Southwest Coast

Date of Submission: 31/01/2017
Criteria: (viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Setúbal District (Sines Municipality), Beja District (Odemira Municipality), Faro District (Aljezur Municipality and Vila do Bispo Municipality)
Ref.: 6225


The Southwest Coast, one of the few remaining well preserved coastlines in southern Europe, is located in Portugal. With an extraordinarily diverse geological and biological natural heritage, it hosts a high diversity of habitats and unique species worldwide, making it of great importance in terms of conservation. It corresponds to the entire area of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park.

Geographical and geological framework

The Southwest Coast corresponds to a 150 km long coastline, parallel to the sea, between São Torpes and Burgau, which includes four municipalities, namely Sines, Odemira, Aljezur and Vila do Bispo. This region has low population density and covers an area of 89,425 ha, which includes a 2 km wide marine zone along the entire coastline length (HIDROPROJECTO/ICNB, 2008). It features high geodiversity, which represents about 362 million years of Earth history (Balbino, 2009).

It is integrated in two main geological units: the South-Portuguese Zone, carved on the western facade of the Park, between São Torpes and Vila do Bispo, and the Meridional Meso-Cenozoic Basin, between São Vicente Cape and Burgau (Balbino, 2009). Upper Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic rocks predominantly occur in the region, sometimes in the same outcrop. Volcanic rocks also occur to the north of Vila Nova de Milfontes, from the Volcanic-Sedimentary Complex of the Iberian Pyrite Belt. Within this important geological heritage, development stages of sedimentary basins with vast fossil record (macro and micro) and associated magmatism are preserved, corresponding to three Eras:

  • The Paleozoic (Upper Devonian - Lower Carboniferous, approximately 362 to 307 million years): formation stages of the supercontinent Pangea;
  • The Mesozoic (Triassic-Lower Cretaceous, approximately 250 to 100 million years): Pangea’s break-up processes and opening of the Atlantic Ocean;
  • The Cenozoic (Paleogene-Neogene-Quaternary, <65 million years): Western Iberian continental margin evolution (Pereira, n.d.)

The Paleozoic units feature a vast fossiliferous content of macrofossils such as goniatites, brachiopods, trilobites and crinoids. The information from the macrofossils study is complemented with datings from the microfossils study, namely palynomorphs (spores and acritarchs), fossil organic remains of micro-organisms with a cell wall of sporopollenin nature. Besides enabling the dating of sedimentary rocks, the microfossils are important for paleogeographic and tectonic reconstructions, used in the interpretation of climate and climate changes.

This coastal region is characterized by a coastal platform delimited by shale and graywacke steep cliffs on the west coast and carbonate rocks on the south coast, with Torre da Aspa’s in Vila do Bispo Municipality highest elevation of 156 mt (ICNB, 2006a). Under the coastal platform caused by the sea’s abrasive action when at the end of the Cenozoic the whole area was submerged (PNSACV, 1997), the ancient cliffs, deposits of ancient beaches occurring from the foot of these cliffs to the current coast, are particularly noteworthy (Resurreição et al., 2014). Along with the consolidated dunes, they are testimonies of ancient wind activity, which provide a unique view of the interior of a currently fossilized dune. These formations sit directly on the darker Paleozoic basement rocks, which are strongly folded and faulted, or on marine and fluvial orange-hued sediments dating from the Pliocene to the Quaternary. Currently, overlaying the various lithologies present on the Southwest Coast a system of active or stabilized dune develops, depending on whether they are in contact with the beaches or on sea clifftops (Balbino, 2009).

Terrestrial environment

Both latitude and proximity to the sea strongly influence the climate. Summer dryness, typical of the Mediterranean climate, is mitigated by the high relative humidity, two conditions that contribute to the property’s flora diversity. Southwest Coast’s dune formations and diverse woods constitute a unique landscape and a biological heritage of great scientific importance worldwide, for it is one of the greatest floristic biodiversity areas in Europe (ICNB, 2006a). The property holds a high level of Lusitanian and southwestern endemisms and several rare plants, such as (arranged by family) (Flora-On, 2014; ICNB, 2006b; Simões & Cabrita, 2014):

  • Apiaceae: Daucus carota subsp. halophilus
  • Asparagaceae: Hyacinthoides vicentina subsp. vicentina, Hyacinthoides vicentina subsp. transtagana
  • Asteraceae: Centaurea crocata, Centaurea vicentina, Centaurea phaerocephala subsp.lusitanica, Chaenorhinum serpyllifolium subsp. lusitanicum, Cirsium welwitschii, Dittrichia marítima, Dittrichia viscosa revoluta, Klasea integrifolia subsp. algarbiensis, Klasea baetica subsp. lusitanica
  • Boraginaceae: Myosotis lusitanica (ICNF species fact sheet), Myosotis retusifolia (ICNF species fact sheet)
  • Brassicaceae: Dittrichia maritima, Dittrichia viscosa revoluta, Biscutella sempervirens subsp. vicentina, Diplotaxis siifolia subsp. vicentina, Jonopsidium acaule
  • Caryophyllaceae: Herniaria algarvica, Silene rothmaleri
  • Cistaceae: Cistus ladanifer sulcatus (or Cistus palhinhae)
  • Euphorbiaceae: Euphorbia transtagana
  • Fabaceae: Adenocarpus anisochilus, Ononis hackelii, Ulex erinaceus, Ulex argenteus argenteus, Ulex australis subsp. welwitschianus
  • Lamiaceae: Sideritis arborescenslusitanica, Thymus camphoratus, Thymus capitellatus, Teucrium vicentinum, Thymus villosus subsp. villosus
  • Liliaceae: Bellevalia dubia subsp. hackelii
  • Plantaginaceae: Plantago almogravensis
  • Poaceae: Avenula hackelii, Pseudarrhenatherum pallens
  • Pumblaginaceae: Armeria pinifolia, Armeria rouyana (P), Limonium nydeggeri
  • Scrophulariaceae: Linaria algarviana, Linaria bipunctata glutinosa (or Linaria ficalhoana), Verbascum litigiosum
Due to its special lithological characteristics, the area of Sagres Peninsula is especially rich in endemic flora and fauna, attracting the scientific community from around the world. As an example of endemic fauna, two species of very primitive arthropods may be mentioned:Machilis sacra, the westernmost known representative of this genus, whose greatest species diversity is known in Central Europe (on the mountains of Switzerland and Austria); andCtenolepisma algharbica, whose species of the same genus occur especially in Asia and Africa, although also in Europe (Mendes, 1976; Mendes, 1978).

