The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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Malta-based ornithologists participate in Mediterranean seabird symposium

Sunday, 25 February 2024, 09:05 Last update: about 3 months ago

Malta-based ornithologists Dr Marie Claire Gatt and Dr Benjamin Metzger participated in the third Mediterranean Symposium on Ecology and Conservation of Marine and Coastal Bird Species in Djerba, Tunisia, last week.

The symposium, co-organised by the Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre (SPA/RAC) of the Mediterranean Action Plan - UN Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP) together with the Tunisian BirdLife Partner Association Les Amis des Oiseaux, brought together marine biologists and conservationists from all across the Mediterranean. The aim was to review the status of conservation actions being carried out by the contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention and its protocols and to facilitate communication between experts on the frontline of bird conservation research for networking and capacity building.

The symposium also paid homage to the late Maltese naturalist, Joe Sultana, who had been an instrumental part of the Mediterranean seabird research community for decades.

Dr Metzger and Dr Gatt also sat on the symposium's scientific committee, with Dr Metzger opening the conference with a keynote speech under the patronage of the Tunisian Minister for the Environment, Leïla Chikhaoui Mahdaoui.

Marine and coastal birds are sentinels of the state of the Mediterranean, one of the most heavily polluted seas in the world and whose coasts have undergone significant disfigurement due to industry, tourism and its large population densities. Apart from habitat loss, they are prone to fisheries bycatch, consume plastic litter and are disturbed by human activities at their nesting sites. Several species have experienced steep declines in their populations and have conservation projects dedicated to improve their state and that of our natural environment.

An important outcome of this event was recognising the need to increase regional communication to effectively protect highly mobile wildlife. Dr Gatt presented how data from GPS-tracked Yelkouan Shearwaters (MT: Garni, Puffinus yelkouan) and Scopoli's Shearwaters (MT: Ċief, Calonectris diomedea), published by BirdLife Malta as part of  the EU Life+ Malta Seabird Project and Life Arċipelagu Garnija, show that they regularly forage out at sea in Maltese, Italian, Tunisian and Libyan waters while attending their nests in the Maltese Islands. Communication and collaboration between states is therefore essential to protect these birds not only in our own country's jurisdiction but also in others. Furthermore, stepping up and harmonising the monitoring of bird populations across the Mediterranean was one of the major recommendations arising from the three-day event.

Malta holds significant breeding populations of both shearwater species, as well as half the world's Mediterranean Storm-petrels (MT: Kanġu ta' Filfla, Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis), and has an international responsibility for their protection. More than 30% of our Fisheries Management Zone is currently classified as marine Special Protected Areas for seabirds under the EU's Natura2000 network.


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