Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
Madeira Autonomous Region
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The Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters, from coastal to the deep sea, are a unique example, found nowhere else in the world, of a very well preserved and pristine macaronesian biota, also with extremely important geological features.
Selvagens Islands are a very remote and isolated group of Portuguese oceanic islands, located in the Northeastern Atlantic, 293km from Madeira Island, Portugal. They are comprised by three islands of volcanic origin: Selvagem Grande (245ha), Selvagem Pequena (20ha), Ilhéu de Fora (8ha) and several islets, shaped specially by marine abrasion.
Due to their geographic location, isolation and difficult conditions for colonisation, they offer habitats that are representative and important for the conservation of the marine and terrestrial biodiversity of Macaronesia and the world, particularly for species which are endemic and/or that are threatened and vulnerable on a world-wide scale, such as Argyranthemum thalassophylum (Code: 1824), Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca (Code: A389), Caretta caretta (Code: 1224, priority species) and many invertebrates. This gives the Selvagem Islands an extremely valuable marine and terrestrial natural heritage of great ecological and scientific value, as well as an unequalled landscape.
Geologically these islands are also remarkable, representing a small part of a very characteristic and unique volcanic edifice.
Selvagens Islands is an outstanding example of representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems and communities of plants and animals. The Selvagem Islands contain important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, containing threatened species of outstanding globall value from the point of view of science and conservation. The protection of all these values is made to be compatible with didactic, ascetic, recreational and socio-economic activities, such as fishing and tourism.
Geomorphology and Geology
Selvagens Islands are oceanic and of volcanic origin, having formed over oceanic plates, and never having been connected to continental landmasses.
The Selvagem Islands preserve volcanic products generated between the Oligocene and the Pliocene. During this period alkaline magmas were formed, later evolving until phonolitic compositions. Two important hiatus (24-12Ma and 8-3.4Ma) occurred in the magmatic activity. If they are understandable into the context of the very low velocity of drift of the African plate, the largest one is unique in this region of the Atlantic (Mata et al., 2010).
Selvagens Islands are made up by two groups of islands and islets corresponding to culmination of other volcanic activity, united by the base, rising from -4000m deep and separating from -1000m deep. The group located at Northeast is formed by Selvagem Grande and the islets Palheiro da Terra and Palheiro do Mar. Southwest of this group and separated by a deep channel lies the group formed by Selvagem Pequena, Ilhéu de Fora and other small adjacent islets. The two volcanoes define an alignment NE-SW (Mata et al., 2010).
Selvagem Grande, the largest and highest island of the archipelago, has a total area of approximately 245ha and is characterized by an extensive plateau zone surrounded by sheer cliffs that fall abruptly to the sea, as the result of erosion. This plateau is at around 100m above sea level and its highest point is Pico da Atalaia at 163m, the second highest elevation corresponding to Pico dos Tornozelos at 137m. Selvagem Grande is formed from porous volcanic cinder, which gives rise to a soil with a vitreous surface and a microlithic structure. At the visible base of Selvagem Grande, one can observe phonolitic and nephelinic layers, on top of which a thick layer of yellow-coloured calcareous sand was deposited during the Miocene, a period during which the island was submerged. This sand, which infiltrated the fractures caused by volcanic explosions, was the source of the current calcareous dykes. Later, deposits were formed of ash, volcanic sands and lapilli under immersion. Finally, the last eruptions covered most of the island with a layer of basaltic lava. On Selvagem Grande there is an extensive underground gallery that is probably the result of a lava channel, in which we can find deposits of calcium sulphate with saccaroidal crystallisation. There are also other shelly deposits from different geological eras, from the Miocene until more recent times.
Selvagem Pequena is orientated in an East-West direction. With an average elevation of only 10m, its emerged area varies significantly depending on the tides, presenting a total area of approximately 20ha at high tide and 65ha at low tide, and its maximum altitude is the Pico do Veado at 49m. Very irregular in shape, it is low and flat, for the most part covered in calcareous sands of marine origin. The effect of erosion on these sand deposits has led to the occurrence of sandy bays, which predominate on the southwest coast. The island is surrounded by numerous and extensive sandbanks uncovered at low tide.
Ilhéu de Fora is located at West of Selvagem Pequena, covers an area of 8ha and has a maximum altitude at Pitão Pequeno of 18m, also being covered in calcareous sand.
According to Santos & Rodrigues (2015), the geomorphology characterization of the seafloor of Selvagens Islands, reveals an extreme exotic surface, where morphologic features such as volcanic eruption, seamounts, abrasion platforms, major escarpments, valleys or canyons, were formed, revealing a complex interaction between the internal geologic structure with the dynamic sedimentary processes (also major landslides and a few stepped structures with unknown origin were identified). The abrasion platforms, corresponding to the insular shelf, are located at shallow depth (< 200m) with an average slope of 0.5 degrees. In the slope and ramp surfaces, the volcanic formations presents a complex network of large valleys, interrupted and circumventing seamounts and volcanic strructures (with 1–3km wide and 150–750m high); few stepped structures characterized by large steps with almost 1000m long and up to 45m of high. In the deeper domain, the abyssal plain is characterized by a smooth slope (< 1 degree).
