Category Archives: News – Project Updates

Publication of Layman’s report

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At the end of the project, the LIFE BaĦAR project team published a Layman’s report .This report on  ‘Research for the conservation of reefs and sea caves in Malta’ consists of background  information on the project, the respective habitats, project actions and final project outcomes.

Learn more about the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project and its results:

Layman’s report

(Available in English, Maltese and Spanish)

Declaration of new Marine Protected Areas marks the LIFE BaĦAR Closing Event

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The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K Closing Event was held at Villa Bighi, Kalkara on the 5th June 2018, and was attended by the Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change José Herrera, the project team members from ERA, MESDC, MESDC-DFA, University of Malta and Oceana, as well as various stakeholders.

The Hon. Dr José Herrera visited the LIFE BaĦAR exhibition at Esplora and then proceeded to launch the closing event by announcing that Malta has increasing the protected marine areas from 3,487 km2 to 4,138 km2, reaching over 35% of the Maltese waters through the designation of an additional eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for Malta. These additional areas have been designated through the LIFE BaHAR project and are being afforded protection owing to the presence of important seabed habitats, specifically reefs and caves, in both coastal and deep waters.

Three new inshore sites are an extension to the area covered by existing coastal MPAs and now these include a variety of coastal cave and reef habitats. Apart from this, the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project extended three offshore sites which had been previously designated as MPAs and which are important for the loggerhead turtle and the bottlenose dolphin. The project also led to the designation of two completely new areas. These include offshore reefs hosting extensive and diverse communities of cold-water corals and of gorgonians and many species of conservation interest.

Following introductory speeches by Ms Margaret Cassar, Director MESDC-PDPID, and Perit Michelle Piccinino, Director Environment and Resources, ERA, a video on Malta’s Marine Protected Areas was shown, showcasing the findings and results of the project.

This was followed by presentations given by the LIFE BaĦAR project team, providing more information on the work done throughout the project and the results achieved.

Project manager Ms Christina Mallia (ERA) introduced the project objectives, aims and actions.

Mr Ricardo Aguilar, Research and Expeditions Director for Oceana Europe, presented the survey methodology employed to carry out the expeditions and collect new data.

Dr Leyla Knittweis-Mifsud, from the University of Malta’s Department of Biology, presented the findings of the surveys and the overall interpretation of the data including the recommendations on sites hosting areas of conservation potential.

Mr Christopher Cousin, Nature Team Manager (ERA), provided an overview of the designation and management process, including the sites that  have been proposed for protection through the  LIFE BaĦAR project and subsequently approved by Cabinet.

Mr Michael Saliba (MESDC-DFA) provided an overview of the interviews held with stakeholders and recommendations for best practice; a poster developed to promote such practices was exhibited during the event.

Mr Darrin Stevens, ERA Deputy Director, closed the event by thanking all who have worked to make the project a success (which numbered over 100) and made reference to ERA’s ongoing consultation exercise with stakeholders which will lead to the development of management measures for all the MPAs.

The event closed with a reception and networking event. Apart from the project team and other participants from ERA. MESDC and DFA, stakeholders who attended the event include representatives from Transport Malta, Police Department (ALE), Malta Marittima, FUAM, Atlam Sub Aqua, BirdLife Malta, Sharklab- Malta, Federation of Amateur Fishing Association, Marsaxlokk Artisinal Fishers, and ‘Għaqda Baħħara, Sajjieda u Dilettanti Wied il-Għajn.

Photo gallery

 

Malta to have 35% of its waters protected following the LIFE BaĦAR Project

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Dozens of newly found marine caves and reefs will be preserved through eight marine protected areas

During the closure event of the LIFE BaĦAR for Natura 2000 project, Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change José Herrera announced that Malta has increasing the protected marine areas from 3,487 km2 to 4,138 km2, reaching over 35% of the Maltese waters through the designation of an additional eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for Malta. These areas are being afforded protection owing to the presence of important seabed habitats, specifically reefs and caves, in both coastal and deep waters.

“This is a significant milestone in marine conservation with which Malta is marking World Environment Day”, stated Minister Herrera, while confirming that Malta has surpassed the Aichi target for 2020, with now 35% of our territorial waters declared Natura 2000 sites.

