A WHALE CAFE IN THE AZORES
LUSH SEASCAPE OF THE ARCHIPELAGO
Comprised of nine major islands, the Azores Archipelago neighbours the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a series of volcanoes that constitute the largest feature of the Atlantic seafloor. But the Archipelago is special in ways beyond its extreme location and history of seafarers’ tales. The area’s unique set of oceanographic features have given rise to a richly diverse ecosystem that Mission Blue is working to protect through the establishment of a Hope Spot, an area that deserves full legal marine protection
AN OCEAN PIT-STOP
But this deep-sea ecosystem is under pressure from human activities such as fishing, coastal construction, maritime transport and agriculture, as well as contaminating compounds, underwater noise and marine litter. By supporting local people and the Regional Government, Mission Blue hopes to help alleviate this degradation of the environment.
A MAGNET FOR LIFE
Launching the Azores as a Hope Spot is so logical – just ask the whales.
Azoreans understand the value of a healthy marine environment. Some have already turned to ecotourism to make a living, encouraging people to go whale watching or diving to experience an underwater jacuzzi from the hot bubbles escaping the hydrothermal vents.
There is much to see. There are some 25 species of cetaceans (whales, porpoises, dolphins), four sea turtles, 560 species of fish, more than 400 species of algae and a few thousand invertebrates alongside endemic species such as the Monteiro’s storm petrel, cold-water coral and the blue wrasse. And those are just the ones that have been inventoried.
A LARGER ZONE OF PROTECTION
In the 1980s, the government established several small, dispersed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In 2019, it went further. In collaboration with the Oceano Azul Foundation and the Waitt Institute, it announced the Blue Azores programme, with the goal of creating a network of fully protected MPAs covering 15 per cent of the Azorean Sea. To accomplish this, they are developing innovative studies and approaches, contributing to the sustainable management of fisheries, supporting scientific processes and implementing a ‘blue literacy’ programme for schools, among other activities.
Each Hope Spot has a Champion who represents the area and is involved in its work. Christopher Pham, the Azores Champion, is a research associate at the Okeanos research centre of the University of the Azores specializing in deep-sea ecosystems and plastic pollution. He is deeply committed to this extraordinary place. “The Azores really offer a unique set of characteristics,” he says. “This is a really important place for a lot of migratory animals. It’s a pit-stop for those large cetaceans.”
Launched in 2009, Mission Blue’s aim is to create a global network of Hope Spots, which are ecologically important areas of the oceans considered vital to the preservation of species, or places where communities rely on a healthy marine environment to survive. So far, Mission Blue has created more than 130 Hope Spots around the world. Key to the programme is the empowerment of local people to make change.