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LIFE BaĦAR for N2K Conference on Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean

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The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) hosted a successful 4 day international conference on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Mediterranean as part of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project between the 11th and 14th September. The conference presented the current activities being undertaken in relation to the project and MPAs in Malta, and brought together 95 participants from seven Mediterranean States, including a wide range of local stakeholders from government entities, the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and research institutes, as well as members of the general public.

The results presented are part of the ongoing LIFE BaĦAR project which has the aim of designating new MPAs for reefs and caves and is linked with ERA’s current consultation process on the setting up of management plans for MPAs.

During this conference, the work done and results of the project were presented by members of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project team within the ERA, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Department of Biology of the University of Malta, and Oceana.

Speakers from ERA described the efforts made on the Natura 2000 network in Malta and related challenges and provided an overview of ongoing work to develop management measures for MPAs alongside with the ongoing implementation of the national marine monitoring programme.

Foreign experts shared their experience on a national and regional level on the management of marine protected areas and monitoring methods for reefs, marine caves and seagrass beds. Speakers included representatives from the European Union Commission, the United Nations Regional Activity Centre on Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA) and the Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas Network (MedPAN), as well as leading experts on reefs, marine caves and seagrass beds from various research institutes.

Participants also engaged in discussions on management and monitoring aspects as an opportunity to exchange views, ideas and experiences and discuss how challenges could be addressed, both in plenary Q&A sessions as well as focused breakout sessions.

The conference was fundamental to provide insights on common challenges faced by different Mediterraean countries in relation to effective MPA management, and kick-starting the management planning processes for local MPAs, which requires strong institutional cooperation. Local stakeholders and other conference participants noted that a participatory approach is key to effective protection, with users and stakeholders of the marine environment having a key role to play in the management of protected areas.

Link to ERA press release

 

A great success – the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K conference

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A great success – the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K conference concludes on 14th of September

It has been three intensive days filled with expert knowledge, legal expertise and interactions among all participants of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K conference on Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas in Malta.

The first day focused on Marine Protected Areas in general with an introduction to the Natura 2000 network in Malta, an overview of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, and work done through the project, in particular the project surveys and results. Furthermore, three international experts presented an insight in the designation and management of Natura 2000 sites, related and relevant projects for the Mediterranean region, and the status and need for reference conditions of important habitats.

The second day presented different aspects of management from a local to a regional scale, evaluating management measures, issues within MPAs, as well as synergies between the applicable policies. Case studies on applied management measures in the Northern Mediterranean and from the Southern region were presented and similarities and differences in management approaches discussed.

On the third day of the conference, the focus was on monitoring – from plans to be implemented to expert advice on appropriate monitoring techniques for different habitats. In the afternoon, representatives from different stakeholder groups and authorities, project partners, participants from the general public and international experts came together to discuss in small groups different aspects of MPA management and monitoring, present their experiences and views and suggest measures and approaches that could be considered in a local context.

To conclude this experience, all participants were invited to join the conference boat trip on the fourth day to visit some of the local marine protected sites.

The conference presentations can be found on the following links:

Issue of Service Tender for Research and Preparation of a Livelihood Analysis

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Service Tender for Research and Preparation of a Livelihood Analysis – Part of the Life12 NAT/MT000845: LIFE+ Benthic Habitat Research for Marine Natura 2000 Site Designation Project

The Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate change has issued a tender  as part of the Life BaĦAR for N2K project. This contracts aims to implement one of the many actions of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project by adopting a participatory approach to the implementation and management of the newly designated marine proposed Sites of Community Importance (pSCIs) through the conduction and delivery of a Livelihood Analysis assessment.

Details of the tender can be found here.

Deadline of submission of bids: 07/09/2017  till 10:00 hours

Third Stakeholder Seminar

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The 3rd stakeholder seminar of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project was held at ERA premises on the 4th of July, 2017. The aim of the seminar was to inform stakeholders on the outcomes of the project surveys, which were completed in 2016, and to provide them with information on how these results will be used in the next step of the project – the identification of new potential Sites of Community Importance.

Dr. Julian Evans from the Department of Biology (University of Malta) explained the findings on the three habitat types considered under this project – marine caves, reefs and sandbanks. New, previously unknown, caves were found iPIC 1 SH seminarn high density along certain stretches of the coastline of the Maltese Islands. Information on cave assemblages was also obtained through the surveys, noting that there are changes in organism species composition connected in relation to the light gradient and water flow within these caves, which vary in terms of physiognomy.  Unexpected discoveries were also made during the surveys, such as the presence of offshore, deep water caves, found even at depths of 250 – 795 m, the deepest of which may have been formed during the Messinian (approx. 5 million years ago).

In relation to reefs, the location of coastal reef areas was already well-known prior to the start of the project, but information on reef assemblages was also recorded while surveying for caves. Surveys were also carried out in selected deep, off-shore waters within the Maltese Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) for which no habitats data was available and within which new reef structures were identified, including ones supporting species such as corals that form biogenic frameworks. Other results presented included the observations of threats and pressures in the areas surveyed, which were mainly related to marine litter observed during the surveys. An overview of the presented results can be found here.