Three new inshore sites are an extension to the area covered by existing coastal MPAs, and these these include a variety of coastal cave and reef habitats. A number of species of conservation interest inhabit these areas, including the star coral, Astroides calycularis, the long-spined sea urchin, Centrostephanus longispinus, and the Mediterranean slipper lobster, Scyllarides latus.

The project also led to the designation of two completely new areas. These include offshore reefs hosting extensive and diverse communities of cold-water corals and of gorgonians, including many species of conservation interest.

The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project also extended three offshore sites which had been previously designated as MPAs and which are important for the loggerhead turtle and the bottlenose dolphin.

Data collected in the process will enhance our marine knowledge. In this case, precious information in relation to threats and weaknesses of our seas were sought. “Now more than ever we are recognising the need to preserve our seas which is our asset to be passed on to our future generations”, stated Minister Herrera who highlighted that 80% of marine litter is land-based and generated either by accident due to weather or on purpose by illegal littering.

The ministry has recently launched two important public consultations aimed at addressing littering challenges: the amendments to the Littering Regulations and the introduction of the Beverage Container Refund Scheme.

During the project surveys, hundreds of marine species were observed, including some 75 different species of fish, 55 cnidarians (e.g. corals, sea pens, anemones), 35 crustaceans, 32 molluscs, 21 echinoderms (starfish, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, sea-lilies) and 15 sponges, as well as various tunicates, bryozoans, brachiopods and annelids.

The LIFE BaĦAR for Natura 2000 project will pave the way for better management of these important areas. The information collected, including on the pressures observed, will over the next few years be used to develop and implement management measures to conserve this rich biodiversity, concluded Minister Herrera

This project’s aim was to to extend existing marine Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and identify new SCIs for inclusion within the Natura 2000 network, a network of protected areas throughout the EU. LIFE BaĦAR for N2K commenced in October 2013 and is ending in June 2018; it had a budget of €2.6 million, 50% of which was co-financed by the EU LIFE funding programme.

By protecting new sites and extending those already protected, based on the results of this project, an additional area of about 700 km2 is now being protected to conserve seabed habitats and the species that live on them. With these new sites, Malta is now protecting over 4100 km2 of its waters. This area is equivalent to more than 35% of Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone.

See:  Video on MPAs

Link to MESDC Press Release

Coastal reef

Submerged sea cave

Black corals Leiopathes glaberrima

 

 

 

 

Underwater cave with bryozoans

Sea lilies Leptometra phalangium on zig zag coral Madrepora oculata

Deep water reef with the gorgonians Callogorgia verticillata and Muriceides lepida, red coral, Corallium rubrum, zig zag coral, Madrepora oculata, and sponges

 

 

 

Fourth Stakeholder seminar

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The 4th stakeholder seminar of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project was held at ERA premises on the 21st of November, 2017. The aim of the seminar was to inform stakeholders on the next steps, project outcomes after the final data analysis and to invite everyone on an open discussion on potential future conservation measures.  

A comprehensive presentation on the process of identifying and designating new sites under the Natura 2000 network was given by Christopher Cousin from ERA. The presentation provided information on the required steps for identification and designation; introduced the areas within which the MPAs will be identified through the LIFE BaĦAR project; explained management considerations and the use of conservation measures. The floor was then opened for discussion.

The stakeholders participated actively in the discussion and highlighted various issues of concern from their experience, in relation to the sustainable use of the marine environment, various conflicts between activities, and the ecological impact of certain activities. 

In conclusion, the stakeholders were invited to participate in the interviews being carried out under action A8, and to think about what could be done in practice to address the pressures and threats, indicating that ERA would be consulting the stakeholders again in future on potential measures.

The seminar was attended by representatives from Nature Trust FEE Malta, Civil Protection Department, Wild Birds Regulation Unit, BirdLife Malta, Sharklab- Malta, Ghaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd, Federation of Amateur Fishing Association, Marsaxlokk Artisinal Fishers, Fishing Trawlers Owners Association, Police Department and Transport Malta, as well as project partners and ERA staff.

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:

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.