The Algarve is situated in the southern part of Portugal. Despite the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, it is situated in an area influenced by a Mediterranean climate. Possessing a vast multiplicity of distinct microclimates and geomorphological areas, the Algarve is the region of the country with one of the highest levels of biodiversity. The region can be divided into three main natural areas: the Litoral, the Barrocal and the Serra.
Litoral - The coastal band of the Algarve, with a maximum altitude of 50 m.; it includes three distinct territories:
The West: with a sub-humid climate, the Planalto Vicentino territory is essentially siliceous, consisting of sands and schist. On the Planalto remarkable fossil dunes fields, rich in endemic flora, can be observed on the escarpments.
The Sagres Península: the Promontório Vicentino territory is dry to semi arid and subject to intense oceanic exposure; it includes the calcareous escarpments of Cabo de São Vicente that possess distinct and unique plant communities, resulting from the irrefutable fact that in this area the cool and humid influence of the Atlantic is interlaced with the dry and hot influence of the Mediterranean.
The South: dry to sub-humid in character, the strip of southern coast, Algárvico territory, comprises principally alluvial soils (material transported from areas of higher altitude) and sandy arenetic lands. Includes the calcareous cliffs of the Barlavento in the west and the sands of the Sotavento on the eastern side.
Barrocal - North of the litoral area in the central region of the Algarve, reaching altitudes of up to 300 m..A dry to sub-humid climate, the calcareous outcrop known as the Barrocal, starts at Cabo de São Vicente extending east to Castro Marim, containing a rich and diverse Mediterranean flora.
Serra - A mountainous highland area situated on the extreme north of the Algarve, that includes the Serra de Monchique (902 m., Foía) and the Serra do Caldeirão (589 m., Pelados). The climate varies between sub-humid/humid in the western highland area and dry/continental in the Guadiana river watershed. The highland area consists mainly of schistose soils, with low organic content and a low level of floristic diversity. Conversely, the Serra de Monchique, with outcrops of nephelinic syenites, the presence of rich soils and ready availability of water distinguish this area, where rare botanical and some endemic species occur.
(Source: Associação Turismo do Algarve)
The Algarve has 14 sites integrated in the Natura 2000 network by the European Habitats and Birds Directives. These sites cover about 40% of Algarve's territory. Sites within the Birds Directive have a protective status (ZPE). Sites within the Habitats Directive aim for conservation (CON). Some sites occur (partially) in both directives. The sites are indicated below together with the names of the Algarvean councils they make a part of:
- Costa Sudoeste, PTZPE0015, PTCON0012 (Aljezur, Vila do Bispo)
- Leixão da Gaivota, PTZPE0016 (Portimão)
- Arade/Odelouca, PTCON0052 (Loulé, Silves, Portimão)
- Ria de Alvor, PTCON0058 (Portimão)
- Ria Formosa - Castro Marim, PTCON0013 (Castro Marim)
- Ribeira de Quarteira, PTCON0038 (Albufeira)
- Ria Formosa, PTZPE0017 (Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira)
- Sapais de Castro Marim, PTZPE0018 (Castro Marim, Vila Real de Santo António)
- Monchique, PTCON0037 (Monchique)
- Cerro da Cabeça, PTCON0050 (Loulé)
- Barrocal, PTCON0049 (Silves, Albufeira, Loulé, São Brás de Alportel)
- Caldeirão, PTCON0057 (Silves, Loulé, São Brás de Alportel, Tavira)
- Guadiana, PTCON0036 (Alcoutim)
- Vale do Guadiana, PTZPE0047 (Castro Marim)
Other than the European Natura 2000 sites the Algarve has several areas already protected under national law:
- Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina (PNSACV). Natural Park which extends from the Junqueira river in the north near Porto Covo, Sines council, Alentejo until Burgau, Vila do Bispo council in Algarve.
- Parque Natural da Ria Formosa (PNRF). Natural Park along 60 km of coastline in between Ancão, Loulé council to Manta Rota, council of Vila Real de Santo António).
- Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António (RNSCMVRSA). Natural Reserve at the mouth of the Guadiana river of 2153 hectares at the councils of Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António.
- Rocha da Pena, Classified Site of 637 hectares near Benafim and Salir in the council of Loulé.
- Fonte Benémola, Classified Site of 392 hectares near Tôr and Querença in the council of Loulé.
(Source: Instuto da Conservação da Natureza e da Biodiversidade)