The Monchique Islet (Portuguese: Ilhéu de Monchique) is a small islet, west of the village of Fajã Grande, off the coast of the island of Flores, in the western part of the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. It is the westernmost point of Portugal and if considered part of Europe (although it sits on the North American Plate) is its westernmost point as well.
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Ilhéu de Monchique
The waters around Monchique, showing the vertical prominence of the islet
Location of the island of Flores in the archipelago of the Azores
Approachable only by boat, the bay, which has water depth of about 43 metres (141 ft), provides opportunities for scuba diving during the day in the summer. The islet and the waters around it are protected for its rich biodiversity; ninety-six species of flora and fauna have been identified congregating on or in the waters of the islet, including the species of brown algae, limpets, barnacles and Mediterranean rainbow wrasse.
Historically, it functioned as an astronomical (celestial) navigational guide and reference mark for mariners, who calibrated their navigational equipment by referencing the islet on long Atlantic crossings. Its unique geological formation also attracted visitors travelling between Europe and America, intersecting here on their way to the ports of Lajes or Santa Cruz ports of Flores Island. The steep rock slopes of the islet and shoreline served as shelter from strong offshore gales.
The islet is located more than 1 mile (1.6 km) north-northwest of the island of Flores, in a bay between Ponta de Fenais (Point Fanaes or Fanais Port) and Fajã Grande. The islet is actually located on the North American Plate between the two westernmost Azorean islands of Flores and Corvo.
The islet is a solid monolith of black basaltic rock consisting of a vertical wall formation, remnants of a coastal volcanic cone, eroded by ocean forces. It extends steeply to a height of 34 metres (112 ft) above sea level. It was formed from irregular lava flows that produced many submarine cavities along the islet's relief, with sand and boulders accumulated around the shoreline over time. The islet is an elevated area that includes two rock outcroppings above the water's surface.
A deep channel separates the Monchique Islet from the shoreline, with only a rock outcrop called the Baxio Raza separating it from the shore. Since the channel is between 45 metres (148 ft) and 55 metres (180 ft) metres depth, ships were able to anchor in the bay, aiding visitors to the area and providing shelter from storms. The deep channel, through which ships may navigate with care (while still avoiding some surface rocks) is considered safe for navigation. The Baxia Rasa rock formation extends over a length of 0.4 miles (0.64 km), a rough terrain situated to the west of Ponta de Fenais.
The maximum depth of water in the coastal channel is 40 metres (130 ft), with water temperatures varying between 17–23 °C (63–73 °F). The islet is the centre of a region of great biodiversity, with 96 identified species, with a Margalef index of 11.0 biodiversity. The flora along its flanks are dominated byvan iridescent brown algae (Dictyota dichotoma), while numerous fauna species of gastropods rough limpets Patella ulyssiponensis (locally referred to as lapas) and barnacles (Megabalanus tintinnabulum), as well as Mediterranean rainbow wrasse (Coris julis) that are found in the inner straits.
Measures to conserve the islet and its waters, fall under the Plano do Ordenamento da Orla Costeira (POOC) Flores, which identifies the islet as part of an area of conservation and preservation both for ecological and tourist requirements. The islet itself is identified as "vulnerable" and designated areas have been marked for terrestrial and marine species protection, limiting the use and access to the islet and surrounding waters.
Visits to Flores are considered ideal in spring (around June) or early summer (around July) when the weather is good and vegetation is green and flowers bloom. The nearest airport to the islet is Flores Airport in Santa Cruz das Flores, located on the other side of the island. Locally, the islet is only accessible by boat.
The water around the coast is suitable for scuba diving as the underwater visibility is good in the warm, clear and clean waters of the ocean. There is an advisory which states diving in these waters should be done only during day time as taking precautionary measure to avoid any surprises from the currents in the sea flows. Kayakers can travel to Monchique Islet from Flores Island.
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