This phase of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project at-sea study ends after having explored areas down to 1039 m deep
Oceana, the project partner tasked with carrying out marine surveys, has concluded its at-sea research in Malta to explore deep-sea areas, underwater caves and sandbanks within the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project.
The project, co-financed by the EU, and comprising the Environment and Resources Authority (project leaders), the Maltese Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the Department of Biology of the University of Malta, apart from Oceana, is the most comprehensive video survey of unknown marine areas ever undertaken in Malta and aims to achieve effective protection for three different habitats of high ecological value. Its preliminary findings include the identification of hundreds of species, large reefs of cold water corals and caves discovered 300 m below the surface.
“The findings from Malta are impressive and include species that hadn’t previously been recorded in the Mediterranean. The footage and samples compiled will require years of analysis to be fully valued but in the shorter term they will serve as the basis to create marine protected areas that help preserve this natural heritage and restore its abundance. We hope that other countries undertake similar actions to improve their understanding and protection of their marine environments,” said Ricardo Aguilar, expedition leader and research director at Oceana in Europe.
The total surveyed area amounts to 2,974.72 km2, of which 2,923.80 km2 are offshore. In comparison, the total land surface of the Maltese archipelago is just 316 km2, which shows the extent and importance of this project. The project was divided in two expeditions (2015 and 2016), and utilised an ROV (underwater robot) able to reach depths of over 1000 m, and divers using underwater scooters to enhance speed. A total of 206 ROV transects (up to 1039 m deep) and 42 scuba dives were carried out.
During the surveys in deeper areas, the scientists discovered various reefs (white coral, black coral, stone sponges…), impressive forests of gorgonians and rare yellow corals. The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project will ensure these vulnerable species acquire valuable protection through the designation of protected sites under Natura 2000, the network that collectively safeguards the most valuable natural areas within the EU.
The project partners call on individuals to play a role in the preservation of the beautiful Maltese marine environment. The expedition has filmed many cases of marine pollution. Close to the shore, plastic waste was prevalent, whereas discarded fishing gear such as lines and weights were common offshore which frequently damage gorgonians and corals. Some of the dives had to be aborted because the ROV risked entanglement. In other spots, areas of bottom dominated by rhodoliths (calcareous red algae) were noticeably damaged due to bottom trawling and mooring.
The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project is co-financed by the EU LIFE+ Funding Programme and is led by the Environment and Resources Authority, with the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Department of Biology of the University of Malta and Oceana as partners.
Issued on 8th August 2016
Link to Oceana Press Release