This marine protected area (MPA) is part of the Natural Park of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast that lies in the southwest of Portugal. The Natural Park spans 110 kilometres of coastline from the Beach of Burgau in the Algarve to São Torpes, just a few kilometres north of Porto Covo in Alentejo. A total area of approximately 75 000 hectares is under protection, 70% coastal land and 30% adjacent Atlantic waters.
The Park has a great diversity of landscapes and habitats, including beaches, cliffs, rock formations, islets, reefs, estuaries, salt marshes, dunes and temporary lagoons.
This MPA has some fully protected zones, where no activities are allowed, as well as two partially protected zones that allow for sustainable use of marine resources.
Why is it important?
The sheer amount of different habitats gives rise to great species diversity. In the park we can find many endemic plant species (over 100) and many animals that are threatened due to habitat loss.
On land, we find the Eurasion otter (Lutra lutra), the rarely seen rodent Cabrera’s vole (Microtus carerae) as well as the Iberian Emerald Lizard (Lacerta schreiberi), among many other vertebrate species.
The steep coastal cliffs are a paradise for a number of bird species. The Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata) and the osprey (or sea hawk, Pandion haliaetus) can both be seen nesting in the cliffs. Other predatory birds that are commonly spotted in the area are the peregrine falcon (Falcus peregrinus) and the lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni). It is also the only known place in the world where the white stork (Ciconia ciconia) can be seen nesting on coastal cliffs.
Every year in the beginning of October a true spectacle can be observed around Cabo São Vicente, where thousands of migratory birds pass through here on the way from their northern summer homes to their African winter residences. Species include the bluethroat (Luscinia svecica), the European pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), the common whitethroat (Sylvia communis), the Northern gannet (Sula bassana) and the common stern (Sterna hirundo), just to name a few.
But not just on land, also in the water we find an array of different habitats; rocky reefs, sandy bottoms and seagrass beds are the home to some highly vulnerable species; for example, the long-snouted and short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus and H. hippocampus), the dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) and in the rivers, the European eel (Anguilla anguilla).
This park offers great spots to observe wildlife. Get up early (before sunrise), pack your camera and binoculars, wear good shoes, head to the coast and just wander along the cliffs to spot some of the local wildlife and enjoy spectacular views. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit, especially in the summer you will not want to miss out on those excellent beaches!
The sea can be rough in the southwest corner of Portugal, but if the conditions allow for diving, Sagres is one of the best diving spots on the Portuguese mainland. Coldwater corals, octopus, cuttlefish and conger eels are some examples of the aquatic life that can be spotted. For more advanced divers there are a number of caves and caverns to be explored.