The Southwest Coast has the highest concentration of Mediterranean temporary ponds in the country, characterized by a high species diversity and abundance and considered priority habitat type (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC). Flora species with high conservation value occur here, like the Endangered Pilularia minuta, the Near Threatened Isoetes setaceum and the Vulnerable Caropsis verticillato-inundata (IUCN, 2015), as well as the Hyacintholdes vicentina (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC). Regarding fauna, it is worth mentioning Triops vicentinus, a crustacean brachiopod (Notostraca order), which is a living fossil remaining from the Jurassic and existing only on the Southwest Coast. Two other species with limited distribution should be highlighted: Cyzicus grubei and Maghrebestheria maroccana. All of these are threatened due to the total specialization and dependence on these particular habitats for their survival. Virtually all amphibians living in Portugal live in this region and the simultaneous presence of several species in one place has been documented. Furthermore, mammals in the area are also favored by the availability of water and food that ponds provide, especially bats (LPN, 2015).

The Southwest Coast is dissected by several watercourses, permanent and intermittent, among which the Mira river. This is the only river basin where two important freshwater species are simultaneously present, namely the “boga-portuguesa” (Chondrostoma lusitanicum) and “boga-do-sudoeste” (Chondrostoma almacai), endemism in the region. It is also the habitat of the “escalo-do-Mira” (Squalius torgalensis) (Cabral et al., 2005) which, like the “boga-do-sudoeste”, is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List, and the twait shad (Alosa fallax), a migratory species with protected status by the European Habitats Directive (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC). Also of interest is the Torgal stream, an affluent of the Mira river, for its scenic beauty combined with high biodiversity, where we find the occurrence of the Schreiber’s green lizard (Lacerta schreiberi), an Iberian endemism in an isolated population in southern distribution limits (Brito et al., 1999) and the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), Endangered in Portugal, a species that also inhabits the Mediterranean temporary ponds (LPN, 2015). Regarding mammals, the prominent species are cabrera’s vole (Microtus cabrerae), the Endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) (Palma, 1996; IUCN, 2015) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) for attending the marine environment (ICNF, 2015a).

Marine environment

The marine environment presents some biophysical and ecological unique characteristics worldwide. The diverse nature of the coastline seafloor, the existence of small islands, bays and capes, the confluence of different water bodies, such as the Mediterranean, the temperate Atlantic and the tropical Atlantic, and the occurrence of deep water upwelling phenomena all contribute to the increasing of organic production and the presence of high levels of biodiversity, consisting of a large part of the Portuguese marine fish populations (Gonçalves & Silva, n.d.). On the other hand, this coast is near the limit of the geographic distribution of most common or abundant marine species to the north, such as the limpet Patella vulgata, the dogwhelk Nucella lapillus, the sea slug Onchidella Celtica and the seaweed Bifurcaria bifurcata, and of the more common or abundant to the south, such as the sea snail Siphonaria pectinata and the alga Fucus guiryi (Lima, 2007).

The Park’s marine environment features a wide range of habitat types, and those which are considered of Community interest for conservation by the Habitats Directive (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC) should be mentioned, such as: sandbanks which are slightly covered by seawater all the time, estuaries, mudflats and sandflats not covered by seawater at low tide, large shallow inlets and bays, reefs, Salicornia and other annuals colonizing mud and sand, Spartina swards (Spartinion maritimae), submerged or partially submerged sea caves and coastal lagoons (priority habitat type). In Sagres region there is a great abundance of sea caves, in which 245 species have been documented between their entrance and the interior, especially the sponges (85; 36%), Bryozoa (41; 17), Annelida (25; 11 %) and Cnidaria (29; 12%). About 6% of these species (14) are dependent on these caves, where the Vulnerable Eunicella verrucosa, according to the IUCN Red List, has also been registered (Monteiro et al., 2013).
In addition to the above mentioned otter, the same Directive points to several animal and vegetal species of Community interest for conservation, such as the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), a priority and rare species in this area.


