The Formigas Islets are the tip of a basaltic underwater volcano about 30 miles northeast of Santa Maria Island. What we see from above, are just the tips of the Formigas Islets; underwater they drop quickly down to a depth of 600 meters. The Natural Reserve covers around 520 square kilometres, including the waters surrounding the islets. Their maximum elevation is 11 meters and the highest point (as well as the only human trace) is the lighthouse, which rises 22 meters above sea level.
In this MPA recreational fishing is not allowed and commercial fishing is strictly limited to a line fishing method for only certain fish species. This almost undisturbed environment creates a great opportunity for recreational activities, such as diving.
Why is it important?
The Formigas Islets have mainly been put under protection for their underwater biodiversity and the fact that many fish use these rich waters as a nursery. In the shallower waters, we can find algal beds and sponges that provide food and shelter for many species creating a complex and diverse ecosystem.
Commonly seen fish species include the colourful barred hogfish (Pseudolepidaplois scrofa), the grumpy-looking dusky grouper (Ephinephelus marginatus) and a large number of ornate wrasses (Thalassoma pavo).
Sometimes you also get to see pelagic migratory species that stop by the shallow reefs to feed or even to get cleaned. On a lucky day you might spot a hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena), a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) or even the largest fish in the ocean, the whale shark (Rhhincodon typus)! As if seeing a whale shark is not exciting enough, it usually is followed by hundreds of huge tunas, pilot fishes and other smaller pelagic species that seek protection, food or simply hitchhike across the Atlantic.
Another interesting feature are the long-lived, tree-like black corals (Antipatharia). Black corals usually thrive in deep, tropical waters, but in the Formigas Islets they can be found as shallow as 12m.
The Formigas Islets are a 30-mile boat trip from Santa Maria Island. It’s remote location and strong currents make it a dive spot for advanced and more experienced divers. But whoever has the skills, will be rewarded with probably the best dive site in the Azores. During the boat ride sightings of cetaceans, sea turtles and numerous seabirds are frequent.
Once the boat stops, and you take a look down, you will already see the schools of fish beneath the surface of the crystal-clear waters. There are many dive sites around the islets; one of the favourites is the shipwreck “Olympia” at a depth of 30-50m. On a lucky day, divers will see smooth hammerheads (Sphyrna zygaena), Galapagos sharks (Carcharinus galapagensis), devil rays (Mobula torapacana) and giant mantas (Manta birostris).