These Islands are subject to a subtropical maritime climate. Like the island of Madeira, the Selvagens are under the influence of dominant northeastern trade winds, loaded with moisture. However, their low altitudes do not favour condensation and consequent precipitation (below 200mm), which is much less than on the island of Madeira. In the past these islands would have had a higher level of moisture than they do now, which may justify the presence of a large number of fossil shells of land snails on the plateau of Selvagem Grande.
Temperatures are, on the other hand, much higher than those recorded on the island of Madeira, as a consequence of its location at lower latitudes. On occasion, the winds that blow from the west, from the African Continent, bring large quantities of sand from the Sahara Desert and even higher temperatures.
The pelagic, costal and terrestrial habitats of Selvagens Islands are remarkable on a global approach. Due to their favorable conservation status, they represent a unique example of the pristine habitats which occurs in this area of the Atlantic.
The conservation of the marine and terrestrial habitats of Selvagens Islands is extremely important, due to the fact that they provide the habitat for innumerable species that are unique and rare on a global scale. The destruction of their habitats would certainly represent a diminishing of the world biodiversity.
Selvagens Islands and their surrounding sea embrace a great diversity of natural habitats, notably those of community interest: sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time (Code: 1110), mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide (Code: 1140), large shallow inlets and bays (Code: 1160), vegetated sea cliffs with endemic flora of the Macaronesian coasts (Code: 1250) and low formations of Euphorbia close to cliffs (Code: 5320).
The pelagic and deep sea habitats, not listed amongst the above, are also of community interest and under the protection of Nature 2000 Network.
The Selvagens Islands are influenced by the general circulation of the North Atlantic surface currents, being under the direct or indirect influence, of superficial currents such as the Gulf Stream, the North's Atlantic current, the Azores current, the Portugal current, the Canary current and probably of some currents that derive from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic ocean (Anónimo, 1979; Garcia-Talavera, F. (1983). Macaronesian archipelagos thus have a non-negligible importance in the larval dispersal of species from various geographical origins; they may in fact act as "stepping stones" for the colonisation of new areas (Garcia-Talavera, F., 1983; Almada et al., 2015). These circumstances determine the existence of faunal elements common to geographical regions as diverse as Europe, Africa and the Caribbean Sea which give these archipelagos a remarkable biogeographical importance.
The plant cover of Selvagens Islands comprises species perfectly adapted to the edapho climatic conditions, many of which have evolved differently from their ancestral forms, constituting endemics and relicts, not adapted to the presence of herbivores. These islands present the highest percentage of endemics per surface unit in the whole Macaronesia Region; also very high on a global scale approach. The vegetation of Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora comprises only native and endemic species, without any introduction whatsoever. The vegetation on these two islands includes a surprising number of exclusive species, forming a unique Horto Botanicum out in the Atlantic Ocean. Selvagem Grande also has a characteristic plant cover and an interesting flora with its own endemics and others exclusive to Macaronesian islands, in addition to being the limit for the distribution of certain species in the South or North Hemispheres.
Natural habitats of Selvagens Islands take on significant importance and value for the maintenance of biological diversity in the Macaronesian Region and consequently in the World. The animals and plants endemic to Selvagens are confined to an extremely restricted geographical area, which, according to present IUCN criteria, makes them inherently threatened (Sim-Sim et al., 2010).
There is a lower level of knowledge about the marine algal flora. Recent studies have been undertaken under the M@rbis (Marine Biodiversity Information System) and National Geographic Society. The main objective of these efforts is the cataloguing of the marine biodiversity. These results will contribute to a better understanding of the marine flora of the Selvagens Islands. The preliminary results of these studies confirm the presence of very diverse pristine communities, representative of the Macaronesian marine habitats, which can’t be found nowhere else in the world.
Selvagens Islands marine algal flora is closely related to Canarias Islands flora, especially regarding the red algae, while the green and brown algal flora is more similar to that of the Azores Islands (Neto et al., 2001). The unevenness of the sea floor and the predominance of rocky substrata is propitious for the colonisation of photophilic algae (Albuquerque et al., 2009). Studies point to the presence of 203 species of algae, in which red algae predominate (122) (Neto et al., 2001; John et al., 2004).
The terrestrial flora of Selvagens Islands is of outstanding interest, because is a pristine, well preserved and unique representation of Macaronesian communities. Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora have no exotic taxa, being in an unaltered state.
The endemecity, number of endemic plants per 100km2, is remarkable in a global context. The number and density of exclusive endemics for the islands of Macaronesia, shows Selvagens Islands is unique for presenting 7 exclusive endemic taxa but the highest density per 100km2 (233.33) (Borges et al., 2008). Outstanding among the endemics are the critically endangered Argyranthemum thalassophylum (Code: 1824), Scilla madeirensis (Autonoe madeirensis) (Code: 1854), Monanthes lowei, Euphorbia anachoreta and Asparagus nesiotes subsp. nesiotes.
The plant cover of Selvagens Islands is characterised by premature growth, predominance of xerophytic characteristics, succulence, less chloroplasts, and the psammophilous or halophilous character of some species (Sim-Sim et al., 2010). Today is mainly composed by Magnoliopsida (86 taxa), followed by Liliopsida (16), Filicopsida (3) (Borges et al., 2008).
