Two years after it was proposed, the creation of the Natural Marine Park of the Algarve Reef – Pedra do Valado has gained new momentum. Visiting the Algarve last week, minister for the environment and climate action Duarte Cordeiro said the government wants to see the underwater reef running across 156 km2 bordering the municipalities of Lagoa, Silves and Albufeira, classified by 2024. It’s a decision that breaks the deadlock that has been witnessed in the area of conservation of national biological diversity, stress promoters.
The Algarve has lost a considerable part of its natural values in recent decades due to pressure from fishing and tourism, Tiago Pitta e Cunha, executive director of the Oceano Azul (Blue Ocean) Foundation championing this project, explains.
“The natural wealth of this reef is very significant and there are few areas like this so close to the coast (…) Portugal distinguishes itself positively in environmental policies in the sectors of water, sanitation and combating climate change but does not make the same commitment in the area of safeguarding natural capital (…) if we do not change this trajectory, we run the risk of reaching 2050 and losing the wealth of biodiversity and natural capital that we have left,” he tells Expresso.
It was in May 2021 that the Oceano Azul Foundation and CCMAR (Centre for Marine Sciences at the University of the Algarve) handed the government the proposal to create this protected natural park, redolent with species – at least 19 of which (including seahorses and grouper) have protected status.
In total, the reef is home to 889 species, including 703 invertebrates, 111 fish and 75 algae. There are also 45 ‘new species for Portugal’, including 12 new to science which have never been seen anywhere else.
Investigations have identified six new habitats on the Algarve’s southern coast, including gorgonian gardens (fan-shaped corals), protected by the OSPAR Convention, and communities of brown and calcareous algae as well as ophiuroid (creatures similar to starfish) banks.
Another protected habitat is the seagrass prairies (Cymodocea nodosa).
By protecting this significant heritage, the Blue Ocean Foundation believes Portugal will also be ensuring the sustainability of economic activities that depend on it, thus preserving the future.
For now, the way ahead involves the imminent opening of public discussions (see below), to be followed by a Council of Ministers Resolution, to be approved (if all goes according to plan) by the end of the year.
The resolution will set out the exact area for the park, its regulations and compensation measures for possible losses by fishermen “who have a rich source of resources in this area”.
Says Expresso, a 20 km2 stretch will be strictly protected – with restrictions on activities such as fishing, but not the observation of marine species, including diving carried out in maritime tourism activities.
“Around 4 km2 will be a total sanctuary where only scientific monitoring can be done,” Jorge Gonçalves, a researcher at the Centre for Marine Science (CCMAR) at the University of the Algarve, adds.
For Pitta e Cunha, the creation of the natural park is a way of “breaking the deadlock” that has been witnessed in the area of conservation of national biological diversity.
Discussion between the foundation, CCMAR and dozens of other regional and local entities began five years ago, culminating in the proposal presented to the government and parliament in May 2021.
The CCMAR team, coordinated by Jorge Gonçalves, prepared a technical and scientific opinion with a formula (already approved by the government) to establish “a calculation mechanism to move forward with programme contracts to compensate fishermen who will be affected”.
Around 225 boats from eight fishing associations operate in that area, but not all of them will be on the list of those to be compensated. The number and the amount to be allocated should only be clarified in October, says Expresso.
Said Gonçalves, the marine park “will not only preserve biodiversity but also increase the biomass of existing species and make fishing more profitable”.
With its intention to create this new marine park, the government says it complies with the European Union Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, which provides for the classification of at least 30% of the maritime space under national jurisdiction by 2030.
The proposal is also aligned with commitments made at the United Nations Oceans Conference 2022 and the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations, under the Convention for Biological Diversity at the end of 2022, and with Sustainable Development Goals, provided for in the United Nations Agenda 2030, namely Goal 14: Protect Marine Life.
During the 30-day public discussion period, documents that make up the process concerning the classification proposal can be consulted from the website of the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (http://www.icnf.pt) and the ConsultaLEX website (http://www.consultalex.gov.pt).
The documents can also be consulted in person during normal business hours at the ICNF’s central services, Avenida da República, 16, Lisbon, and at the Regional Directorate for Nature Conservation and Forests of the Algarve, located at the Marim Environmental Education Centre, Quelfes, Olhão.
During this period, interested parties may submit their comments and suggestions directly on the ConsultaLEX portal.
Country seeks €100 million from RRP funds for ‘Ocean: People and Opportunities’ initiative
Portugal’s Secretary of State for Maritime Affairs has announced that the government has also applied for the reprogramming of funds from the European Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) for two projects to invest in the economy of the sea, to the tune of €100 million.
Speaking to Lusa news agency at the end of the “Ocean: People and Opportunities” initiative, which marked World Oceans Day in Viana do Castelo last Thursday, José Maria Costa said that “one of the initiatives, with a budget of €50 million, provides for the deepening of studies on the Portuguese coast” related to “knowledge in the field of ocean renewable energy, but also in marine knowledge”.
“It is an important project that will allow Portuguese research centres and institutes to develop and gain greater knowledge of our coast,” he said, revealing that the second project, also with an investment of €50 million, is related to ‘Green Shipping’.
“Basically, it is a very important investment in the decarbonisation of maritime transport and in supporting national pilot projects of research centres” to change the use of “fossil fuels for other fuels”.
“It is also a very important signal that we want to give to Portuguese shipowners who make the connections between the mainland and autonomous regions, giving them opportunities to make improvements in transport systems, particularly in fossil fuels.”
José Maria Costa said the government is making “a very strong commitment” to this change “since maritime transport has an important weight in CO2 emissions at international level”.
“Portugal wants to give a very important signal that it is aware and wants to reduce these emissions,” he stressed.
Thus, the two initiatives, “among many others, such as an innovation and research project in the Selvagens Islands, off Madeira, have now been submitted to the European Commission and should be approved by the end of July”.