The Nature Reserve of the Santo André and Sancha Lagoons stretches across 16 kilometres of coastline with the protected area extending 2-3 kilometres inland and 1.5 kilometres offshore. It covers a total area of 5250 hectares, 60% terrestrial and 40% wetlands. It consists of two lagoons, the larger Santo André lagoon (500 hectares) and the smaller Sancha lagoon (15 hectares).
Both lagoons are bordered by a diverse set of aquatic ecosystems and riverine areas, with varying influences of freshwater and brackish water. There are small marsh areas, willow plantations, rush and reed beds, heathland and wetland pastures. The natural reserve includes the ridge of dunes that separates the two wetlands from the ocean.
This reserve is a multi-use area with two partially protected zones, where sustainable artisanal and recreational fishing are allowed and regulated.
Why is it important?
Due to the complexity and number of habitats, the lagoons are home to a number of species. So far 54 fish species, 12 amphibians, 15 reptiles, 29 mammals, 241 bird species, 344 aquatic invertebrates and 205 butterflies have been registered in this area, with birds being the best-documented animal group in the region.
Bird diversity is the highest at the end of the summer to beginning of fall, the opposite of other Portuguese wetlands. Many bird species find refuge in these two lagoons, when other wetlands have already partially or fully dried out. This leads to some species concentrating in this area, leading to seasonally higher numbers than in other regions in Portugal. For example, the common coot (Fulica atra), the red-crested pochard (Netta rufina) and the Eurasian reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) reach seasonally much greater numbers here than in other areas they inhabit.
The natural park offers excellent conditions for hiking, kayaking, windsurfing or simply just wandering around one of the paths and enjoying the beauty of the area. Bird lovers are best served around October. During the hot summer months, the sandy beaches of Costa de Santo André and Fonte do Cortiço offer perfect conditions for a refreshing dip in the ocean.
If you are up for a hike, try the ‘Precurso da casa do Peixe’, which literally translates to “the track of the Fish house”. This is a 2 kilometres walk through the Santo André lagoon. The path has four stations where visitors can learn about the importance of the freshwater rivers, the annual drainage of the saltwater from the lagoon, the local biodiversity and the long history of fishing in the area.