Natural environment of Croatia
Can it be possible that a small country has on its territory 8 national parks, 10 nature parks and 2 strict reserves, 1,185 islands, solitary rocks and reefs... and all that on a mere 56,542 km2 of land surface area and a territorial sea area of 31,067 km2?
Trust us, not only is it possible, but all this also exists in a harmonious relationship, intertwined throughout the territory of Croatia. But, let's start at the beginning.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest and best known national park in Croatia. Its beauty was officially recognised in 1979 when it joined the list of UNESCO World Heritage. Within the park there are dense forests of spruce, white pine, beech and fir. Particularly important is the virgin forest of Čorkova Uvala where giant fir and spruce trees grow to more than 50 metres in height. Numerous animal species live in the Park, including the brown bear and wolf among other endangered animal species. Plitvice Lakes consist of 16 interconnected lakes from the upper course of the Korana River which cascade into one another over travertine barriers, thus creating thousands of clear waterfalls, some of which are 72 metres high. The Park has a surface area of 295 km2.
Paklenica National Park, and the monumental vertical rock called Anića Kuk, represents a true paradise for climbers, hikers and lovers of Croatian mountains. It is situated in the south of Velebit, offering spectacular views over the sea and islands from its high cliffs. This area has been under protection since 1928 and was proclaimed a national park in 1949. The surface area of the park is 102 km2.
Risnjak National Park is today a haven for those seeking peace and quiet, covered by more than 30 km2 of thick forests with a rich variety of flora and fauna. Many individuals and companies pick this region to organise so-called anti-stress and teambuilding programmes. The area was proclaimed a national park in 1953.
Mljet National Park is situated on the Croatian island of the same name and its distinguishing features can be found both above sea level, in its rugged coastline and rich vegetation, but also below sea level, in the coral reefs and rare fish species. There are two deep bays called lakes on the island - Veliko and Malo jezero, created by the very narrow channel which links them to the sea. Thanks to the microclimate and their specific underwater features, these lakes represent a tourist and scientific attraction. Within the park there are two important cultural and historic monuments: the complex of a former Benedictine monastery from the 12th century on a little islet in the middle of Veliko jezero, and the remains of a palace built in ancient times in the village of Polače. The park extends over 54 km2 and was proclaimed a national park in 1960.
The Kornati archipelago represents one of the greatest treasures of nautical tourism and scuba diving in Croatia. It is made up of over 150 islands, islets and reefs. The distinguishing trait of the archipelago is the outer islands with their vertical cliffs which rise to a height of 100 metres. The great diversity of the sea world, the richness of the sea flora and fauna, the clearness of the sea and innumerable opportunities for living the dream of so-called Robinson tourism have made this group of islands a location not to be missed on a journey through Croatia. The Kornati archipelago was proclaimed a national park in 1980. Its surface area extends over 234 km2.
Brijuni National Park consists of 14 islands and islets situated on the western coast of Croatia's biggest peninsula - Istria. This area was proclaimed a national park in 1983. Along with the purest clean sea and land, and archaeological sites from Neolithic, Roman and Byzantine times, the Brijuni islands are famous for their famous guests, particularly for being a residence of Josip Broz Tito, the former President of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, and for various glamorous events. The surface area of the park is 36 km2.
Krka National Park spreads over a greater part of the course of the Krka River and includes a vast area of waterfalls - Skradinski Buk (the largest travertine waterfall in Europe falling down seventeen steps that extend over a length of 800 m) and Roški Slap. Within its limits there is also Visovačko Lake with its islet of Visovac on which stands a monastery. This area was proclaimed a national park in 1985. The surface area of the park is 110 km2.
Northern Velebit is home to two endemic species - velebitska degenija and hrvatska sibireja. In 1967 a botanical garden was established here with a botanical reserve. Due to the great diversity of Karst formations, the wealth of flora and fauna and stunning beauty over a relatively small surface area, it was protected as a national park in 1999. The surface area of the park is 109 km2.
We now continue our list with a less detailed description. Apart from the UNESCO-protected biosphere reserve of the mountain of Velebit, Croatia has 9 more nature parks.
- Kopački rit - a wetland area at the confluence of the Drava and the Danube in South East Baranja;
- Medvednica - a mountain range rising above the City of Zagreb, reaching a peak of 1,033 m, with a number of interesting caves and deep stream valleys;
- Biokovo - a Karst mountain in South Dalmatia above Makarska;
- Lonjsko polje, a wetland area near the town of Sisak, with a large group of wading birds - one of the most endangered wetland habitats in the world;
- Telaščica - a bay cut deeply into the SE part of the island of Dugi otok, with the highest cliffs in Croatia, reaching up to 180 m;
- Žumberačko gorje - an extensive forest area near the small town of Samobor, with as many as 337 natural sources of drinking water;
- Papuk - a mountain with beautiful mountain valleys, and Rupnica - the first protected geological monument in Croatia;
- Učka - a mountain on the eastern side of the Istrian peninsula, representing a natural border between coastal Croatia and Istria;
- Vransko Lake - in the hinterland of the town of Biograd in Dalmatia, it is a rich habitat of numerous fish and bird species and with its 30.7 km2 of surface area it is the biggest natural lake in Croatia. Due to the proximity of the sea, it is the habitat of numerous marine and freshwater fish species.
In the territory of Croatia, there are currently two strict nature reserves where all human activity which might endanger the natural balance and harmony is strictly forbidden. The first is situated in the area of Samarske and Bijele Stijene within the Velika Kapela mountain range. This area was proclaimed a strict reserve in 1985. The second strict reserve is part of the unit of the North Velebit National Park in the regions of Hajdučki Kuk and Rožanski Kuk. It contains 150 caves, the most famous being Lukina Jama, one of the deepest in the world, discovered in 1992. In 1994 a hitherto unknown animal from the order of leeches was found there. This area was proclaimed a strict nature reserve in 1969.
At the end of this brief overview of the natural landscape of Croatia, we have to mention the Adriatic Sea which, together with its 1,185 islands, islets and rocks, has truly impressive features. From the global point of view, the Adriatic Sea is a huge bay between the Balkan and Apennine peninsulas. At the same time, it represents a natural border between Croatia and Italy. Its most western point is Savudrijska Vala in Istria, and the most southern point is the peninsula of Prevlaka.
Its utmost depth reaches 1,233 m. The average depth of the Adriatic Sea is 252 metres, the width is 170 km, the surface area 135,418 km2, and its volume is 34,836 km2. Krk is the largest Adriatic island, situated in the north of the Adriatic with an area of 409.90 km2. The average yearly sea surface temperature is 23.5°C, whereas the average deep water temperature stands at 10°C. The Adriatic Sea belongs to the group of very salty seas since its salinity is 38% while its average measured transparency is 25 m. Since 75% of sea waves are constituted by waves smaller than 0.5 m, the Adriatic Sea is considered a calm sea.