Important natural areas are those terrestrial and marine sites, which are important in view of the habitats and species present within them. The Maltese Islands support a variety of important and unique habitats and species, and that is why it is also important to protect areas where such biodiversity is found.
In view of this, Malta has designated various areas under:
- National legislation, mostly through Legal Notices and Government Notices issued under the auspices of the Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549), and;
- International multilateral environment agreements, mostly under the:
- Council of Europe Bern Convention;
- EC Birds Directive (2009/147/EC);
- EC Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC);
- Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas (SPA Protocol) under the United Nations Barcelona Convention;
- United Nations Ramsar Convention.
|Area of Special Conservation Interest (ASCI)||Council of Europe Bern Convention - Part of the Emerald network|
|Bird sanctuary||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549)|
|Nature reserve||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549)|
|Ramsar site||UN Ramsar Convention|
|Special Area of Conservation (SAC) - International Importance||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549) - Part of the Natura 2000 network under the EC Habitats Directive|
|Special Area of Conservation (SAC) - National Importance||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549)|
|Special Area of Geological Importance||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549)|
|Special Protection Area (SPA)||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549) - Part of the Natura 2000 network under the EC Birds Directive|
|Specially Protected Area||UN Barcelona Convention – Part of Protocol Concerning Mediterranean Specially Protected Areas|
|Tree Protection Area||Environment Protection Act (Cap. 549)|
When considering land area, the Maltese Islands have 29.12% (92km2) of their area covered by the above-mentioned designated areas, with a number of these areas being covered by more than one designation. In 2018, following the conclusion of the LIFE BaĦAR project, an additional eight Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were designated, three inshore and five offshore areas. The three new inshore areas are extensions to the area covered by existing coastal MPAs. Two of the offshore areas are new sites, while the other three are extensions of the existing MPAs, previously declared in 2016.
These further enhance the ecological network of MPAs, today covering a total of 35.5% (4,138km2) of Maltese waters. A complete list of the important natural areas, designated specifically under national legislation, is available through the Common Database on Designated Areas (CDDA); whilst a complete list of important international areas is available through Natura 2000 datasheets and maps.
Over the years, additional data gathering and capacity building has been considered in relation to protected areas. Technical support is provided through the participation in externally funded projects and other nationally funded initiatives. Most of these aim at attaining information on various features within important natural areas, which is crucial for the selection, designation, mapping and management of relevant sites.
The management of protected areas is of utmost importance. Management plans and conservation orders for all terrestrial sites, forming part of the Natura 2000 network, have been developed through the Natura 2000 Management Planning for Malta and Gozo project, which was co-financed through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.