Scientists release first lab-grown Qabru freshwater crabs into the wild

Nature Trust Malta releases first crabs cultured inside lab: “Many species are already facing extinction as their habitats have come under threat”

Nature Trust - FEE Malta has released the first juvenile freshwater crabs into the wild as part of a project supported by the HSBC Malta Foundation and being carried out in collaboration with the Aquaculture Directorate in Marsaxlokk.

The recently released crabs had been cultured in a laboratory to help identify the best ways to restore and preserve the habitat of the endemic Qabru species.

The three-year-long project, which was launched in early 2020, focuses on educating the public about the threats looming over the freshwater crab, as well as on raising awareness of the impact of climate change on the environment in Malta and Gozo.

The Tal-Mafqas laboratory
The Tal-Mafqas laboratory

The first phase of the project consisted of capturing two females carrying newly-hatched juveniles in the summer of 2020. The two females were immediately released after giving birth to the juvenile crabs who have been cultured in a lab at Forti San Luċjan.

In early August 2021, a percentage of the juveniles raised in the lab were released into the wild, at the same place where the two females had been collected. The rest of the juveniles are being kept in the lab for further study on their culture and behaviour.

A juvenile freshwater crab ready to be released into the wild
A juvenile freshwater crab ready to be released into the wild

The project is now entering its second phase, which is focusing on further research. Studies on the existing natural habitat of the ‘Qabru’ are being undertaken so scientists can better understand the threats that the species is facing and to establish what mitigation measures can be implemented to save both the animal and its habitat. 

Vincent Attard, the Executive President of Nature Trust Malta, said: “Climate change is now with us. In the next few decades we expect to see harsher conditions making human life even more difficult. Many species are already facing extinction as their habitats have come under threat. We need to pass from words to action now as for decades our planet leaders have been talking about climate change but unfortunately little action was taken.

“Through this project we are focusing our study on the vulnerable freshwater crab and its habitat and how this may be impacted by climate change. Our aim is to halt biodiversity loss and start implementing adaptation measures for future generations.  Every little action counts in such a situation.”

Astrid Micallef Saliba, Corporate Sustainability Manager at HSBC Bank Malta, said the bank had made clear its commitment to transition to a net zero future, while at the same time supporting projects like this which aim to protect ecosystems and sustain the earth’s biodiversity. 

Dennis Calleja, Director for Aquaculture within the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said:“Preservation of Biodiversity is especially important for a small island nation like Malta. The natural habitat is being negatively impacted by various factors including competing industries for resources, pollution issues and climatic change. Government is fully aware of the importance of the natural environment and ecosystems, and is committed to take all necessary action to implement and enforce guidelines and regulations intended to protect the local natural environment for present and future generations.”