Positive conclusions reported in conservation status of habitats & speciies – MEPA

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Positive conclusions reported in conservation status of habitats & speciies - MEPAThe International Biodiversity Day focuses on ‘Island Biodiversity.’ Positive conclusions have been reported in the conservation status assessment of Malta’s habitats and species of European Community interest, MEPA said today.

The latest assessment which was carried out in 2013 resulted in Malta registering an increase of 37 percentage points for habitats and 20 percentage points for species that have a favourable conservation status, the Authority said.

“This upward shift primarily resulted from the fact that Malta has gained additional knowledge on the habitats and species assessed, including enhanced data interpretation, such that the assessment could be carried out in a more comprehensive manner. A few genuine changes were also noted.”

In line with the requirements of the Habitats Directive, every 6 years, MEPA is required to assess and report on the conservation status of Malta’s habitats and species of Community interest, while also report on what measures have been implemented in support of the Directive. “The ‘favourable conservation status’ constitutes the overall objective to be reached for all such habitat types and species.” This term refers to the situation where a habitat type or species is prospering and with good prospects to do so in the future.

Key findings of the report were highlighted at a press conference which was organised on the eve of the International Day for Biodiversity. The theme chosen on a global level for this year’s Biodiversity Day is ‘Island Biodiversity,’ which is very pertinent to Malta. Islands, such as Malta, and their surrounding near-shore marine areas, constitute unique ecosystems often comprising many plant and animal species that are endemic.

The assessment in the report allows for an identification of areas where attention is to be focused. This is especially the case when considering certain habitats and species which are assessed as ‘unfavourable or unknown,’ with most attention being called for in relation to the marine environment. Action to address these concerns is already being taken through a number of EU-funded projects.

LIFE Bahar, a €2.6 million project which was launched some weeks ago, aims to collate existing and new data on the location, range and conservation status of marine habitats, primarily sandbanks, reefs, and submerged or partially submerged sea caves.

The project allows for the execution of marine-based surveys using a research vessel. The surveys will take place between the Maltese coast and up to the Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) boundary (25 nautical miles from the coast), reaching depths of 1000 metres below sea level.

Following the surveys and interpretation of the data collected, sites that are considered a priority will be proposed for designation as marine sites of Community importance to form part of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Another EU funded project, LIFE Migrate, which is currently on-going and which will run until 2016, aims at evaluating the status of the population of the loggerhead turtle and the bottlenose dolphin in Maltese waters. The project should lead to the identification of important areas, such as potential feeding areas or important migratory routes. If these are found to be present, then the Authority will instigate all the necessary measures to protect such sites.

With the management plans and conservation orders for all terrestrial Natura 2000 sites now in their final stage, in the coming years, the conservation status of Malta’s habitats and species of community interest should continue to maintain and/or improve the ‘favourable status’ they merit, where possible.

The management plans, which account for about 14% of the national territory, define the conservation objectives and identify management measures for each site. These were the result of the EAFRD project on management planning.

Over the past year, MEPA said that “Malta was praised by the European Commission in its commitment on promoting biodiversity. The Flash Eurobarometer survey “Attitudes towards biodiversity” saw Malta register one of the largest increases in awareness of ‘biodiversity’ amongst the European Member States.”

The study concluded that 28% of the Maltese population know the meaning of the term biodiversity – an increase of 10 percentage points from the previous survey in 2010 and almost double the percentage recorded during the 2007 survey.

The European Commission has ranked Malta amongst the top three countries showing the largest improvement in biodiversity awareness amongst the EU Member States, MEPA said.

To continue to raise awareness about protecting and conserving Malta’s biodiversity, MEPA will be organising a series of events, which include a biodiversity tour for TV personalities (Thursday 22nd May), and set up a biodiversity stand, which will include face painting of different species for children, at The Duke Shopping Mall, Victoria, Gozo (Friday 23rd May), The Point Shopping Mall, Tigne (Saturday 24th May) and The Malta National Aquarium, Qawra (Sunday 25th May).

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