Fernando de Noronha is an archipelago of 21 islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, around 354 km offshore from the Northeastern Brazilian coast. The main island has an area of 18.4 km² and had a population of 3,012 in the year 2008. The climate is tropical, with two well-defined seasons. The rainy season lasts from March to September, the rest of the year sees little rain.
The life above and below sea is the main attraction of the island. Sea tortoises, dolphins, albatrosses and many other species are frequently observed.
Many controversies mark the discovery of the archipelago by Europeans. From its original name, Ilha da Quaresma, it was sighted by expeditions in the years 1501, 1502 and 1503. The first to actually describe the island was Amerigo Vespucci in the year 1503.
In 1832, the island was visited by an expedition which included Charles Darwin. His experiences on Fernando de Noronha were recorded in his journal, later published as The Voyage of the Beagle.
In the late 18th century , the first prisoners were sent to Fernando de Noronha. A prison was built. In 1897 the government of the state of Pernambuco took possession of the prison. Between 1938 and 1945, Fernando de Noronha was a political prison.
In 1942, during World War II, the archipelago was made a Federal Territory, and political and ordinary prisoners were sent to the local prison. An airport was constructed in September 1942 by the United States Army Air Force Air Transport Command Natal-Dakar air route, which provided a transoceanic link between Brazil and French West Africa for cargo, transiting aircraft and personnel.
In 1988, approximately 70% of the archipelago was declared a maritime national park, with the goal of preserving the land and sea environment. Nowadays, Fernando de Noronha’s economy depends on tourism, restricted by the limitations of its delicate ecosystem. In addition to the historical interest noted above, the archipelago has been the subject of the attention of various scientists dedicated to the study of its flora, fauna, geology, etc. In 2001, UNESCO declared Fernando de Noronha, with Rocas Atoll, a World Heritage Site.