Between resident, summer breeding, wintering and migratory species, about 250 species occur annually and on a regular basis on the Southwest Coast. The ornithological most relevant aspect of the Portuguese Southwest is the autumn migration of birds (or post-nuptial for most species), which runs from mid-August to late November, with different times and passage peaks for the dozens of migratory species using the area. Due to its geographical position in the extreme southwest of the European continent, the Southwest Coast and Sagres peninsula in particular concentrate a high density and diversity of migratory birds, arriving here conducted by the shoreline and coastal valleys as a result of their migratory and dispersive movements towards south (SPEA, 2013). These are mainly soaring birds, sea birds and passerines. Birds of prey are specially noteworthy, for all species of this group already registered in Portugal have been detected in Sagres Peninsula during the time of post-nuptial migration. In total, it is estimated that around 5000 soaring birds of over 30 species cross the area in autumn migration (Tomé et al., 2014), of which the most abundant are the common buzzard (Buteo Buteo) and the following species, protected by the Birds Directive (DIRECTIVE 2009/147/EC): the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), the booted eagle (Aquila pennata), the short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus), the black kite (Milvus migrans). The regular presence of other priority soaring species (under Annex I of the same Directive), as the Bonelli's eagle (Aquila fasciata), the Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the red kite (Milvus milvus), the Eleonora’s falcon (Falco eleonorae) or the black stork (Ciconia nigra) (SPEA, 2013) should also be emphasized.

In what concerns passerines, millions of transsaharan migratory species use the area in their route between the nesting territories in European northern latitudes and their wintering areas in tropical Africa. The Southwest Coast is a key stopover for provision and rest.

Regarding seabirds, it is estimated that about 30% of the Critically Endangered Balearic shearwater’s (Puffinus mauretanicus) world population (Leitão et al., 2014; IUCN, 2015) cross the coastal waters around São Vicente Cape. The area is indeed a key point for seabirds in transit on the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean sea, like the northern gannet (Morus bassanus), the Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris borealis), the great skua (Catharacta skua), the Mediterranean gull (Larus melanocephalus) or Audouin's gull (Larus audouinnii) (Leitão et al., 2014).

Among the resident species, the rupicolous are worth of notice. One of the symbols of the Southwest Coast is the nesting of a few dozen of white stork (Ciconia ciconia) couples on rocky cliffs and islets (a unique feature worldwide) (ICNF, 2015a), and the fact that currently (2015) it is the last refuge for osprey or fish eagle (Pandion haliaetus) nesting in Portugal (Palma, 2001). Among other species, of about the 25 which nest on the Southwest cliffs, we can find the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), the pallid swift (Apus pallidus), the Alpine swift (Apus melba), the blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius) and the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) (whose nearest population is about 400 km away). Regarding the rock dove (Columba livia), the population in the Southwest Coast is probably the most genetically pure in the country - taking into account the loss of genetic integrity by hybridization with the domestic pigeon (Equipa Atlas, 2008).

In what concerns wintering avifauna, the Southwest Coast receives thousands of individuals from the northern latitudes in Europe, especially from mid-October on. These are mainly finches and “Turdidae”. Some of the most emblematic species of this time are the Eurasian oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), the European robin (Erithacus rubecula) and the northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus). Other regular wintering species, although scarcer, are the ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus), the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) and Richard’s pipit (Anthus richardi) (Elias et al., 1989).

History and archaeology

The archaeological remains along the Southwest Coast witness the interaction of human communities with the coastal territory, especially regarding the exploitation of marine and geological resources. It is a vast and coherent geographical space conferring territorial dimension to the various moments of human occupation. The oldest traces refer to the Lower and Middle Paleolithic and are placed in ancient marine beaches currently elevated due to the coastline changes, such as Mirouço in Vila do Bispo. Also in Vila do Bispo municipality, Vale do Boi’s Paleolithic shelter is the most extensive and one of the most significant Paleolithic deposits known in the peninsular south, with records that refer to an almost continuous human presence between the Upper Paleolithic and the Early Neolithic (Bicho et al., 2003).

Witness to the intensive exploitation of marine coastal resources are traces of shell middens, whose formation occurred since prehistoric times (Samouqueira, Medo Tojeiro, Carrapateira, etc.) until the medieval age and even more recent times, proving the long duration of a way of life that, since the Neolithic period, articulates with the presence of communities in more permanent locations. Boca do Rio’s in Vila Nova de Milfontes and Pessegueiro Island’s salting workshops show the important role that the extreme remote SW of Lusitania played in supplying the Roman Empire with fish preparations until the fifth century of our era (Silva, 1993; Soares, 1995; Soares & Silva, 1995; Soares, 1996).

The extreme SW features one of the largest Megalithic concentration of menhirs in Europe, surpassed only by the French Brittany. It has been identified with the Promunturium Sacrum described by the Greco-Roman antiquity authors as a mythical place where Hercules was worshipped and then considered the end of the known world. The relics of Saint Vincent in the Corvo Church, next to the cape, have turned it into the most important pilgrimage site of Mozarabic Christians in the peninsular south between the 8th and the 12th century. The singular Arrifana’s ribat, from the Islamic period, is located at Ponta da Atalaia (Parreira & Magalhães, 2009).

The SW Coast is associated with the beginning of the European expansionist movement in the 15th century, in the sense of "a first pier" in the origin of the global world created by the action of Europe in the following centuries. Sagres, especially through its association with Henry the Navigator, is one of the physical locations associated with the epic imagery of the Portuguese Discoveries and the beginning of major historical changes (Parreira & Magalhães, 2009).

Throughout the modern era several forts were built along the coastline, such as the Sagres Fortress and the Pessegueiro’s forts and batteries, Pessegueiro Island’s, Vila Nova de Milfontes’, Zavial’s (Soares, 2004).

Since the middle of last century, the population began to grow and the land began to be more intensively explored, especially after the construction of the irrigation canals of the Mira Irrigation Perimeter (Trigo, 2005; HIDROPROJECTO/ICNB, 2008). The substantial increase in tourism since the 1980s has also contributed to changes in the landscape. However, there has been a tendency to a bet on ecological tourism in the region. The Rota Vicentina, whose most part of the 400 km hicking path crosses the area of the Southwest Coast, has been distinguished with several national and international awards (Rota Vicentina, 2015) and is an example of a commitment to nature tourism as a development path essential for the region.

