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The Kornati archipelago is an isolated island group situated in the central region of the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea. The Kornati archipelago occupies an area of about 320 sq km and includes about 150 islands, islets and rocks. This most indented island group in the Adriatic Sea includes as many as 12% of the total number of islands found in the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea on as little as 1% of the total Croatian territorial waters. The island of Dugi Otok with its deep bay Telašćica is situated in the immediate vicinity, northwest of the Kornati archipelago, and forms, together with the Kornati islands, a unique natural and cultural entity.
The larger part of the Kornati island group was proclaimed a national park in 1980. The Kornati National Park occupies an area of 218 sq km and includes a total of 89 islands, islets and rocks. The islands cover less than ¼ of the total park area (slightly less than 50 sq km), which means that the sea surface dominates the park. The average area of particular island within the Kornati National Park is about 0.5 sq km. If we excluded the island of Kornat, the biggest island in the archipelago (32.5 sq km), the average area of particular island within the Park would be less than 0.2 sq km. The total coastline length of all islands is 238 km. The highest point is the Metlina peak situated on the island of Kornat (237 m), and the deepest point in the sea surrounding the islands is found near the islet of Purara (125 m).
The Telašćica Nature Park encompasses the far southeastern part of the island of Dugi Otok with its bay Telašćica and the belonging islets and rocks (15 islets and 4 rocks). The Park occupies a total area of 70.50 sq km. The land area covers 37% (25.95 sq km) of the total area, whereas the sea surface cover 63% (44.55 sq km) of the total park area. The Telašćica bay is 9.1 km long and from 160 to 1800 m wide. The total coastline of the bay is 68.78 km. A salt lake called Mir of 0.23 sq km in area, which represents one of the most significant phenomenon of this region, is situated on the island of Dugi Otok, within the park area.
According to Koeppen's climate classification system, the area enjoys an olive climate (Csa): a moderately warm rainy climate with dry and hot summers and the highest amount of precipitation (rain) in the fall. Due to the relatively degradatet land vegetation, the dew is usually profuse and replaces rain to a certain extent. The air temperature ranges from the average 8°C in February to the average 25°C in July and August (annual average is about 16°C). There are not too many cloudy periods: there are twice as many clear than cloudy days in a year (151:74). However, it is interesting to note that it rains on almost every cloudy day. The maximum amount of rain occurs in October (in November in other parts of Croatia). The most common winds are winds of Beaufort 1-3 (in 70% of the cases), while the air masses most frequently move from the sea towards the land. There are between 2600 and 2700 sunny hours per year, and the ultraviolet radiation represents as little as 5% of the total radiation.
The phenomenon of karst, as one of the most valuable natural feature of the Croatian landscape in general, characterizes this area as well. In the carbonate rocks of the Kornati islands and the island of Dugi Otok (shallow-sea limestone and dolomite dating from the Cretaceous Period) that have been exposed to atmospheric factors and intensive karst formation processes, with shorter or longer interruptions, for 65 million years, almost all karst formations characteristic for other parts of the Croatian karst area (caves, pits, cracks, sinkholes, and other) can be found.
One of the most famous phenomena found in the Kornati National Park and the Telašćica Nature Park are the ‘crowns’, locally known as krune or stene, i.e. steep cliffs found on southwestern island’s edges of both parks. We are referring to a tectonic fault plane formed as a result of the moving of the African tectonic plate towards north and its subduction underneath the Eurasian plate. In certain places the ‘crowns’ (cliffs) descend vertically to the depth of over 90 m below sea level. The highest ‘crown’ found within the Kornati National Park is 82 m high, while the one in the Telašćica Nature Park reaches up to 161 m above sea level.
The lake Mir, a salt lake lies within the Telašćica Nature Park, is a sunken karst depression with a rocky, sludgy and sandy bottom. The water of the lake Mir is saltier than the water of the surrounding open sea.
The vascular flora (pteridophyta, spermatophyta – gymnospermae and angiospermae) of the Kornati archipelago includes 537 taxa, i.e. about 10% of the total number of vascular floral taxa registered on the territory of the Republic of Croatia. It is estimated that there are 700-800 plant species (taxa) in the Kornati archipelago. Over 400 vascular flora species have been recorded in the Telašćica Nature Park so far.
In terms of vegetation and phytogeography, the entire area belongs to the eumediterranean vegetation zone of the Mediterranean littoral belt of the Mediterranean region, whereas in the phytogeographic sense it belongs to the East Adriatic sector of the Adriatic province. The basic climate-zonal woodland vegetation is represented by the Myrto-Quercetum ilicis community, whereas the rock vegetation is represented by the Phagnalo-Centaureetum ragusinae community, and the coastal cliff vegetation by the Plantagini-Limonietum cancellati community. The larger islands are covered by pasture vegetation, quite poor in terms of the number of species.
The relatively poor terrestrial flora (in terms of the number of species and specimens) is unquestionably a result of presence and activity of humans. The only carnivore species that lives within the Kornati National Park is the beech marten (Martes foina). The birds are numerous (so far 79 species have been recorded). The most common are the Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans), the common shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), the Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo), the Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus), the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), and other. Eight species of bats have been recorded in the area. The largest bat colony has been found in the Telašćica Nature Park, in a cave that is entered from the fault plane, where about 2000 specimens of the Geoffroy’s bat (Myotis emarginiatus), and about 1000 specimens of the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) live.