Amongst the vascular plants, 105 taxa (species and subspecies) are reported to Selvagens archipelago: 12 taxa are endemic to the archipelagos of Madeira and Selvagens (11%), 14 are Macaronesian endemics (13%), 55 taxa are native (52%), 7 are “possible natives” (7%), 2 are “possible introduced” (2%) and 15 taxa are introduced (14%). Native and “possible native” taxa are the larger groups of vascular plants from Selvagens archipelago (66 taxa) (Borges et al., 2008). Forty vascular plant taxa of Madeira and Selvagens archipelagos are included in the Bern Convention, of which 1 occur in Selvagens Islands; and 54 are included in the Habitats Directive, of which 2 occur in Selvagens Islands (Borges et al., 2008).
No endemics are recorded for pterydophytes, although there are references to 3 ferns (Borges et al., 2008).
The bryoflora is essentially terricolous and has a great affinity with species typical of semi-desert environments. Includes 16 taxa, which diversity is dominated by acrocarpous mosses and mainly by species adapted to stressful conditions. The 12 acrocarpous mosses represent 75% of its total bryoflora, followed by the thallose liverworts (3 taxa, representing 19%), and only one pleurocarpous moss. The acrocarpous mosses are included in three families, namely the Pottiaceae Schimp. (7 taxa), Bryaceae Schwägr. (3 taxa) and Fissidentaceae Schimp. (2 taxa), which are adapted to the xeric and saline conditions that prevail on Selvagens, as is the particular case of Tortula pallida. There is only one species of pleurocarpous mosses referred to Selvagens, namely, Heterocladium heteropterum. The Riccia spp. are the only liverworts able to develop in the unstable and xeric conditions of the Selvagens habitats. Of the 12 bryophyte taxa endemic to Madeira, only one, Riccia atlantica Sérgio & Perold, was found in Selvagens Archipelago (Sim-Sim et al., 2010).
Lichens are predominantly saxicolous, colonising rocks from sea-level to the summits, providing a constant display of beauty and demonstrating to us by their dimension and specificity the excellence of the site's environmental quality. There are 755 lichen taxa recorded for Madeira and Selvagens archipelagos, the majority collected on Madeira Island. 25 are cited for Selvagens. This fact may be partly explained by the differences in surface area of the islands, substantially higher for Madeira Island, and the consequent diversity of habitats. On the other hand, due to the easy access to the latter island the bulk of studies were performed there. With regard to fungi diversity, 3 species are known from Selvagens Islands. These values underestimates the true representativeness of these organisms, due the lack of knowledge on fungi diversity in Selvagens Islands (Borges et al., 2008).
Considering Madeira Region, Selvagens Islands shows the lowest number of exotic terrestrial taxa (17), which occurrence is limited to Selvagem Grande, where there is consistent work devoted to recover priority habitats and species (Silva et al., 2008). Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora have no exotic taxa, composed only by ecosystems in an unaltered state.
Fauna – Vertebrates
Although the Selvagens Islands have been a marine protected area for more than 40 years, their remoteness and the rough oceanographic conditions usually found in this region of the Atlantic Ocean are probably the reasons why only one paper has addressed their ichthyofaunal richness (Almada et al., 2015). Falcón et al. (2000) described the ichthyofauna around these islands, reporting a total of 60 coastal fish species. Almada et al. (2015), were able to identify 29 new coastal fish species, an increase of 33% compared with what had previously been reported by Falcón et al. (2000). According to Almada et al. (2015), there is a prevalence of species with tropical affinities and only 2.3% (n=2) are endemic to Macaronesia. Considered a stepping-stone colonization vector from the nearest continental shore, as proposed by other authors for this region, the Selvagens Islands host 34.1% of the ichthyofauna described for the much larger Canary Islands (nspecies=258, submerged area nSelvagensIs.=2.3%) and 47.3% of the ichthyofauna described for the more distantly located Madeira Island (nspecies=186, submerged area nSelvagensIs.=17.9%). Interestingly, 6.8% (n=6) of the species failed to bridge the gap between the Selvagens Islands and Madeira Island. Data collected so far showed no trend toward an increasing number of species with high dispersal capability. The Selvagens Islands are an example of a high coastal species diversity occurring even in very small areas of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. Compared with other archipelagos the fish species richness reported for the Selvagens Islands is remarkable when one considers that the submerged area with depths less than 60 m is much smaller than that available in larger Macaronesian archipelagos.
There are eight species of sea turtle in the world and no less than five of them occur in Selvagens Islands waters. The most frequent is the loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta (Code: 1224, priority species). This species is protected under the Habitat Directive, the Bern and Bonn Conventions and under regional law. In spite of what one might expect, the fact of the matter is that the turtles' eggs and the newborn hatchlings are not the most vulnerable phase of the animal's life cycle. The population is most at risk from decimation of its juveniles, since the death of one juvenile means the loss of hundreds or even thousands of eggs, which would otherwise have been laid. Given the significance of Madeira as a nursery area for these turtles, Selvagens Islands also make a major contribution towards the preservation of the species
Selvagens Islands are one of the most important breeding areas for seabirds of Macaronesia and the North Atlantic, offering conditions that are unique in all the world. They are classified as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by BirdLife International. The seabirds that breed in the Selvagens Islands are of the order Procellariiformes and Charadriiformes. In the Procelariformes (pelagic seabirds) attention is called to the species listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive such as the Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code:A010), White-faced storm petrel Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca (Code: A389), Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulwerii (Code: A387), Band-rumped storm-petrel Hydrobates castro (Code: A390) and Audubon’s shearwater Puffinus lherminieri baroli (Code: A388). All these species are inherently vulnerable, for which the Selvagens Islands represent one of the last refuges in the world. Selvagens Islands harbours the largest known breeding colony in the world of Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code: A010), playing a vital role in the conservation of this species. In the Charadriformes, we have the non-oceanic seabirds, which include the Atlantic yellow-legged gull Larus michahellis atlantis and the Common tern Sterna hirundo (Code: A193).
