The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
View E-Paper

‘Focus on innovative ways to safeguard marine biodiversity urgently needed’ – marine biologist

Semira Abbas Shalan Monday, 29 August 2022, 09:27 Last update: about 3 years ago

A new focus on innovative ways of reaching real sustainability and effective management to safeguard marine biodiversity is urgently needed, University of Malta Conservation biologist professor Adriana Vella said.

The degradation of the Maltese seas and degraded marine life has been felt over the years, with the increase in sea pollution causing great harm to the marine environment.

Media reports have also shown that sea slime had resurfaced in the popular bays in Pembroke, Balluta, Exiles, as well as in Wied iż-Żurrieq, impeding swimmers' use of the bays and contaminating the area.

The Malta Independent spoke with Vella about the deteriorating quality of Maltese waters, where she discussed and explained that marine life around the Maltese Islands is under an increasing number of pressures from diverse forms of pollution, including noise, plastics and all sorts of packaging, and fishing and aquaculture gear debris and wastes.

Tuna penning's increased industry and its various sources of pollution, runoffs from land; Physical disturbances from an increasing number of vessels which procure lethal impacts to protected turtles and dolphins, were among the list of issues Vella highlighted on the current marine biodiversity situation.

She also said that commercial and recreational vessels have dramatically increased, impacting the surrounding seabed too, due to anchorage, loss of seagrass meadows and fuel and waste left behind.

"Marine Protected Areas designated in Maltese waters urgently need to have conservation management and monitoring in place to stop the degradation of the marine environment and the impoverishment of marine biodiversity," Vella said, when asked about the decreasing abundance of marine creatures and biodiversity in Maltese seas.

"The sea, when in a good environmental state and rich in biodiversity, offers numerous essential services, including sequestering carbon which mitigates climate change, producing oxygen and providing essential resources such as food, supporting us and the many economic ventures from tourism to fishing," she explained.

Vella said that she is concerned about the expansions in development, traffic, and the unsustainable fishing encroachment without careful timely management and surveillance, saying that this does not lead to sustainable development.

"The sea is not an infinite garbage pit, nor an endless resource producer," she said.

She said that while a dead floating tuna is an example of the waste of natural resources, the "floating dead fish-smelling materials moving with the currents in coastal waters cannot hide the difficulty to contain the effects of intense tuna penning activities."

Moreover, the amounts of other polluting wastes and fuel left behind from vessels residing and passing through the Central Mediterranean, create a "cocktail," unhealthy for marine life which is being lost by "look the other way", "think about it tomorrow", "business as usual", and "money first" attitudes, she added.

Vella said that the challenge of dealing with multitude and cumulative degrading processes, "cannot be left for future generations, where it will become even more difficult, costly, and time-consuming to restore."

"Clear environmental legal obligations, such as those linked to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, need to see measures in place, to stop and reverse the harm done to the good marine environmental status and its invaluable marine life," she said.

Asked if invasive species impact the Maltese sea life, Vella said that the marine environment is facing variations due to climate change and other anthropogenic activities.

"Alien species that become invasive, such as the pufferfish and the blue crab, are only a few visible changes of the many alterations underway. All sea users are therefore invited to take greater care as to how they use the marine environment," Vella said as she explained the role played by social media in portraying and affecting anthropogenic impacts.  

She added that certain social media portray the sea as an environment where one should chase personal gratification and adventures, while being in total disregard of the impacts of these actions on the sea and its vulnerable species.

An example she brought up is the posting of videos and photos online of the spotting of creatures which are regarded as sensational.

Videos which present the encounters of a dolphin at sea and are posted online, captioned "Go spot the dolphins!" are not sensational to the dolphins themselves which are under severe environmental pressures, she said. The attraction of more noise, pollution and disturbances should be avoided.

"On the contrary, the occasional encounter should be treated with great care and caution, keeping at a safe distance, while contributing any sighting information to the Maltese long-term conservation research, as indicated in the Notice to Mariners No 017 of 2022 by Transport Malta," she said.

Vella said that she believes everyone can do their bit for the future well-being of our sea and invited all sea users to take greater care of how they use the marine environment and to promptly send in their occasional observations on different key indicators listed in the Notice to Mariners.

"A new focus on ways to safeguard marine biodiversity is urgently needed. Scientific research is an important basis on which to build sound management and adapt policies to changing needs while guiding toward knowledge-based solutions," Vella said.

The Conservation Biology Research Group led by Prof Adriana Vella of the Department of Biology, University of Malta is currently also contributing to the SEA MARVEL project that focuses on the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Central Mediterranean.

Photos by Prof. Adriana Vella

  • don't miss