The sands of the Ria Formosa are forever changing

The other week we decided to explore Faro beach, and as it was a birding expedition we took the advice of the Algarve birdwatching guide and headed east on arrival. Our plan was to stroll to the channel separating Praia de Faro from Ilha da Barretta, also known as Ilha Deserta the southernmost point of mainland Portugal. However I couldn’t resist the sound of the breakers, and so we began on the Atlantic side. Not many birds this side but it was too glorious to miss.

After a while we headed north towards the settlements and hopefully, we thought, birds in the Ria Formosa. It wasn’t long though before we had reach the end of the settlements and to our surprise also found ourselves at the end of the beach. Not at all what we had expected from the guide, from the maps or descriptions of the beach. There were also not many birds as this section of the beach is quite far from Faro’s saltpans and mudflats.We were not expecting this

We didn’t think any more about it at the time as we had enjoyed our stroll and were planning anyway to also visit one of our favourite birding haunts. However this week MrB was exploring Google Earth, and realised that the channel we had come across is new. The guide and maps were already out of date. It is easy to think when looking at the islands or catching a ferry out to the beach that these sands are as fixed as the land. However the daily tides, strong currents and Atlantic storms ensure they are constantly moving. As the satellite picture highlights it doesn’t always take decades for the landscape to dramatically change. Sometimes it can happen in days or months. The sand you can just see in my picture above is Praia da Barrinha, now out of reach if you are on foot but in Google’s satellite picture was connected. The new channel would appear to follow the line of the river you can see in the satellite picture, just at the end of the grassy area. The change is recent, but I am unsure how recent. Do you know?screenshot-2017-02-22-12-51-57

Not sure I’d be very comfortable if my home was one of the most easterly properties as whilst the immediate water around them looks gentle, the new channel was flowing fast and furious even at a low tide. However I guess it does mean that there are more isolated sandbars for birds following the creation of the ‘new island’ between Praia de Faro and Ilha da Barretta. I wonder if it has a new name yet? And more importantly I wonder if and how this new fast flowing channel will affect the rest of the Ria Formosa?

If you have not yet explored Praia de Faro then it is easy to find. Simply turn right at the airport roundabout instead of going straight ahead into the airport. Then follow the road round and you’ll end up on the beach. Out of season you can easily drive across the narrow bridge onto the peninsular, but at weekends and in the summer months probably advisable to park in the new car park and then stroll over. In fact you may find you have no choice but to do this as Praia de Faro gets very crowded. Here’s another satellite picture to help you get your bearings.Getting your bearings

On the day we went they were no crowds. It was instead incredibly quiet and beautiful with just a few surfers and fisherman on the Atlantic side, and locals and a group of walkers on the northern side. The only thing we saw lots of were Portuguese felines enjoying the winter sun. Happy Monday Walking!

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

20 thoughts

  1. Thanks for this Becky, we’ll make sure to visit Ria Formosa the next time we head south towards Algarve! I remember reading a few things on sandbanks when we wrote about Aveiro: human intervention can often slow down the changes but very rarely stop them completely. -Verne

    1. Hi Verne…..oh do visit the islands of the Ria Formosa if you can. Tbey are stunning.

      So true what you say and Aveiro certainly learnt that the hard way all those years ago.

  2. They are very vulnerable out there on the islands, I think, Becky. Even on our ilha the dredgers are regularly out there trying to stay in control of the sands. Just got back this evening so I’m a bit late getting here. Thanks for the link 🙂 🙂

    1. You are so right. I certainly wouldn’t want to live on the sands……not just because they move but more because the risk of tsunami!

    1. Only if birding or finishing…..access to the beaches is fortunately fine at all tides.

      We were out at low tide so couldn’t have walked around the houses at high but you could still get to the point via the Atlantic side.

  3. Did you see any flamingos? I love that whole area, although this is the time to explore it as it can be so hot in the Summer. We took a ferry out from Faro once, which was a delightful trip. Interesting how the landscape can change, sometimes just with a storm,

    1. Yes – opposite at São Lourenço – the only place they seem to be content at this year.
      And agree about temperature. Not sure I could cope in the summer months here

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