In order to assist this application, a Technical Meeting was held in September 2015. Representatives of several municipalities, entities and regional organizations as well as researchers from relevant areas were invited for the presentation of the proposal and for collection of testimonies and contributions.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Southwest Coast fits into three criteria related to natural resources. The region, internationally known for its natural beauty, is characterized by the presence of different physiographic elements representing various stages of the earth; biological and ecological processes essential for the development of ecosystems as well as flora and fauna communities; and the high diversity of habitats, with an abundance of life and species richness, essential for in situ conservation of various species. The region’s geographic situation along with the Mediterranean climate with Atlantic Ocean’s influences favor the development of numerous endemic species, especially of flora, and the occurrence of several rare and/or endangered species, making this region of great importance from an ecological and conservationist point of view.

Due to the region’s high natural value and the occurrence of some typical threats to these Mediterranean regions, such as the increase and transformation of agricultural practices, growing touristic pressure and the presence of invasive alien species, the Southwest Coast is currently under several statutes and diplomas for protection and management of its assets. In 1988 it was classified as Protected Landscape Area and in 1997 promoted to National Park - Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park (SAVCNP). In addition, the area is also covered by various European and international measures and conventions. Virtually all Southwest Coast belongs to the Natura 2000 network, which includes the Special Protection Area (SPA) - PTZPE0015 and the Site of Community Importance (SCI) - PTCON0012 under the EU Birds Directive (DIRECTIVE 2009/147/EC) and the EU Habitats Directive (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC) respectively. The area is also included in the CORINE biotopes project - C15000054; and the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats - Bern Convention and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals - Bonn Convention also apply. The area has been classified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area - IBA PT031. The singularities of the Sagres area led to the integration of this area in particular in the European Network of Biogenetic Reserves of the Council of Europe.

In order to maintain and understand the Southwest Coast value it is fundamental to inform and raise awareness the local population and visitors about it. The application of the protective measures should be taken in a logic of continuous communication and awareness of the exceptional Southwest Coast values, addressed to all relevant stakeholders. It is important to install ​​environmental and interpretation centers along the property whose purpose is the study, monitoring and creation of awareness of the natural values ​​of the region, as well as provision of support to orderly and integrated visitation. The information could be locally disseminated at strategic points of great concentration of people or through communication actions taken at strategic periods, such as the bathing season. In addition, other information channels, including the Web, should be made available for additional information consultation. Only with the contribution of all will it be possible to harmonize the use of the territory with its protection, thus ensuring its long-term conservation.

Because it is coincident with the area of Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, the Southwest Coast is under a set of rules and objectives that contribute to its protection, including special protection schemes for different areas and other measures which facilitate the adoption of regulated use zones. The municipalities responsible for the application, because they can not legally propose a buffer zone for the property, undertake to work on their implementation, as evidenced by the statement of integrity (Southwest Coast Municipal Treaty 2016) presented later in this form.

Criterion (viii): Southwest Coast cliffs are mainly composed of metamorphosed and volcanic sedimentary rocks formed on a relatively deep sea in the Upper Paleozoic. The Paleozoic sequences within the territory, often exposed over several kilometers in continuous outcrops, are, for their geological and paleontological heritage, reference places for the interpretation of the evolution of sedimentary basins from the Devonian and Carboniferous periods. Its scientific value is undeniable. Also the tectonic history of this sector of the South-Portuguese Zone confers it a very particular interest, especially for the study of Variscan deformation associated with the collision of two continents forming Pangaea. The break-up of this supercontinent and the drift of newly formed continental plates to the position they occupy today is also expressed in the geological history of the SW of Portugal. As a major landmark of geological history, the unconformity between the Paleozoic basement and the Mesozoic Algarve Basin, visible at Telheiro beach (see below) is noteworthy. Much later, in the Upper Miocene, the sea advanced on the continent in a transgression movement whittling an old abrasion platform, where for the past 5 million years beach deposits have been deposited. After a succession of several transgressions and regressions, the sea retreated and left sands exposed which have been scattered by the wind over the ancient abrasion platform, nowadays in the form of consolidated sand dunes.

The Southwest Coast is rich from a geological, tectonic and morphological point of view. It features a great diversity of geological formations, in what concerns lithology and age (from the Paleozoic to the Quaternary), fault scarps, depressions of tectonic origin and examples of ductile (folds) and brittle (faults and joints) deformation structures. Sometimes, the deformation affects the most recent units (Pliocene - Quaternary), which evidences neotectonic activity. Karstic morphology also occurs, affecting the carbonated formations and, as already mentioned, an extensive platform carved in Paleozoic rocks probably during the Upper Miocene, with an old cliff carved in the inner reliefs. The region’s geomorphology type favors the presence of large areas of outcrops, many of which classified geosites. The main emphasis, for example, goes to:

