The archipelago consists of nine major islands, belonging to three main groups; the western group consists of Flores and Corvo, the center group of Graciosa, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico and Faial, and to the eastern group of São Miguel and Santa Maria.
The islands are of volcanic origin and are located in a geologically highly active region near the junction of three major tectonic plates: the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate. The hotspot of this long-term volcanic activity is suggested to be near the Island of Faial and is also called the Azores hotspot. The islands are the results of volcanic activity that break through the surface, but if we dive down and have a look around we can see a wild system of seamounts and hydrothermal vents, teaming with life.
Measured from the seafloor to the peaks, the Azores Islands form some of the largest mountains known on earth. This region of complex volcanic landscape and its unique, isolated location as well as its climate has given rise to a great biodiversity, on land as well as in the Atlantic waters. As with many islands, we can find a vast number of endemics (species that can only be found in this area); 77 plants, 49 snails, 267 invertebrates, two bird species and one mammal. Recognition of the unique habitats that are located on and around the Azores Island by conservationists has led to a real boom of protected areas around the Azores.
The first marine protected area was the “Reserva Natural das Calderinhas do Faial” (Nature Reserve Calderinhas in Faial Island) created in 1980. Today, the Autonomous Region of the Azores harbors more than 60 marine protected areas (MPAs).
In Azores, numerous habitats and ecosystem are under management: offshore hydrothermal vents and seamounts, coastal zones easy accessible by land, as well as underwater archeological parks. Are you ready to explore everything that the Azorean MPAs have to offer?