The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkans. The Adriatic is the northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea, extending from the Strait of Otranto (where it connects to the Ionian Sea) to the northwest and the Po Valley. The countries with coasts on the Adriatic are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and Slovenia.
The Adriatic contains more than 1,300 islands, mostly located along the Croatian part of its eastern coast. It is divided into three basins, the northern being the shallowest and the southern being the deepest, with a maximum depth of 1,233 metres (4,045 ft). The Otranto Sill, an underwater ridge, is located at the border between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The prevailing currents flow counterclockwise from the Strait of Otranto, along the eastern coast and back to the strait along the western (Italian) coast. Tidal movements in the Adriatic are slight, although larger amplitudes are known to occur occasionally. The Adriatic's salinity is lower than the Mediterranean's because the Adriatic collects a third of the fresh water flowing into the Mediterranean, acting as a dilution basin. The surface water temperatures generally range from 30 °C (86 °F) in summer to 12 °C (54 °F) in winter, significantly moderating the Adriatic Basin's climate.
The Adriatic Sea sits on the Apulian or Adriatic Microplate, which separated from the African Plate in the Mesozoic era. The plate's movement contributed to the formation of the surrounding mountain chains and Apennine tectonic uplift after its collision with the Eurasian plate. In the Late Oligocene, the Apennine Peninsula first formed, separating the Adriatic Basin from the rest of the Mediterranean. All types of sediment are found in the Adriatic, with the bulk of the material transported by the Po and other rivers on the western coast. The western coast is alluvial or terraced, while the eastern coast is highly indented with pronounced karstification. There are dozens of marine protected areas in the Adriatic, designed to protect the sea's karst habitats and biodiversity. The sea is abundant in flora and fauna—more than 7,000 species are identified as native to the Adriatic, many of them endemic, rare and threatened ones.
The Adriatic's shores are populated by more than 3.5 million people; the largest cities are Bari, Venice, Trieste and Split. The earliest settlements on the Adriatic shores were Etruscan, Illyrian, and Greek. By the 2nd century BC, the shores were under Rome's control. In the Middle Ages, the Adriatic shores and the sea itself were controlled, to a varying extent, by a series of states—most notably the Byzantine Empire, the Croatian Kingdom, the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. The Napoleonic Wars resulted in the First French Empire gaining coastal control and the British effort to counter the French in the area, ultimately securing most of the eastern Adriatic shore and the Po Valley for Austria. Following Italian unification, the Kingdom of Italy started an eastward expansion that lasted until the 20th century. Following World War I and the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, the entire eastern coast's control passed to Yugoslavia and Albania, except for Trieste and surrounding area which remained under Italian control. The former disintegrated during the 1990s, resulting in four new states on the Adriatic coast. Italy and Yugoslavia agreed on their maritime boundaries by 1975 and this boundary is recognised by Yugoslavia's successor states, but the maritime boundaries between Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro are still disputed. Italy and Albania agreed on their maritime boundary in 1992.
Fisheries and tourism are significant sources of income all along the Adriatic coast. Adriatic Croatia's tourism industry has grown faster economically than the rest of the Adriatic Basin's. Maritime transport is also a significant branch of the area's economy—there are 19 seaports in the Adriatic that each handle more than a million tonnes of cargo per year. The largest Adriatic seaport by annual cargo turnover is the Port of Trieste, while the Port of Split is the largest Adriatic seaport by passengers served per year.
The Adriatic Sea is a unique water body in respect of its overall biogeochemical physiognomy. It exports inorganic nutrients and imports particulate organic carbon and nitrogen through the Strait of Otranto—acting as a mineralization site. The exchange of the substances is made more complex by bathymetry of the Adriatic Sea—75% of water flowing north through the strait recirculates at the Palagruža Sill and North Adriatic adds no more than 3 – 4% of water to the South Adriatic. This is reflected in its biogeography and ecology, and particularly in the composition and properties of its ecosystems. Its main biogeographic units are the Northern Adriatic, the Central Adriatic, and the Southern Adriatic.
The unique nature of the Adriatic gives rise to an abundance of endemic flora and fauna. The Croatian National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan identified more than 7,000 animal and plant species in the Adriatic Sea. The Central Adriatic is especially abundant in endemic plant species, with 535 identified species of green, brown and red algae. Four out of five Mediterranean seagrass species are found in the Adriatic Sea. The most common species are Cymodocea nodosa and Zostera noltii, while Zostera marina and Posidonia oceanica are comparatively rare.
A number of rare and threatened species are also found along the Adriatic's eastern coast; it is relatively clearer and less polluted than the western Adriatic coast—in part because the sea currents flow through the Adriatic in a counterclockwise direction, thus bringing clearer waters up the eastern coast and returning increasingly polluted water down the western coast. This circulation has significantly contributed to the biodiversity of the countries along the eastern Adriatic coast; the common bottlenose dolphin is frequent in the eastern coast's waters only, and the Croatian coast provides refuge for the critically endangered monk seal and sea turtles. Recent studies revealed that cetaceans and other marine megafaunas, that were once thought to be vagrants to Adriatic Sea, migrate and live in the semi-closed sea on larger scales. Largest of these live normally is the fin whale, and sperm whale, the largest of toothed whales also migrate but less common than fin whales, followed by Cuvier's beaked whales. Basking sharks and manta rays are some of migrant species to the sea. Historical presences of depleted or extinct species such as North Atlantic right whales (extinct or functionally extinct), Atlantic gray whales (extinct), and humpback whales have been speculated as well.
Tuna has been caught by the locals in the upper Adriatic for thousands of years. The very large schools consisted mainly of little tunny and moved as far as the Gulf of Trieste. However, increasing fishing prevented the migration of large schools of fish to the north. The last major tuna catch was made there in 1954 by the fishermen from Santa Croce, Contovello and Barcola.
The Northern Adriatic in particular is rich in endemic fish fauna. Around thirty species of fish are found in only one or two countries bordering the Adriatic Sea. These are particularly due to or dependent upon the karst morphology of the coastal or submarine topography; this includes inhabiting subterranean habitats, karst rivers, and areas around freshwater springs. There are 45 known subspecies endemic to the Adriatic's coasts and islands. In the Adriatic, there are at least 410 species and subspecies of fish, representing approximately 70% of Mediterranean taxa, with at least 7 species endemic to the Adriatic. Sixty-four known species are threatened with extinction, largely because of overfishing. Only a small fraction of the fish found in the Adriatic are attributed to recent processes such as Lessepsian migration, and escape from mariculture.