Ilhas Selvagens – Selvagens Islands or Savage Islands.

Ilhas Selvagens – Selvagens Islands or Savage Islands.

Ilhas Selvagens – Selvagens Islands or Savage Islands.

The Selvagens Islands is a small Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.  It is situated some 280 kilometers south of Madeira and 165 kilometers from the Spanish Canary Islands.  Your head is tilting right now.  Certainly, you are wondering why we write a blog post about savage islands `lost’ in the Ocean?

Ilhas Selvagens Madeira Distances
Ilhas Selvagens Distances

So, here it goes!

The Archipelago is administered by the City Municipality of Funchal since it belongs to the parish of Sé.  Sé is one of the 10 parishes which make up the Capital City of Funchal.  Two major islands Selvagem Grande and Selvagem Pequena as well as several other islets make up this archipelago.

Selvagem Grange Island

The island measures 2 by 1.7 kilometers or 2.45 square kilometers.  The highest point, Pico da Atalaia, culminates at 163m.  Surprisingly, the island counts only one dog and 2 inhabitants: a Nature Reserve Guard and a biologist.  The later studies the estimated 40.000 noisy Cory’s Shearwater seabirds. An automated lighthouse completes the infrastructure of the island.

Selvagem Grande Madeira
Selvagem Grande Madeira

Supplies and a new shift of inhabitants ( ? ) arrive every three weeks aboard a Portuguese Navy Ship.  The small settlement looks out on the Ocean from the Baia das Cagarras (Bay of the Cory’s Shearwaters).

Warden House Selvagens Madeira.jpg
Warden House Selvagem Grande Madeira

Doctor Zino

Fortunately, in 1969, Dr. Frank Zino, a Madeiran doctor and birdwatcher, found Petrels while visiting this floating rock.  The scientific community had, at the time, written the species off as extinct.  The Petrel now carry his name, namely Zino’s Petrel. Hence, Dr Zino recognized the environmental importance of the Selvagens and bought all the fishing rights around the archipelago.  As a result, the ocean could no longer be exploited and depleted. This was the first step towards creating a nature reserve.

Zino's Petrel and Cory's Shearwater
Zino’s Petrel (bottom birds) and Cory’s Shearwater (top birds)

Selvagem Pequena

This island is much smaller than its big sister with only 0.3 square kilometers.  Its relief is much more rugged and rocky.  The highest point culminates at only 49 meters.  The majority of the island is flat at between 5 and 10 meters above sea level.  In contrast to Selvagem Grande, no invaders (rabbits, goats, vegetation) ever reached Selvagem Pequena.  Hence, this means that the vegetation found here is original Macaronesian vegetation.  Macaronesia comprises four archipelagos in the North Atlantic Ocean, namely: Azores, Madeira including the Selvagems, Canary Islands and Cape Verde.

Selvagens Map Madeira Portugal
Selvagens Map Madeira Portugal

Conservation Awards

“The Ilhas Selvagens harbor one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic and play a fundamental role in the larval dispersement of many species.” Source: Global Ocean Refuge System.  The islands received the Gold Global Ocean Refuge Award in October 2018 (here).

The maritime area is important for many species among which: fin whales, loggerhead sea turtles and sperm whales.  Interestingly, the archipelago received other awards: Important Bird Area and Natura 2000 Special Protection Area.

Additionally, the famous Captain Cousteau declared that the water around the Ilhas Selvagens was the cleanest water in the World!

Ilhas Selvagens Madeira Portugal
Ilhas Selvagens Madeira Portugal


49th Anniversary of the “Reserva Natural das Ilhas Selvagens

On October 29, 1971, a law, decreto 458 71, classified the Selvagens as Natural Reserve. Hence, yesterday marked its 49th anniversary.

Source: IFCN

Ocean Retreat