Ria Formosa Natural Park
The Ria Formosa lagoon system was classified as a Natural Reserve in 1978 but in 1987 it was re-classified as a Natural Park. It is a very dynamic triangular-shaped lagonar system with about 18 400 hectares over 60 km of coast, ranging from Ancão peninsula (westernmost part) to Cacela Velha peninsula (easternmost part).
In the late 1980’s, the purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio) was on the verge of extinction in Portugal and Ria Formosa was the only place where this species still maintained a small population, reason why this bird became the symbol of the Ria Formosa Natural Park.
Being a very dynamic system, Ria Formosa barrier islands are currently composed of two peninsulas, five sandy barrier islands and six inlets, being four of them natural inlets with paradise settings, from West to East their named Barrinha, or the Sun’s Edge, this one separating Ancão Peninsula from Barreta “Deserta Island”; one of the lagoon’s most beautiful natural inlets is Barra Velha in Portuguese, the Old Inlet in English, and it separates Armona and Culatra Islands. Barra da Fuzeta separates Armona and Tavira Islands, and Barra do Lacém, separating Cabanas Island from the Peninsula of Cacela Velha. The two man-made inlets are called Barra de Faro-Olhão, between Culatra Island and Barreta “Deserta Island”, and Barra de Tavira between Tavira and Cabanas Islands.
The Ria Formosa Biodiversity
The Ria Formosa lagoon system was classified as a Wetland of International Importance in 1980. The Ria Formosa includes various habitats such as barrier islands, salt marshes, sandbars and mudflats, sand dunes, salterns, sea meadows, freshwater and brackish water lagoons, watercourses, agricultural areas and forests. This multitude of habitats is also reflected on a great diversity of fauna and flora. The tidal waters of the lagoon are renovated up to 80% on each tide so with such clean waters and protective environment, the Ria Formosa is home of an enormous amount of marine life, fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, bivalves and marine mammals, attract many biologists and researches. Being an important wintering ground for birds from northern and central Europe, as well as a vital stopover for migrant birds flying between northern Europe and Africa, the Ria Formosa is also a place of refuge for rare Portuguese birds and a nesting site for many endangered species, making this lagoon system a very interesting location for birdwatching.