Places to visit in the Algarve, Portugal
Ria Formosa Natural Park - Olhao
The Ria Formosa Natural Park was established in 1987 and encompasses 60 km of coast between Ancao and Manta Rota in the Eastern Algarve. The surface area of the park is around 18 hectares through the districts of Loule, Faro, Olhao, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo Antonio. A major part of this area is associated with the barrier island system consisting of a coastal dune barrier, running parallel with the coast and defending a shallow, warm water lagoon with salt marshes, channels, tidal flats and islets. The Environmental Education Centre of Marim (EECM) is a 60 hectare area of the park situated at Quinta da Marim - Olhao, between Olhao and Tavira on the EN125 . From Olhao take a right turn, sign posted "Ria Formosa", in front of a petrol station. Follow the road round and enter the Centre via large poorly marked gates on the left hand side. Entry costs very little (€1.5/adult in 2005) and you will be given a map and some basic information and directed to the car parking area.
Within the Centre there is a nature trail, about 3 km long, taking 2 to 3 hours to walk round. It is marked with red striped wooden poles and includes stopping points equipped with information panels. The trail features representative aspects of the ecosystems of Ria Formosa: salt marshes, Salinas, dunes, pine woodlands and traditional agriculture. Among the buildings that have been restored there is a tidal mill, a traditional farmhouse, a villa built by locally renowned poet Joao Lucio at the beginning of the century and Roman ruins. There is also a kennel specialising in the famous aquatic Portuguese Water Dog, a working dog used extensively in the fishing industry in years gone by. The visitor centre includes exhibition areas, aquariums, an auditorium, library and several other education facilities. The Centre also has books and leaflets about nature conservation and Ria Formosa. There is also a restored, ancient boat used for the transport of Tuna fish moored at the jetty - trips around the lagoon are available on this boat - ask at the Reception desk. This is an interesting place and is well worth making the effort to drive to it - with the motorway close by, where-ever you are staying will not be very far way.
Ria Formosa is an important area for birds, especially waterfowl and it's significance arises for several reasons:
It is a wintering ground for birds from northern and central Europe, particularly for several duck species such as the Wigeon, the Shoveler, the Teal and the Pochard and waders such as the Dunlin, the bar-tailed Godwit, the Curlew and the Grey Plover.
It is a stop-over point for migrating birds between Europe and Africa.
It provides shelter for species that are rare in Portugal such as the Purple Gallinule which has it's only confirmed breeding ground in Portugal within the Natural Park - it is for this reason that it was chosen as the symbol for the Park.
It provides shelter for many threatened species whose habitats are receding in Europe.
The importance of Ria Formosa is not limited to waterfowl: the dunes and salt marshes exhibit some unique vegetation with plants specially adapted to the harsh environment. The lagoon acts a nursery which several fish species such as the Gilhead, the Common Bass, the White Bream and the Shrimp use for their early developmental stages. Shellfish farming is extensive and provides around 80% of Portuguese Clam exports.
In recognition of the national and international importance of this area, the Portuguese Government has classified this area as a Natural Park and has adopted several aims to help achieve a balance between the need to protect the natural values and the promotion of sustainable social and economic development.
Would you like more suggestions? Take a look at our Things to do in the Algarve and Places to go in the Algarve sections for loads of ideas of what to do and where to go
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