Portugal acquired and designated the Selvagen Islands and surrounding maritime zone as a reserve in 1971. The islands harbor one of the last intact marine ecosystems in the North Atlantic, including diverse habitats such as mudflats, coves and shallow bays.The Selvagens Islands are influenced by the general circulation of superficial currents of the North Atlantic. As a result, the archipelago plays a fundamental role in the larval dispersal of species from many geographical origins and may aid the colonization of new areas.
The Selvagens protected area is important for numerous IUCN red listed species, including white-faced storm petrels, fin whales, loggerhead sea turtles, and sperm whales. It also supports three commercially important fish species: dusky grouper, island grouper and barred hogfish. In an archipelago comparison study between Madeira and the Selvagens, the reserve demonstrated more robust and diverse benthic algal communities and higher fish biomass. It also supports 216 confirmed species of mollusks, with at least 6 species being endemic to the area.
Managers of the Selvagens Islands have six strategic objectives aimed at achieving protection and conservation for the area: preserve, improve, and protect all ecosystems; promote, coordinate and support research aimed at improving the knowledge of species and habitats; improve support and knowledge of the general public regarding the conservation site and maintain international appreciation of the conservation value of the site; manage tourism to add value without diminishing its conservation value; improve the legal conditions for a more efficient site management; and manage the site effectively under the guidelines.