The Malta Independent 19 January 2020, Sunday

35% of Maltese waters to be protected, newly found marine caves and reefs will be preserved

Tuesday, 5 June 2018, 20:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

Environment Minister Jose Herrera announced during the closure event of the LIFE BaĦAR for Natura 2000 project that Malta is 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.

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"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 Maltese territorial waters declared Natura 2000 sites. 

Three new inshore sites are an extension to the area covered by existing coastal MPAs, and these include a variety of coastal cave and reef habitats, he said. 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, he said. "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 dumping. 

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 minister explained. 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


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