€2.6 MILLION INVESTED IN MARINE HABITATS

Posted on: 21/05/2015

                                                       
 
Areas of interest within Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone will be surveyed in the coming months with the intent of mapping out the distribution of sandbanks, reefs and marine caves with the potential of designating new areas as Sites of Community Importance to eventually form part of the Natura 2000 network.

The €2.6 million LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, which is 50% co-financed by the EU LIFE Funding Programme, is being led and co-ordinated by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) in collaboration with the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (MSDEC), the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA), the Department of Biology of the University of Malta (UoM) and Fundación Oceana. The project seeks to make available new data and knowledge on the location and conservation status of the targeted marine habitats and others  in the Maltese Islands, which up until today is very limited. 
While various international agreements and legal instruments have been enacted to manage multiple human pressures and to protect the most vulnerable or ecologically important habitats, as an EU Member State, Malta, is obliged, under the Habitats Directive, to designate those  habitats specified in Annex I of the Directive as, Sites of Community Importance. 

Marine surveys, covering an estimated 200,000 hectares, will be carried out by Oceana, which will be working closely with the Maltese Partners. Oceana, is the largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on marine conservation. 
The surveys will be made by using a research vessel equipped with Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) as well as by the use of scuba diving. These will be complemented by bathymetric surveys using multibeam echosounder and sediment sampling, which work is currently subject to an international open call for tender. Benthic habitats will be surveyed in selected areas between the Maltese coastline and a 25 nautical mile boundary and down to depths of 1000m below sea level.

This project also ensures the active involvement and participation between all stakeholders during and after the whole project is finalised while it is also paving the way for conservation objectives and a platform that will guide the management of Marine Natura 2000 sites.
 
The Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas throughout the EU and it is considered the largest coherent group of protected areas in the world. The Natura 2000 network was established in 1992 under the Habitats Directive, with the long term aim of protecting Europe’s most vulnerable and threatened species and habitats.
 
The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K aims to extend existing marine Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and identify new SCIs in Maltese waters for inclusion within the Natura 2000  network. The project is coordinated by MEPA in association with the Ministry for Sustainable Development and Climate Change,Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the University of Malta and Oceana. The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K (LIFE12 NAT/MT/000845) Project is 50% co-financed by the EU LIFE Funding Programme.
 
For more information visit www.lifebahar.org.mt
 
 Photos:
1         Videographer filming the ROV. © OCEANA/ Carlos Minguell
2          Astroides calycularis, species found in the area. © Sonia Silvio
3         Axinella sp., species found in the area. © Sonia Silvio