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 in stranding events, 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.

The preliminary work for the site selection and development planning was initiated in 2010. Five possible sanctuary sites were identified around 5 islands of the eastern Aegean Sea. After a comprehensive analysis of the characteristics of each site and extensive discussions with the local authorities and communities, Vroulia Bay in 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 in 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 endeavour.

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 scientists, researchers 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.

For Phase 1 to be completed an absolute minimum of $600,000 is required. Phase 1 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.

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 entity releasing the dolphins to the Sanctuary : the donors that will potentially allocate the dolphins to the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary will be required to ensure sufficient funds are available to provide the animals with lifetime care.
  • 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 and consultants 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 scientists. 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.

There are no plans in the initial phase for the facility to be open for public viewing. However, there will be cameras, 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 of the rehabilitation process, an educational centre will open to 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.

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, and in certain circumstances, small parties of donors. All visitors will follow strict protocols and codes of conduct in order to minimise disturbance to the animals.


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 as well as other sea parameters (temperature, pH, salinity, etc.) 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 10 cm. This bay is ideally sheltered to serve the purpose of a sanctuary.
  • High marine biodiversity with 64 native 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 island 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.

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. The above areas are not considered as national reserves and they only include terrestrial zones and not marine. Throughout Greece, there are 162 proposed sites for protection but only 24 of these sites are legally established protected areas and Lipsi island is not one of them.

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 wellbeing. Following their successful rehabilitation, the Sanctuary will expand its hosting capacity by extending to the surrounding bays.

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 sex is so far undecided. The use is allowed and possible, but at this point remains flexible based on future need.

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.

Copper alloy fencing will be used to create a safety boundary at the mouth of the bay. Once it is installed, it is expected to last for about twenty years. Throughout this time, it will be constantly monitored for signs of any damage. Additionally, there will be a floating dock system that will act as a barrier between wild dolphins and those in the Sanctuary.

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 license 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 invite-only visitors will include academic researchers who will aim to contribute and expand the knowledge gained from this Sanctuary, government officials and a limited number of small school student groups. Priority will be given to the small island schools of the nearby area so as to reciprocate all the support that was given to the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary and its facilities will be fully equipped with all the utilities needed to ensure that the formerly captive dolphins receive the required amount of care. It will be functioning completely on renewable energy sources. A small hybrid renewable energy unit 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 until recently there was no mobile phone coverage in the area) which is powered by renewable energy. The water supply will come from combined sources from rain collection, desalination and supply of water from the island sources.


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.

The sea current runs in and out of the bay and safety boundaries which maintain the dolphins within the area will have wide enough specifications to ensure optimal 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 native marine detritivores (i.e. holothurians) that will accelerate the breakdown of organic matter.

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 native fish, invertebrate species and naturally occurring marine detritivores to manage organic waste. Additionally, there will be constant water quality testing undertaken. 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 dolphin species (Tursiops truncatus), where the animals can find the natural conditions in terms of stimuli essential for their psychological health and echolocation.


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, as well as the nutritional condition of the animals, will be regularly reviewed by specialised nutritionists as well as veterinarians. The ideal situation expects 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 at the surface as they use from the original captive structure, then they will be encouraged to eat underwater gradually eliminating the surface interaction. First, with stunned fish, then with live fish only. 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 controls will help monitor their health status, which will be the top priority of the Sanctuary.

There will be no direct contact between the resident and wild rescued animals. The Sanctuary will have two safety boundaries, creating a controlled zone where interactions will be prevented. More specifically, there will be a 10m minimum separation between boundaries 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 stranding events.

Each dolphin will have a full epidemiological check-up prior to arrival and will be placed in the quarantine area before introduction to the Sanctuary space.


Past case studies of dolphins have shown that it may be feasible to release wild-caught dolphins that 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.

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.

Research is not the aim of the Sanctuary. However, certain data and information could be collected and studied without direct contact with the animals, like behaviour changes and adaptation of the animals to the new environment. The veterinary records, cameras, hydrophones and viewing points will be used to collect the information.


There will be efforts to minimise human contact, reducing it only to necessary health checks. 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.

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. 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. The animals will undergo transport simulations prior to their actual transportation to the Sanctuary in order to minimise associated stress.

The Sanctuary will host a veterinary 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 specialised marine mammal veterinarians. All medical care before, during and after the rehabilitation will be provided as well as constant monitoring of the animals’ health status.

The staff will monitor constantly the animals’ physical condition and behaviour, adjusting when necessary the measures to promote health and welfare and reporting any unexpected changes or concerns. The environmental conditions will be maintained as much as possible stable in order to protect the health and welfare of the animals reducing the risk of stress and injury.

All the work will be in accordance with the international environmental, health and safety legislation and codes of practice for protected species.

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.

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.

To prevent disease transmission, other species like monk seals (Monachus monachus) and sea 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, sea 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.

A 24-hour rescue team will be established to respond and rescue animals from stranding events. The Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation can count on the help of extensively experienced specialists in stranding response. 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.

Currently, there is no facility in the eastern Mediterranean Sea 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 when it is possible. 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.


We are at a critical stage of near-completion, and have dolphins urgently waiting for a Sanctuary facility. Your support is needed in order to complete the necessary infrastructure, as well as secure funds for the sustainable operation of the project over the coming decades. Your donation is urgently needed to fund items such as a specialised safety boundary at the entrance of the Sanctuary bay, government licenses, and all capital costs associated with such a long-awaited project. Startup funds needed: $600,000 and annual operating budget: $300,000.