Selvagens Islands, is a small uninhabitable archipelago in the North Atlantic, roughly midway between Madeira and the Canary Islands. The archipelago comprises two major islands and several islets of varying sizes, that represent the southernmost region of Portugal. The archipelago lies about 230 km (143 mi) from Madeira, is administered by the Portuguese municipality of Funchal.
They are designated a Nature Reserve, comprised of two areas: Selvagem Grande Island and Selvagem Pequena Island. The total land area of the Savage Islands is 2.73 km2 (1.05 sq mi), with little fresh water and surrounded by dangerous reefs (which makes limited access difficult).
The northeast Group - includes the main island of Selvagem Grande and three small islets: Sinho Islet (Portuguese: Ilhéu Sinho), Palheiro do Mar, and Palheiro da Terra.
The southwest Group - including the main island of Selvagem Pequena and Fora Islet (Portuguese: Ilhéu de Fora), it is surrounded by a group of very small islets and a group collectively known as the Northern Islets (Portuguese: Ilhéus do Norte): Alto, Comprido and Redondo.
The islands physical characteristics are consequence of mountain-forming and volcanic forces that occurred between 60 and 70 million years ago. The average annual temperatures range between 17–19 ºC, generally exceeding those in Madeira (defined as a subtropical maritime climate), while sea temperatures remain comfortable all year round.
The scientific and natural interest of this tiny group of islands lies in its marine biodiversity, its unique flora and many avian species that breed annually on its rock cliffs or use them on their stopover on normal migratory patterns. Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said what he believed that around this minor archipelago were "the cleanest waters in the world".
Although there are commercial tours of the islands and their biomes are available, all visitors require special authorization from the Madeira Natural Park, the regional environmental authority.
The Natural Reserve of Selvagens Islands was created as part of the Madeira Natural Park; it is one of the oldest nature reserves of Portugal and it also includes the surrounding shelf to a depth of 200 m. In 1976, permanent surveillance began, and in 1978 the reserve was elevated to the status of Nature Reserve.
Today the Selvagens Islands have a permanent team of wardens from Madeira Natural Park.
There is evidence suggesting that the existence of these islands was known from early times. They were first indicated on a Venetian chart attributed to the Pizzigani brothers dated from 1367.
The islands were colonized by Portugal and baptized Selvagens in 1438 by the Portuguese mariner Diogo Gomes de Sintra.
In those days, the Selvagens Islands, along with the Madeira archipelago, belonged to Henry the Navigator, the Grandmaster of the Order of Christ, the Portuguese successor of the Knights Templar.
During the 16th century the Selvagens Islands belonged to a family from Madeira known as Caiados. In 1560 they were inheritated by João Cabral de Noronha.
In 1904 the islands were sold to Luís Rocha Machado.In 1971 the Portuguese government intervened and acquired the islands, converting them into a Nature Reserve.