The Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Environment together with Birdlife Malta has launched EU LIFE+ funded Malta Seabirds Project. The event took place at the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana. The project is led by Bird Life (Malta) in collaboration with the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment. The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA) bring extensive experience on seabird research and establishing marine protected areas. MEPA and the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) have also lent their support to the project.
Minister de Marco congratulated Bird Life (Malta) and its partners for managing to secure EU LIFE+ funding for this important project, which, alongside three other successful Maltese initiatives was selected from amongst over 700 projects proposed by other EU member states last year. The Minister highlighted the importance of the project within the context of the overall challenge of conserving our biodiversity, which, the Minister said was under pressure from human activities and factors like climate change.
“But even though these threats are not unique to Malta, we have to be particularly vigilant. Malta also has the highest population density in the EU, which makes our biodiversity especially vulnerable to pressures from human activities”, Dr de Marco has said. “The project will gather scientific knowledge about the status of important seabird species, which will enable us to design measures for their conservation”, the Minister added.
The Maltese islands are internationally important breeding grounds to three Mediterranean species of seabirds: Cory’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea, Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan and European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus melitensis. On land, breeding colonies of these species enjoy a protected status as designated Special Protected Areas (SPAs) forming part of the Natura 2000 network. However, Malta is obliged by the EC Birds Directive to protect also the marine habitat within its waters where these Annex I listed seabirds spend much of their lives.
“Little is known at present where the key foraging areas of the focal species are” said Dr Benjamin Metzger, Head of Research in the LIFE+ Malta Seabirds Project. The principal aim of the LIFE+ Malta Seabirds Project is therefore to identify areas at sea that are important to the survival and successful breeding of the Maltese seabirds. This will be achieved by using the latest technology available to track birds at sea, including Global Positioning System (GPS) tags that can collect information about the birds’ location hundreds or even thousands of miles from land. Boat based observations will yield information about important feeding and resting areas at sea. This information will then be collated to identify Important Bird Areas within the 25 nautical mile Maltese Exclusive Fishing Zone.
The project, which is 50% funded by the EU’s LIFE unit, is the second project on the island focusing on seabirds, following the successful completion of the EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project in 2010. The project will follow up and expand its research on Malta’s seabirds to identify important sites at sea for them. The project will work closely with MEPA, the authority responsible for the Natura 2000 network of protected areas in Malta, to propose these areas for designation as Marine Special Protected Areas.
The project is part funded by the EU LIFE fund. The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment. The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental policy and legislation by co-financing pilot or demonstration projects with European added value.
The Nature & Biodiversity component will co-finance best practice or demonstration projects that contribute to the implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Natura 2000 network. In addition, it will co-finance innovative or demonstration projects that contribute to the implementation of the objectives of Commission Communication (COM (2006) 216 final) on “Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 – and beyond”.
For further information, see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/home.htm