The Azores is a volcanic archipelago located in the northeast Atlantic, lying above a tectonically active triple junction between the North American, Eurasian and African plates. Oceanography in the region is influenced by two eastward currents branching from the Gulf Stream, the North Atlantic Current in the north and the Azores Current to the south. Mediterranean water eddies are also an important feature in the region, present as distinct lenses of warm and salty Mediterranean water at 800-1200 m deep. The water current patterns result in a complex circulation, with high salinity and temperature and a low nutrient regime, except for some localised upwelling associated with island slopes and seamounts.
The seafloor that surrounds the archipelago comprises a variety of open ocean deep-sea habitats, from island slopes and numerous seamounts to hydrothermal vents at various depths and abyssal plains exceeding 5,000 m depth. Cold-water corals are prominent habitats in the region, with more than twenty different types of coral gardens and 165 species identified to date, and which act as important habitat for commercially important fish species in the Azores. Sponge aggregations are also important habitats, covering extensive areas particularly below 500 m, but little is known about their taxonomic composition and functioning. Coral and sponge vulnerable marine ecosystems are included in deep-sea marine protected areas, which are part of the OSPAR network of Marine Protected Areas.
The Azores is seen as an area of increased Blue Growth opportunities in the deep-sea (fishing, bio-prospecting or mining). Therefore, reconciling existing and futures human activities with conservation is paramount for achieving sustainable management of marine ecosystems in the Azores.
Blue Growth Sectors: Biotechnology, Fisheries, Mining
Gardens of white whip coral (Viminella flagellum) and yellow fan gorgonian (Dentomuricea sp.) (Condor de Terra seamount, Azores). Gavin Newman © Greenpeace.