A total of 10 cetaceans’ species are recorded for Selvagens Islands surrounding waters, including some with a “Vulnerable” or “Threatened” global conservation statuses according to IUCN list of threatened species. Pais (1993) recorded Fin whales Baleaenoptera physalus, Sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus, Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus (Code: 1349) and Common dolphins Delphinus delphis (Code: 1350) in their surrounding waters. Madeira Whale Museum scientific team in August 2002, during a cetaceans’ survey around those Islands, observed Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus (Code: 1349), Short-finned pilot whales Globicephala macrorhynchus (Code : 2627), Atlantic spotted dolphins Stenella frontalis (Code : 2628), Pigmy sperm whale Kogia breviceps (Code : 2622) and a non-confirmed Beaked whale species (Freitas et al, 2004). Over the years several cetaceans’ sightings and strandings were recorded confirming the presence of some of the above mentioned species and adding two more : a Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis was reported stranded in 2005 by the Islands nature wardens (Madeira Whale Museum records) and a Bryde’s whale Balaenoptera edeni (Code : 2620) was filmed by the National Geographic team in 2015 while filming the documentary “Pristine Seas” in Selvagens Islands. Many more cetacean species are expected to use Selvagens Islands sea, considering that, to the north, the islands of Madeira archipelago (Madeira, Desertas and Porto Santo Islands) have 29 cetaceans’ species recorded (Freitas et al, 2012) and, to the south, the Canary Islands have identical number of species (Carrillo, 2007; Arbelo, 2007). The very few dedicated cetaceans’ surveys carried out in Selvagens Island with a very limited seasonal coverage justify this lower than expected record of cetacean species. The sub-tropical geographical position of Selvagens Islands puts it at the limit of the northern distribution range of many tropical oceanic cetaceans species and at the southern limit of species from more temperate latitudes.
Selvagens Islands are no exception to the well-known general biogeographical patterns, and their terrestrial vertebrate fauna is very limited in the number but high in the proportion of endemics. Ten terrestrial vertebrates are known from these islands, among which the 2 only terrestrial reptiles Tarentola bischoffi (Code: 2385) and Teira dugesii selvagensis (Code: 6201) present are exclusive to Selvagens Islands. The terrestrial vertebrate fauna is characterised by the absence of native mammals (Borges et al., 2008).
A terrestrial bird breeds in Selvagens Islands, the Berthelot’s pipit Anthus bertheloti bertheloti, endemic of Macaronesia. Other birds can also be seen here that occasionally or accidentally visit the Selvagens Islands, especially in the autumn and spring.
According to R. Rebelo (personnel communication, 2015), after the successful eradication of rabbits and mice at Selvagem Grande, the Selvagens Islands became the only mammal-free archipelago of Macaronesia (and of the North Atlantic). The restriction of the terrestrial vertebrate fauna to its original reptile and bird components has allowed the scientific study of a type of island ecosystem that was the most common worldwide before the invention of seafaring by humans. As the ecological succession continues and the island returns to its pristine conditions, these studies (already underway) will be very useful for the description of “baseline” island communities, against which the much altered mammal-invaded islands can be compared.
Fauna – Invertebrates
Recent studies have been undertaken under the M@rbis (Marine Biodiversity Information System) (2010) and National Geographic Society (2015). The main objective of these efforts is the cataloguing of the marine biodiversity. The M@rbis database holds ca. 15,000 biodiversity records, at least 100 of which are new records for the area. Eventually ca. 20 species are new species to science, not yet described. The preliminary results of these studies confirm the presence of very diverse pristine communities, representative of the Macaronesian marine habitats, which can’t be found nowhere else in the world.
According to De Vera et al. (2006) and regarding zooplankton from the waters around the Selvagens Islands, studies have been completed on the decapod larvae (Lindley & Hernández, 2000, Lindley et al., 2002), Mysidacea (Wittmann et al., 2004), Nemertea (Hernández & Jiménez, 2006), and a new species of heteropod mollusc, Atlanta selvagensis (De Vera & Seapy, 2006). Heteropod molluscs were removed from zooplankton samples collected during cruise TFMCBMSV/00 to the Selvagens Islands. A total of 48 specimens were obtained. Among the eleven species of heteropods identified, Atlanta meteori was previously regarded as an Indo-Pacific species and was recorded here for the first time from the Atlantic Ocean. The second, Atlanta selvagensis, is a new species.
