Site details

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5 stars - Fully protected as a national park or Natura 2000 site by national legislation
ATBI Reference Site

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Faial-Pico Channel. Photo: RS Santos (ImagDOP)

Synoptic description of site:

The most diverse and representative complex of habitats in the archipelago, located within the 5 nm-wide shelf between the islands of Faial and Pico, including adjacent coasts.

Extensive description of site:

This site is located in between the Faial and Pico islands (Central Azores). It is the most diverse and representative complex of habitats in the archipelago. It constitutes a 5 km-wide shelf between the islands and the adjacent coasts. The channel is subject to strong tidal currents and its depths vary from 500 meters at both entrances to an average of 45 meters in the middle. The shallowest mid-channel reef (“Baixa do Sul”) is 8 meters deep and is a Site of Conservation Interest under EU-Natura 2000 Network. Two other sites on the neighbouring coast bear the same designation (“Monte da Guia” and “Ilhéus da Madalena”). The Regional Government of the Azores is conducting efforts to classify the area as “Marine Park”. The proposed area includes the oldest marine protected area of the Azores (“Monte da Guia”), which is recognized by local people as one of the examples of marine conservation in the archipelago. The habitats in the channel are very diverse, including littoral and sublittoral rocky and sandy habitats representing the full gradient of hydrodynamic conditions in the Azores, including sandy sheltered bays and beaches, tidal current-swept areas, stretches of exposed rocky coast, shallow mid-channel reefs/pinnacles, islets, steep plunges, caves, boulder fields, volcanic bedrocks, boulder beaches and small shallow hydrothermal fields (mainly gas leaks).

Habitats present:
Littoral XX
Sublittoral XX
Seagrass beds 

Description of fauna and flora:

Hundreds of species (among algae, macro-invertebrates, fish, cetaceans and birds) inhabit the diversity of habitats that occur within this site. Several flagship species are present and use the site as a feeding area, such as bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus and Common dolphin Delphinus delphis. Commercial fish species such as Epinephelus marginatus, Sphyraena viridensis, Pagellus spp., and crustaceans such as Scyllarides latus and Palinuris elephas also have good populations. Occasionally is possible to observe truly oceanic species such as Mobula tarapacana and large tunas. Avian fauna include several protected marine birds including important populations of Calonectris diomedea borealis and a small colony of Sterna hirundo. The researchers from the DOP/UAç, who have been developing biodiversity projects in the area for more than two decades, have recently recommended the establishment of a large MPA in the Channel within a project where the regional Directorates for the Environment and for Fisheries are partners.

Human impact:

No serious sewage problem exists in the area. The tuna-canning factory used to be a low pollution source but lately its activity has been very low and its closing down is forecasted. The area is subject to moderate artisanal fishing pressure. Fisheries mainly target Pagellus bogaraveo, Epinephelus marginatus, Serranus atricauda and Pagrus pagrus. Recreational fishermen also use the Channel although there are no quantitative data on this sector. Tourism has a visible and increasing weight on both sides of the channel.


The island of Faial is served by regular flights from Lisbon. There are good hotels and boarding houses in both Faial and Pico. The Channel is served by two main ports: Horta (on Faial island) and Madalena (on Pico island). Both offer good harbour facilities. The Department of Oceanography and Fisheries of the University of the Azores (DOP/UAç) is located right in the Horta harbour where it bases its boats. The site proposed is located right at the exit of this harbour. The farthest points of the site are located 7 nautical miles away from Horta. Bad weather conditions, which mainly occur during winter, can limit the access to some habitats (mid-channel reefs, caves) within the proposed site. The summer is by far the best season to work at the site. The facilities of DOP/UAç have an easy access to the Horta harbour and a well-equipped diving section, laboratories and boats. The laboratories support scientific activities dealing with the description, experiment, and modelling of oceanic ecosystems within the areas of Marine Biology and Ecology, Physical and Chemical Oceanography, and Fisheries. Scuba diving clubs are present both on the islands of Faial and Pico.

Available database and website:

Comprehensive inventories are available for algae, benthic macro-invertebrates, fishes, cetaceans, turtles and seabirds. Many of them result from the research carried out by the University of the Azores as well as from some international expeditions that have collected samples in the area. GIS-based databases are currently being built for the Channel area. Some descriptions, maps and photos of the area and its biodiversity are available at: and


Commitment and ongoing research:

There are research projects dealing with management of coastal and marine areas, mapping of marine habitats using robotic ocean vehicles, effects of the marine protected areas on the fish community and ecology and population structure of bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales. These projects are funded by EU Programmes, the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology and the Regional Government of the Azores. The DOP/UAç is committed to monitoring and extended research based on the "Faial-Pico Channel", which at the same time is a complex of three SCIs under Natura 2000. The research and monitoring is funded for the next three years by projects already approved.

Additional Information:

Species and Habitats: MARÉ (EU - LIFE98NAT/P/5275) Technical Proposal for the Management of the Marine SACs Monte da Guia, Baixa do Canal and Ilhéus da Madalena. DOP (in progress). CLIPE (PRAXIS XXI - 3/3.2/EMG/1957/95) Final Report, DOP (Horta – 2000). Several papers and reports (Santos et al., 1995. Aquat. Conserv. Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst., 5: 311-354.; Morton et al., 1998; and references therein); (under construction) Maps and photos: formigas/formigas.htm General bibliography: Santos et al., 1995. Aquat. Conserv. Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 5: 311-354.; (under construction)