Witness the spectacle of Malta’s shearwater birds up close and at sea

A nature spectacle not to be missed: BirdLife Malta’s annual shearwater boat trips are set to take place again

The Scopoli's Shearwater. Photo by Aron Tanti
The Scopoli's Shearwater. Photo by Aron Tanti

Summer is here and that can only mean one thing for nature and bird lovers in Malta… the opportunity to experience hundreds of Scopoli’s Shearwater rafting on the water before returning to their nests in Ta’ Ċenċ cliffs in Gozo.

Led by the eNGO’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project team, the public take to the seas during sunset to enjoy our islands’ amazing wildlife.

This bird, known as Ċiefa in Maltese, is the largest of Malta’s shearwater species and during the breeding season they can be seen congregating in large numbers on the sea after they return from their foraging trips, a behaviour known as ‘rafting’. Adult shearwaters spend all day at sea, searching for food to bring back to their single chick, and only return to their nest under cover of darkness.

Malta is home to 3% of the global population of Scopoli’s Shearwater (4,000-5,000 pairs), with around 1,000 pairs nesting at Ta’ Ċenċ alone.

In June and July – which is the peak of this seabird’s breeding season – hundreds of these birds may be seen gathering at sea at dusk. As darkness falls they begin to leave the water and fly to their burrows in the cliffs of Ta’ Ċenċ to take their turn in incubating their egg.

This year BirdLife Malta is organising four trips in July. The first two boat trips will take place on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 July and another two are planned for Friday 26th and Saturday 27th July 2019.

Photo: Joseph Vella
Photo: Joseph Vella

All the trips depart from Marfa Jetty (opposite the Riviera Hotel) at 7pm except for the 26July trip which will be a special trip catering for Gozitans, departing from and returning to Gozo’s Mġarr Harbour. This however will be dependent on the number of bookings received and this arrangement will only go ahead if the boat is full. Should this trip not be fully-booked, it will instead leave from Marfa Jetty like the other three trips.

The Scopoli’s Shearwater have been for more than 12 years the subject of ongoing studies by BirdLife Malta through several EU LIFE-funded projects which have been researching the lives of these secretive birds with the aim of creating marine protected areas to safeguard them.

This became a reality in 2016 when thanks to BirdLife Malta and its partners, an inventory of eight marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) where these seabirds breed was created, and these were designated as marine Special Protection Areas (SPAs) within the Natura 2000 network by the Maltese government, supported by the European Commission.

This gives Malta’s seabirds full protection on land and at sea. BirdLife Malta’s annual LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija Shearwater Boat Trips take place within the waters of one of these marine SPAs.

For more details and to book a place on one of these boat trips, one should visit the event webpage on BirdLife Malta’s website here: https://birdlifemalta.org/2019/06/shearwater-boat-trips-2019.

Bookings and payments are being accepted directly on the website through an online payment facility which has been created specifically for this popular event. Last year over 300 members of the public experienced first-hand this unique natural spectacle... if you would like to experience it this year hurry to book your seat as places are limited!

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