Graciosa Island (it literally means graceful island) is the northern most island of the central group. It spans over an area of approximately 61 square kilometres and is populated by about 4800 people in the only municipality of Santa Cruz da Graciosa.
It is a picturesque and quiet island mainly characterized by agriculture of wine, dairy and livestock. Along the northeast coast there are still remains of a long-gone tradition: abandoned ports that used to be utilized for whaling.
On this graceful island, you can visit four marine protected areas (MPAs), the nature reserves of the Ilhéu de Baixo and the Ilhéu da Praia, and the protected areas of the Costa Norte and Costa Sudeste. The later MPA only allows for recreational non-extractive actives, such as SCUBA diving, while the others allow various fishing activities.
The sites of Ilhéu de Baixo and Ilhéu da Praia were designated as nature reserves in order to protect and preserve their natural conditions. Scroll down to find out more about their importance.
Why are they important?
The two volcanic rock islets of Ilhéu de Baixo and Ilhéu da Praia are located just off the Coast of Graciosa Island and are important nesting grounds for marine birds species. They have been put under special protection in 2008. Due to efforts to eradicate introduced rodents, bird colonies are recovering and the flora is regenerating to its original state, with several plant species that can only be found in the Azores.
Many oceanic bird species come to these small islets to nest and foster their offspring. Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis), the roseate tern (Sterna dougalli), the common tern (Sterna hirundi), the Barolo shearwater (Puffinus baroli baroli), the Madeira storm petrel (Oceanodroma castro) are some of the species that nest regularly on the rocks, as well as other internationally protected species that can be found occasionally.
In 1996 scientists noticed, that there are some differences in the storm petrels on the islets: there seemed to be a “hot-season” and a “cold-season” population that breed at different times and also had different vocalization. It was not until 2008 that genetic studies confirmed that the two populations are actually distinct species and the newly discovered hot-season storm petrel was named Monteiro’s storm petrel (Oceanodroma monteiroi), in honor of the biologist Luis Monteiro who was the first to notice differences in vocalization and breeding in the populations. So far the two islets are the only known breeding populations of Monteiro’s storm petrels in the world, making it an endemic species