  •   Pessegueiro Island (Porto Covo) - A fossilized dune system with magnificent outcrops showing stratigraphic features of three generations of dunes. In its outcropping units there are at least six stratigraphic horizons with footprints and small trackways of large vertebrates, the first records in all the Portuguese Cenozoic. Fossilized elephants’ footprints dating from the Pleistocene found here correspond to the first safe record of Elephas antiquus footprints and represent one of the last events of this species known in Europe (Pereira, n.d.; Neto de Carvalho, 2011).
  • Foz dos Ouriços (Almograve) - Foz dos Ouriços is a place prone to observation of antiforms and synforms, structures that abound in its cliffs carved in Flysch sediments deposited during the Carboniferous. The deformation style associated with the South Portuguese Zone is well represented in this place where you can observe typical folding of Variscan orogeny and the deformation associated with Late-Variscan phases. Dunes consolidated by iron oxides, conferring it a reddish color and/or dunes consolidated by calcium carbonate are also observable.
  • Ponta do Telheiro (Vila do Bispo) - On Ponta do Telheiro’s cliff a great unconformity is exposed, separating the terrains of the Upper Paleozoic European Variscan mountain chain, represented here by the Brejeira formation’s shale and greywacke, from the Triassic Grés de Silves sandstones. Below the unconformity, Brejeira Formation lies folded with decametric dimension structures, while above, the Triassic is practically undeformed, with primary sub-horizontal stratification still visible. The angular Paleozoic/Mesozoic unconformity’s surface underlines a geological hiatus of around 90 million years, which corresponds to the time when the Variscan Chain uplifted and was eroded by external agents. One of the scientists who contributed greatly to the evolution of geology, James Hutton, drew up a significant part of his thinking by observing a stratigraphically equivalent unconformity at Scotland’s Siccar Point. However, the outcrop on which James Hutton drew does not have the quality and quantity of information displayed by Ponta do Telheiro’s outcrop, an usual stopping place for the geological world community when visiting the country. It is a lithological and structural group that illustrates how we move from one orogenic stage (with intense deformation of rocks), which resulted in the formation of Pangea, to the initial stages of the supercontinent’s break-up and basins opening (with characteristic detrital sedimentation) that would evolve into the current ocean mass. It is estimated that about 4 km thick continental crust has been eroded before the sedimentation of the Triassic. This is one of the most important geological geosites in Portugal and worldwide, being representative of the transition from the Paleozoic to the Mesozoic Era (Terrinha, 1998).
  • Other sites classified as geological patrimony of exceptional value should be mentioned (Património Geológico de Portugal, 2014; LNEG, 2010; LNEG, n.d.):
    • Porto Covo; Cabo Sardão; Almograve; Zambujeira do Mar Beach; Vila Nova de Milfontes Beach; Moinho da Asneira; Odeceixe Beach; Bordeira-Carrapateira Road; Amado Beach; Monte Clérigo Beach; Arrifana Beach, Canal Beach, Pedra da Agulha, Pedra Ruiva (Bordeira’s Anticlinal), Vale Figueira Beach, Murração Beach, Quebradas Beach; Castelejo Beach; Praia do Telheiro - Paleozoic marine sediments sequences;
    • Luis - Milfontes road – Iberian Pyrite Belt Volcanic-Sedimentary Complex sequence (Upper Devonian-Upper Visean);
    • Belixe Beach, Mareta Beach and Boca do Rio Beach – Meso-Cenozoic Algarve tectonostratigraphy, especially Jurassic;
    • Sagres promontory and Armação Nova bay – Lower Jurassic sequences (Sinemurian and Pliensbachian) and fragile structures with exposed fault mirrors dozens of meters high and long;
    • Dinosaur trackways at Salema Beach, Pliocene graben and ancient beaches.

Criterion (ix): The Southwest Coast geographical situation, combined with its seaside location and particular climate provide for the preservation of the ecological and biological processes necessary for the development and maintenance of a large biodiversity. In non-marine environment, the physical boundary of this region is coincident with a natural demarcation, especially to the east, containing the main necessary habitats and elements for the preservation of biodiversity.

Its floristic heritage of great scientific importance worldwide, is "made up of about 1000 species and plant subspecies, with special notice to around 42 Lusitanian endemics of which 12 are exclusive of the park, and of these, 4 occur only on the Sagres promontory and São Vicente Cape" (Pinto in Simões & Cabrita, 2015).

In Tangierian-Onubensean-Gaditan-Algarvian bay the periodic accumulation of DNA coming from migratory currents caused by glacial events led to the creation of one of the most morphogenetically diverse points in the whole world.

Sagres area is especially rich in endemic species, the reason why this particular area has joined the Biogenetic Reserves Network of the Council of Europe. As for endemic fauna occurring only in the Southwest Coast, we may refer rather primitive species such as Machilis sacra, Ctenolepisma algharbica (Mendes, 1976; Mendes, 1978) and Triops vicentinus (LPN, 2015).

The Mira estuary is an important ecosystem of the region, whose low anthropogenic pressure has made it the subject of particular attention by the scientific community. It allows us to understand the estuarine ecological processes, and thus obtain the fundamental knowledge to approach estuarine ecosystem conservation. The “Escalo do Mira” from the Hydrographic Mira Basin is worth mentioning, for it is not found anywhere else in the world.

The Southwest Coast marine environment is a boundary in the geographical distribution of many marine species, since it is characterized by the meeting of distinct water masses and the occurrence of upwelling phenomena that contribute to a higher organic production and biodiversity.

The Southwest Coast physical characteristics and biogeographical situation have motivated the conduction of various studies comparing populations or communities at a Portuguese or European mainland coast scale (Adão, 2015). The existence of high biological diversity associated with the existence of unique habitats shows the responsiveness of ecosystems to anthropogenic changes has been ensured, reflecting the good environmental status of the Southwest Coast’s different ecosystems.

