SELVAGENS & DESERTAS – OCEAN CULTURE
Selvagens (savage in English), is a small uninhabitable archipelago in the North Atlantic, roughly midway between Madeira and the Canary Islands. The archipelago comprises two major islands and several islets of varying sizes, that represent the southernmost region of Portugal. The archipelago lies about 230 km (143 mi) from Madeira, is administered by the Portuguese municipality of Funchal.
The islands were colonized by Portugal and baptized Selvagens in 1438 by the Portuguese mariner Diogo Gomes de Sintra. During the 16th century the Selvagens Islands belonged to a family from Madeira known as Caiados. In 1560 they were inheritated by João Cabral de Noronha. In 1904 the islands were sold to Luís Rocha Machado. In 1971 the Portuguese government intervened and acquired the islands, converting them into a Nature Reserve.
The Natural Reserve of Selvagens Islands was created as part of the Madeira Natural Park; it is one of the oldest nature reserves of Portugal and it also includes the surrounding shelf to a depth of 200 m. It was designated a natural reserve in 1971, recognising its role as a very important nesting point for several species of birds. In 1976, permanent surveillance began, and in 1978 the reserve was elevated to the status of Nature Reserve. Today the Selvagens Islands have a permanent team of wardens from Madeira Natural Park re-enforcing the ocean culture in the Madeira Islands.
They are designated a Nature Reserve, comprised of two areas: Selvagem Grande Island and Selvagem Pequena Island. The total land area of the Savage Islands is 2.73 km2 (1.05 sq mi), with little fresh water and surrounded by dangerous reefs (which makes limited access difficult).
The northeast Group – includes the main island of Selvagem Grande and three small islets: Sinho Islet (Portuguese: Ilhéu Sinho), Palheiro do Mar, and Palheiro da Terra.
The southwest Group – including the main island of Selvagem Pequena and Fora Islet (Portuguese: Ilhéu de Fora), it is surrounded by a group of very small islets and a group collectively known as the Northern Islets (Portuguese: Ilhéus do Norte): Alto, Comprido and Redondo.
The islands physical characteristics are consequence of mountain-forming and volcanic forces that occurred between 60 and 70 million years ago. The average annual temperatures range between 17–19 ºC, generally exceeding those in Madeira (defined as a subtropical maritime climate), while sea temperatures remain comfortable all year round.
The scientific and natural interest of this tiny group of islands lies in its marine biodiversity, its unique flora and many avian species that breed annually on its rock cliffs or use them on their stopover on normal migratory patterns. Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said what he believed that around this minor archipelago were “the cleanest waters in the world”.
There is an abundance of marine activity, much endemic to the environment, including the barred hogfish, puffer fish (Tetraodontidae), sea spider and many species of sea urchin. At depth of about 30 m (100 ft) the waters around the islands/islets are teeming with algae and many migratory species of common fish, routinely migrating from the islands of Cape Verde, Madeira and the Canaries.
Out of eight total species of sea turtle in the world, five of them occur in Selvagens Islands waters. The most frequent is the loggerhead turtle, followed by Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, Hawksbill sea turtle, Green sea turtle and Leatherback sea turtle.
A total of 10 cetaceans’ species are recorded for Selvagens Islands surrounding waters, including some with a “Vulnerable” or “Threatened” global conservation statuses according to IUCN list of threatened species such as fin whales, sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, short-finned pilot whales, Atlantic spotted dolphins, pigmy sperm whale, sei whale, Bryde’s whale and a non-confirmed beaked whale species, but many others are expected to be discovered.
Although there are commercial tours of the islands and their biomes are available, all visitors require special authorization from the Madeira Natural Park, the regional environmental authority.
According to the Global Ocean Refuge System, the Savage Islands harbor one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic and play a fundamental role in the larval dispersal of many species. The islands received the Gold Global Ocean Refuge Award in October 2018.
Desertas (deserted in English), is the name of all three small islands that lie south-east of the island of Madeira: Chão Islet, Deserta Grande and Bugio. Administratively, they belong to the municipality of Santa Cruz in Madeira.
Of volcanic origin, these islands dominate the ashes of reddish, yellowish and they have extensive coastline of about 37,700 m, almost entirely very rocky scarps formed very steep and almost perpendicular, which the makes it virtually inaccessible.
Since the fourteenth century, these islands were already known under their current name or by their singular evening desert island, although they have been properly explored after the initial reconnaissance trips by João Gonçalves Zarco in 1420/1421 and under the operation and permanent human settlement in Funchal.
A Portuguese colony tried to settle several times, but always without success, given the conditions of the terrain, mainly due to the marine and wind action, and lack of fresh water.
Historical records indicate that at the end of the sixteenth century they planted wheat and barley on Deserta Grande in order to maintain the pasture for livestock was introduced there. Great on Deserta there is still an area in perfect condition, and Chão Islet vestige of another area.
The islands were the private property of two English families of Madeira, from 1894 to 1971 (as was the case for islands Selvagens), then were bought by the Portuguese State and converted into a Nature Reserve.
This space has become a protected site in May 1990 under the Regional Legislative Decree No. 14/90/M, which created the Special Protection Area of the Desert Islands, becoming Nature Reserve in 1995 under the Regional Legislative Decree No. 9 / 95 / M, with an area of 9672 ha and includes all islands and islets.
The sea surface is divided into Partial Reserve, north, and wilderness in the south. A show of importance in terms of the ocean culture in the Madeira Islands came with the recognition of the natural and ecological value of these islands, the Council of Europe has classified Biogenetic Reserve in 1992.
Though close to the main island of Madeira, where the islands can often be seen on the horizon, the geology of the Ilhas Desertas is starkly different. The high, long, and rocky islands of the group are barren of topsoil, and the only wildlife consists of about sixteen species of birds, including eight species of seabirds, and a scarce population of feral goats, rabbits, and rodents, brought from Portugal by the mariners who first touched the rocky shores. The Deserta Grande wolf spider and Madeiran wall lizard also exist in the fragile and arid ecosystem.
The Desert Islands are one of the last refuges of the Wolf marine or monk seal, a colony estimated at 23 animals which is in the process of restocking. Also, this species is considered a flagship species of the Reserve. This space is also an important nesting site for seabirds. North of Deserta Grande Valley in Castanheira, the Tarantula is of desertion (Lycosa ingens), a species endemic to this island. The islands also have a wide variety of plants.
While protection of these islands was motivated by the urgency of taking measures for the conservation of the monk seal, its objective is the protection and preservation of all wildlife and unique flora and includes several species rare and endemic.
The spear fishing is prohibited on any site, and navigation, on the southern part. This Nature Reserve is part of Natura 2000.
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