Along the coast of Albufeira, Lagoa and Silves, the largest rocky coastal reef at low depth in Portugal can be found, extending from Alfanzina Lighthouse in Lagoa to the Albufeira Marina. This reef hosts around 900 species, including 12 new to science and 45 new sightings for the Portuguese coast, as well as various species under conservation like the seahorse. There are also coral gardens and seagrass plains. Due to its location, though, the reef is subject to significant pressure from fishing and tourism.

The admission process began in 2021 with the Algarve University’s Centre of Oceanic Sciences (CCMAR), the Blue Ocean Foundation, some local governments and fishermen associations in the Algarve, who together launched the base for the creation of the Protected Area of Community Interest. “At CCMAR we wanted the data we had been collecting over the years to not be sent to the Government without consulting with local agents first. We started this process, and we named it of community interest precisely because it’s a grassroots process,” Jorge Gonçalves, CCMAR investigator, explained.

Over these three years, seven general meetings and 70 bilateral meetings were held with different organisations. “It was important to have this collective process with all the various entities for them to discuss and present their viewpoints and the rights they have that support their case,” Tiago Pitta e Cunha, executive president of the Blue Ocean Foundation, stated.

It was about 20 years ago that Algarve University ran studies on marine habitats on the Algarvian coast that allowed the institution to know the best sites in terms of natural value and wealth, as well as what’s used for human activity. All this research was able to come to delineate the borders of the Natural Marine Park. “All this scientific knowledge was improved even further with the fact that we made a map of all fishing banks and human activities in the Algarve,” Jorge Gonçalves remarked.

Creating this protected area has three goals. First of all, protecting the natural value that are in jeopardy in the zone, then promoting traditional fishing and sustainable tourism. In 2019, according to a study by the University of the Algarve, a million tourists visited the country’s South over the summer. Because of this, the area is also intended to contribute towards ocean literacy.

Science shows that creating protected areas contributes to the biodiversity recovering and an increase in biomass and, because of that, will provide a boost in output for fishermen. Jorge Gonçalves explains that the protected zone will act as a sort of nursery, albeit there will be an area where no type of activity will be allowed that will be studied to understand the reef’s evolution. Fishing will be allowed outside of these protected areas. “The objective is for these areas to be more productive, as they aren’t fished, and export bigger fish, as has been recorded in most protected areas in the world.”

In the meantime, limitations on fishing zones will have an impact on local fishermen’s incomes. To limit this impact, it was decided they would be compensated. The fishermen themselves are aware of the impact of the economic activity on the reef so, despite losing income, they consider the ecosystem to be important to protect. “We think that small local fishing has the right to more protection because vessels so small can’t go further out to fish, unlike the bigger boats that come from far away to fish in the reef,” Tiago Pitta e Cunha pitched in.

The Blue Ocean Foundation wants this case study in the Algarve to serve as a model that can be replicated in other riverside areas in the country. They also applaud the proactive nature of the Algarvian community in wanting to preserve the environment for future generations.


Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.

Jay Bodsworth