Portugal Creates Europe's Largest Marine Protected Area

Te Southern Savage Islands group (NASA file image)

Published Dec 13, 2021 10:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Portuguese government has approved a decision to expand the marine protected area around Selvagens Islands, making it the largest fully protected marine reserve in Europe, with an area of 780 square nautical miles. The title was formerly held by Alonissos Marine Park in Greece, which covers 660 nautical miles. 

The Selvagens Islands are a small archipelago in the North Atlantic, located midway between Madeira and the Canary Islands. They are the southernmost point of Portugal, though administered by the Madeira government, an autonomous region.

The expansion, announced at the end of November, was partly informed by a 2015 study conducted by National Geographic in partnership with Oceano Azul and the Waitt Foundation. The research found that the open waters around the islands were a vital waypoint for migrating fish and mammals in the Atlantic, while the nearshore waters provided important nursery habitats.

“We know it is critical to protect the migratory corridors marine life depends on. This newly established marine reserve will ensure the Selvagens archipelago’s impressive underwater biodiversity will be protected and continue to thrive,” said Paul Rose, National Geographic Pristine Seas Expedition Leader.

Jose’ Soares dos Santos, President of the Oceano Azul Foundation, also praised the Madeira Regional Government for taking a firm position in conserving and valuing the ocean. “The natural value of the biodiversity of the Selvagens Islands is extraordinary and irreplaceable,” he said.

Portugal is among the 100 countries that recently committed to support the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030, commonly known as “30 by 30.” The key objective of the 30 by 30 Ocean plan  is to help reverse biodiversity loss and enhance climate change resilience.