According to Albuquerque et al. (2009), several studies have been published on the marine mollusc fauna, demonstrating that this is a very rich area, preserved and with great potential in this area of study, outstanding the Expedition in 1994. During this expedition, were collected 115 species of marine molluscs, 32 species of which are referenced for the first time for Selvagens Islands. 21 Bivalvia were collected, 3 Poliplacophora, 5 Gastropoda Heterobranchia, 6 Gastropoda Ophistobranchia, 1 Gastropoda Pulmonata and 79 Gastropoda Prosobranchia. Of these 216 marine molluscs, Selvagens Islands represent the northern limit of 32 species and southern limit for 13 species species. The M@rbis 2010 expedition discovered another series of new species, which are currently being studied. As a first result, the gastropod Adeuomphalus marbisensis is being described and together with Sticteulima lata, Alvania dijkstrai, Alvania freitasi, Alvania harrietae, Manzonia boucheti and the periwinkle Osilinus atratus selvagensis are endemic marine mollusc taxa of the Selvagens.
The total estimated number of terrestrial invertebrate species and subspecies in Selvagens Islands is about 219, arthropods being the majority (92%) of all recorded taxa. Terrestrial ecosystems support large numbers of arthropod species, representing a massive amount of biomass. In many of their ecological roles, terrestrial arthropods are unique and no other animal group could substitute them. Terrestrial arthropods should increasingly become a key target of conservation efforts, particularly when dealing with island ecosystems. Arthropods are the most diverse group with a rich evolutionary history and many unique endemic taxa. According to Borges et al. (2008), Selvagens archipelago is clearly a hotspot of endemic terrestrial arthropods, with about 44 individual taxa (species=39; subspecies=7). A recent catalogue on the coleoptera of Selvagens Islands was published with the following 5 species (inclusive a new species) new reports for Selvagens Islands : Stagetus cf. hirtus (Wollaston, 1861), Anobiidae; Amaurorhinus monizianus (Wollaston, 1860), Curculionidae; Entomoderus (Balearicola) cf. brevitarsis (Wollaston, 1864), Curculionidae; Aplocnemus zinoi spec. nov., Dasytidae; Atheta (Mocyta) cf. vagepunctata (Wollaston, 1862), Staphylinidae (Stüben, P. E., 2016). However, based on the steep slope of the cumulative new taxa’ discovery curve, the current number of known endemic species and subspecies is certainly a poor estimate of its real number.
At least 8 taxa (species and subspecies) of terrestrial molluscs are present in Selvagens Islands with one exclusive endemic species Theba macandrewiana (Borges et al., 2008).
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters, from costal to deep sea, contain important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation and study of geo-biological diversity, containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation, attested by a solid and on-going scientific literature (see a review by Ulbrich, H.-J., 2014). This area is a representative example of the Macaronesia marine and small island biota, which cannot be found elsewhere in the world. The geological features are also remarkable being good examples of the history of earth.
Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters, from costal to deep sea, comprises representative elements of the biological heritage which are of exceptional global importance, being an area of particular importance for the world conservation of geo-biological diversity, comprising:
– Remarkable and threatened examples of plant and animal communities, as well as being inhabited by a proportionately large number of unique species;
– Highly representative samples of types of habitats and plant and animal communities constituting typical examples of the various kinds of ecosystems in Europe;
– Habitats of endemic species and species in an unfavorable state of conservation, particularly endangered species;
– Breeding grounds of animals protected under the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (ETS No. 104).
The following are good examples of the importance of Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters to world geo-biological diversity:
- Phases of magmatic activity separated by about 26Ma in volcanic edifice (29.5-3.4Ma BP) and two significant hiatus between episodes of eruptive activity (12Ma in the case of the 1st hiatus, 4.6Ma in the case of the 2nd hiatus) are exceptional in its duration and unique (12mA) in the context of oceanic volcanic islands;
- Detachment from continental source areas and old and broad range of geological ages contribute to several unusual patterns of colonization and diversification, and to high levels of genetic variation compared to other oceanic archipelagos;
- Remarkable biogeographical importance, as part of Macaronesia and of the Mediterranean Basin Hotspot, the second largest hotspot in the world and the largest of the world’s five Mediterranean-climate regions;
- Marine and terrestrial ecosystems in an unaltered state (Selvagem Pequena, Ilhéu de Fora);
- The only terrestrial mammal-free archipelago of Macaronesia and North Atlantic;
- An example of a high coastal ichthyofauna species diversity occurring in very small areas of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, with 88 inshore fish species, 4 of which are Macaronesian endemisms: Mycteroperca fusca, Bodianus scrofa, Symphodus trutta and Mauligobius maderensis;
- Remarkable fish species richness considering that the submerged area with depths less than 60 m is much smaller than that available in larger Macaronesian archipelagos;
- Presence of endangered and vulnerable fish species, namely Epinephelus marginatus, Mycteroperca fusca, Bodianus scrofa;
- Play an important role for some fish species, allowing to bridge the gap between the Madeira and Canary larger archipelagos;
- Harbour a uniquely pristine seabird community, with 5 (probably 6) nesting petrel species, plus one gull and 1-3 terns;
- The largest known breeding colony in the world of Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code: A010);
- The only world population of Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code: A010) where these birds are active at the colony both during the day and the night, being a remarkable example of evolutionary ongoing processes;
