Malta’s waters include inland fresh waters, transitional and coastal waters, as well as deep waters that extend above Malta’s continental shelf.
Inland surface waters
Malta’s inland fresh surface waters are very small streams, water courses or standing waters. The water courses are parts of larger valley systems, or ‘widien’, and the level of water and flow within these water courses varies seasonally. Some water courses are linked to springs that outflow from perched aquifers that form above blue clay outcrops, and these streams tend to be present throughout the year. Given Malta’s Mediterranean climate and geology, these waters are important because they support habitats and freshwater aquatic species that are found in few places within the Maltese islands. These include protected riparian habitats such as galleries of white willow (Salix alba) – Żafżafa kbira – and white poplar (Populus alba) -‘siġra tal-luq’, and protected endemic species such as the painted frog (Discoglossus pictus pictus) – ‘iż-żrinġ’ – and the Maltese freshwater carb (Potamon fluviatile lanfrancoi) – ‘il-qabru’.
Malta has delineated five inland surface waters as water bodies under the Water Framework Directive: three streams – Wied tal-Baħrija and Wied il-Luq in Malta and Wied tal-Lunzjata in Gozo – and two pools – Il-Qattara and L-Għadira ta’ Sarraflu, both in Gozo. The water bodies are all found within areas that are protected under national and/or international legislation in view of their ecological importance.
Transitional waters are brackish waters that are found at the mouths of valley catchments and in close proximity to the sea. They are typically wetlands or marshlands that support particular habitats and species, including the only truly brackish water fish occurring in Malta – the Mediterranean killifish (Aphanius fasciatus) – ‘il-bużaqq’, and are important areas for migrating birds.
Malta has delineated five transitional waters under the Water Framework Directive: is-Simar, l-Għadira, is- Salini, Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk, and il-Magħluq ta’ Marsascala. These water bodies are all found within areas that are protected under international legislation in view of their ecological importance: they are all protected areas in the Natura 2000 network, and two are also designated as Ramsar sites.
Malta’s marine waters extend from the shallow waters breaking onto the rocky shore and beaches to offshore deep waters that are over one kilometer deep. These waters host habitats and species of international and national importance that merit protection, while marine ecosystems support a range of commercial and recreational activities that are key to our economy and well-being.
There are various marine designations and boundaries that are used for managing activities and monitoring their impacts, in line with Malta’s jurisdictional rights and key water-related legislation.
The different boundaries include the 1 nautical mile boundary of Malta’s River Basin District – which is subdivided into 9 WFD coastal water bodies, the 12 nautical mile boundary of Malta’s Territorial Waters, and the 25 nautical mile boundary of Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone. Malta has designated a number of marine protected areas within these areas for the protection of key habitats and species. In addition, Malta’s Area for Hydrocarbon Exploration and Exploitation extends along Malta’s continental shelf. These boundaries can be viewed on the ERA geoportal .