Turtles, seabirds and dolphins who make Maltese territorial waters their home are to be further protected thanks to the creation of eight new marine protected areas.

The eight areas cover 3,450 square kilometres and will join Malta’s five existing Natura 2000 protected marine sites. They were selected on the basis of two EU projects which mapped out the areas most critical to the conservation of loggerhead turtles, bottlenose dolphins, Yelkouan and Scopoli’s shearwaters and European storm-petrels.

Natura 2000 sites are an ecological network of protected areas designed to protect the ecologically important habitats and species across Europe. Malta’s previous five such sites were based primarily on the presence of Posidonia seagrass meadows.

The EU Life + Migrate project, which began in October 2012 and is ending in April 2016, focused on the loggerhead turtle il-fekruna tal-ba─žar il-komuni and of the bottlenose dolphin id-denfil ta’ geddumu qasir in Maltese waters. It was led by the Environment and Resources Authority, Environment Ministry and a Spanish firm specialising in marine resource conservation. Bank of Valletta co-financed the project.

Migrate manager Carmen Mifsud said that the surveys and scientific work carried out by her team had been useful in gathering information about these species as well as in identifying suitable Natura 2000 sites.

The Malta Seabird Project, which also formed part of EU Life+, was led by BirdLife Malta in collaboration with the Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves. It is the largest seabird conservation project in Malta.

Designating a marine area as protected does not mean closing it off to public access, or even prohibiting fishing there. It does however require the government to monitor and manage the site sustainably, ensuring that protected populations in these areas are safeguarded for future generations.

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