The Malta Independent 5 June 2023, Monday
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Dolphins and turtles need their marine home to be a safer place

Sunday, 3 July 2022, 08:52 Last update: about 12 months ago

Long-term scientific research led by conservation biologist Prof Adriana Vella leading the Conservation Biology Research Group at the University of Malta (CBRG-UM) has been recording a dramatic increase in the number of vessels, jet skis, power and speed boats roam around Maltese waters especially in summer with consequent increments in traffic, noise and waste pollution.  The latter is damaging and dangerous to dolphins and turtles apart from all other marine species especially when considering the higher speeds with which these travel.


The NGO BICREF, the AFM and Transport Malta and many fishermen and sea-users also support this long-term research started back in 1997 and promoting dolphin, whale and various other marine species conservation in this part of the Mediterranean.  Anyone may assist and appreciate marine life in a respectful manner. All dolphin and whale species and also turtle species are legally protected and should be kept safe to contribute their important ecological role in our seas.  Too much noise, disturbance, plastic, chemical or light pollution deteriorate their health and survival.  Their natural environment is already facing changes due to climate change and past impacts on marine life, so greater care to allow their survival is essential. 

Dolphin and whale watching has also already been reported to increase and encourage disturbance especially since like many businesses, profit ends up leading the way to more and more expansion of the activity. 

Locally many species are legally protected by national and international laws but there is still much to be done to effectively protect these species, including the need to regularise and monitor profit-making activities that may jeopardise these vulnerable species. When many people are encouraged to see dolphins and turtles close by, it is clear that these shall not be safe in their marine homes, already degraded by extensive vessel traffic, noise and plastic pollution and declining food sources. That is why carefully taken wildlife documentaries are encouraged over mass tourism toward wildlife watching destinations that affect the normal behaviours of these species and change the natural environment in which they live. 

More recent scientific studies have found that dolphin population characteristics should be accounted for when determining the possibilities for any profit making dolphin-watching operations in a given area.  Small closed resident populations with limited food sources are more vulnerable to disturbance.  The Maltese Islands are small in size and surrounded with over-exploited and heavily impacted marine environment, which already affect the numbers and survival of vulnerable species.  Enforcement of conservation laws and maritime traffic regulations for Maltese waters need to be addressed.  The Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area (ACCOBAMS) is a legal conservation tool based on cooperation. Its purpose is to reduce threats to cetaceans notably by improving current knowledge on these animals. This intergovernmental Agreement provides the demonstration of the commitment to preserve all species of cetaceans and their habitats within the geographical Agreement area by the enforcement of more stringent measures.

Both the Conservation Biology Research Group at the University of Malta and the NGO BICREF are both long-term partners of ACCOBAMS in promoting conservation for these vulnerable species.  Prof Adriana Vella is also Malta's National Focal Point for the European Cetacean Society, the European organisation that has been at the fore in dolphin and whale conservation research.  She is currently leading local research as part of the SEA MARVEL project that focuses on the conservation of dolphins, turtles and marine life, the role played by Natura 2000 sites and the abundance of pollution in Maltese waters.  This project brings together different stakeholders to promote effective conservation. It also has various associate partners, including ACCOBAMS, Ministry for Environment, Ministry for Education, and fishermen.  This project promotes accurate awareness of the status and dangers facing marine species and the necessary targets for effective conservation

Contact Prof Adriana Vella for any further information on : [email protected]

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