The Malta Environment and Planning Authority and environment ministry have teamed up with the Spanish interdisciplinary research team KAI Marine Services to carry out a project to gather scientific data on the conservation status of bottlenose dolphin and loggerhead turtles within the 25 nautical miles fisheries management zone of the Maltese islands.
Loggerhead turtles and bottlenose dolphins are protected by the EU legislation as well as through several international agreements to which Malta is a party and therefore Malta has a legal obligation to ensure that these important marine migratory species are protected.
The three-year project titled "MIGRATE" aims at gathering the necessary scientific data essential for understanding the status of these species and measures essential for their protection.
With a budget of almost €1 million, which is co-financed by the EU LIFE+ programme, the government and the Bank of Valletta, the project is the first of its kind in Malta, as to date very little scientific data necessary for the protection of these important migratory species is available.
Speaking during the launch of the project, environment minister Mario de Marco highlighted the importance of marine conservation efforts for Malta.
"Being a maritime nation at the crossroads of the Mediterranean sea, has a duty to protect our marine biodiversity for the benefit of the present and future generations. We depend on a clean, healthy and productive marine environment for a multitude of reasons, not least of all - our coastal and maritime economy. We need however to give more value to marine protected areas and marine reserves, to halt the loss of biodiversity and ensure the sustainable use of marine resources."
The project consists of studies to identify and map any potential hotspots through the use of geographic information systems, plotting essential data such as habitats, temperature, salinity, bathymetry, currents, and other parameters in the process.
Boat-based observations will play a significant role in the study. Besides observations to be carried out by scientists, the project will involve interested stakeholders and the public, including fishermen and leisure-craft owners on a voluntary basis. These volunteers will be provided with training in order to allow them to record sightings effectively.
An assessment of trends will be carried out, and any important areas identified through the studies shall be proposed for legal protection. The project will also have a significant awareness raising and educational component, consisting of website dissemination, newsletters, brochures, and the production of a short video.
Anyone interested in following this project or participating as volunteers may contact the project team via email firstname.lastname@example.org.