Azores Scientific Expeditions

Working together to leave a permanent mark on the conservation of these unique and fragile ecosystems.

In partnership with the Waitt Foundation and Institute, and National Geographic Pristine Seas, the Oceano Azul Foundation participated in two scientific expeditions to the Azores. The first took place in September of 2016 and evaluated the state of the marine ecosystems in the eastern group of islands. The second, the Oceano Azul Expedition, took place in June 2018 and provided an overview of coastal, open ocean and deep-sea ecosystems in the central and western areas of ​​the archipelago. In addition to other ongoing scientific studies, the scientific reports on the health status of these marine ecosystems from these two expeditions will provide an important scientific basis to support their conservation and sustainable use.

Initiative status
Stage 4 : Finished
Initiative keywords
  • Azores
  • Blue Economy
  • Conservation
  • Ocean sustainability
  • Portugal
  • Scientific Research
  • Sustainability
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Oceano Azul Expedition to the Azores | 2018

“For Portugal, the sea is our history. And it has to be our future.”

In June 2018, we headed back to the Azores for an ambitious second expedition, the Oceano Azul Expedition. This expedition was organised by the Oceano Azul Foundation in partnership with the Waitt Foundation and National Geographic Pristine Seas, and in collaboration with the Portuguese Navy through the Hydrographic Institute, the Regional Government of the Azores and the Portuguese Task Force for the Extension of the Continental Shelf (EMEPC) with the participation of the “Luso” deepwater ROV. The expedition concentrated on the western islands of Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Flores and Corvo, and was primarily conducted from the Santa Maria Manuela, a 1937, 220-foot, steel 4 masted sailing ship originally home to a fleet of cod fishing dories. The ship NRP Almirante Gago Coutinho also worked in conjunction with the expedition, operating their ROV LUSO, which would go on to discover the shallowest hydrothermal vent field known to date about halfway through the project.


For 25 days the Santa Maria Manuela hosted teams of scientific divers, media photographers, and Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) technicians among other crew members, traveling from Horta on Faial, across the islands to Corvo, with several side trips to nearby seamounts.


The Oceano Azul Expedition met its scientific goals of assessing the biological communities in the lesser-known areas of the sea of the Azores, including coastal, open-sea and deep-sea ecosystems. It also had some truly incredible findings, like the discovery of a new hydrothermal field, new coral gardens and deep-sea sponges, new records of coastal species for the Azores, as well as unique and isolated marine species found around Flores and Corvo Islands.


The expedition also better understood the impacts of human activities on these fragile environments, leading to united action to enact effective measures to protect, promote, and value these unique marine environments.

Oceano Azul Expedition 2018 | Discovery of new hydrothermal field

“This is an extraordinary discovery since this hydrothermal field is shallower than all others known in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and at only 60 miles from Faial island, which represents a unique opportunity for the scientific community to study a more accessible site and understand how these poorly studied ecosystems function. This discovery reinforces the unique role of the Azores as a natural laboratory for the study of the ocean.”

– Emanuel Gonçalves expedition co-leader and chief scientist at the Oceano Azul Foundation.

Azores Expedition 2016 | Eastern group of islands

“This expedition gathered a huge amount of information so that we know what the opportunities are for conservation, which areas are best preserved, and which areas need more attention… The end goal of this expedition is to help leave a permanent mark on the conservation of this ecosystem.”

– Emanuel Golçalves, chief scientists at Oceano Azul Foundation

Our September 2016 expedition to the eastern group of the Azores with the Waitt Foundation had some incredible highlights. A peak moment from the 2016 expedition included a non-invasive tagging method developed by expedition member and free diver, Jorge Fontes, who truly thought outside the box to create a technique to tag Mobula rays with ‘necklaces’ that charted their progress through the water column. These ‘necklace’ sensors have fusible links that over time, dissolve and release to the surface, where our teams tracked them down using rf directional finders. This expedition also had an incredible encounter with Sperm whales, and provided an invaluable foundation of data to be used for the conservation of these unique ecosystems.

Azores Expedition 2016 | Manta Ray Tagging

“Obviously like any new method, there’s a learning curve. We have to try, we fail, we rethink, we do it differently until we nail it.”

– Jorge Fontes, expedition member and free diver, on his new method of tagging Mobulas

Azores Expedition 2016 | Pelagic Baited Remote Underwater Video

Highlights from the Pelagic Baited Remote Underwater Video unit deployed during the 2016 expedition.

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