The eighth day of June marks World Oceans Day, a United Nations initiative. This year’s theme is ‘together we can protect and restore our ocean’.

In line with this theme, ERA organized a boat trip that took members of the public to the north of Malta and around Gozo. ERA experts on board delivered a number of short talks and conversed with the attendees. The subjects discussed are highlighted below.

Local marine biodiversity, including the endemic Mediterranean seagrasses and other marine habitats and species

The Neptune Sea-Grass, Posidonia oceanica, is the most widespread seagrass in the Mediterranean, forming seagrass meadows which are important for controlling coastal erosion, climate change, and as a breeding, resting and feeding ground for multiple species.

It is mostly found in the shallow waters, up to 45-50m of depth and may well be one of the oldest living organism on Earth in terms of age.

Other marine habitats and species occur in Malta, with recent findings confirming Maltese waters as very important for biodiversity. In view of this, Malta has considerably increased the protected marine areas in 2016 and 2018, with 4,138 km2 of protected marine areas, reaching over 35% of the Maltese waters being declared as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for Malta.

These areas are protected owing to the presence of important seabed habitats, specifically reefs, caves, seagrass meadows, marine turtles, dolphins and other marine habitats and species, in both coastal and deep waters.

The global United Nations’ Biodiversity Target stipulates that 10% of a country’s waters need to be Marine Protected Areas by 2020. Malta has already exceed the targeted percentage.

ERA’s role as a regulator on marine protected areas, with particular focus on current works and objectives for these areas

Some of the Environment and Resources Authority’s roles include gathering scientific information on the marine environment, which leads to designation of protected species and areas. It also includes the monitoring of these species, developing strategic policies, together with legislation on the marine environment.

ERA then coordinates with various other entities responsible for marine matters in developing tangible measures for the protection of our seas.

Currently ERA is in the process of developing the management planning process for the new Marine Protected Areas. In fact, the Authority conducted a public consultation involving various stakeholders. Various conservation objectives and measures are being finalised and implementation will start in 2020.

ERA is also in the process of assessing the status of our marine waters in terms of marine species, such as the noble pen shell, the Maltese top shell. Additionally, the Authority is assessing marine habitats and analysing water quality.

Measures tackling issues on marine waters and its biodiversity

The Marine Monitoring Programme and related implementation measures are ongoing. Work also include issues linked with assessments of habitats, species and associated issues.

Some measures relate to assessment of water quality, wherein Malta is rated second amongst the EU Member States in relation to bathing waters. This result was achieved as about 99% of all sites in Malta being classified as having excellent bathing water quality.

ERA is also addressing multiple measures affecting marine species and habitats, including an assessment of the conservation status of selected marine species, as well as monitoring of the impacts of selected matters, like marine litter and plastics on marine life; this is also coupled with multiple underwater clean-ups and the funding and support that the Authority provides to non-governmental organisations to ensure handling and rehabilitation of injured or stranded animals. These include, amongst others, turtles, whales and dolphins, as well as terrestrial species.

Other work resulted in major findings, with the deepest records for red coral in the Mediterranean region, up to depths over 1,000m. Moreover, exceptional sponge reefs were also found off Gozo, which have hitherto also been protected.

ERA’s Deputy Director on the Environment and Resources, Darrin Stevens, held that the aim of the Authority’s boat trip on World Oceans Day was to highlight the various measures in place that serve to safeguard areas where protected species reside. He thanked the public for expressing interest and encouraged exercises of continuous dialogue, collaboration and engagement in activities aimed at bettering the environment and our quality of life.

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