Image 2 SH seminar

The second part of the seminar focused on the next step of determining the areas which might be considered for future conservation under the Natura 2000 network. Furthermore, the sites which are of interest for identifying areas for future conservation were shown, based on the project results. The presentation can be viewed here.

The seminar was attended by representatives from Federazzjoni Sajjieda Dilettanti Malta, Federation of Underwater Activities Malta (FUAM), BirdLife Malta, Sharklab-Malta, the GAIA Foundation, Nature Trust, Transport Malta and the Civil Protection Department, as well as project partners and ERA staff.

Starfish with 10 to 11 arms spotted in the Mediterranean

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Marine scientists have discovered a population of a species of starfish with 10 and 11 arms living more than 200 m below the surface in waters off Malta (central Mediterranean). These starfish were spotted using an underwater robot during an at-sea survey as part the Life BaĦAR for N2K project, which aims to identify new marine areas for possible designation as marine protected areas.

A post-expedition biological analysis of the starfish confirmed the species to be Coronaster briareus, a starfish that usually has ten or eleven arms. This starfish was previously reported from the western Atlantic, where it is found from the United States to Brazil, but it has never been reported in the Mediterranean Sea, until now.

“This is a quite a discovery. What we don’t know for sure is how or why these starfish are in the Mediterranean. Either they travelled a long way from the Atlantic into Mediterranean waters, or they simply had not been spotted earlier because the animals were observed in deep waters, says Ricardo Aguilar, Senior Research Director at Oceana in Europe.

In total, scientists from the University of Malta and Oceana spotted 26 starfish at depths ranging from 240 to 562 metres. Some of the animals reached up to 25 cm in diameter and had a fiery-red colour and characteristic pom-pom-like white wreaths (known as pedicellariae) along the arms, giving the starfish a fuzzy appearance.

“The discovery of what has always been considered an Atlantic species in the central Mediterranean was a surprise to us all. The fact that such important discoveries are made during scientific surveys covering only a small proportion of the seabed once again goes to show just how little we know about the sea which surrounds the Maltese Islands”, says Prof. Patrick J. Schembri from the University of Malta’s Department of Biology.

It is clear that more surveys in the Mediterranean may be required to ascertain its presence in other parts of the Mediterranean and the adjacent Atlantic ocean.

The discovery of this new population of multi-armed starfish in the Mediterranean has been published in Marine Biodiversity, an international, peer-reviewed scientific journal and is just one of the many new findings resulting from the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, co-financed by the EU LIFE+ Funding Programme and led by Malta’s Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), with the participation of the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (MSDEC), the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Department of Biology of the University of Malta and Oceana as partners.

Link to Oceana press release

Multibeam Echosounder Survey completed

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The aim of this integral part of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project was to map and characterise areas of interest within the 25 nautical mile Fisheries Management Zone surrounding the Maltese Islands to fill data gaps on deep sea bathymetry and seafloor composition, as identified during a prior analysis of existing data. The survey was carried out by the company Geomara, following the award of a tender issued by the Government of Malta’s Department of Contracts on behalf of the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) (tender CT3105/2015).

The surveys commenced on the 28th of July 2016, and were finalised one month later, on the 28th of August. The first part of the work, the bathymetric survey, was completed on August 17th, and acquired acoustic data to map a total of approximately 130,000 ha of seafloor. The second part – sediment sampling for characterisation of benthic habitats – started on the 20th of August and was finalised on the 28th of August. A total of 50 sediment samples were collected from the areas previously surveyed by the multibeam echosounder. The bathymetric surveys revealed a diverse bathymetric profile, with underwater ridges, mounds, plateaus and canyons, with water depths varying from -186 to -1192 m.
The data collected will now be interpreted in conjunction with all the other data collected through the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys, with the final aim of identifying areas to be proposed for protection.

Littering problem discovered in the deep sea around the Maltese Islands

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As part of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, 420,000 m2 of the deep seabed within the 25 nautical mile Fisheries Management Zone surrounding the Maltese Islands were explored during two expeditions in 2015 and 2016. Surveys with an underwater robot, equipped with a video camera, recorded the bottom down to depths of 1,040 m.

Scientists from the Department of Biology of the University of Malta, who are responsible for analysing the results, were surprised at the amount of litter they noted on the sea floor. Discarded fishing gear as well as plastic, glass bottles and metallic objects including rods, cables, discarded car parts and oil drums, have accumulated in the deep sea. In particular, discarded fishing gear such as trawl nets, nylon longlines and limestone slabs with synthetic ropes from the dolphinfish (‘lampuki‘ in Maltese) fishery were common at offshore sites.

Dolphinfish aggregation devices (‘kannizzati‘) are anchored to the sea floor with limestone slabs, and the mooring ropes are cut off and discarded at the end of each fishing season. The limestone slabs may cause direct damage to reef species when they are deposited on the bottom, while the long discarded ropes can become entangled with organisms such as vulnerable deep-water stony and gorgonian corals. Nylon lines from bottom longline fisheries targeting for example hake, greater forkbeard, and dogfish were frequently found entangled on deep-sea reefs.

