Update 29 July 9.35am - Adds video
Malta has its first eight marine Special Protection Areas (SPAs) within the Natura 2000 network which gives seabirds in Malta full protection on land and at sea.
The announcement was made today during a conference to mark the end of the LIFE+ Malta Seabird project, which was managed by Birdlife Malta.
This will enhance the conservation of all three of Malta's protected and declining seabird species, namely, Yelkouan Shearwaters (Garnija), Scopoli’s Shearwaters (Ċiefa) and European Storm-petrels (Kanġu ta’ Filfla).
The Maltese Islands are home to 10 per cent of the global population of Yelkouan Shearwaters’ (Puffinus yelkouan), three per cent of Scopoli’s Shearwaters’ (Calonectris diomedea diomedea) and 50 per cent of the Mediterranean subspecies of European Storm-petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis).
Cabinet adopted the SPAs proposal in April, resulting in Malta having its first declared marine protected areas specifically for birds. Now that these sites have been designated as such, Malta will also be fulfilling its obligation of implementing the EU Birds Directive.
The areas, which are within a perimeter of about 20 nautical miles around the Maltese Islands are the following: the entire coast surrounding Gozo, il-Baħar tal-Majjistral, il-Baħar tat-Tramuntana, il-Baħar tal-Grigal, il-Baħar tal-Lbiċ, Il-Baħar tal-Lvant, il-Baħar fin-Nofsinhar and Il-Baħar tax-Xlokk.
The areas were identified on the strength the data collected from the five-year lifespan of this EU funded project (September 2011-June 2016). During this period, BirdLife Malta’s researchers identified the most important sites at sea frequented by seabirds known as marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) and proposed to government that they are legally protected and managed as SPAs.
The next step will be the creation and implementation, by the Maltese authorities, of management plans for all the marine protected areas and eventually monitoring them to make sure that seabirds and other marine life are safe and that these areas have Good Environmental Status by 2020 – meaning that they are biodiverse, clean and used sustainably.
The total investment for the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project was €870,000, half of which was co-funded by the LIFE unit of the European Union.
To carry out the project, BirdLife Malta teamed up with three other project partners – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) of the UK, Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves and Malta’s Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change. The latter co-financed the project.