Criterion (x): 35 natural habitats are identified within the Southwest Coast, of which 9 are considered priority habitats (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC; ICNF, 2015a). Here occur pine forests, Quercus suber forests, freshwater habitats, salt marshes, sea cliffs, woodlands and scrub, dunes and marine habitats. These habitats are essential for the conservation of biological diversity, including rare and/or endangered species. The Southwest Coast plant communities have high ecological value, with great interest from the scientific and conservationist point of view. Here occur several priority habitats under the Habitats Directive (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC), such as gorse, heather and gum-rockrose communities, with dominance of Ulex australis subsp. welwitschianus and juniper formations (Juniperus turbinata subsp. turbinata and Juniperus navicularis). On the cliffs and surrounding areas, exposed to salty sea winds, the Southwest Coast low scrub endemic communities especially noteworthy, such as those with co-dominance of Cistus palhinhae, also priority according to the above mentioned Directive, or cushion-forming scrubs, characterized by the dominance of Astragalus tragacanta. Also priorities are the Mediterranean salt steppes (Limonietalia), fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation, the Atlantic decalcified fixed dunes (Calluno-Ulicetea), pseudo-steppe with grasses and annuals of the Thero-Brachypodietea and alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (ICNB , 2006b). In the Southwest Coast innermost areas the presence of two characteristic species is worth mentioning: cork oak (Quercus suber) and holm oak (Quercus rotundifolia). Several plant species have protected status in accordance to the above mentioned Directive, namely priority species: Jonopsidium acaule, Silene rothmaleri, Ononis hackelii, Thymus camphoratus, Armeria rouyana, Linaria ficalhoana.

The exceptional climatic conditions allow the coexistence of plants of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean region, as Davallia canarienses (Flora-on, 2014). Mixed, Atlantic and Mediterranean characteristics are also manifest in the occurrence of Southern Atlantic wet heaths and Mediterranean temporary ponds, two priority habitats under the Habitats Directive (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC). Mediterranean temporary ponds feature great abundance and diversity of fauna and flora compared to ponds of other regions, playing a very important role in the conservation of endangered species or species with restricted distribution.

Regarding fish populations, the “escalo-do-Mira” and “boga-do-sudoeste” should be mentioned for being Critically Endangered according to the IUCN Red List, and the twait shad (Alosa fallax) for its protection status (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC). As for mammals, the Vulnerable cabrera’s vole (Microtus cabrerae) (Cabral et al., 2005) is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula and a Park’s representative which, despite a very fragmented distribution and very specific habitat requirements, is able to migrate between colonies, constituting an important population in the region (Mira et al., 2008); the otter (Lutra Lutra), a protected species under the Habitats Directive (COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC), whose Southwest Coast population is one of the few in Europe frequenting the marine environment (ICNB, 2006b); and the Endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), which after the current reintroduction program in the Iberian Peninsula reappeared in the Park, indicating that there are still conditions for the Iberian lynx to thrive in the Southwest Coast and that there is an urgent need to continue preserving the favorable sectors (Palma, 1996; IUCN, 2015).

In the marine environment, in some Southwest Coast estuarine "mudflats and sandbanks" there are marine phanerogams prairies, as is the case of Mira river estuary Zostera prairies, natural marine habitats with high biological diversity in situ conservation importance (Cunha et al., 2013).

The Southwest Coast also plays a very important role for avifauna. Most of its area corresponds to a SPA (DIRECTIVE 2009/147/EC), and is also part of the network of IBA (Important Bird Area) that recognizes important areas for nesting birds worldwide. About 25 species nest on the Southwest Coast cliffs, including the white stork (Ciconia ciconia), the only place in the world where you can witness this behavior. The autumn migration of birds is another particularly important phenomenon in the region, which, due to the geographical position of the coast, is a place of passage for millions of individuals from dozens of migratory bird species. Several of these have high protection status under the IUCN Red List, which makes it essential to maintain these habitats’ integrity in behalf of these important communities.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Presidents of Aljezur, Odemira, Sines and Vila do Bispo Municipalities, meeting on the 11th January 2016 in Odemira village, on behalf of the maintenance of the "Southwest Coast" property on UNESCO Tentative List, in order to be recognized as World Heritage Natural Site, assume the following:

  1. A strong joint motivation in maintaining the "Southwest Coast", understood as the entire territory of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, as defined in Council of Ministers Resolution N. 11-B of 4th February, 2011, as a property inscribed on UNESCO Tentative List. Such inscription is regarded as the vehicle that will lead to its fair recognition as World Heritage Natural Site;
  2. The nature and importance of "Southwest Coast" property is heavily impacting on the economic and social future of the whole territory and it is considered that at this stage (maintenance on the Tentative List), the characteristics the property features, which are the same as at its registration in 2004, are the content and the grounds for its maintenance on UNESCO Tentative List;
  3. For the last 11 years, since the inscription on UNESCO Tentative List, the property’s management model and the special character or supramunicipal spatial planning instruments have not considered, or currently do not consider, the municipal councils as relevant actors in the process;
  4. The Southwest Coast POLIS was the only financial instrument in which the Municipal Councils played a role, which has contributed, although insufficiently, to a plan of public investment consistent with the conservation needs and territorial enhancement of "Southwest Coast" property;
  5. The risks to the integrity of the "Southwest Coast" property are recent, have a contextual nature and are closely linked to the exponential growth of intensive agriculture, which took place exclusively in the area coincident with the Mira Irrigation Perimeter;
  6. Despite the risks identified, the "Southwest Coast" property, because it is coincident with the area of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, has in its regulation body all the rules and objectives that contribute to its integrity fully defined, namely different areas subject to protection systems (areas of full, partial and complementary protection) and other measures to facilitate the assumption of buffer zones, regulated use zones and use compensation rules;
  7. The features that had justified the "Southwest Coast" property inscription on UNESCO Tentative List remain and, therefore, all the reasons for its maintainance are gathered.

