LISBON, Portugal -- Regional authorities in Portugal's Madeira Islands on Monday expanded a protected marine area to create what they said is the largest fully protected marine reserve in Europe and the North Atlantic.
The reserve spans 12 nautical miles around the Selvagens islands, a small archipelago located midway between the Madeira Islands and Spain's Canary Islands, which are off the northwestern African coast. It covers a total area of 2,677 square kilometers (1,034 square miles).
All species inside the reserve will be fully protected from fishing or other extractive activities, said Oceano Azul, one of the organizations that has championed the sanctuary.
Their researchers joined up with the Waitt Foundation and National Geographic Pristine Seas to conduct the scientific research backing the need for a reserve. In a statement, the three organizations said that open waters around the islands are a vital passage way for migrating fish and mammals, while the waters near the islands' shores provide crucial nursery habitats.
The group stressed the importance of Portugal's move, given that only under 8% of the ocean is currently protected.
Madeira's regional president, Miguel Albuquerque, said in a statement that he hoped that Monday's approval would “inspire” others in taking “similar measures to preserve our oceans.”