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Selvagens Islands Become Largest Marine Protected Area in Europe and the North Atlantic

In the Northeast Atlantic, the Selvagens Islands (Ilhas Selvagens) stand out for their diverse and pristine habitats. Today, the Regional Government of Madeira has expanded the Selvagens Nature Reserve to protect this rich, unique and pristine marine environment. This monumental new designation creates the largest fully protected marine area in Europe and the North Atlantic.

This newly protected area covers a territory of 2,677 square kilometers in an area of 12 nautical miles around the Selvagens Islands. In this extended reserve, all species are now fully protected against all extractive activities such as fishing and mining.

Waitt Institute Founder & Chairman Ted Waitt congratulates the Regional Government of Madeira on their leadership.

Following the COP26 summit earlier this month, all eyes are on the climate crisis and as a result, there is an increased interest in using nature-based solutions to tackle rising global temperatures. By protecting parts of the ocean in Marine Protected Areas, we can support the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon and increase global climate resilience.

The most intact ecosystem of the North Atlantic

Located in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean south of Madeira, the Selvagens Islands are a unique and remote group of islands home to a marine ecosystem teeming with life, nursing grounds for marine species, and an important migratory waypoint for long-traveling creatures, like seabirds, pelagic fish, and marine mammals.


In 2015, the Waitt Institute partnered with National Geographic Pristine Seas and Oceano Azul Foundation to embark on a scientific expedition to study these rarely surveyed islands. Prior to this expedition, our understanding of the Selvagens Islands was relatively limited. Due to the islands’ remote location, we found a healthy ecosystem relatively free from human impacts. The islands exhibited relatively high fish species diversity compared to nearby islands in the North Atlantic. The results from this expedition supported the government’s decision to expand the nature reserve.

History of protection

The Selvagens Islands have a long history of environmental protection. In 1971 the Portuguese government acquired the islands and converted them into a nature reserve in order to protect one of the most important breeding areas for seabirds in the North Atlantic. The newly created nature reserve included the waters surrounding the islands, therefore providing protection for marine life as well.

Today’s expansion marks the 50th anniversary of the Selvagens Nature Reserve. With this new designation, Madeira cements their role as a world leader in marine conservation by increasing protections for the most intact ecosystem of the Northeast Atlantic.

Watch our full expedition film below!

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