- Almost all of the world’s population of the endangered endemic subspecies of Macaronesia White-faced storm petrel Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca (Code: A389);
- The northern limit of the endangered endemic subspecies of Macaronesia White-faced storm petrel Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca (Code: A389) distribution;
- The world’s largest breeding population of the endemic subspecies of Macaronesia Audubon’s shearwater Puffinus lherminieri baroli (Code: A388), listed as Vulnerable in the Portuguese Red Data Book;
- Very important breeding area for two other pelagic seabirds: Band-rumped storm-petrel Hydrobates castro (Code: A390), represented by a winter and a summer breeding population, and Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulwerii (Code: A387);
- The only site in the Atlantic where Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel Hydrobates monorhis, occurs regularly (possibly breeding) representing a unique case of long-distance dispersal (from Pacific Ocean nesting sites) which may evolve into a permanent colonization;
- A laboratory for seabird research, with the most detailed ongoing combined study of migration and demography on a long-lived seabird, Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code: A010), in the entire world, providing unique insights into the factors affecting inter-individual and temporal changes in migratory patterns and their consequences for demography. This long-term study also provides unique information about the responses of a top predator to environmental changes (including fisheries and climate change) in the sub-tropical Atlantic Ocean;
- 216 marine molluscs are known from Selvagens Islands, representing the northern limit of 32 species and southern limit for 13 species; however there´s two marine endemic molluscs in Selvagens Islands Osilinus atratus selvagensis (W. Wood, 1928) e Manzonia boucheti Amati, 1991;
- 203 algal species, comprising 39 Chlorophycota, 42 Chromophycota and 122 Rhodophycota;
- The total number of terrestrial endemic species and subspecies from Selvagens archipelago is about 59 (52 species and 11 subspecies), which represents 16% of the overall species diversity;
- One exclusive endemic reptile species Tarentola bischoffi (Code: 2385);
- One exclusive endemic reptile subspecies Teira dugesii selvagensis (Code: 6201);
- One exclusive endemic terrestrial mollusc species Theba macandrewiana;
- Selvagens Islands are clearly a hotspot of endemic terrestrial arthropods, with 201 taxa recorded, 44 of which are unique species and subspecies such as Deucalion oceanicum. The percentage of endemism within Arthropoda is particularly remarkable, reaching 75%;
- The highest density (per 100 Km2) of exclusive endemic terrestrial plants of the Macaronesian Region;
- The lowest number of exotic terrestrial plants taxa (17) of the Madeira Region;
- 105 taxa (species and subspecies) of vascular plants, 12 taxa are endemic to the archipelagos of Madeira and Selvagens (11.4%) and 14 are Macaronesian endemics (13.3%);
- Outstanding among the endemics are the critically endangered Argyranthemum thalassophylum (Code: 1824), Scilla madeirensis (Autonoe madeirensis) (Code: 1854), Monanthes lowei, Euphorbia anachoreta and Asparagus nesiotes subsp. Nesiotes;
- Selvagens archipelago contains an especially rich bryoflora, represented mainly by mosses (81%) and to a lesser extent by liverworts (19 %), outstanding the endemic liverwort Riccia atlantica;
- Great diversity of natural habitats, which are of community interest: Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time (Code: 1110), mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide (Code: 1140), large shallow inlets and bays (Code: 1160), vegetated sea cliffs with endemic flora of the Macaronesian coasts (Code: 1250) and low formations of Euphorbia close to cliffs (Code: 5320).
Recent studies have been undertaken under the M@rbis (Marine Biodiversity Information System) and National Geographic Society, the main objective of which is the cataloguing of the marine biodiversity. These results will contribute to a better understanding of the marine biodiversity of Selvagens Islands, yet aren't available to reinforce this proposal. However, as stated above he preliminary results of these studies confirms the presence of very diverse pristine communities, representative of the Macacronesian marine habitats, which can’t be found nowhere else in the world.
At another dimension the Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters conserves remarkable natural phenomena and outstanding geological formations.
The Selvagens Islands are an example of well-preserved natural heritage, with a high potential for tourism, drawing economic benefits. In Madeira Autonomous Region, nature tourism is a well-established still growing activity, and the protected areas are an essential part of it, bringing great benefits to these Islands. In Selvagens this activity is strictly controlled, and visits on land are restricted to paths and a small area where the reception centre, the administrative and logistical facilities are located.
The protection of the marine area of Selvagens Islands has also benefitted the fishing sector by preserving the natural fish resources, being an added asset to fisheries in the archipelago. This applies especially in terms of tuna fishing, which is especially important in the gastronomy of the Madeira Autonomous Region.
Although there have been various attempts to colonise Selvagens Islands, they were only inhabited for short periods due to their aridity and lack of water. Though, the intervention of man has left its mark on the islands in some very interesting ways. This temporary use made of these islands and/or the attempts at colonising them left various rock walls and a cistern on Selvagem Grande. Nowadays, Selvagens Islands are inhabited by nature wardens and scientists who acquire a permit to carry out studies on the biodiversity of the islands.
Regarding the legal framework, Selvagens Islands are under of the Regional Government of Madeira administration and are classified as a Strict Nature Reserve (9455ha); protected under European Commission legislation, being included within the Natura 2000 Network as a Special Conservation Area (9455ha) and Special Protection Area (124.530ha); awarded with European Diploma for Protected Areas and classified as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by BirdLife International.
