Malta’s marine Natura 2000 network encompasses 18 sites and covers over 4100 km2, equivalent to more than 35% of Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone, and was established over a period of 10 years, for the conservation of important habitats and species.
The network comprises Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), designated for the protection of marine habitats and species pursuant to the EU Habitats Directive, and Special Protected Areas (SPAs) designated for the protection of seabirds under the EU Birds Directive.
Between 2008 and 2012, five areas – covering about 190 km2 in total – were identified, mainly to protect beds of the Neptune seagrass Posidonia oceanica – an important habitat for coastal biodiversity. Three of these areas also host the protected sea snail – the Maltese topshell (Steromphala nivosa).
In 2016, the number of protected zones was increased to cover more than 3400 km2 as a result of the LIFE Migrate and LIFE+ Malta Seabird projects, which identified sites that are important for the loggerhead turtle (Carretta carretta), the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), and three seabirds that breed in the Maltese Islands: the Scopoli’s Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), the Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) and the European Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus).
In 2018, the network was extended as a result of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project, which led to a further three inshore and five offshore areas being proposed for the protection of cave and reef habitats: the three inshore areas and three of the offshore areas were extensions of existing MPAs, while the other two offshore areas were new sites. The project data on which the new MPAs were based can be viewed on these interactive maps.
The datasheets and maps of the marine Natura 2000 sites can be found here.
Management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) should be geared at improving or maximising the contribution of the sites to the maintenance or achievement of Favourable Conservation Status of the habitats and species listed in the Habitats Directive and the protection of seabirds in accordance with the Birds Directive. For this purpose, ‘conservation objectives’ need to be set to guide management processes and enable measurement of progress towards achievement of the overall objectives of the two Directives.
A conservation objective is defined as “the specification of the overall target for the species and/or habitat types for which a site is designated in order for it to contribute to maintaining or reaching favourable conservation status”. While Favourable Conservation Status is defined at the level of the natural range of the habitat or species, management related to the contribution of the site to the achievement of such objective needs to be based on site-specific objectives that consider the ecological functions of the protected areas.
Conservation measures are then developed to achieve these objectives. The measures have the scope of managing activities that can exert pressure on these habitats and species, as well as addressing knowledge gaps that are of relevance for the management of these areas.
An initial consultation was carried out by the Environment and Resources Authority in 2019 as part of the process to define the conservation objectives and measures for the management of all of Malta’s MPAs. In the interim, a number of measures addressing pressures in MPAs have been included in the MSFD Programme of Measures.