University of Malta academics Adriana Vella and Joseph Vella recently presented research on acoustic monitoring of underwater noise and the presence of cetaceans such as dolphins and whales in the Mediterranean at the World Marine Mammal Conference (WMMC) in Barcelona, Spain. The research, conducted together with other scientists, was part of the outcomes of the QuietMed and QuietMed 2 projects, which will continue until 2021.

The conference this year attracted over 2,700 participants from around the world who shared their research and concerns over loss of cetacean species and populations worldwide. Two international scientific marine mammals societies came together to stress the need to urgently take measures to protect marine life, including the increasingly vulnerable dolphins and whales everywhere in the world.

Dolphin and whales are suffering from the impacts of various activities caused by man, including climate change, overfishing, pollution by chemicals, plastic and noise, spreading diseases, and increasing disturbance caused by dolphin- and whale-watching activities.  During the conference many scientists presented scientific results of the impacts of these activities, portraying a very alarming scenario for these indicator and charismatic species of the sea.

Over 2,700 participants from around the world shared their research and concerns over loss of cetacean species and populations worldwide

Too often, countries may lack marine protected areas or design them without sufficiently knowing the needs of these species and their different seasonal distributions and requirements of their life stages. To make matters worse, long-term research and monitoring and funding to aid local experienced scientists is not found everywhere.

At the end of the conference hundreds of scientists at the WMMC signed the Barcelona Declaration: Together for Marine Mammal Science and Conservation of Marine Mammals to push this urgent need to the fore.

During the QuietMed project, Prof. Vella and Dr Vella undertook the first noise monitoring exercises in Maltese waters following the Marine Strategy Framework Directive’s specifications for marine noise monitoring using state-of-the-art instrumentation.

Increased knowledge and new technologies to obtain scientific data with minimal impact have been developed, and the QuietMed fieldwork demonstrated how to monitor for noise pollution and the presence of marine species with zero disturbance. Additionally, the work may help local environmental and transport authorities to gauge, understand and improve management and mitigate activities that impact the environment.

The state-of-the-art instrumentation is being used to continue with marine research efforts linked to monitoring cetacean presence during various seasons and at different sites. This will complement the year-round scientific field work undertaken by Prof. Vella since 1997 in a study area of around 100,000 square kilometres around the Maltese islands.

As Malta’s national contact person for the European Cetacean Society (ECS), Prof. Vella has helped place Malta on the map for cetacean scientific research, working with the Biological Conservation Research Foundation (Bicref), environmental NGO volunteers and international expert cetacean scientists.

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