In the sense of the relevance of the above mentioned points, recognizing the responsibility that municipalities assume in the management of its territory and considering:

  1. The need to safeguard the full interest of the people of the territory covered by the "Southwest Coast" property;
  2. The "frontier" moment in terms of preservation and integrity of the "Southwest Coast" property in face of the identified risks;
  3. The opportunity to launch a new plan of territorial enhancement based on its environmental values and in full compliance with the objectives enrolled in the Management Plan of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park (approved by Council of Ministers Resolution N. 11 -B/2011 of February 4th, 2011);

The application’s signatory municipalities come together in the compromise of a "Southwest Coast" property maintenance on UNESCO's Tentative List after-time in which they agree to work on the property’s recognition as World Heritage Natural Site, as follows:

  1. Summon territorial entities and actors towards achieving the objectives of the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park Management Plan (approved by Council of Ministers resolution N. 11-B/2011 of February 4th, 2011), despite disagreement on some of its contents, in order to reconcile the different uses of the property and to guarantee the economic, environmental and social components are safeguarded in a sustainable way;
  2. Summon territorial entities and actors towards building a territorial management model based on co-responsibility and, therefore, structure an efficient use of human, technical and logistic resources of the various entities to assure compliance of the Plan in force;
  3. Build with all territorial entities and actors an environmental education and social responsibility program based on the value of environmental resources as land development engine;
  4. Propose, within the different municipal organs of all subscribing municipalities, the classification of the Southwest Coast as municipal natural heritage.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Southwest Coast is part of the Mediterranean forests, woodlands and scrubs biome of the Palaearctic Region (Udvardy, 1975; Olson et al., 2001). This biome, characterized by high level of flora endemism and low of vertebrate’s (Vogiatzakis, 2006), can also be found in four other regions in the world, namely the western coasts of California, Chile, South Africa and Australia, occupying in total 1.2% of the earth's surface. All regions of this biome display a great heterogeneity especially with regard to geology, soils, and faunal as well as floristic composition (Vogiatzakis, 2006).

The five regions with Mediterranean-type ecosystems belong to the group of 25 Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priority worldwide identified by Myers et al. (2000). According to the authors, they are places with exceptional concentrations of endemic species where a significant loss of the original area has occurred. This list has meanwhile been updated and 35 hotspots where the conservation of species can have a huge impact on the protection of global biodiversity are currently identified (CEPF, 2015).

In southern California and Chile, the Mediterranean-type ecosystems are confined to coastal areas delimited by mountains (Woodward, 2012). The California Floristic Province hotspot has 0.7% of all endemic species in the world in an area of ​​80000 km2 (Myers, 2000). It doesn’t harbour any World Heritage property but includes, among others, the Redwood National Park, characterized by a rocky coastline and mountains. Like the Southwest Coast, it features important avifauna and diverse flora (about 700 species) with several endemic species, although less abundant than the flora heritage of the Southwest Coast. Another differentiator is the Sequoia sempervirens forest, which makes this Park very different from the Southwest Coast’s (National Park Service -USDI, 2015; UNESCO, 1994). In Chile, the Juan Fernández National Archipelago, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO, 2011) and on the Tentative List for compliance with the criterion X, also features Mediterranean-type climate in some of its volcanic islands. This archipelago, very rugged and virtually without any flat regions, presents fewer habitats than the Southwest Coast and is characterized by the presence of several types of forest (UNESCO, 2011). With only 146 flora species, it shows lower diversity of plants compared to the Southwest Coast.

Mediterranean-type ecosystems found in South Africa and Southwestern Australia are the ones with the highest percentage of endemic species of flora from all the biome, with higher values ​​than those of the Mediterranean basin (Myers, 2000). In South Africa, the fynbos vegetation of the Cape Floristic Province hotspot has a high level of endemism and flora biodiversity of each family represented, such as the proteas (Proteaceae) with 69 endemic species, cycads and gymnosperms resembling palm trees (Woodward, 2012). It contains 1.9% of the world’s endemic flora in an area of ​​18000 km2 (Myers, 2000). This hotspot hosts the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, World Heritage (criteria IX and X) for its endemic flora diversity, density and quantity (UNESCO, 2004). In Southwestern Australia hotspot, the flora is dominated by the genus Eucalyptus (Woodward, 2012). It contains 5469 plant species, including 4331 endemic, which correspond to 1.4% of endemisms of the world in an area of 33336 km2 (Myers, 2000).

The Mediterranean Basin, where the Southwest Coast is located, is the largest of these regions. It ranges from Portugal to the Lebanon and from the Italian southern coast to Morocco and Libya (Vogiatzakis, 2006), covering a total area of 110,000 km2 corresponding to only 4.7% of the original area (Myers, 2000).

Although the Cape Floristic Province and Southwestern Australia have higher ratios of endemic species per 100 km2 than the Mediterranean Basin (31.6, 13 and 11.8 respectively), this is the region with the highest number of species, with 25000 species registered of which 13000 are endemic. It is the third region in the world with the highest number of flora endemism, only exceeded by tropical forests. It is therefore considered a hyper-hot candidate for conservation, despite the low level of endemic vertebrates as is characteristic of this biome (Myers, 2000).

In addition, although the various regions of the biome present similar ecological processes, they feature different flora and fauna heritages, since they belong to different biogeographical regions and thus suffered different evolutionary processes.