The biodiversity of the Selvagens Islands has greatly benefitted from the successive conservation projects carried out in the area, the efforts to eradicate invasive plant and animal species being of special importance.
Due to all these aspects the Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters is of World Interest and meets several general and specific criteria for the award World Heritage Site.
Criterion (vii): Selvagens Islands are oceanic and of volcanic origin, having formed over oceanic plates, and never having been connected to continental landmasses. This area present remarkable geological formations, namely: uplift movements evidence of volcanic edifice during the Quaternary, with exposure Miocene limestone deposits submarines, gravel and marine abrasion platform; presence of cracks and fissures filled by carbonate materials, usually calcarenite, cutting in all directions the Lower Volcanic Complex, containing marine fossils from Oligocene to lower Miocene ages; profusion of ultramafic xenoliths with dimensions reaching over 5cm in basaltic disposed of Volcanic Complex Superior (S. Prada, personnel communication, 2015).
Criterion (viii): Selvagens Islands present phases of magmatic activity separated by about 26Ma in volcanic edifice (29.5-3.4Ma BP) and two significant hiatus between episodes of eruptive activity (12Ma in the case of the 1st hiatus, 4.6Ma in the case of the 2nd hiatus) are exceptional in its duration and unique (12Ma) in the context of oceanic volcanic islands (Geldmacher et al., 2001).
Criterion (ix): Oceanic islands are of great importance to the understanding of many evolutionary and ecological processes. Due to their isolation they favour the evolution of plants and animals with particular characteristics, comprising a large number of unique species. Selvagens Islands is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems and communities of plants and animals. Due to their geographic location, isolation and difficult conditions for colonisation, they offer habitats that are representative and important for the conservation of the biodiversity of Macaronesia and the world, particularly for the endemisms and species that are threatened and vulnerable on a world-wide scale, such as Argyranthemum thalassophylum (Code: 1824), Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca (Code: A389), Caretta caretta (Code: 1224, priority species) and many invertebrates. This gives Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters a valuable marine and terrestrial natural heritage of great ecological and scientific value.
Criterion (x): Selvagens archipelago is the smallest (4km2), lowest (163m) and oldest (27My) archipelago of Macaronesia. Nevertheless, the natural habitats of Selvagens take on significant importance and value for the maintenance of geo-biological diversity in the Macaronesia Region and consequently in the World. The animals and plants endemic to Selvagens are confined to an extremely restricted geographical area, which makes them inherently threatened. Despite its size, this archipelago harbours more than 50 endemic species, and many other Macaronesian endemisms shared either with Madeira, Canaries or both. All these species are inherently vulnerable, for which the Selvagens Islands represent one of the last refuges in the world. Selvagens Islands are a very important breeding area for pelagic seabirds in the Atlantic, playing a vital role in the world conservation of these species.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters present pristine marine and terrestrial communities, being a unique example of the Macaronesian biogeographical region biota, with unique geological features.
Since 1971, Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters are under of the Regional Government of Madeira administration and are classified as a Strict Nature Reserve, being the first to be classified as such in Portugal. Selvagens Islands Nature Reserve, with a total area of 9.455ha, is bounded by the 200 meters bathymetric contour line, including all the islands (Selvagem Grande, Selvagem Pequena and Ilhéu de Fora), islets and respective maritime area. The islands are also protected under European Commission legislation, being included within the Natura 2000 Network as a Special Conservation Area (total area: 9.455ha) and Special Protection Area (total area: 124.530ha). Recently a much wider protected area was created under nature 2000 network criterions. This new limits includes the sea down to more than 2000m deep. The creation of Selvagens Islands Nature Reserve was motivated by the urgent need to protect seabirds that breed in these islands and their habitats, marine and terrestrial.
Since 1992, are awarded with European Diploma for Protected Areas in recognition of the great interest of its natural heritage, as well as of the successive conservation actions carried out in the area. There are only two protected areas awarded in Portugal, and both are under the Regional Government of Madeira administration.
Selvagens Islands are one of the most important breeding areas for seabirds of Macaronesia and the North Atlantic, offering conditions that are unique in all the world. They are classified as an “Important Bird Area” (IBA) by BirdLife International.
According to P. Catry and J. Granadeiro (personnel communication, 2015), Selvagens Islands harbour a uniquely pristine seabird community, with 5 (probably 6) nesting petrel species, plus one gull and 1-3 terns (2 species nest irregularly). Although Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code: A010) was exploited until de 1970s, their population has largely recovered from past depredations. The island has not had introduced predators such as rats or cats that frequently and severely altered seabird communities elsewhere, and there are no known man-related extinctions in the Selvagens community. The recent eradication of mice further allows small seabirds to flourish at the maximum potential. To note also the absence of any light pollution that might affect nocturnal Procellariiformes, which is prevalent elsewhere. The absence of sources of organic pollution or of fisheries with significant discards also means that there are no seabirds dependent of human “subsidies”, which create important imbalances elsewhere. Good evidence for this is the tiny (and stable) population of yellow-legged gulls Larus michahellis (ca. 20 pairs) and no other large gull species, which tend to be extremely abundant elsewhere in the Northeast Atlantic. Interestingly, these yellow-legged gulls have adopted an unusual ecology, being almost fully reliant on predation of other seabirds (without threatening them).