Although offshore litter is a known problem, the extent revealed by these comprehensive video surveys of previously unexplored areas came as a surprise; litter was observed during every one of the more than 200 dives with the underwater robot, operated by Oceana.

The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project ultimately aims to ensure that vulnerable marine habitats, including deep water coral reefs, acquire protection through the designation of marine protected sites under Natura 2000, the European Union network that collectively safeguards the EU’s most valuable natural areas. The information gathered during the surveys will enable the formulation of more effective conservation measures to address the identified pressures, including marine litter and ghost fishing. An After-LIFE Conservation Plan detailing management and conservation activities after the project end date will be formulated through the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project to guide all the stakeholders involved.

The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project is co-financed by the EU LIFE+ Funding Programme, and is led by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), with the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (MSDEC), the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA), the Department of Biology of the University of Malta (DoB-UoM) and Oceana as partners.

Press Release date 15 November 2016

Link to UoM Press Release

 

Limestone slab and rope from a dolphinfish aggregation device

Limestone slab and rope from a dolphinfish aggregation device

Rope from a dolphinfish aggregation device entangled on deep water reef

Rope from a dolphinfish aggregation device entangled on deep water reef

Rope from a dolphinfish aggregation device wrapped around precious red coral and deep-water stony corals

Rope from a dolphinfish aggregation device wrapped around precious red coral and deep-water stony corals

Fishing net wrapped around deep-water stony corals

Fishing net wrapped around deep-water stony corals

New world record: Malta has deepest known populations of precious red coral

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A new depth record for the precious red coral has been set, and it belongs to Malta! The deep sea around the Maltese Islands was investigated during two separate expeditions, in 2015 and 2016, as part of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project. During these surveys an underwater robot equipped with a video camera was used to explore the seabed down to depths of more than 1 km. The project scientists were surprised to find numerous colonies of the precious red coral (Corallium rubrum) growing down to depths of 1016 m – over 200m deeper than the previous record, also from Maltese waters.

The team of scientists from the NGO Oceana, who undertook the surveys, and the University of Malta’s Department of Biology, who were responsible for analysing the data, recently presented their findings at the 41st Congress of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean (CIESM), which took place in Kiel, Germany from the 12 – 16 September 2016.

Prof. Patrick J. Schembri, from the University of Malta’s Department of Biology, explained that ‘red coral colonies are usually reported from depths ranging between 15 m and 300 m depth, and had never been recorded at depths beyond 800 m before. The colonies were part of a diverse community of living corals at depths of 300 to 1000 m. This record was a surprise to us all but it goes to show just how little we know about the sea which surrounds our own islands.’

Several other interesting findings made during the LIFE BAĦAR for N2K surveys were also presented at the CIESM congress. These included the discovery of a fossilised sponge reef at a depth of ca. 300 m, deep-water caves located at depths down to 450 m, as well as vast expanses of sand/mud habitats, inhabited by diverse communities of species including some rare and threatened ones.
Ricardo Aguilar, expedition leader and research director at Oceana in Europe, remarked that ‘Most of the sites where we encountered diverse coral reefs had never been researched before, and the findings of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project indicate that the deep-sea around Malta represents an important biodiversity hotspot’.

The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, through which these expeditions were funded, ultimately aims to ensure that vulnerable marine habitats, including deep water reefs, acquire protection through the designation of marine protected sites under Natura 2000, the European Union network that collectively safeguards the EU’s most valuable natural areas. The information gathered during the surveys will enable the formulation of more effective conservation measures to address the identified pressures, including from marine litter and discarded fishing gear.

The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project is co-financed by the EU LIFE+ Funding Programme, and is led by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), with the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (MSDEC), the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA), the Department of Biology of the University of Malta (DoB-UoM) and Oceana as partners.

Press Release date 7 October 2016

Link to UoM Press Release (English) and Press Release (Maltese)

Living red coral at 1010 m depth

Living red coral at 1010 m depth

Deep-water coral reef with red coral

Deep-water coral reef with red coral

 

2016 Photographic Exhibition

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The photographic exhibition ‘Our Sea, Our Identity’ was held for the second time in August 2016, and visited by more than 2000 people. This year the exhibition was set up in Marsaxlokk, Birgu and Marsalforn, Gozo.
A public talk on Natura 2000 was also held at each location, during which officers from ERA’s Protected Areas team provided information on Malta’s marine Sites of Community Importance.

Call for Quotations – Independent Financial Audit

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ERA has issued a Call for Quotations to identify bidders interested in providing independent financial auditing services for the ‘LIFE BaĦAR for N2K’ project. This is aimed to verify and certify that the project’s statement of expenditure, income generated, and costs incurred are in compliance with national legislation, accounting rules, and the Grant Agreement signed with the European Commission.
The call closes on 30 September 2016 at 10 a.m. Details of the call are available online here
Update: This call has now closed and has been awarded to Nexia BT.