Human settlement in the Azores began around 1439. According to the 2011 Census, there are 246,772 inhabitants, corresponding to a relatively low population density of 106.3 inhabitants per km2.


The Archipelago of the Azores has a temperate marine climate, characterized by mild temperatures with small annual thermal amplitude, high relative humidity and rainfall distributed throughout the year, being more abundant in the winter months. It is influenced by the well-known «Azores Anticiclone».

The annual average air temperature is around 17 ° C, with the mean values ​​of 18-23 ° C and 9-14 ° C respectively in the hottest month (August) and the coldest (February). The temperature of the sea water varies between 14-15 ° C in the coldest month (February) and 22-24 ° C in the hottest month (August).

The relative humidity of the air is in the annual average values ​​of 73 to 87%. The average annual precipitation is 1930 mm, increasing with altitude and from East to West of the archipelago, between 966 mm on Graciosa Island and 2647 mm on Flores Island.


The archipelago is generally characterized by the natural forest, commonly known as ‘Laurissilva’, and by vegetation with introduced, exotic plants. More than half of the territory is used for agricultural activity and pasture (ca. 56%). The pastures are predominant, occupying on average 42% of the area of ​​each island; the forest and the natural vegetation occupy about 35% of the regional territory, with 22% and 13%, respectively; the islands of Flores and Terceira are those that present larger spots of pure native forest.

Thus, various types of zonal vegetation can be observed, depending on the altitude in which they are found, namely: areas with predominant endemic tree species or Macaronesia, the Laurissilva forest, at the highest altitudes (eg, laurel, cedar- bush-fodder, sawtooth, heather or broom); wetlands (puddles and bogs) with important plant communities (eg, moss, Sphagnum spp.) are predominant in the upper reaches of the islands of São Miguel, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo; areas consisting mainly of eucalyptus plantations, cryptomeria, pinus bravo and mixed forests; pasture zones, encompassing temporary pastures (low to medium altitude) and semi-natural pastures (medium to high altitude); covered areas corresponding to the coastal border where predominantly whitewood, beech, heather and herbaceous plants (e.g., milkweed, Azorina); areas of permanent agricultural crops (fruit trees, vines) and various agricultural holdings (eg family gardens, greenhouses, fodder).

The flora of the Azores is composed of about 1000 species of vascular plants, including flowering or angiospermic plants (eg, laurel, Laurus azorica) plants with cone-like or coniferous reproductive structures (eg, Juniperus brevifolia cedar ), the fetus and related plants. Approximately 200 plant species are native (ie they colonized the islands without human intervention and are part of their natural vegetation), of which about 80 species are endemic (species that have evolved exclusively in the archipelago (eg, , holly, Azorina vidalii)), constituting a unique biodiversity resource for the Azores. The remaining plants are exotic, introduced by humans, for the protection of agricultural crops (eg incense), silviculture (eg, Cryptomeria japonica cryptomeria) or as ornamental (eg, bean, giant lettuce) plants, some of them have become invasive and occupy large areas of the surface of the archipelago. The bryophytes (including mosses, hepatica and antocerotas), covering about 440 species and subspecies, constitute another group of plants of high Azorean faunistic richness.


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Biodiversity in Numbers

Fauna and floristic diversity is very rich in the archipelagos of Macaronesia, but is smaller in the archipelagos geographically farther from the continents (Azores case), which is certainly related to distance, geological age and various historical events (eg, volcanism , human intervention) verified in each of the different islands.

In 2010, the total number of terrestrial species and subspecies (= taxa) in the Azores was estimated at 6164, of which 452 are endemic, corresponding to 7.3% of the total diversity. Note that these numbers are lower than those of the Madeira archipelago, estimated at 7571 land taxa, including 1419 endemic (19% of total diversity). However, it is believed that these values ​​are underestimated, given that there are terrestrial and marine species (known and still unknown to science) that could increase this number to about 10,000 species and subspecies.

However, arthropods (Filo Arthropoda, which includes crustaceans, centipedes and millipedes, mites, spiders and insects, among other animals) have the highest diversity (2332 taxa), representing about 42% of the species found in the Azores. Considering all fungi (including lichens) and seedlings (spermatophytes), they represent the second (24%) and third (18%) more diverse groups of organisms in these islands.