In most of the Atlantic locations there has been little monitoring work, and hence the population trends are based on very tentative estimates of the size of breeding populations (BirdLife International 2004b). The colony of Cory’s Shearwater at Selvagem Grande is an exception, because it has been surveyed regularly during the course of scientific expeditions since the 1970s, with a very large number of papers published and a particularly detailed long-term study of Cory’s shearwaters that is still ongoing. Currently, according to P. Catry and J. Granadeiro (personnel communication, 2015), this arguably is the most detailed ongoing combined study of migration and demography on a long-lived seabird in the entire world, providing unique insights into the factors affecting inter-individual and temporal changes in migratory patterns and their consequences for demography. This long-term study also provides unique information about the responses a top predator to environmental changes (including fisheries and climate change) in the sub-tropical Atlantic Ocean.
Ever since the Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters were protected by law in 1971, measures have been implemented with the objective of minimising and preventing any threats or limiting factors to the habitats and species. These measures are part of the strategic objectives of the Management Plan for the Selvagens Islands:
- Conserve, improve and protect all the ecosystems;
- Promote, coordinate and support research that has in view a better understanding of the species and habitats;
- Improve the dissemination, knowledge and appreciation of the site;
- Manage the visitors in terms of the recreational-tourist activities so that these do not collide with the value of conservation of the Selvagens Islands;
- Maintain the legal conditions so that the management of the Reserve is carried out in an efficient manner;
- and Manage the Reserve in a suitable and effective manner, in accordance with the proposed guidelines.
In this way, the main threat factors identified in the Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters, and which may compromise the conservation of the natural resources, are prevented or minimised, such as the introduction and dispersion of invasive species, uncontrolled human pressure, illegal fishing and possible spills of crude oil (hydrocarbons) resulting from the washing of tanks and/or accidents.
Comparison with other similar properties
If listed, Selvagens Islands will constitute the second World Heritage Natural Site for Portugal, both located at Madeira Autonomous Region, with very different habitats.
The proposed area includes Selvagens Islands and their surrounding waters, down to 1000 meter depth. There is no other designated site with these specific characteristics including terrestrial, costal and pelagic waters, down to 1000 meter depth.
Selvagens Islands outstands for belonging to Macaronesia biogeographical region. The Macaronesia is part of the Mediterranean Basin Hotspot, the second largest hotspot in the world and the largest of the world’s five Mediterranean-climate regions (CEPF, 2015). However, species populations in the region have become increasingly fragmented and isolated as a result of pressures caused by human activities. This is not the case in Selvagens Islands once since their protection, the main threat factors identified, and which may compromise the conservation of the natural resources, are prevented or minimised, such as the introduction and dispersion of invasive species, uncontrolled human pressure, illegal fishing and possible spills of crude oil (hydrocarbons) resulting from the washing of tanks and/or accidents.
Selvagens Islands outstands for being a sanctuary of seabirds, especially the Procellariiformes, which importance as top predators has been illustrated in several studies. Many aspects of seabird life history respond to climatic conditions and marine productivity and seabirds can be effective sentinels of changes in the marine environment. Attention is called for species of Annex I of the Birds Directive such as the Cory’s shearwater Calonectris borealis (Code:A010), the largest known breeding colony of this species in the world; White-faced storm petrel Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca (Code: A389), almost all of the world’s population of the endangered endemic subspecies of Macaronesia is in Selvagens Islands, the northern limit of this endangered endemic subspecies of Macaronesia distribution; the world’s largest breeding population of the endemic subspecies of Macaronesia Audubon’s shearwater Puffinus lherminieri baroli (Code: A388), listed as Vulnerable in the Portuguese Red Data Book. Selvagens Islands are one of the most important breeding areas for seabirds of Macaronesia and the North Atlantic, offering conditions that are unique in all the world. In most of the Atlantic locations there has been little monitoring work, and hence the population trends are based on very tentative estimates of the size of breeding populations. The colony of Cory’s Shearwater at Selvagem Grande is an exception, because it has been surveyed regularly during the course of scientific expeditions since 1980.
Selvagens Islands differs markedly from the archipelagos of the Pacific, such as Hawaii and Galapagos, in that are relatively close to continental source areas. For example, the easternmost Island, Selvagem Grande, is currently less than 400 km from the west coast of Morocco. Macaronesia volcanic islands exhibit a comparatively old and broad range of geological ages, from 0.25 to 27My, being Selvagens Islands the oldest. However, if the seamount configuration and geological history is taken into consideration, the so called Paleo‐Macaronesia extends back to 60 Ma, at the start of the Tertiary. These two features, contribute to unusual patterns of colonization and diversification and to high levels of genetic variation compared to other oceanic archipelagos.
Selvagens Islands present phases of magmatic activity separated by about 26 Ma in volcanic edifice (29.5 - 3.4 Ma BP) and two significant hiatus between episodes of eruptive activity (12 Ma in the case of the 1st hiatus, 4.6 Ma in the case of the 2nd hiatus) are exceptional in its duration and unique (12mA) in the context of oceanic volcanic islands (Geldmacher et al., 2001).
In brief, Selvagens Islands concentrate many important biological and geological features, in a diverse landscape of high aesthetic value.