Madeira is a Portuguese autonomous region situated in the North Atlantic, southwest of continental Portugal, approximately 630 kilometres west off the Moroccan coast and 900 kilometres from Lisbon. The Autonomous Region of Madeira, includes the archipelagos of Madeira (Madeira, Porto Santo and Desertas) and Selvagens (Selvagem Grande, Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora).
The islands of Madeira are part Macaronesia, a collection of islands in the North Atlantic formed by (most likely) several different volcanic hotspots. The islands are a result of submarine volcanic activity and have been largely shaped by erosion and marine sedimentation. Madeira itself is the top of a massive shield volcano, that rises 1862 meters above the Atlantic, but that is only the tip of the volcano; from the seafloor, the volcano measures a massive 6000 meters. Luckily for the inhabitants today, the volcano hasn’t shown any activity for the past 6500 years.
The waters surrounding the Autonomous Region of Madeira can be considered bliss for cetaceans, with more than 20 species of whales and dolphins recorded. Yet, marine birds that make the islands their home, some of them only seasonally, some of them year-round, are what the Madeira archipelago is most famous for. Another emblematic marine mammal that lives in the waters surrounding Madeira is the endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus). Hunted nearly to extinction, it has been put under protection and the local population is slowly but steadily recovering.
For those willing to get their feet wet and look below the surface a new magical world opens. Typical species include the dusky grouper (Ephinephelus marginatus), the Mediterranean parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense), the striped barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis), the European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), the round stingray (Taeniura grabata) and different species of moray eels, just to name a few.
Madeira is also an important landing site for fisheries in Portugal. Fishing can be destructive and can have large negative impacts on the ecosystem or even deplete the entire population of a species if not well regulated. The creation of different marine protected areas gives animals a place of refuge and a safe haven for reproduction and the early life stages (nursery).
Today, there are five marine protected areas located across the archipelagos of Madeira, Desertas and Selvagens. Are you ready to dive in?