The Island of Santa Maria is the eastern most island of the Azores. Geologically, Santa Maria is the oldest Island of the archipelago, estimated to be around 8 million years old.
Santa Maria Island is the third smallest island of the Azores with an area of approximately 97 square kilometres. The island is mainly known for its beautiful sandy beaches and dry, warm weather.
Around this island, there are 8 marine protected areas (MPAs): two are listed as nature reserves (Formigas Islets and Ilhéu da Vila), three are listed as resource management areas (Baía de São Lourenço, Costa Norte and Costa Sul), three are special diving MPAs (Baixa do Ambrosio, Baixa da Maia and Baixa da Pedrinha), and there is also one archaeological underwater park.
MPAs are created for various reasons. Scroll down and find out more why the three special diving MPAs were created in Santa Maria.
Why are they important?
The three special diving MPAs have been specifically created to minimise the conflicts between groups with different interests.
The biggest conflicting economic activities are commercial fisheries and tourism. In these three zones, commercial fishing is strictly regulated and limited as a response to the growing diving industry.
The three diving reserves are all seamounts, with Baixa da Maia breaking through the surface of the Atlantic Ocean creating a small island. The seamounts are located relatively close to the main island and offer excellent diving conditions teaming with big and small pelagic species.
Any local dive centre on Santa Maria will take you to these fantastic dive sites.
Baixa da Pedrinha is easy accessible by a quick (10min) boat ride from the port and is one of the best-known dive sites in Santa Maria Island.
In 25min (by boat), Baixa da Maia can be reached. Currents can be strong, but the large schools of Barracudas (Sphyraena viridensis) and almaco jacks (Seriola spp.) definitely make it worthwhile.
Baixa do Ambrósio (40min by boat) is more remote, but probably the most spectacular of the three. It is specially known for its devil rays (Mobula tarapacana) that show up in the islands in spring and summer probably to mate. They swim in groups of up to 15-20 individuals just a few meters below the surface and feed by filtering plankton and small pelagic fish.