Major progress in SPANs project to protect Azorean waves

Awareness efforts make significant impact for preservation of surf ecosystems in this unique archipelago

By Mara Arroyo
Surf Protected Area Networks Manager

Save The Waves Coalition (STW) has launched the second phase of its work in the Autonomous Region of the Azores to protect surfing locations. As an island chain with incredible biodiversity and surf, we are working with local communities to protect critically important surf ecosystems.

Our work last year focused on preliminary outreach with communities on five islands of the Azores archipelago: São Miguel, Pico, Faial, Terceira, and São Jorge, establishing relationships with key governmental partners and creating critical tools such as our Surf Conservation Index to prioritize surf ecosystems for conservation projects. STW has also identified significant potential for sustainable surf tourism as a development strategy in the Azores and demand on the part of the local surfing communities in the archipelago to protect surf spots.


This year, we continued our work to protect surf ecosystems in the Azores through our Surf Protected Area Networks (SPANs) program. The goal is to harness the power of the surfing community and the economic benefits from surf ecosystems to improve the management of new and existing marine protected areas in the Azores by working directly with the surfing communities in São Miguel, Terceira, Graciosa, Pico, São Jorge, and Faial. 

Blue Azores, a partnership between the Waitt Institute, Oceano Azul Foundation, and the Regional Government of the Azores is currently in the process of designing and implementing a marine spatial planning process that will identify new areas of offshore and coastal protected areas and address current management challenges. 

Save The Waves’ work in the Azores will bring the surf community into this process and ensure that important surf spots are protected.


As part of our outreach activities with surf communities in the different islands, Save The Waves and our local partners completed seven workshops and held several stakeholder meetings to discuss strategies for the protection of surf ecosystems and identify priority areas for surf conservation. 

Some of the participants include The Associação Açores de Surf and Bodyboard, Associação Nadadores Salvadores Costa Norte, members of the fishing community, surfing community (athletes, coaches, free-surfers, environmentalists), as well as high school and university students.

Our local team, led by Andre Avelar from the Terceira Surfing Association, also helped facilitate the Blue Azores’ Ocean Use Survey with members of the surfing community.

Our Save The Waves conservation team also had a recent opportunity to visit and meet with representatives of the Blue Azores program, the Secretary of Tourism, The Regional Secretary for the Environment and Climate Change, and local government authorities. 

We were also accompanied by Dr. Jess Ponting from the Center for Surf Research at UCSD, who will develop a study to help estimate the economy of surfing in the Azores, the capacity for sustainable growth of the surf tourism sector, and the potential mechanisms for surf tourism to financially support Surf Protected Areas.

For the project’s next phase, our partners on the ground will lead community efforts and participation in the marine protected area planning process.

The Ocean Use Survey carried out by the Blue Azores program will help to better understand the ways in which Azoreans use and value the coast, and record their perspectives on appropriate conservation measures. ​The outcomes of the survey and existing scientific data will be used to define the new Protected Areas of the Azores.

Save The Waves will continue to advance our work, ensuring that the surf community and critically important surf ecosystems are protected in this incredibly biodiverse area on the planet.

Learn more about this project at savethewaves.org/azores

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