In July 2016 four new offshore marine protected areas (MPAs) were added to the Azores Marine Park, increasing the number of MPAs in the network to a total of 15.
These new MPAs were put under protection mainly for resource management and include the Meteor Submarine Archipelago, an MPA located southeast of the Azores, the Condor Bank and the Princess Alice Bank.
Meteor Submarine Archipelago
This submarine archipelago lies around 900 kilometres south of the Azores Islands and is composed by a number of underwater seamounts, mostly extinct volcanoes. Their depths vary between 2000 meters and 4800 meters. The protected area includes the Seewarte seamounts, the Meteor seamounts and the submarine mountain chain of Atlantis-Grande Meteor. The area is also referred to as the seamount group of Atlantis-Plato-Cruiser-Grande Meteor. This area has been subject to many scientific studies investigating biological, geological and oceanographic processes.
The Condor Bank lies west-southwest of Faial Island. The seamount is an extinct volcano with an elongated shape and a flattened top. It starts at around 2000-meter depth and its plateau extends to 185 metres below the surface of the Atlantic. The Condor Bank has some characteristics that make it especially interesting for scientific studies: it appears to be representative for underwater seamounts in the Azores, therefore findings from the Condor Bank might also help understanding other seamounts. It also has a range of different depths that comprise different biological communities and it is relatively small and close to Faial Island, which makes sample collection and regular monitoring easier.
Princesa Alice Bank
The Princess Alice Bank is a seamount located 83 kilometres southwest of Faial. From the seafloor, it rises to a minimum depth of 35 meters below the surface. The Princess Alice Bank has been subject to a conflict of interest: the crystal-clear waters and shallow depth make it an excellent diving spot, but also a great fishing ground, as many large species accumulate at the bank. It has now been put under protection to conserve its habitats and species, making an excellent dive site (for deep-divers).
This is a relatively large area located southwest of the Azores archipelago. The area has a great potential for mineral exploitation and its protection guarantees the conservation of the diverse habitats and species avoiding the loss of biodiversity in this area.