Protecting sites for Malta’s seabirds: Malta’s first Marine IBA

Last Friday, 30th of August, BirdLife Malta and other partners in the Life Yelkouan Shearwater Project (2006-2010) celebrated one of the most significant conservation milestones for seabirds and migrating birds in Malta. Thanks to years of study, both by researchers working on Malta’s first EU LIFE project, the Yelkouan Shearwater Project (2006-2010), and by local ornithologists who have been documenting observations of breeding and migrating birds for decades, the Malta-Gozo Channel has been declared as Malta’s first Marine Important Bird Area (IBA).

Aerial view of Malta's first Marine Important Bird Area: the Malta-Gozo Channel

Aerial view of Malta’s first Marine Important Bird Area: the Malta-Gozo Channel

The channel is important for three threatened bird species, the Yelkouan Shearwater and the Scopoli’s Shearwater, which breed on the sea cliffs next to the channel, and the Ferruginous Duck, which pass in large numbers on migration.  The small Mediterranean country already boasts eleven terrestrial IBAs, including Ta’ Cenc cliffs in Gozo, the island of Comino, Rdum Tal-Madonna, Buskett woodland and Wied il-Luq, and the tiny islet of Filfla (home to 50 per cent of the Mediterranean’s breeding European Storm Petrels). Four of these are  coastal areas.

A Scopoli's Shearwater dips its wing-tip, almost touching the surface of the water as it skims over the sea. Photo by Nicholas Galea

A Scopoli’s Shearwater dips its wing-tip, almost touching the surface of the water as it skims over the sea. Photo by Nicholas Galea

With the conclusion of the current Life+ Malta Seabird Project (2011-2015), Birdlife Malta hopes to identify other marine IBAs for the Maltese Archipelago, in particular for the three species of tubenoses that breed on its cliffs and feed in its waters.

See what the Malta Seabird Project team have been doing in the field this year:

Cliff-top bird counts

Seabirds at sea

Oldest shearwater recorded in Malta

A flock of Ferruginous Ducks migrating through the Malta-Gozo Channel pass in front of one of the cross-channel ferries the transport people and vehicles between Malta and Gozo. Photo by Ray Galea

A flock of Ferruginous Ducks migrating through the Malta-Gozo Channel pass in front of one of the cross-channel ferries the transport people and vehicles between Malta and Gozo. Photo by Ray Galea

A Yelkouan Shearwater gliding above the sea between wing beats. Photo by Frank Dhermain

A Yelkouan Shearwater gliding above the sea between wing beats. Photo by Frank Dhermain

About Important Bird Areas:

IBAs are key sites for conservation, small enough to be conserved in their entirety and often already part of a protected-area network. To be considered as effective they should at least hold a significant number of one or more globally threatened species, or be a site that holds a suite of restricted-range species or biome-restricted species, or either have an exceptionally large number of migratory or congregatory species. The IBA criteria are internationally agreed, standardised, quantitative and scientifically defensible. Ideally, each IBA should be large enough to support self-sustaining populations of as many as possible of the key bird species for which it was identified and declared. Furthermore, in the case of migrants, an IBA should fulfill their requirements for the duration of their presence.  In this way, we hope the identification of new Marine IBAs will help give added protection, not only to seabirds, but also to all migrating birds that pass across this important flyway.

Click this link to see all the Birdlife International Marine IBAs of the world! http://maps.birdlife.org/marineIBAs/default.html

The extent of the new Marine Important Bird Area, which includes the island of Comino. Image from Google Earth.

The extent of the new Marine Important Bird Area, which includes the island of Comino. Image from Google Earth.

To find out more about the Life+ Malta Seabird Project and how you can get involved please send an email to ben.metzger@birdlifemalta.org or phone the BirdLife Malta office on 2134 7644-6.

To see more news, photos, videos and regular updates from the Malta Seabird Project, visit our facebook page.

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