Name: Ricardo Serrão Santos

e-mail address:

Proposed Primary Site: Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Bank

PRISTINESS: Primary sites should be as free as possible from anthropogenic stressors, and natural stressors atypical of the region (e.g. reduced salinity, high turbidity).

List potential sources of pollution that are likely to impinge on the site:-

Industrial pollution: NONE

Agricultural pollution: NONE

Mining: NONE

Dumping: No known dumping.

Dredging: NONE

What is the human population of the site in total and per unit area? What is the average population growth per year?

The Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Reef (known collectively as the Formigas Bank) are a remote group of shallow reefs in the southeastern part of the Azores in an area subject to strong currents and frequent large swells. This site is an inhabited offshore seamount.

How is sewage disposed of? If possible give an estimate of the quantity and quality of the output.

No sewage disposed of.

Describe the extent of commercial fishing in the area. Please specify the kinds of gear used (trawling, seine netting, lobster pots etc.).

Area subject to limited and mostly illegal fishing. Few (12, unofficial estimates) small boats from the nearby São Miguel (34 nautical miles away) and Santa Maria (20 nautical miles away) islands may operate in the area few days a year (probably about 20 days). They use longline and handline mainly towards blackspot seabream (Pagellus acarne), the dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), red porgy (Pagrus pagrus) and wreckfish (Polyprion americanus). Although no official statistics are available for the area, we can advance a value of about 50 ton. per year (based on an estimate catch per trip of about 200 kilos), as a reasonable estimates for demersal fish catches in the Formigas Bank. This estimates represents 1% of the total catches in the Azores. Tuna fishery is the only other fleet that operates in the area. Both in 1998 and 1999 the estimates catch of tunas in the area were 22 ton per year (data from POPA program), representing about 0.1% for 1998 and 0.6% for 1999 of the total catches in the Azores. The most captured species were skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus).


Give an account of tourist activities in the area (how many tourists per year; what do they do?).

Although no official records of the tourist activities are available we can estimate that an average number of 100 tourists per year are spear-fishing in the area. This can represent an annual catch of 1 ton. of coastal and pelagic fishes, as well as few kilos of limpets (Patella spp.) and mediterranean slipper lobster (Scyllarides latus). Recreational scuba diving is an occasional activity performed by boats navigating from the neighbouring islands. This however, can only be done when weather and sea conditions are good and all dives must be carefully prepared in order to avoid the frequently strong oceanic currents that characterize the site.

Provide evidence that there are no natural stressors such as high turbidity or reduced salinity that are atypical of the region.

This site is an offshore seamount where atypical natural stressors are unlike to occur.

Give references to any chemical or physical data that support the claim that this is a pristine site.

At present time there is no data to support that this site is a pristine one. However, as it was said above atypical natural stressors are unlike to occur in an offshore seamount like the Formigas Bank.

HABITATS: The site should comprise a mosaic of habitats in a well-defined area that are representative of the region.

List the range of habitats present at the site:-

The only intertidal area is the narrow zone around the Formigas Islets, which is very exposed to wave action. Species found here include the Sally lightfoot crab (Grapsus grapsus) the rockpool blenny (Parablennius parvicornis) and the barnacle (Chthamalus stellatus).

The shallow sublittoral zone of the reefs from the surface to around 40m is predominantly an area of moderately irregular bedrock interspersed by some cracks and crevices, which may be several metres deep with overhangs providing microhabitats for a variety of species. These are colonised by bryozoans, sponges and several species of fleshy red algae (still to be identified) as well providing shelter for fish species such as the dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus). The large numbers of Anthipates from depths of around 15m are also particularly noticeable on the east side of the Dollabarat Reef.

Around the Formigas Islets the bedrock grades into an area of sand with rocky outcrops at a depth of around 50m and beyond. Sand samples collected at around this depth contain a great deal of biogenic material such as fragments of sea urchin spines and tests, shells and calcareous algae. The deepest extent of the sandy areas is not known at the present time. The rock surfaces are carpeted by a luxuriant growth of Cystoseira spp. which covers most of the horizontal bedrock until 20m deep. Vertical faces below 15m have large colonies of the black coral (Antipathes wollastoni) and laminarians (Laminaria ochroleuca) are known to occur in areas of more than 30 m deep.

The benthic fish communities recorded from the Islets include the European parrotfish (Sparisoma cretense), seachub (Kyphosus spp.), and occasional reports of common bream (Pagrus pagrus) in deeper water. There are also large numbers of Atlantic chromis (Chromis limbata).

