Exploring the Azores: A ‘Diversity Enigma’
The Azores are not a destination that most people are familiar with, but for those that do know of them, they are considered to be a well-kept secret. Made up of 9 volcanic islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are an autonomous region of Portugal known for their unique ecozone.
One of the defining features of the Azores is the abundance of forests including elfin forests (with tiny trees no taller than 1 meter), evergreen forests, and the rare but beautiful cloud forests. Along with the forests, thermal lakes, craters, canyons, and caves line the landscape of these islands, making them an ideal home for many species, though perhaps not as many as expected.
The Azores have proven to be a bit of a puzzle to scientists dating as far back as Darwin. The islands are home to only about 60 endemic plants although, as is expected, many new plants and animals have been introduced over time. On most other islands in the world, the newly introduced wildlife would take and eventually evolve into new subspecies. While this has occurred for some plants and animals, it hasn’t occurred at the rate expected in comparison to other, similar archipelagos. There are many possible explanations for this, however the islands have been dubbed a ‘diversity enigma’.
Despite this, there is still plenty of incredible species that call the Azores home. The area is one of the top places in the world for dolphin and whale watching, and while the mammals on land may not be the most exciting (bats, rabbits, hedgehogs etc.) the Azores are home to some beautiful species of butterflies and several species of rare birds.
Bird watching is one of the most popular activities in the Azores as it is possible to see the Azores bullfinch, and Monteiro’s storm petrel, two of Europe’s rarest species. There are also several endemic subspecies including the chaffinch and goldcrest. Two of the best islands for bird watching are São Miguel and Graciosa.
It’s also a top spot for scuba diving. Sharks, dolphins, mantas and whales are the big species attractions here, but there is an abundance of smaller finds as well. Barracudas, tuna, moray eels, nudibranchs and crustaceans are regular sights in the area. While the variety of the marine life is a huge attraction, the underwater landscape thanks to the volcanic activity makes the Azores a geographically interesting dive site as well.
The Azores are a beautiful destination to visit and explore both on land and by sea. However, with the settlement of humans, climate change, pollution and even tourism, this unique biome is slowly being destroyed and disappearing. Of course there are ways you can help, especially if you are planning on visiting as a tourist. One of the best ways to help preserve the fragile ecosystem is by making sure you take a responsible and eco-friendly tour such as this eco diving experience. Like with all tours around the world, it’s best to research your tours, expeditions, and activities ahead of time and plan to use services and tour providers who express interest in protecting and maintaining the environment.