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HomeSeperatorMEPA NewsletterSeperatorOUTLOOK 2SeperatorMALTA’S UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY

MALTA’S UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY

Biodiversity

2010 is the INTERNATIONAL YEAR FOR BIODIVERSITY – it’s time for us all to sit up and take action to protect it. OUTLOOK takes a look at the unique biodiversity of the Maltese islands and identifies areas that are of particular value to local biodiversity.

The diversity of life on earth is often referred to as ‘biodiversity’, a term which encompasses the entire variation of living organisms and their habitats found on the planet. This is undeniably a very wide, all-encompassing understanding of what biodiversity is, but it is more important to understand that biodiversity affects each and every one of us, especially since it provides essential 'services' necessary for human survival and economic activity.

From this definition of biodiversity, it almost goes without saying that different regions across the globe are home to different species and ecosystems. Despite their tiny land mass and the enormous demands made by the country’s population on the limited area available, the Maltese islands harbour a diverse array of fora and fauna.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF MALTA’S BIODIVERSITY

From a geographical point of view, the island’s biodiversity unsurprisingly bears a resemblance to that found in other areas of the Mediterranean. The coastline on the north-eastern part of the islands is gently sloping, in contrast to the magnificent sheer cliffs that typify the western and southern parts of the islands. The ecological importance of these cliffs, and boulder screes, is immediately evident when one takes a look at the unique ecological communities that they support.

In fact, there are a number of species that are restricted solely to this habitat such as the Maltese Cliff orache (Bjanka tal-irdum), the Maltese rock-Centaury (Widnet il-Baħar) and the Maltese door Snail (dussies), the latter being one of the rarest animals in Malta  and Gozo.

The cliffs are also of value as they provide shelter and breeding grounds for a variety of birds, including the Cory’s Shearwater (Ċiefa), the Mediterranean hearwater (garnija) and the Storm Petrel (Kanġu ta’ Filfa).

The islands’ coastline also features a number of bays, harbours and inlets. Semi- natural terrestrial habitats including steppe, garrigue, maquis and woodland, also form part of the islands’ biodiversity.

Considering the marine environment, seagrass  (alka) meadows probably represent the most important natural marine habitat type in Maltese waters. They are of particular significance, in that they provide shelter, as well as a place for breeding and feeding, for a variety of marine organisms.

THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS

The Maltese authorities have implemented various measures throughout the years with the aim to prevent and mitigate negative impacts on biodiversity. For instance, major progress has been made in enacting a comprehensive legal framework and in establishing an ecological network of protected areas, with the aim of safeguarding biodiversity. An increasing number of species and habitats are now benefiting from legal protection, which is an essential way in which several native species, that are threatened and/or endemic, can be safeguarded.

Of course, there is always room for improvement and a number of challenges need to be addressed. Invasive alien species, climate change and the exploitation of wildlife, are all issues that are posing threats to the islands’ biodiversity.

While various measures are being introduced by the relevant authorities to combat these challenges, it is essential that both the public and industry make an effort to become more familiar with Malta’s biodiversity and appreciate how it is so intrinsically linked with our daily lives. The islands’ biodiversity must be understood and respected before it can be adequately protected, and each and every one of us has a role to play in achieving this long-term aim.

MALTA’S BIODIVERSITY – FACT Box

  • The magnificent cliffs on the western coast of the islands are of particular importance to local biodiversity as they are home to a number of plants, provide shelter and act as a breeding ground for a variety of birds.
  • Seagrass meadows represent the most important natural marine habitat type in Maltese waters. They provide shelter, as well as a place for breeding and feeding, for a variety of marine organisms.
  • Invasive alien species, climate change and the exploitation of wildlife, are some of the issues that are posing threats to the island’ biodiversity.
  • Legislation is not enough to protect Malta’s biodiversity in the long-run. The general public has an essential role to play in the safeguarding of the island’ biodiversity and is encouraged to actively seek more information on how they can help.