Seabird scientists represent Malta in Tunisia for conservation conference

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Seabird scientists represent Malta in Tunisia for conservation conferenceLast week, research scientists from Malta travelled to Hammamet, Tunisia, to speak about the importance of Malta’s seabirds at the 2nd Symposium on the Conservation of Marine and Coastal Birds in the Mediterranean.

Representing Malta was Joe Sultana (long-time active member of BirdLife Malta), John Joseph Borg (Senior Curator of the National Museum of Natural History), and Dr. Ben Metzger (Head Researcher on the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project).

They joined representatives from 13 Mediterranean countries to discuss the conservation status of marine and coastal birds. The trio gave an overview of 50 years of seabird research and conservation in the Maltese Islands, highlighting the importance of Maltese seabird colonies, the achievements of research work to date and the prevailing problems these iconic seabirds still face.

The seabirds which breed around Malta are the Scopoli’s Shearwater (Ciefa), Yelkouan Shearwater (Garnija), the European Storm Petrel (Kangu ta’ Filfla) and the Yellow-legged Gull (Gawwija). These birds have fascinating breeding behaviour, being strictly monogamous with couples meeting at the same nest in the cliffs every year to raise just one chick.

Such research work is important to be able to fully understand the biology and ecology of these birds, and to give proper estimates of their breeding population sizes.

Through the symposium, the speakers from Malta demonstrated how seabird censuses present some of the most demanding challenges of bird studies, and using case studies of Malta, Lampedusa and Zembra, they were able to stress the importance of assessing the populations accurately.

The group also spoke about the modern and innovative tracking methods used by the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project to identify areas at sea where the birds for feeding. The aim is then to protect these areas as marine Important Bird Areas, to ensure the seabirds can continue to breed.

The project has utilised traditional methods such as boat-based observations and new technology such as GPS trackers and the fitting of tiny radio tags to Storm Petrels, which have helped to map these Important Bird Areas.

All parties present at the symposium called for greater trans-national efforts amongst governments and conservation organisations, working together to create a network of marine protected areas to ensure the conservation of Mediterranean seabirds.

The symposium, was organised by UNEP’s Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) in association with BirdLife Tunisia, the Conservatoire du Littoral, La Tour du Valat and MEDMARAVIS.

The EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project aims to identify Marine Important Bird Areas for the three species of tubenose seabirds breeding in the Maltese Islands.

The project is 50% funded by the EU’s LIFE unit, and is a partnership between BirdLife Malta, the RSPB (BirdLife UK), SPEA (BirdLife Portugal) and the Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change.

Photograph: Scopoli’s Shearwater in flight. Photo by Ben Metzger

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