Action A3 will entail the exploration of the areas of interest or hotspots identified through action A2. These areas will be surveyed in view of the likelihood of hosting the following Habitats Directive Annex I habitats:
• 1110 Sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time
• 1170 Reefs
• 8330 Caves and partially submerged sea caves
The marine habitats, as well as species of interest that will be observed during the surveys, will be noted and included in the reports.
Two expeditions will be carried out during the project, with the first survey following the initial data collection from secondary sources and its interpretation (A1 and part of A2). Following this first expedition, the data generated will be interpreted through action A2, to prioritize those areas that require a second round of more detailed surveying. The second expedition will involve detailed surveys within the selected areas identified as being of primary importance, with the aim of gathering more detailed information required for the subsequent identification and designation of Natura 2000 sites.
Two scientific expeditions will be conducted in Maltese waters onboard a research vessel equipped with various equipment, including:
• an underwater robot (ROV – Remotely Operated Vehicle);
• a single beam sonar and OLEX software
• divers and mechanical samplings (Van Veen grab);
• photography and videography using drop-down cameras and videos cameras;
• on-board lab (microscopes, loops, special software, etc.).
A bathymetric survey will also be carried out using a research vessel equipped with the side scan sonar and/or a multibeam echosounder (MBES), which data will be used to inform the detailed surveys and subsequent analysis.