Policy News

Portugal Establishes the Largest Fully Protected Marine Reserve in Europe & North Atlantic

Giant anemone (Telmatactis cricoides) with white-striped cleaner shrimp in newly expanded Selvagens marine reserve.

Today the government of Portugal expanded a marine protected area around the Selvagens Islands, creating the largest fully protected marine reserve in Europe at 2,677 square kilometers. The Selvagens Islands are a small archipelago in the North Atlantic located midway between Madeira and the Canary Islands.

National Geographic Pristine Seas studied the Selvagens Islands in September of 2015 in partnership with the Oceano Azul and the Waitt Foundation. During their expedition, the team conducted what was among the first underwater surveys of the ecosystem—from the shallows to the depths—and filmed the biodiversity around the islands. Using high-tech equipment including midwater pelagic cameras and drop cams, the team was able to assess pelagic communities and deep-sea habitats in addition to the shallow flora and fauna observed during dives. From their observations of the ecosystem, they found that 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.

Miguel Albuquerque, President of the Regional Government of Madeira, points out that, “Madeira has been a world reference in terms of Nature Conservation policies, this aspect being further strengthened with this measure.” He adds that, “giving this example of capacity and determination to the world, he hopes to serve as an inspiration for other decision-makers to take similar measures, towards the preservation of our oceans”.

For José Soares dos Santos, President of the Oceano Azul Foundation, “The natural value of the biodiversity of the Selvagens Islands is extraordinary and irreplaceable. Based on scientific studies and the expeditions carried out, the decision by the Regional Government reinforces Madeira’s positioning in the conservation and valuation of the ocean.”

With the establishment of the Selvagens islands marine reserve, Pristine Seas has supported the creation of 25 marine reserves around the world. Currently, less than 8 percent of the ocean is currently protected, the project aims to work with local communities, governments and partners to protect at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030 greatly increasing ocean conservation to mitigate climate change and ensure a healthier planet for all. 

About National Geographic Pristine Seas

National Geographic Pristine Seas is an exploration, research and media project founded and led by National Geographic Explorer in Residence Enric Sala. The Pristine Seas team is comprised of determined scientists, policy experts and filmmakers who work to inspire the creation of protected areas where marine life can thrive—while ensuring effective management for years to come. Pristine Seas has helped to inspire the creation of 25 marine reserves, an area totalling over 6.5M square kilometers. Learn more here.

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