The Azores will protect 20% of its maritime area, the largest oceanic extension of the European Union under that conservationist regime. The Blue Azores program, signed today by the regional government and the Foundations Blue ocean Y Waitt Institute, will be dedicated for three years to protect, promote and value the natural capital of the archipelago, which until now had protected 5% of its waters. In total, there will be 200,000 square kilometers of total protection. The Government is committed to legislate and monitor compliance with laws and foundations to carry out scientific expeditions.
In the global ocean, only 4.8% belong to a protected area in various degrees, although the 'total protection', as in the case of the Portuguese archipelago, reaches only 2.2% (0.8% at sea), according to WWF. In the case of Portugal, the complete protection of its waters (where fishing is prohibited) is 1% and that of the most lax reserves increases to 4%.
The archipelago of the Azores is formed by the islands of Flores, Corvo, Graciosa, Terceira, San Jorge, Pico, Faial, San Miguel and Santa Maria, where 240,000 people live. Its sea accounts for 55% of the national maritime area, almost one million square kilometers and an average depth of 3,000 meters.
The geological structure of the Azores presents unique and fragile marine ecosystems, although many of them have not yet been fully mapped. The scientific expeditions have certified 25 species of marine mammals, eight species of nesting seabirds, four species of marine turtles, 560 species of fish, more than 400 species of algae and thousands of different invertebrates, in habitats that reach 5,000 meters depth.
During the three years of the program, in which about five million euros will be invested, scientific expeditions of the North American foundation Waitt and the Blue Ocean will be devoted to design the management plans of the protected areas, develop studies for the sustainable management of fishing (5% of the archipelago's wealth) and identifying new areas of conservation interest for the so-called blue economy to be viable.