The Mediterranean basin is one of the regions with the lowest representation on UNESCO World Heritage List, for less than 0.1% of the area is classified as a World Heritage Natural Site, with only five classified sites. In turn, less than 1% of the Mediterranean ecoregion, one of the 200 world ecoregions identified by WWF for its great biodiversity and/or the presence of endemic species, unique ecological and evolutionary phenomena and rarity of important habitats, gets the same rank (Bertzky et al., 2013).

Other coastal areas in the Mediterranean basin should be referred, as the Doñana National Park in Spain, UNESCO Natural Heritage site (criteria VII, IX and X). This park presents distinct ecosystems from the Southwest Coast, where the swamp is the most prominent one. This area features a richer avifauna with 360 registered species and an equivalent number of plant species (900 species). However, since the ecosystems and lithologies are different and the occurrence of high level of endemism in both areas, we can say that the flora is distinct (Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, 2015). In turn, the Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata and Scandola Reserve in Corsica, World Heritage site (criteria VII, VIII and X), presents distinct geology and plant communities from the Southwest Coast and is especially characterized by the presence of Permian volcanic rocks. The red cliffs are very high, some are 900 mt high, with the occurrence of sand beaches and promontories. The vegetation is typically shrubby; on the gentler slopes there is typical Mediterranean vegetation, replaced by arborescent plants and oak trees in some areas above 200 mt. The marine environment is distinct from the Southwest Coast in that it does not present direct Atlantic Ocean influence (IUCN, 1983).

The region of Qawra/Dwejra, Malta, on the Tentative List (criteria VII, VIII, IX and X), features a rocky coastline with many examples of erosion, like the Southwest Coast. The plant species are different from those in the Southwest Coast, since the area has no Atlantic influence. It also harbours a lower diversity of habitats (Government of Malta, 1998).

In the national panorama, Arrabida, on the Tentative List (criteria VII, VIII, IX and X), also features a wide variety of geological processes, but its rocks are mainly limestone, unlike the Southwest Coast’s, where shale and greywacke are prevalent and limestone occur only in the southern facade. Arrabida’s mountain flora is an important heritage where three floristic elements converge: the Euro-Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Macaronesian. However, due to the different lithological characteristics, predominant species in both areas differ, as an example, Arrabida Hills are rich in orchids. However, Southwest Coast harbours a higher number of priority species and more Portuguese endemic and local species (ICNF, 2015a; ICNF, 2015b). Furthermore, the Southwest Coast, including Ponta de Sagres - São Vicente, is a more important place for birds than Espichel Cape in Arrábida Hills, because of the quantity and diversity of species stopping over in the autumn migration. 136 species of birds have been detected in Arrábida with little relevance in terms of breeding birds; whereas on the Southwest Coast, there are records of 250 species of birds with at least 25 species nesting on the cliffs, including the white stork (Ciconia ciconia) (ICNF, 2015a).

Besides the differences of the Southwest Coast when compared to other regions in the Mediterranean Basin, this area includes an Important Bird Area (IBA), an indicator of the importance of its avifauna worldwide, and virtually all its territory is part of Natura 2000 network. It harbours a high biodiversity in terms of species and a total of 35 natural habitats. This is the region in Portugal with the highest number of vegetation priority species as well as Portuguese and local endemisms.

In what concerns criterion VIII, the Southwest Coast geology has a multifaceted character that makes it special. It includes a set of rocks similar in several parts of Europe and the United States (Appalachian Mountains) and distinguishes itself from the other regions by clustering a variety of geological entities in a limited area. Although occurring Carboniferous and Triassic rocks in southwestern England - Cornwall (Cornwall Wildlife Trust, 2015) – as well, only on the Southwest Coast is it possible to find the rest of the Mesozoic sedimentary series associated. Carboniferous carved cliffs can also be found in the Southwest of England and in Brittany: however, only in the Southwest Coast are overlayed by Pliocene marine deposits. On the Southwest Coast it is possible to find the geological record from the Devonian-Carboniferous transition to the Quaternary, going through the whole Mesozoic and Neogene preserved in the concerned area. Noteworthy is the fact that time intervals not represented in the SW geologic record are almost all absent from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.

Portugal’s Southwest geosites are a differentiator of this region, especially the before mentioned Ponta do Telheiro, one of the most important geosites in the world, for the quality and quantity of information displayed by this outcrop. Still, there are other features that make this region unique from a geological point of view. In the area of ​​Sagres-Vila do Bispo it is possible to find evidence of tectonic inversion episodes interspersed in the Mesozoic stretch registration, not found in any other Iberian Peninsula basin (Terrinha, 1998; Terrinha et al., 2002). This area is also unique for in it we find evidence of the existence of two rifting systems. During the Mesozoic, when the Atlantic Ocean had the largest opening phase, there was a triple junction that made the transition between the American, the Eurasian and the African plates. The geological structures connected to the two rifting systems (the one which gave place to the Atlantic Ocean and the one associated with the evolution of the Gulf of Cadiz) which acted simultaneously are visible only in the area of ​​Southwest Portugal (Terrinha, 1998). In Jurassic limestone outcrops in Vila do Bispo area one is able to observe (unique in Europe) periods when Boreal ammonite faunas mixed with mesogeana ammonite faunas, indicating the connection between the Atlantic Ocean and Tethys Ocean, alternating with periods when there was a clear separation of faunas (Rocha, 1976; Terrinha et al., 2002).

The set of Southwest Coast natural attributes, their national and international protection statutes as well as studies that identify space for classification of new properties in the Mediterranean Bay are important indicators for the recognition of the Southwest Coast Outstanding Universal Value.