Portugal names eleven Ramsar sites in the Azores

07/10/2008

Volcanic-based wetlands of great beauty and importance

The government of Portugal has brought its total number of Wetlands of International Importance to 28 by designating eleven new sites in its mid-Atlantic autonomous region of the Azores Archipelago. They include caldera lakes, geothermal springs and pools, mountain peatlands, and other wetland types on many of the nine islands of the group, as well as one of its famous reefs.

The brief Annotated Ramsar List descriptions below have been prepared by Ramsar's Monica Zavagli, João Mora Porteiro of the Universidade dos Açores, and Luis Costa, Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (BirdLife Portugal).

Caldeira da Graciosa (Furna do Enxofre). 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 120 ha; 39º01’N 027º58’W. UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. A volcanic crater on Graciosa island, one of the largest of its kind with a perfect vault, containing on its bottom a lake of cold and sulphurous freshwater. It constitutes a rare example of cave and lake with volcanic activity of small geysers inside. There are important native and endemic species of arthropods characteristic of this habitat and the endemic species of bat Nyctalus azorica can also be found there. The cavern Furna do Enxofre (on the World Heritage tentative sites list) is the high point of the island for tourists, and the access to its grounds is made in circles through the stairs of a curious tower built in the cave. Ramsar site no. 1798. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Caldeira do Faial. 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 312 ha; 38º35’N 028º42’W. Nature Reserve, Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC. A big circular depression created by a volcanic explosion situated in the central part of Faial Island. The caldera, 390 metres deep, is in good conservation status and supports different wetland types with species native and endemic to the Azores and Macaronesia, as well as laurel forest. It hosts unique wetland ecosystems including mires, forested and non forested peatlands, seasonal freshwater marshes and streams. The presence of many endemic invertebrates and some threatened plant species (Bellis azorica, Lactuta watsoniana, Veronica dabneyi and Isoëtes azorica) confers high ecological importance to the site. The wetland is also very important in the island context for the hydrological value as supplies freshwater to the inhabitants. It also has scenic and tourist value, being one of the main attractions of the island. Ramsar site no. 1799. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Caldeirão do Corvo. 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 316 ha; 39º42’N 031º06’W. UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Regional Nature Park, Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC. A crater that covers most of Corvo Island’s surface and includes two permanent lakes with some scattered islets. The wetland has very good and representative habitats of peat dominated by peat moss Sphagnum and Macaronesian woodlands of great importance at regional level. The site regulates all of the aquifer of the island. The area is well known as passage for many migrant birds either from Europe or North America as the island is more or less at the same distance from both continents. Colonies with high numbers of threatened species of seabirds also occur, e.g., Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) and the roseate terns (Sterna dougallii). Of the 35 birds species recorded in the site, 21 are also breeding here. Threats to the site include invasive flora species. Ramsar site no. 1800. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Complexo Vulcânico das Furnas. 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 2,855 ha; 37º45’N 025º19’W. The site covers the entire valley within an impressive crater of a volcano which still has some secondary activity such as small geysers and numerous springs and streams of hot sulphurous water. The main water body is the Furnas Lake (Lagoa das Furnas), whose shore and shallow waters are among the best habitats for waterbirds migrating through the Azores. The slopes of the crater are home of a good diversity of native plants of the laurel forest of Macaronesia. The Furnas complex is a very well known tourist attraction in the archipelago and it is also of great scientific interest. The eutrophication of the lake and the expansion of exotic invasive species are considerable threats to this site, which is under an urgent recovery plan for its restoration. Ramsar site no. 1801. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Complexo Vulcânico das Sete Cidades.16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 2,171 ha; 37º51’N 025º46’W. Protected Landscape. The site is one of the greatest tourist attractions of the archipelago and includes the whole crater and catchment area of Sete Cidades on São Miguel island and the adjacent smaller mountains of Serra Devassa. Several lacustrine systems occur in the site which is composed of a dozen relatively small ponds and lakes and the famous blue and green lakes (Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde) – the largest of the Azores (4.38 km2 and 53.2x106 m3 of water volume). Besides the high landscape significance, the complex is important as a breeding and stopover area for some species of migrant birds at regional level, especially ducks and waders. The eutrophication of the lakes, the expansion of exotic invasive species, the intensification of grazing and livestock, as well as erosion, are the main threats to this site, which is under a urgent recovery plan for its restoration. Ramsar site no. 1802. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Complexo Vulcânico do Fogo.16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 2,182 ha; 37º45’N 025º28’W. Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC, Nature Reserve. Located in the central part of São Miguel island, the biggest of the Azores archipelago, the site includes all the catchment area of the Fogo complex, with the lake of Fogo (Lagoa do Fogo) within the large crater and the geothermal springs, waterfalls and geysers of Caldeira Velha. The site provides electrical energy to the island through its geothermal power plant, and the water springs of Lombadas are also an important economic resource, supplying most of the island and providing mineral water. Ecologically there are several typical and threatened habitats of peatland and laurel forest which support several endemic and native species of plants and animals, such as the snipe (Gallinago gallinago). The high hydrological and ecological value of the area makes it a perfect refuge and resting site for many migratory birds. The geothermic phenomena attract many tourists every year. The threats for the site are mainly absence of vigilance and illegal dumping. Ramsar site no. 1803. