One of the 81 uninhabited islands of Crete is Chrissi island or Gaidouronisi (donkey) island. The residents of Ierapetra call it "the Island" as there is a special relationship between them. Chrissi lies 8 nautical miles away from Ierapetra's coasts, in the Libyan sea. Chrissi is almost flat, with an average height of 10m. From a distance it seems like a thin line of land in the middle of the sea. Its greatest length is 5km, it has an average width of 1km (max 1.5km - min 0.5km), a perimeter of 14.5km and covers almost 5.5 square kilometers.
The highest spot is to the east on "Kefala" hill and is 31m high. From over there the visitor can have an impressive view of the Libanon cedar forest, the last existing in Europe. The Cedar forest of Chrisi is very rare in its expanse and structure. It covers almost 35 hectares and its density is approximately 28 trees per hectare. Their average height is 3 to 7m tall and their average age is at least 300 years old. Cedars have a root system that spreads across an area which is more than double the height of the tree. Apart from the big roots, a huge amount of tiny roots forms a complex web that keeps the sand in place. The density of these trees is approximately 28 trees per hectare and in an average age of 200 years old. Chryssi is one of the very few sites in Greece where the rare maquis with Juniperus oxycedrus ssp. macrocarpa is found on sand dunes.
Apart from the big roots, a huge amount of tiny roots forms a complex web that keeps the sand in place. The density of these trees is approximately 28 trees per hectare and in an average age of 200 years old. Chryssi is one of the very few sites in Greece where the rare maquis with Juniperus oxycedrus ssp. macrocarpa is found on sand dunes. Also, the mixed forest of J. oxycedrus ssp. macrocarpa and J. phoenicea is not very common in Greece. In the sea around Chrissi the variety and abundance of the marine species are impressive, as the water is shallow. The sea bed around the island up to a depth of 20m covers about 30km2. The island has a large number of shells, mainly in the north beaches which is one of the distinguishing features of the island.
For the last centuries Chrisi was practically deserted, while much earlier there were small settlements. On the western and eastern part, broken pieces of pottery have been found, which shows activity during the Minoan times. In the northwest there is a chapel of Agios Nikolaos, possibly built in the 13th century. Northeast of the chapel and near the shore there is an even older salt pan and the only house on the island, which is built on ancient ruins that include a small building and a small port. South and southwest of Agios Nikolaos there are some wells and a few carved graves. The largest one dates from the Roman times.
The beaches of Chrissi are maybe the main reason that people visit the island. The shallow waters with the light blue colors and the golden fine sand resembling the Caribbean islands and the huge number of shells are one of the most spectacular attributes of the island. Overall, it is a site with great aesthetic value being designated as special natural beauty site and encompassing a rare combination of ecosystems which form the habitats of several endemic species. The island belongs to the NATURA network (code:GR4320003).