It was the very first conservation area on the island, so if eco-tourism is important to you, this is the place to be. Within the boundaries of the park are some of the most important beaches for the sea turtle Caretta Caretta (an endangered species) in Europe. This is where they lay their eggs in summer. There are six secluded shores in total that fall under the protection of the park, including Gerakas, Daphni, Sekania, Kalamaki, E. Laganas and Marathonissi. Together these beaches form the Bay of Laganas. All in all, they cover around 5km of sandy shores. Out of all of them, Sekania boasts the world's highest concentration of loggerhead turtles. It's estimated that as many as 1,300 turtles live in and around this bay, and with so many of them about you're bound to catch sight of one.
A park full of natural attractions
In addition to turtle nesting areas, the park includes the wetland of Keri Lake as well as the two tiny islands of Strofadia. All these places are home to a wide array of wildlife, making them a real haven for nature lovers. The Bay of Laganas is split into three marine zones (A, B, and C), in addition to the protected nesting areas, and the terrestrial and peripheral zones. In the same regions, you'll also see seals. These are adorable and amazing to see in their natural habitat. Just like us humans, they love to swim in the sea and lounge around on the sand, soaking up the sunshine. As you can imagine, there are plenty of restrictions placed on the beaches, protected by Zakynthos marine park. This ensures they stay safe for the sea turtle nests and the all-important eggs that will ensure the survival of this beautiful marine animal. This tranquil, peaceful shoreline is stunning and dramatic, and free of the usual signs of mankind's heavy-handed development. The jutting rocks and beautiful dunes give the area a serene, picturesque feel, and in the distance you'll also see thick pinewoods, home to many porcupines and wild rabbits. If you're lucky, you may even spot a dolphin or two jumping over the waves, so keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.
Birdwatching in Zakynthos marine park
It's not just turtles and seals here; there are tons of birds to be seen, too. If you're lucky, you might get a glimpse of wild swans, swallows, kingfishers, and seagulls.
Explore the open waters
The water surrounding Turtle Island is incredibly clear which makes spotting turtles in their natural habitat pretty easy. This is why a lot of people choose to explore the sea by kayak. You'll be amazed at the underwater life you can see from the comfort of your boat. Alternatively, if kayaking sounds too strenuous, travel by taxi boat from Laganas Beach. If you do decide to go snorkelling, opt for a company that practices safe animal snorkelling. Do some research before your trip and ensure they prioritise the animal's best interests. There are tons of hard and soft corals to see and an active fish and crustacean life, making the region a paradise for divers.
If reptiles and amphibians are more your thing, then there are plenty of frogs, iguanas and soft-water snakes to be found. Just try not to get too close, because it's hard to tell whether they're poisonous or not.
The Exhibition Centre
If you want to learn more about the fantastic work this park is doing, head to their exhibition centre located in Dafni, Vassilikos Municipal District. Here the multimedia displays are as informative as they are engaging, and there's a chance to buy a souvenir or two to commemorate your visit.
Things to do near the park
If you fancy a trip to a beach without any restrictions, then check out the other nearby coastlines including Banana Beach (which is 11 miles to the east), or Shipwreck Beach, which is 11 miles northwest. Alternatively, if you favour something more active, put on a comfy pair of shoes and explore the Blue Caves. These are one of the most popular attractions on the island. You can charter a boat or hop on one of many organised tours to this place. This attraction (like the beaches) is also around 11 miles from the Zakynthos Marine Park.