Ria Formosa

The Ria Formosa, in the Algarve, Portugal, runs through the districts of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira, and Vila Real de Santo António, and covers an area of around 18,400 hectares. Starting from the River Ancão, it runs for 60kms to the beach of Manta Rota. This area is considered one of the most beautiful nature reserves of the Algarve; it also plays a very important role in conservation.

Initially, in 1978, the Ria Formosa was classified as a Nature Reserve, then in 1987 it became recognized as a Natural Park. The south side is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a chain of dunes running almost parallel to the seafront. These dunes are formed by 2 peninsulas (the peninsula of Ancão, comprising Ancão and Faro beaches, and the peninsula of Cacela, comprising Cacela Velha and Fábrica beaches) and five barrier islands (Barreta, Culatra, Armona, Tavira, and Cabanas) that serve to protect the vast area of channels and islets.

To the north, the end of the lagoon is dissected by salt pans, small beaches, agricultural land, and fresh water contributories that drain into it, namely the streams and rivers of São Lourenço, Seco, Marim, Mosqueiros, Gilão, Almargem, and Cacela.

The widest part of the Ria Formosa is in front of the city of Faro where it measures some 6kms. The narrowest parts measure only a few hundreds of metres wide. This lagoon system is triangular in shape and, in spite of being known as a river, in fact isn’t. The lagoon is not a fluvial valley but instead was formed by barrier islands. Its depth is constituted essentially by: lagoon sediments (organic materials and salt), continental sediments (with their origins in the flowing of the rivers and rain waters), and sandy sediments (with their origins in the tidal currents, land bars, and winds) that have all consolidated, with the help of the Morraça – a type of vegetation predominant in the area.

The physiognomy here is diverse due to the channels formed under the influence of tidal currents, thus forming a dense hydrographic network. It is a humid zone of international importance as a habitat for aquatic birds. For this reason, as scribed in the Convention of Ramsar, the Portuguese government accepted the commitment of maintaining the ecological characteristics of the zone and promoting sensible use of the area. This protected area is also classified as a zone of special protection in the 79/409/UE Directive.

The Natural Park is twinned with Domaine des Certes – Le Teich, France, under protection of the Programme of Germination of Protected Coastal Areas of Europe. The Ria Formosa is also of economic importance due to the variety of fish and shellfish found within it, especially for Olhão, the city known locally as the Capital of the Ria Formosa. Clams are cultivated here, forming 80% of the total exportation of the entire country. The sea bass, sea bream, and the prawn are also abundant in the Ria. Another activity of economic importance is the extraction of salt in the salt pans (that also form zones of refuge for some wildlife species). Some of these salt pans have transformed themselves into authentic high end industries such as aquaculture and have attracted foreign interest and investment, in collaboration with studies carried out by the University of the Algarve.

Copyright 2017 Cap John Boat Tours Olhao. All Rights Reserved