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Ilhéus das Formigas e Recife Dollabarat. 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 7 ha; 37º16’N 024º46’W. The Formigas are volcanic islets emerging from an extensive submarine mount of lava deposits and fossil sediment deposits; they are located roughly between the two main islands of the eastern group of the archipelago, Santa Maria and São Miguel. These coastal habitats are found only at this site in the biogeographic region of Macaronesia and include islets, shallow waters, subtidal shores and coral reefs. The reefs are well known in the North Atlantic for their high biodiversity and rich diversity and quantity of pelagic and demersal fishes that use the site for feeding and spawning. There are also kelp grasslands of Laminaria ochroleuca and black corals (Antiphates wollastoni) colonies under 15 metres deep which are excellent habitat for the Dusky grouper (Ephinephelus marginatus), the Comb grouper (Mycteroperca fusca), the Ornate wrasse (Thalassoma pavo), and Centrolabrus caeruleus that can reach quite uncommon large body sizes. In spite of the threats caused by illegal fisheries, both sport and professional, the site remains in a very good state of conservation. Ramsar site no. 1804. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Planalto Central da Terceira (Furnas do Enxofre e Algar do Carvão). 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 1,283 ha; 38º44’N 027º12’W. Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC, Natural regional monument. A rather flat area on the top of the central plateau of Terceira Island that includes different and diverse palustrine habitats, a small set of geysers (Furnas de Enxofre) and a volcanic cave with a permanent subterranean lake inside (Algar do Carvão). The site has particular ecological conditions which support the peatland flora characteristic of the Azores and Macaronesia, with special relevance for the communities of Juniperus brevifolia, Sphagnum and laurel forest woodlands. The exuberant vegetation contributes in great degree to the rainfall levels of the area. This is the habitat for native and rare species such as the Azores Wood Pigeon (Columbus palumbus azorica) or the Snipe (Gallinago gallinago). The wetland has great importance for its hydrological characteristics for water retention and recharge of the underground springs. The geyser’s field is an interesting habitat due to its excellent status of conservation. The Algar do Carvão is an ancient volcano with a small subterranean lake of clear waters and silicate stalactites as a unique case in the world. The lake is fed by rainwater from the surface and some small springs under the lake. The traditional ‘corridas’ are organised locally with the bulls (touros) that are raised within this site, which confers a special social importance to the site. Ramsar site no. 1805. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Planalto Central das Flores (Morro Alto). 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 2,572 ha; 39º26’N 031º12’W. Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC, Nature Reserve. A plateau area located at around 600m asl dominated by important wetlands ranging from permanent freshwater lakes to forested and non-forested peatlands adapted to low oxygen conditions. The wetlands play a significant role in the hydrological regulation of aquifer recharge and discharge on the Isla de las Flores. Among the four permanent lakes and their excellent water quality, Lagoa Negra is the deepest of the Azores archipelago with its 108 metres depth, while Lagoa Funda is the biggest on the island. The area is among the best place for migrating and breeding waterbirds in the Azores, with several American birds occurring there, and it is also the best conserved complex of mountain habitats in the region. It supports a broad variety of ecosystems supporting a large amount of plant endemism such as Amni trifoliatum, Angelica lignescens, Euphorbia stygiana, Frangula azorica, Juniperus brevifolia, Leontodon filli, Leontodon rigens, Myosotis maritima, Pericallis malvifolia and Viburnum tinus subcordatum. The site is also home of the endemic Bat of Azores (Nyctalus azoreum) also protected at national level. Ramsar site no. 1806. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Planalto Central de São Jorge (Pico da Esperança). 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 231 ha; 38º39’N 028º04’W. Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC, Nature Reserve. The site, a plain on the top of the plateau of São Jorge island, is a perfect example of the Macaronesian peatlands of the Azores due to its hydrological conditions and diversity of native species of plants dominated by peat moss Sphagnum. Amongst the endangered species: Bellis azorica, Euphrasia grandiflora, Lactuta watsoniana, Prunus lusitanica ssp azorica. The site is important for its water storage and regulation characteristics. The area is in relatively good shape in terms of conservation status, although lack of control and increasing pressure from tourism could become a threat. Ramsar site no. 1807. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

Planalto Central do Pico (Achada). 16/06/08; Archipiélago de las Azores; 748 ha. 38º26’N 28º13’W. Sitio de Importância Comunitária SIC, Nature Reserve. The site covers the central area of Pico Island where there are several palustrine wetlands and the catchment areas of freshwater lagoons and ponds. The Lagoa Seca and the Cabeço dos Grotões correspond to volcanic craters while the remaining are topographic depressions receiving water from all their catchment areas. The wetlands are ecologically important  as they constitute very illustrative examples of the native and endemic species and wetland habitats of Macaronesia and the Azores. Also some birds have here their main distribution areas in the region, especially the snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and the woodcock (Scolopax rusticola). Although not the most important tourist asset on the island, the area is of scenic interest and visited by many people. Ramsar site no. 1808. Most recent RIS information: 2008.

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