Malta has ranked highest in the world for the fragility of its biodiversity and ecosystems.

The Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES) index, formulated by the Swiss Re Institute, marked 100 per cent of Malta’s ecosystems as fragile.

The island was well above the next-rated countries: Israel, Bahrain and Cyprus were marked at only 53, 50 and 47 per cent respectively.

Swiss Re Institute produces studies based on risk research.

Biodiversity is generally understood to mean the variation of living creatures and ecosystems, including differences between species, within species and between ecosystems.

It is considered to be important for the function of ecosystems that provide support – services – vital to life on earth, such as oxygen supply, clean air and water, and pollination.

The study found that a fifth of countries worldwide were at risk from ecosystem collapse, while 39 countries had fragile ecosystems on more than a third of their land.

The study looked at 10 elements – habitat intactness, pollination, air quality and local climate, water security, water quality, soil fertility, erosion control, coastal protection, food provision and timber provision – as the most relevant areas for risk assessment.

Their health status was measured according to their relevance to the location.

Malta scored an overall “very low” on the BES index, meaning many of its ecosystems were judged as comparatively fragile, with further use potentially accelerating a decline.

The institute said global efforts to improve had fallen well below UN targets to halt biodiversity loss.

The BES Index had been developed to “enable governments and business leaders worldwide to cross-compare and benchmark the state of local ecosystems that underpin economies”.

'Malta a textbook case of high risk for biodiversity loss'

Marine biologist Alan Deidun told Times of Malta the result was not surprising.

Malta, he said, was a “textbook case” of being at very high risk for biodiversity loss.

“Looking at the prospects for existing biodiversity, this isn’t surprising because Malta has a lot of habitat that is worth conserving but is always on the decline due to development and encroaching urbanisation,” Deidun said.

“We have an extremely high population density with a road network that is continuing to expand into protected areas. So while we do have Natura 2000 sites which are protected, this is only about 13 per cent of the terrestrial land available.”

Deidun noted that due to the diminutive size of the island, the loss of even a small portion of a nature reserve would represent the loss of a high portion of biodiversity.

“We could increase protected areas but human pressures are what they are and so is the size of the island.” In general, islands are more susceptible to biodiversity loss because they are rich in unique biodiversity but are popular with humans, he said.

“There are inherent challenges to this, not only because of human pressure on ecosystems that need to be protected but in context you can only protect so much due to the limited terrestrial space.”

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