In the case of insects, the Azores have less specific wealth (1773 taxa) than Madeira and Selvagens (3297 taxa). In particular, the Odonata are represented by four confirmed species for the Azorean archipelago (two more sporadic) and six species for Madeira and Selvagens, none of which are specifically endemic to these archipelagos. However, Sympetrum nigrifemur is considered an endemism of Macaronesia, being present in Madeira and the Canary Islands. On the other hand, in the Azores lies a “biological jewel”, the damselfly Ischnura hastata, the only species of odonates in the World with parthenogenetic reproduction (exclusively female reproduction, in the absence of males.

The animals and the terrestrial plants are the groups with greater diversity in endemismos. Indeed, in the Azores there are at least 266 arthropods and about 80 endemic vascular plants (Pteridophyta and Spermatophyta).

As for arthropods, most of them are exotic (58%). On the other hand, more than 60% of the vascular flora of the Azores is considered as exotic, while mammals (except the two native bats), amphibians and reptiles were introduced.

Total number and proportion of species and subspecies of the various groups of fungi (including lichens), plants and terrestrial animals of the Azores archipelago (adapted from Borges et al., 2010).


Biodiversity conservation

Environmental education facilitates knowledge about the environment, values ​​and competencies as well as the experience to act in the prevention of present and future environmental risks. In this regard, considering the number, degree and nature of the threats of many endemic and native plants, it is important to promote awareness-raising actions aimed at their protection, namely: control and / or eradication of invasive species; the limitation of the use of the ground by the cattle in zones of native vegetation; to avoid trampling plants outside tourist sites; increase of reduced stock populations, through their propagation elsewhere (e.g., nurseries); respect the populations of the endemic species of an island (s), since the exchange of individuals between islands can disturb the dynamics of evolutionary mechanisms.

Due to the rarity, there are three cases of endemicity associated with the animals. Among the many endemic insects of the order Coleoptera, blind beetles living in caves and volcanic cavities and those inhabiting hotspots with small areas (eg at Pico Alto, in Santa Maria) are of particular concern. At the level of the birds, the Pyrrhula murina, the only terrestrial endemic bird of the Azores, whose habitat is resting to the northeast part of São Miguel and whose population will be around 400-500 individuals, has been an example of important conservation measures. Also, the diurnal and harmless Azorean bat, Nyctalus azoreum, the only mammal endemic to the archipelago, should be protected to avoid the decline of its population and thus maximize the high predatory potential of insects that are harmful to the environment. agriculture and human health.


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Freshwater Ecosystems

Lotic surface waters

Freshwater ecosystems play an important role, especially in the landscape, with no water supply to the populations and as a source of water for the production of energy and the permanence of the canals of the water mills.

The hydrology of the Azores is characterized by lagoons, streams, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater. The hydrological specificities result from the geographic, climatic and geological specificities of the archipelago. A biometric the means is a high end to the water of water having a large massage in the water of permanent was to the type in temporary.

In the Azores, loamy surface waters of permanent regime (rivers) only exist in the islands of Santa Maria, São Miguel, São Jorge, Faial and Flores. The streams are fed by ponds or by higher flow springs, located in the interior of the islands and, in the case of São Jorge, by the springs of the North coast.

A total of 736 river basins have been identified. Most of the streams have a drainage area of ​​less than 10 km2, with a non-permanent flow rate and a torrential regime. For example, the main permanent water courses on the island of São Miguel integrate the river basins of Ribeira Grande, Ribeira do Guilherme, Ribeira do Faial da Terra, Ribeira do Purgar and Ribeira Quente.

The most important levadas (irrigation water channels or aqueducts that generally radiate from the highest and central points of the island) are located in Faial and São Miguel (e.g., Lagoa do Fogo). The aqueducts or “stone walls” of the Coal and Nine Windows (Sete Cidades) are testimony to the architecture associated with the water supply. On the other hand, water reservoirs are monumental on Graciosa Island.

Waterfalls, waterfalls due to the natural layout of the terrain or human action are common in the islands (eg, Santa Maria, São Miguel and Flores).


Lentic surface waters

The 88 lagoons constitute water masses very important for the hydrological dynamics of the islands, since they function as a reserve and as a source of water for feeding the streams. They are distributed by the islands, namely of São Miguel, Terceira, Pico, Flores and Corvo. The lacustrine surface of the Azores occupies 0.4% of the regional territory (about 9.5 Km2), about 90% of this value in São Miguel.