The sea-bottom (benthic) flora has so far been represented by 352 species, i.e. 52% of the total number of benthic species recorded in the Adriatic Sea, 682 algae species and 3 types of sea-flowering plants. In terms of their number, the most frequent are the species from the group of red algae (Rhodophyta) represented by 225 species, followed by the species from the group of brown algae (Phaeophyta) represented by 75 species and the group of green algae (Chlorophyta) represented by 52 species. This ratio in the number of red and brown algae species (R/P quotient) shows that the benthic flora belongs to the moderate sub-tropic biocenosis. The community of the sea-flowering plant (i.e. sea-grass) called Posidonia oceanica is still well-developed and frequent in the Kornati archipelago.
According to the research of the sea eco-systems carried out so far, over 850 species of macro-and meiofauna have been recorded. In comparison with other Adriatic and Mediterranean regions, it can be realistically assumed that there are at least 2500 to 3000 species of benthic and pelagic fauna living in the waters of the parks. One of the most attractive marine inhabitant of the area is the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) occasionally visit the area searching for food.
Humans have been present on the Kornati islands and the island of Dugi Otok from ancient times (from the Paleolithic Era). However, the first colonization was recorded in the time of the Illyrians (4-7 thousand years ago). Small rectangular dwellings, castle ruins and mounds speak about the significant habitation of the islands in the prehistoric times. Cattle breeding were the primary activity, although fishing had a significant role in the lives of the inhabitants at that time as well. It is possible to follow, more or less continuously, the traces of different cultures in these areas from that time to this day (ancient Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Croats).
620 owners of land plots are registered in the Kornati National Park today, of which only 24 of them have registered residence within the park. Main economic activity in the entire area is the traditional olive growing and extensive sheep breeding. Vine-growing and, to a lesser extent, fishing are also fostered within the Telašćica Nature Park. Recently, tourism is becoming more and more prominent.
In 1980 most of the Kornati archipelago and the southeastern part of the island of Dugi Otok with its bay Telašćica were proclaimed a national park (official gazette "Narodne novine" No. 13/80). In 1988 the Telašćica and the surrounding area separated from the Kornati National Park to form a distinct protected area with a more moderate form of protection: the Telašćica Nature Park (official gazette "Narodne novine" No. 14/88).
Besides the regime of protection specific to the ‘national park' category, there are, within the Kornati National Park, four «strictly protected zones», entirely left to be governed by the laws of nature (no visits allowed, except in case of specially-approved scientific research).
Special legal norms guaranteeing the preservation, authenticity and the integrity of the area apply to the Kornati National Park and the Telašćica Nature Park:
The Government of the Republic of Croatia established the Kornati National Park Public Institution based in Murter, and the Telašćica Nature Park Public Institution based in Sali, the main purpose of which is to protect, preserve, maintain and promote the respective protected areas.
The Kornati National Park and the Telašćica Nature Park encompass all elements and phenomena that make these areas unique and valuable (landscape beauties, geomorphological features and rich marine biocenoses).
Considering the features of the localities included in the Mediterranean World Heritage List, it can be concluded that the Kornati islands and the bay Telašćica, as a whole, represent a unique area in terms of their features.
The geomorphological uniqueness derives from the fact that this archipelago represents the densest island group in the Mediterranean Sea. There are about 150 islands, islets and cliffs on the area of about 320 sq km. Coastal cliffs known as ‘crowns' were formed as a result of tectonic movements and the subduction of the African tectonic plate underneath the Eurasian plate. In the morphological sense, these cliffs are one of the unique features of this area, and they stretch both above and below sea level across the entire Kornati National Park and the Telašćica Nature Park. In terms of the richness and diversity of karst formations on the land and in the sea, we should highlight the sunken karst depression forming the present-day lake Mir within the Telašćica Nature Park.
The geomorphological diversity of the sea-bottom area (depth, inclination, caves etc.) reflects the diversity of the living conditions. Therefore, the undersea area abounds in quite diverse and rich sea biocenoses, especially the sea-bottom biocenoses. The community of the sea-flowering plant (i.e. sea-grass) Posidonia oceanica, which is extinct in many Mediterranean areas, is still well-developed and frequent in the undersea area of the Kornati archipelago. It spreads over a large part of shallow movable bottoms of the Kornati National Park. The coralligenous biocenoses are well-developed, especially in the shadowed places where they create coralligenous pathways. Fish communities are also rich, which is why, prior to being proclaimed a protected area, this area had been known as one of the richest in this part of the Adriatic. Fishing is today very restricted though. The unique nature of the area is reflected also in the exceptional beauty of the landscape of the archipelago. The contrast of the azure sea and the land represented by carbonate rocks (shallow-sea limestone and dolomite dating from the Cretaceous Period) covered by scarce eumediterranean vegetation contributes to the landscape distinctiveness as well.
By establishing the Kornati National Park and the Telašćica Nature Park. protected areas, and by adopting physical plans that protect the natural and cultural values of the same, this unique area has been preserved in its authentic state and it, in comparison with other protected island groups, stands out by its natural character due to the fact that only a small part of the area has been built up.