The rocky seabed around Dollabarat is also comprised of irregular bedrock with both horizontal and vertical faces and deep crevices. The most striking difference with Formigas is the greater habitat diversity and algal cover which supports an abundance of species that use it for feeding, sheltering, or nesting like some labrids such as Centrolabrus caeruleus. It has a dense and almost complete cover of Cystoseira spp. on the upper surfaces interspersed with other algae such as Ulva lactuca and a fleshy red algae. The fronds of the Cystoseira are generally 20-30cm long (although some up to 1m long have also been recorded) and provide shelter for large numbers of fish such as juvenile ornate wrasse (Thalassoma pavo), emerald wrasse (Centrolabrus caeruleus) and juvenile dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus). The deep crevices, which are common, provide a habitat for many benthic species such as locust lobster (Scyllarides latus), conger eel (Conger conger), moray eel (Muraena spp.), and larger forkbeard (Phycis phycis), and the vertical faces are colonised by sponges, cup corals and jewel anemones. The algal beds start to thin out below 30m and are replaced by coralline crusts. Large colonies of the black coral occur on the vertical faces of the bedrock in these deeper areas. In a few cases the shallow bedrock is also covered by coralline crusts rather than Cystoseira spp. and supports a very high density of sea urchins (Paracentrotus lividus and Arbacia lixula). The extent of these areas compared to the sections which support a huge biomass of Cystoseira is apparently small but further information is needed to confirm this as well as the evolution these patches will show.

The pelagic communities are particularly rich on and around the reefs, with large numbers of jacks (Seriola rivoliana and Seriola dumerili), striped barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis), Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda) and grey triggerfish (Balistes carolinensis), as well as smaller species that make up the basis of the food web, like boarfish (Capros aper) and snipefish (Macroramphosus scolopax). Large oceanic predators like manta rays (Manta birostris), sicklefin mobulas (Mobula tarapacana), Galapagos sharks (Carcharinus galapagensis) and the shortfin mako (Isurus oxirhyncus) are also often registered in the area. Large individuals of demersal species such as seachub (Kyphosus sp.), comb grouper (Mycteroperca fusca), black-tail comber (Serranus atricauda) also occurs frequently. Among the seachubs, it is worth mentioning the regular occurrence of xanthic individuals in the schools, an interesting indicator of intraspecific diversity.

The shallowest areas of the reefs, with their dense and tall cover of Cystoseira spp., high abundance and diversity of pelagic species, which form large schools and have large individuals, are believed to be unique in the Azores. No similar Cystoseira stands have been recorded elsewhere in the islands and they are believed to be the marine biotope with the highest plant biomass in the Archipelago. Likewise this is the only site in the Azores where laminarians are known to occur (Neto, 1994 and A. Neto, com. pess.).


How representative is this site of its region (i.e. what regional habitats are missing)?

This site includes all the typical habitats of an offshore bank, plus the unique shallow water cystoseira bed and a small intertidal platform with rockpools and crevices. Obviously, some of the typical coastal habitats are missing: caves and sheltered bays.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION: The site should already be well-studied (i.e. biodiversity studies should not rely entirely on new research).

For what groups of organisms are comprehensive inventories available? Please list major taxa in each category below, and list publications.

The commercial fish species of the Formigas Bank are the best known component of the marine fauna. The benthic communities have not been studied in any detail but work is now underway to describe and map the main marine biotopes and compile more comprehensive species lists for the marine fauna and flora together with abundance estimates.


Macro algae; benthic invertebrates and Pisces

Tempera, F., P. Afonso, T. Morato & R. Serrão Santos (2001). Comunidades Biológicas do Sítio de Interesse Comunitário Ilhéus das Formigas e Recife Dollabarat. Departamento de Oceanografia e Pescas da Universidade dos Açores, Horta.

Macro algae

Neto, A.I. 1994. Checklist of marine macro algae of the Azores. Arquipélago, Life and Marine Sciences 12A: 15-34.

Ardré, F., C.-F. Boudouresque & J. Cabioch, 1973. Note Préliminaire sur la Mission "Biaçores" du N.O. Jean Charcot (Algologie). Bulletin de la Société Phycologique de France, 18: 30-32.


Ávila, S.P., J. Fontes, F. Tempera & F. Cardigos. Submitted. Addittions to the marine molluscs of the Formigas bank, Azores. Açoreana.

Ávila, S.P. & J.M.N. Azevedo. 1997. Shallow-water Molluscs from the Formigas Islets, Azores, collected during the "Santa Maria e Formigas 1990" scientific Expedition. Açoreana, 8(3): 323-330.


Arruda, L.M., J.N. Azevedo, P.C. Heemstra & A.I. Neto. 1992. Checklist of the Fishes Collected on Santa Maria and Formigas 1990: Scientific Expedition. Arquivos do Museu Bocage, Nova Série, Vol. II, n. 12, 263-273.

