Malta’s first marine Special Protection Areas announced
Good news for endangered Maltese seabirds! The national government has given Malta its first eight marine Special Protection Areas (SPAs) specifically for birds. Now that these sites have been designated, Malta will also be fulfilling its obligation of implementing the EU Birds Directive.
The eight SPAs now form part of the EU-wide Natura 2000 network, which is essential for the protection and long-term survival of Europe’s natural heritage on land and at sea. They will improve the conservation of all three protected and declining seabird species in Malta: the Yelkouan Shearwater, Scopoli’s Shearwater and European Storm-petrel. This is of global importance as Malta is home to 10% of the world’s Yelkouan Shearwaters, 3% of Scopoli’s Shearwaters and 50% of the Mediterranean subspecies of European Storm-petrels.
The inventory of these sites was created by BirdLife Malta in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK), the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA, BirdLife in Portugal) and Malta’s Ministry for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change through the LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project, which came to a successful end on 28 June. Throughout the project’s lifespan (September 2011-June 2016) BirdLife Malta’s researchers identified the most important sites at sea frequented by seabirds – marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – and proposed to the national government that they be legally protected and managed as SPAs.
The project came to a close at an event in Ċirkewwa to announce the SPA designation and present the project’s findings. Malta’s Environment Minister Josè Herrera opened the proceedings and European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella – in a video message – described this project as a cause for celebration and also as a perfect example of the value of collaboration.
“With the hard work of BirdLife Malta and its partners, the problem [biodiversity loss in Europe] is addressed and nature is protected,” he said, while appealing for more international collaboration to protect seabirds.
The next step in seabird conservation in the country will be the creation and implementation by the Maltese authorities of management plans for all the marine protected areas, as well as eventually monitoring them to ensure that seabirds and other marine life are safe and that these areas have Good Environmental Status (meaning that they are biodiverse, clean and used sustainably) by 2020.
This is also not the end of Malta’s research and conservation projects for seabirds. The LIFE+ Malta Seabird Project is the second of three seabird-related LIFE projects (after the LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater project) being carried out by BirdLife Malta and its international partners over a span of fifteen years. The third project, LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija, was launched by BirdLife Malta a few weeks ago and seeks to complement the findings of the first two.