The lagoons of the Azores are water bodies of relatively small dimensions, varying between 0.5 and 10 km2 of area. The largest lagoons are all located on the island of São Miguel: Lagoa das Sete Cidades (one of the seven wonders of Portugal), Furnas and Fogo. The ponds are even smaller than one hectare. Ponds are permanent or temporary stands of standing water, smaller in size than a pond and larger than a puddle (a small mass of ephemeral water, which it is usually possible to cross in one step).

Transitional waters are water bodies in the transitional situation between the terrestrial environment and the marine environment, with intermediate characteristics between inland and coastal waters being influenced by freshwater. They are unique coastal ecosystems, including lagoons and marshes. Examples are the lagoons of the Fajãs dos Cubres and Santo Cristo, on the island of São Jorge. The cases of Juncus marshes in the Lajes do Pico and the Pântano do Paul in Praia da Vitória (Terceira) are excellent resting places for some migratory birds, waders of the Azores.

In the archipelago, artificial water bodies find correspondence in artificial ponds, created by human activity and used in supplying the population (as reinforcement in summer seasons) and agricultural activity. Three artificial lagoons are identified for the agricultural activity (São Miguel island – artificial lagoon of Contendas, Terceira island – artificial lagoon of the Altares / Raminho, Faial island – artificial lagoon of Faial) and one as reinforcement to the public supply (Corvo Island – artificial pond of the Crow).

Livestock drinkers across the pastures of the Azorean islands also play an important role in the reproduction of Odonates (dragonflies), especially in the islands and regions where water is scarce (eg, Graciosa). Public sources for water supply have abounded in the population centers of the Azores for a long time.

The Laurissilva forest and the peat bogs play an important role in the water balance of the islands. This forest, due to its hydrological characteristics, is considered a “water-producing” forest.


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The stunning landscape of blue and green

The landscape is marked by the blue of the sea and the lagoons and the green of the fields and forest on the various islands and shows the human uses and activities molded to the relief, associated to a great diversity of forms, since it defines the zoning of the cultures, of the vegetation natural and even the climatic comfort necessary to the inhabitants of the villages.

In general, up to 200 meters above sea level, most of the settlements are located (urban territory occupying ca. 5% of the land concentrated in a strip near the coast or main road) and agricultural land, vineyards and other fruit trees; it follows a great part of the pastures, some bushes or woods until about 400 meters; above the 1000 meters run the altitude scrub. The freshwater masses, mainly lagoons and streams, correspond to 0.41% of the terrestrial surface of the Azores.


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Tourism of excellence

For a long time, the Azores were a gateway for people and goods between Europe and North America, strategically located in the North Atlantic. Azorean emigration to North America in the 19th and 20th centuries gave birth to a second and third generation of migrants descended from the Azores and their new families feed important tourist flows from the US and Canada to the Azores.

Nowadays, the Azores are a tourist destiny of excellence, that has deserved recognition at the international level, with the attribution of several prizes and distinctions. With the entry into force of a new model of accessibility to the Region in March 2015, there was a significant boost in the number of tourist arrivals, stimulating the opening of new businesses and tourism businesses. The total number of overnight stays increased from 1,231,247 to 2,384,687 between 2014 and 2017, representing an average annual growth rate of 24.7% (Azores Tourism Observatory, 2017). Total hotel revenues also increased significantly. This has boosted the local economy, increased intercultural relations, internally and externally, and sensitized local people to the need to maintain sustainable tourism and a friendly environment at a high level. Underlying is the mobilization of good existing human resources (good services), the beauties of Mother Nature’s landscapes, tranquility, safety, gastronomy, pedestrian paths, play activities (ie, whale and dolphin watching, fishing ), the valuable built heritage and culture.

The Azores were considered the most beautiful place in the world (National Geographic Traveler, 2016), the Hawaii of Europe (Ships, 2018), one of the ten most sustainable tourist destinations in the world and the best destination of the Atlantic (Green Destinations, 2018 ), one of the 100 most sustainable destinations in the world and the first in Europe (TravelMole, Vision on Sustainable Tourism, Totem Tourism, & Green Destinations, 2014) and one of the 7 wonders at the table.

The Association of Geoparks of the Azores has created new services, scales and interpretive products, implementing a quality geotourism in the region, in close connection with other aspects of nature tourism (ie association of the Azores with a destination of untouched nature). that the Azores will be the first archipelago in the world to have the seal of the Global Council of Sustainable Tourism, already in 2019 (Jornal Expresso, 2017).

Ana Isabel Moniz, Sheila Furtado and Carlos Santos


For more information on tourism in the Azores, click on the following link:




The Azores:





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