, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 155–171 | Cite as

The Palaeontological Heritage of Santa Maria Island (Azores: NE Atlantic): a Re-evaluation of Geosites in GeoPark Azores and Their Use in Geotourism

  • S. P. Ávila
  • M. Cachão
  • R. S. Ramalho
  • A. Z. Botelho
  • P. Madeira
  • A. C. Rebelo
  • R. Cordeiro
  • C. Melo
  • A. Hipólito
  • M. A. Ventura
  • J. H. Lipps
Original Article


The application of geoconservation concepts and methodologies to the Azores archipelago led to the implementation of the Geopark Azores, recognized as such by the European and Global Geoparks Network. The current work re-evaluates and stresses the scientific and touristic value of the palaeontological sites of Santa Maria Island. Two new geosites (the Ponta do Castelo tempestite deposit and the Pedra-que-pica coquina) are proposed for classification as ‘Regional Natural Monuments’ by the Regional Government of the Azores, due to their international relevance. The tempestite deposit of Ponta do Castelo was overlain by a contemporary coastal lava delta, which enables the inference of the precise water depth of the geosite at the time of deposition, a very rare condition worldwide; and Pedra-que-pica is the most extensive multispecific fossiliferous coquina ever reported in the literature from the shelf of any of the ∼20,000 known volcanic oceanic islands in the world. Relevant geosites reported for this island are increased from 15 to 26. Additional palaeontological heritage contributions to the sustainable tourism of Santa Maria are suggested, with a focus on two recent projects: the ‘Fossil Trail’ and the future ‘PalaeoPark Santa Maria’.


Geoconservation Geosites Palaeontological heritage Tourism PalaeoPark Santa Maria Azores 



We thank the Direcção Regional da Ciência, Tecnologia e Comunicações (Regional Government of the Azores), and FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia) of the Portuguese government for financial support; the Clube Naval de Santa Maria and Câmara Municipal de Vila do Porto for field assistance. We are grateful to the organizers and participants of several editions of the International Workshop ‘Palaeontology in Atlantic Islands’a Cristina Rebelo, Patrícia Madeira, Ricardo Cordeiro and Ana Hipólito benefited, respectively, from PhD grants SFRH/BD/77310/2011, SFRH/BD/61146/2009, SFRH/BD/60366/2009 and SFRH/BD/73664/2010 by FCT, Portugal. Sérgio Ávila acknowledges his Ciência 2008 research contract funded by FCT and a SYNTHESYS grant (DE-TAF-1071) to study the Mollusca palaeontological collections of the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. Sérgio Ávila and Jere Lipps thank the International Palaeontological Association (IPA) for its support of the PalaeoParks Initiative including support for ‘PalaeoPark Santa Maria’.


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Copyright information

© The European Association for Conservation of the Geological Heritage 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. P. Ávila
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • M. Cachão
    • 5
  • R. S. Ramalho
    • 6
  • A. Z. Botelho
    • 1
    • 3
  • P. Madeira
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • A. C. Rebelo
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • R. Cordeiro
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • C. Melo
    • 4
    • 7
  • A. Hipólito
    • 8
  • M. A. Ventura
    • 1
    • 3
  • J. H. Lipps
    • 9
    • 10
  1. 1.CIBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, InBIO Laboratório Associado, Pólo dos AçoresAçoresPortugal
  2. 2.Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do PortoPortoPortugal
  3. 3.Departamento de BiologiaUniversidade dos AçoresPonta DelgadaPortugal
  4. 4.MPB-Marine PalaeoBiogeography Working Group of the University of the AzoresPonta DelgadaPortugal
  5. 5.Instituto D. Luiz and Departamento de Geologia, Faculty of SciencesUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal
  6. 6.School of Earth SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  7. 7.Departamento de GeociênciasUniversidade dos AçoresPonta DelgadaPortugal
  8. 8.Centro de Vulcanologia e Avaliação de Riscos GeológicosUniversidade dos AçoresPonta DelgadaPortugal
  9. 9.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  10. 10.Museum of PaleontologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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