Sustainability in the Atlantic: The Azores Islands

Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal © Pexels/Gabriela Mendes

By Allie Murray

Surrounded by the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, the Portuguese Azores Islands is an archipelago made up of nine volcanic islands full of scenic views to explore. From natural greenscapes to the oldest tea plantation in Europe, each island offers a unique European experience.

Having long been a destination for travellers looking to explore untouched natural landscapes, the Azores has been awarded for their efforts to keep the islands natural. Beginning in 2019, the islands released an action plan for sustainability efforts for the destination. These efforts had them recognized as the world’s first island archipelago to be certified under the EarthCheck Sustainable Destination program. The designation is currently shared by only 13 regions across the globe, which makes the Azores one of the most sustainable destinations in the world.

Similarly, earlier this year, the Azores made National Geographic’s coveted Best of the World list, highlighted in the nature category.

“The Azores are nine islands with different habits and accents that change from island to island,” said National Geographic Explorer Miriam Cuesta Garcia, a marine biologist studying the nocturnal behaviour of seabird hatchlings on Pico Island. “But the Azores have a unified vision for sustainability. They know they need to protect their unique environment, to remain the same even when changes occur.”

The Government of Azores and the locals alike are dedicated to keeping the region green—so much so that currently only five per cent of the Azores’ ground is built-up urban areas, aiming to keep the islands development low. Similarly, 25 per cent of land is classified as a protected area, managed by the natural parks on each island.

© Pexels/Tom Swinnen

Pico, known as The Mountain Island, is home to the highest mountain in Portugal, Ponta do Pico. The Mountain Island is also commonly referred to as the Black Island because of its black volcanic soils.

Pico is also known for their wines, with its vineyards being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture sits on a well-preserved 987 hectares and has been operating for more than 500 years, making Pico one of the oldest wine producers in Europe.

São Miguel, nicknamed The Green Island, is the largest and most populous island in the Azores. The island is a geothermal hot spot, drawing in visitors to take a dip in the luxurious springs scattered around the region. Caldeira Velha, in particular, is a unique hot spring surrounded by lush greenery, four thermal pools, waterfalls and tranquil beauty to explore.

Corvo, The Crow Island of the Azores, is frequented for bird-watching and hiking. The smallest of the Azorean islands, Corvo is home to approximately 384 inhabitants. In 2008, the Corvo Nature Park was created in order to conserve and protect species’ habitats and natural resources on the island. The island and neighbouring Flores were designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International because of the species present in and around the island.

The Azores Islands have something for every kind of traveller—whether you are looking for tranquility, adventure, or wildlife viewing, there’s an Azores island for you.

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