Malta to have 35% of its waters protected through 8 additional MPAs
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The Government has announced that Malta is to have 35% of its waters protected following the LIFE BaHAR Project.
This ensures that dozens of newly found marine caves and reefs will be preserved through eight marine protected areas
Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change José Herrera, during the closure event of the LIFE BaHAR for Natura 2000 project, announced that Malta has increasing the protected marine areas from 3,487 km2 to 4,138 km2, reaching over 35% of the Maltese waters through the designation of an additional eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for Malta.
He said that these areas are being afforded protection owing to the presence of important seabed habitats, specifically reefs and caves, in both coastal and deep waters.
He stated that “this is a significant milestone in marine conservation with which Malta is marking World Environment Day.”
The Minister also confirmed that Malta has surpassed the Aichi target for 2020, with now 35% of our territorial waters declared Natura 2000 sites.
Three new inshore sites are an extension to the area covered by existing coastal MPAs, and these these include a variety of coastal cave and reef habitats.A number of species of conservation interest inhabit these areas, including the star coral, Astroides calycularis, the long-spined sea urchin, Centrostephanus longispinus, and the Mediterranean slipper lobster, Scyllarides latus.
The Minister explained that the project also led to the designation of two completely new areas. These include offshore reefs hosting extensive and diverse communities of cold-water corals and of gorgonians, including many species of conservation interest.
Three offshore sites which had been previously designated as MPAs and which are important for the loggerhead turtle and the bottlenose dolphin, have also been extended by the LIFE BaHAR for N2K project.
The Minister went on to say that the data collected in the process will enhance our marine knowledge. “In this case, precious info in relation to threats and weaknesses of our seas were sought.”
“Now more than ever we are recognising the need to preserve our seas which is our asset to be passed on to our future generations,” stated Minister Herrera..
He highlighted that 80% of marine litter is land-based and generated either by accident due to weather or on purpose by illegal littering.
During the project surveys, hundreds of marine species were observed, including some 75 different species of fish, 55 cnidarians (e.g. corals, sea pens, anemones), 35 crustaceans, 32 molluscs, 21 echinoderms (starfish, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, sea-lilies) and 15 sponges, as well as various tunicates, bryozoans, brachiopods and annelids.
The LIFE BaHAR for Natura 2000 project will pave the way for better management of these important areas, said the Minister.
The information collected, including on the pressures observed, will over the next few years be used to develop and implement management measures to conserve this rich biodiversity, concluded Minister Herrera
This project’s aim was to to extend existing marine Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and identify new SCIs for inclusion within the Natura 2000 network, a network of protected areas throughout the EU.
LIFE BaHAR for N2K commenced in October 2013 and is ending in June 2018; it had a budget of €2.6 million, 50% of which was co-financed by the EU LIFE funding programme.
Because of protecting new sites and extending those already protected, based on the results of this project, an additional area of about 700 km2 is now being protected to conserve seabed habitats and the species that live on them.
Malta is now protecting over 4100 km2 of its waters with these new sites. The Ministry said that this area is equivalent to more than 35% of Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone.