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Integrated management of coastal and marine areas in the Azores

More:  Institutes 
Reference no: LIFE98 - NAT-P-5275
Acronym: MARÉ
Period: 1998 till 2002
Status: Completed

Institutes (2)  Top 
  • University of the Azores; Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOP), more, co-ordinator
  • Institute of Marine Research (IMAR), more, partner

Abstract:
The Azores archipelago consists of 9 islands and 20 islets located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Despite this geographical isolation, the marine environment has been affected by increasing human activity. As a consequence of the ecological deterioration during the last two decades, various isolated legislative measures have been taken for the conservation of marine species and habitats. However, they generally resulted in absence of management of the activities that take place in the protected areas and/or deficient enforcement of the legislation. With the recent application of the EC "Birds" and "Habitats" Directives in the Archipelago, conservation benefited from a new strategic perspective by the designation of 18 Sites with Conservation Importance (SCIs) and 13 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) on coastal and marine habitats. With a view to prevent what has happened with previous scattered measures, it is becoming urgent to implement an integrated program of management planning and an enforcement of the measures taken. The success of these strategies will depend on the integration in terms of ecology and management of the different components of the littoral environment.
Instead of advancing with isolated actions of a group or a particular species, the present project proposes to elaborate and implement management plans for a complex of areas and species that are already favoured by decrees of unconnected protection. Three different levels of approach will be integrated: littoral habitats, marine bird populations and populations of cetaceans and marine turtles.
This project will follow a course of action that includes scientific inventory, elaboration of regulation plans, public inquiry, preparation of management plans and finally the implementation of specific management measures. In the course of these actions one will establish an earnest program of environmental education with the perspective of alerting the different sectors of society and their active involvement in management measures. Only through this strategy will it be possible to create favourable conditions to implement successfully the Network Natura 2000 in the Azores with an impact beyond the project.
Concerning coastal (both littoral and sublittoral) habitats, 5 SCIs were chosen, inserted in different ecological and socio-economical contexts. The island of Corvo, especially, should represent an illustrative example for the development of the general objectives of the project. Being the smallest island of the archipelago, Corvo exhibits a well-preserved coastal environment and contains a small population, receptive to proposals on environmental conservation. Therefore, it seems to unite all conditions for a sustainable management plan. On the other hand, SCIs located on the channel between Faial and Pico islands are subject to strong pressure from tourism, fishing and urban activities. Consequently, the management needed has to be of a different type, involving a greater variety of socio-economic sectors. Finally, the islets of Formigas and the Dollabarat reef represent the setting for a third management model. At present they are subject to growing human disturbance, like demersal fishery and spearfishing, but the area has the potential to be made into an authentic oceanic sanctuary.
Another goal for this project is the elaboration of management plans for the new SPAs which will be designated during a review process underway, along with enhancement of conservation action in 7 existing SPAs towards the recovery of population levels of Sterna dougallii. Besides, genetic studies will be undertaken to confirm reproductive isolation between two sympatric and temporally segregated populations of Oceanodroma castro occurring in the Azores. The results of this study will convey a revision of the taxonomic status of this species listed in Annex I of the EC Birds Directive, which is expected to result in the recognition of two distinct species with an increased vulnerable status, requiring immediate conservation measures.
Regarding cetaceans, a database of the present populations of the different species will be compiled and the consequence of the increasing touristic pressure due to whale watching for the populations will be monitored. This is a recent activity in the Azores, but a large expansion is expected since it is the region in the North Atlantic with the highest diversity of cetaceans. A special importance is given to the resident groups of Tursiops truncatus (species included in Annex II of the EC Habitats Directive). The data collected will be used in calculating the capacity load for the whale watching and in elaborating and implementing a complex of management measures, which could lead to the proposal of new protection areas.
Concerning marine turtles, the present project will seek to supervise tagging, access the impacts of accidental capture of turtles by the fishing fleet and study the distribution of the populations. The results of these studies will help in adopting practical measures for protecting the different species of turtles, especially the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), a priority species of the "Habitats" Directive, which has its nursery ground around the Azores on its migratory route in the North Atlantic.

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