Background on Azores - notes on places visited

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Information about Background on Azores - notes on places visited

Published on October 15, 2014

Author: geodebs



notes for the DtW presentation of places visited

1. Background on tourism in Azores: Tourism has been quite steady for the past decade, with troughs due to general recession worldwide. There is seasonal variation with July & August being busiest – better weather, European summer holidays. Whale watching is best from April – September too. Weather is variable the rest of the year with a wet temperate climate. Sao Miguel main island is by far the most popular with 69% of all tourists staying there. Largely due to having direct flights & transport network. Ferries and internal island flights exist across to other smaller islands. The least popular island is Corvo, and Flores. Most tourists are domestic, from the Portuguese mainland (56% in 2013). European nations are then the most popular, especially Sweden, Germany, France and UK. When we visited the Azores it was clear that the infrastructure is still being put in place to encourage mass tourism – under copious E.U. funding at every street corner. The islands still retain their distinctiveness and remoteness. For four consecutive years they have won the Sustainable Tourism Award for Portugal and won the UNESCO global award this year. The archipelago has multiple UNESCO Biosphere reserves on the islands, European Geopark status and the Quality Coast mark. Only 5% of the islands are urbanised, and the main industries are still agriculture and growing services. Key locations: Furnas: Monitoring & research stations with range of info on geological history, climate, volcanism and activist groups on sustainability. Lago de Furnas had suffered eutrophication and soil erosion due to semi-intensive dairy farming and association deforestation. Lake within a caldera and leaching was easy due to heavy rains. Led to algal blooms, reduced photosynthesis, biomass decreasing, ecosystem shutting down. Reclamation scheme now in place to change land use and reduce chemical dependence and leaching. Conflict with farmers and social groups but compensation paid. Local community and university affair to replant, and replace some of th e invasive species of Japanese Cedar and Australian boxwood (had been used for hedging) with endemic species). School groups can join in, and visiting parties can take part if book in advance. Many jobs being created through forestry, beekeeping, tourism, etc,. Early days to tell if water quality is much improved but flow of nutrients has stabilised and the lake bed is beginning to drop down to original levels. But there is a lack of funding for the next two years. There is also a local tea plantation here – the only commercial one in Europe to still run on traditional machinery and hand picked leaves. Terra nostra: Botanical gardens and allotment patches. Cozida lunch cooking in the village fumaroles. Hot springs for bathing. All the food was locally sourced although you do have to wait 6 hours and is generally a Sunday tradition. Centrale Geothermico do Pico: main geothermal station on Sao Miguel. Accounts for 43% of all the island’s energy, with a futher 6% from HEP and 6% from wind. Azores has been a pioneer for

2. Portugal in sustainable energy, creating their first geothermal power stations and HEP. Many international agencies involved such as MIT or Renault using Azores for research. The region is part of the Green islands initiative with government aiming for 60% renewable sustainable energy by 2050 in all islands, currently averages 50% across the chain with geothermal being 30% average for all islands. Geothermal power is only used to drive turbines for electricity, it cannot be used for creation of hot water or central heating like Iceland due to the chemical composition and toxicity that requires safe treatment first. Sete Cidades: Seven cities. Romantic legend of two lovers, a princess and a shepherd who were forbidden from seeing each other by the ki ng. The shepherd’s tears formed the green lake, and the princess formed the blue lake. All within an ancient caldera. At top of crater rim is a large, very unaesthetic purpose built 1990s hotel built when it was thought tourism was about to rocket – it was almost immediately abandoned and is now being colonised by vegetation. Various tourist activities that can be carried out here including cycling, kayaking, horse riding, etc,. The town itself is very Truman show esque. Southern European or military base style. It felt largely empty and it turns out there is a real concern about emigration to the Portuguese mainland and brain drain with two few job opportunities on the island – not sustainable. EU funding is creating new attractions along the waterfront and more affordable homes. Ferreria: proper physical geography! Basalt cliffs, blowholes, hot spring at 61C which is balanced out by the sea inlet at 18C. Very strong currents and hard to swim in but great fun to try. Good spot for coastal geography and landforms. Pico island: the youngest island at just 300’000 years old (oldest being 8million). Summit 2351m through the snowline with a caldera depression and then a small volcanic cone as the final peak – with its own ‘heated seats’ (thermal vents up to 50C but cooled by wind). Whaling in Pico: Historically speaking whaling was a chief income for the Azores until being internationally banned. There are still museums to commemorate the whaling, and the loss of the industry brought much unemployment and seasonal migration. Whale and dolphin watching is very popular. In 2011 some 48’000 tourists completed a whale watching tour, with over 50 boats being supported and 200 local jobs – many to previous whalers and fishermen. Pico island has a fantastic, albeit emotional, museum to whaling with many intriguing artefacts. Whaling didn’t cease here until 1986 so is well within living memory. Every single part of the whale was used when possible, with many intricate carvings remaining from whale bones and skin being used for fabric and making shoes or bags. Much as in Iceland. Over 27 species of whales can be seen in the Azores. There are concerns that the rapid increase of whale tours is having an impact of whale migration patterns and reproduction, with water disturbance and sonic vibrations perhaps causing stress so regulations have been passed by the Azorean government of late. Pico vineyards: UNESCO world heritage site. Vineyards cultivated traditionally. Basalt rocks are split and seeds planted in ash in small enclosures. Gruta das Torres: lava tube caves. One of the largest in the world and kept in as natural a state as possible with minimal lighting and no concreate flooring. Lava benches, pahoehoe and aa lavas (locally called biscuit lava) and rare lichen and bacteria.

3. Faial island: Botanical garden. Part of a BASEMAC project for protecting native and endemic species through seed bank preservation and propagation. Only 7% of all vegetation in the Azores are actually endemic. Many artificially introduced for hedging such as laurel, bamboo, cedar in the 18-1900s and then grew wild. Only 300 natural species of plants on the islands – but 700 introduced by humans. Isolation (Azores is 1000miles from mainland) leads to the question of where pioneer seeds would come from in the first place, and how they would get there. During the last ice age the Azorean islands were taller and sea levels were lower so this would have exposed the islands to wind, wave and bird dispersal more. Lots of carefully maintained mini ecosystems here, some showing how the landscape would look without human influence. Great for succession and ecosystem studies. Capelinhos: volcanic peninsular formed in 1957 eruption. Excellent visitor centre that has again won European sustainable tourist centre awards and great displays on all sorts of global volcanism. Interestingly, the area should have taken credit for the first ‘Surtseyan’ eruption because their eruption was prior to the Icelandic version but the government did not make it public or patent it – and Capelinhosian would have been too hard to say ;-) The centre is within the semi-buried lighthouse and the peninsular is slowly eroding into the sea so that only half the new land created still remains. There is a theory that the area acts as a ‘we t spot’ rather than a hotspot, and that this leads to different volcanic behaviour. Suggestion is that the influence of the ocean acts to lower the melting point of submarine rocks so that the volcanic eruptions are more dramatic. In this case they have discovered something new – lava balloons. Patented this time as Serratan behaviour that is similar to lava bombs but are submarine. When the lava balloons reach the surface they explode outwards like a balloon and the shrapnel then drops back to the sea floor. The area is still active and will likely be the next island to be created.

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