Afonso, P. 2001. Comunidades de peixes costeiros dos Açores. Variações no espaço e no tempo. Tese de Mestrado, Universidade de Coimbra.



Micro gastropods

Gofas, S. 1989. Two New Species of Alvania (Rissoidae) from the Azores. Publicações Ocasionais da Sociedade Portuguesa de Malacologia, 14:39-42, 15 fig.





List any other publications relating specifically to the biodiversity or environment at the site.

Chaves, F.A. 1924. As Formigas e a Primeira Viagem de Gonçalo Velho. Os Açores, 9, 19p. Reimpresso em 1948, Açoreana, 4(3): 209-217.

Martins, H.R., R.S.Santos e S.J.Hawkins. 1987. Exploitation of limpets (Patella spp.) in the Azores with a preliminary analisys of stocks. ICES K 53:1-18.

Menezes, G., H.M. Silva, H. Krug, E. Balguerias, J. Delgado, J.G. Pérez, L. Ignacio, J.L. Soldevilla, J.L. Nespereira, D. Carvalho e J.S. Morales. 1998. Design optimization and implementation of demersal cruise surveys in the Macaronesian Archipelagos'. Final Report, Comission of the European Communities - DGXIV/C/1 - Study contract 95/095. Arquivos do DOP, Série Estudos, N1/99, 160 pp.

Menezes, G., M.R. Pinho, H. Krug. e A. Silva. 2000. 'Monitorização anual das abundâncias relativas das espécies demersais dos Açores (MAREDA)'. Relatório de Progresso. Universidade dos Açores, Horta.

Morton, B.; J.C. Brittom, A.M.F. Martins 1998. Ecologia Costeira dos Açores. Sociedade Afonso Chaves, Ponta Delgada, 249pp.

Santos, R. S.; Hawkins, S.; Monteiro, L. R.; Alves, M., and Isidro, E. J. 1995. Case studies and reviews. Marine research, resources and conservation in the Azores. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecossystems. 5:311-354.

Santos, R.S.; F.M. Porteiro and J.P. Barreiros 1997. Marine fishes of the Azores. Annotated checklist and bibliography. Arquipélago. Life and Marine Sciences, supplement 1, 244pp.

Zbyszewski, G.; C.T. Assunção, O.V. Ferreira 1961. La géologie des îlots de Formigas au NE de lîle de Santa Maria. Comunicações dos Serviços Geológicos de Portugal, tomo XLV.

List publications relating to historical/time-series data at the site.

Several internal reports and publications of DOP/UAç, mainly related with assessment of inshore resources.


Is biodiversity information available in electronic form? If so, what is the nature of the database (CD-ROM, web-site)?

See also:

PROTECTION STATUS: The pristine nature of the site should be protected by legislation if it is to be a "flagship site" for future monitoring.

For at least two decades, several authors have advocated for the protection of Formigas Bank: Saldanha (1984), Martins & Santos (1991), Santos et al. (1990), Santos (1992), Gubbay (1995) and Santos et al. (1995).

Proposed as a MPA by World Wildlife Fund:



What conservation legislation (national, European, international) is currently in place, how well is it implemented and how long will it last?

Regional: A Nature Reserve was declared on the reefs in 1988 (see DLR no. 11/88/A of 4th April with DLR no. 8/90/A of 17th May), comprising an area limited by a 5 nm radius from the lighthouse on the Formigas Islets (37° 16 12" N; 24° 46 48" W) and a 5 nm radius from the shallowest point of the Dollabarat Reef (37° 14 00" N; 24° 43 50" W). The habitats encompassed by this protected area range from the emerged area of the Formigas Islets to depths of more than -1700m in places.

The justification for this designation was based on (1) the remarkable importance of the site as a breeding and nursery ground for many marine species and (2) the social and scientific interest of the area. Given these interests it was considered that the protection of the area was a necessary and urgent measure to safeguard it from the depletion that its resources had been suffering and to initiate a proper planning of the exploitative activities that envisages the rational utilization of the area.

European: Following the implementation of the Habitats Directive to the Azores, a fraction of the Reserve was designated a Site of Conservation Importance (Natura 2000 network). The SCI, which covers an area of 3628 ha, extends only to the 200m depth contour and has been put forward for its reefs. The species interests specific to the Habitats Directive are bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) although it has been recognized that there is limited information on the occurrence of these species at the present time.

National: as the Macaronesia list of SCIs is published by the EU, the Portuguese law "DL no.140/99" automatically protects the area.

FACILITIES: The infrastructure for biodiversity research should be available. There should also be a national commitment in terms of financing and scientific activity (i.e funding should not be entirely dependent on the success of any future EU programme).


How accessible is the location?

The site is only accessible by boat. Research is to be supported by offshore vessel operations such as the ones carried out by the University in previous years.

Is it limited seasonally (e.g. not accessible in winter)?

Weather conditions can limit de access to the area. The summer is by far the best season to work in the site, while during the autumn and winter the site can be considered not accessible.

Is it accessible by car or by boat (indicate means of transport and distance from laboratory facilities in km)?

The neighbouring islands of Santa Maria (20 nm to SW) and São Miguel (34 nm to NW) can serve as operational bases.

What is the status of local facilities:-

Laboratory: The main University Campus lies at São Miguel Island is accessible by boat and can serve as a support facility for the research being conducted in the site.

Boats: The Department of Oceanography and Fisheries, University of the Azores, Faial Island, has the Research Vessel "ARQUIPÉLAGO" ( at service for research. This 25.5 m GRP ship is equipped with a Sonar, Echo Sounders, Plotter, fishing hauls and winches, two oceanographic winches, an hydraulic deck crane with a SWL of 2.5 m and 5 m outreach, a side A-frame (2.5 ton SWL) and a rear A-frame (4 ton SWL), storage compartments and a fast freezing tunnel (2 ton/day). The average cost of operation inputted for this vessel is 345,000 PTE per day.

Other boat at service for research is the Littoral Vessel "ÁGUAS VIVAS" ( This is an 11 meters boat, equipped with 2 154HP Yanmar diesel motors. The maximum number of people allowed in this vessel is 8 (including the skipper and one sailor, both required for normal ships maneuver). A maximum of four people can sleep on board in comfortable conditions. The average cost of operation inputted for this vessel is 75,000 PTE per day. The University has also two semi rigid inflatable boats "ZÍFIO" ( and "SARGO" (, equipped with 90HP Yamaha fuel motors.

Are these facilities available for guest researchers?


What facilities are there for SCUBA diving?

Scuba diving clubs and enterprises in the islands of Santa Maria and São Miguel.

What housing is available?

Onboard living and housing facilities in the two neighboring islands

List the sources of funding currently in place specifically for biodiversity research at this site (from where and how much).

European Union LIFE-Nature research project "Integrated management of coastal and marine zones in the Azores"; 276,651,277 PTE = 1,379,931 Euros.

List by name the persons currently involved in biodiversity research at this site, their roles and the percentage of their time spent on this research.

Ricardo Serrão Santos; coordinator; 10%

Fernando Tempera; management plans for the site; 30%

Pedro Afonso, Telmo Morato, Jorge Fonte, Frederico Cardigos; fish and benthic communities.


Please use this section to add any additional supporting comments, for example what do you think is special about your site from the biodiversity point of view, why is it important to monitor biodiversity there, and what is the public awareness of this?

The Formigas Islets and Dollabarat Reef (known collectively as the Formigas Bank) are a remote group of shallow reefs in the southeastern part of the Azores in an area subject to strong currents and frequent large swells. The nearest islands are Santa Maria, which lies 20 miles to the southwest, and São Miguel, which is approximately 33 miles northwest of the reefs. The Formigas Islets break the surface forming a linear group of rocky outcrops with a lighthouse on the highest point, which is at around the high water mark. The Dollabarat Reef is completely submerged but the shallowest area is only around 3m deep so oceanic waves frequently break on its top. In calm seas, it is possible to go ashore on the Formigas Islets, using low draught boats and landing the people on a small concrete wall located on the west side of Formigas just below the lighthouse. Around the Islets the seabed drops steeply to a depth of 50-70m on both sides and more gently at the northern and southern ends. The gradient is less marked around the Dollabarat Reef, which is also larger and more heterogeneous but nevertheless shows a steep profile.

The low lying and small area of exposed rock of the Formigas Islets and the submerged reefs of the Dollabarat are uninhabitable. The locality is also known to be the site of shipwrecks since the 16th century and could therefore be of archaeological importance but little is known about this aspect at the present time.

The extraordinary clarity of the mid-ocean waters characteristic of this site enhances even further the exuberance of these communities and the beauty of the seabed, rendering a splendid seascape. The Formigas Bank is a good example of the remarkable ecological importance that seamounts have in the Azores, as feeding grounds and possibly fish spawning and nursery areas for many marine species. The site seems a good example of these functions, as is suggested by the groups of small cetaceans (including bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus, common dolphins Delphinus delphis, spotted dolphins Stenella frontalis and pilot whales Globicephala sp.) and captures of turtles for tagging (mainly loggerheads Caretta caretta) that have been recorded in the area.

This area is representative of a warm temperate/sub-tropical oceanic rocky reef habitat. Globally, more than 125 species (among algae, invertebrates, fish, cetaceans and birds) were already identified for the area.