LIFE Migrate Project (LIFE11 NAT/MT/1070) aims at enabling studies to be carried out on the status of the population of the loggerhead turtle and of the bottlenose dolphin in Maltese waters. With a budget of nearly of 1 million Euros, 50% of which will be co-financed by the EU LIFE Fund, this project commenced on the 1st October 2012 and will run till April 2016.
Loggerhead turtles and of the bottlenose dolphins are protected by the EU legislation (the EC Habitats Directive) as well as numerous other multilateral agreements to which Malta is a party. In order to adequately protect these species, we first have to understand their status and gather knowledge on the type of habitat that may be essential for them, so that we can also protect their habitats, if present.
At the time being, there is a lack of comprehensive information regarding these species and any essential habitats in Malta; the project aims to try to close these knowledge gaps as much as possible, so as to find out more about their conservation status and any important areas for the continuation of their life cycle. The project should lead to the identification of such areas as potential feeding areas or important migratory routes, if these are found to be present, and the protection of such important sites.
More specifically the targets of this project are:
- To carry out desk studies to identify any potential hotspots through the use of GIS, mapping essential data such as habitats, temperature, salinity, bathymetry, currents, and others. The data will be analysed in order to identify potential areas for consideration
- To verify these areas identified as potential hotspots, through the use of boat-based observations. These will be carried out periodically. Apart from the official boat-based survey carried out by the coordinating beneficiary, the project also aims to involve interested stakeholders; fishermen, leisure-craft owners, etc, on a voluntary basis. The volunteers will be provided with training in order to allow them to record sightings effectively. These boat-based observations will help to gather more data, but also to market the project and increase its visibility
- To assess the Conservation Status of Tursiops truncatus and Caretta caretta and create baselines for the assessment of trends
- If adequate sites are found, they will be anlaysed and submitted for protection
- To carry out awareness-raising and education efforts through the use of a project website and electronic newsletter, as well as information material including brochures and a short video. The project website will be regularly updated to ensure that interested parties are kept abreast of the developments of the project. The electronic newsletter will serve to disseminate particularly significant progress achieved, and the brochures and short video will contain more general information about the project. The project will also aim to feature on popular TV programmes, radio programmes, and in newspapers and magazines. The involvement of volunteers recording sightings and observations is also expected to serve as a significant awareness-raising measure
Although the main target species are those mentioned above, any other important species which will be encountered through out the project will also be recorded.
The study area for this project is the Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ). This area was originally established as a 25 nautical mile Exclusive Fishing Zone (EFZ) in 1971. In 2004, it was retained as a Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) through EU Council Regulation No 813/2004 of 26.04.2004. This area includes smaller zones protected as artificial reefs, conservation areas around wrecks, and SACs and SPAs, and also includes areas where fishing is prohibited for reasons of public health.
For this project, MEPA has partnered up with KAI Marine Services (Spain), and the Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment (MTCE).
1) KAI Marine Services
KAI Marine Services, which have extensive expertise on such matters, and have worked in Spanish waters, where they assisted in the identification of crucial areas for such species.
KAI Marine have an international, interdisciplinary team with over 10 years of experience in the development of LIFE Nature projects, setting protocols and standards for the monitoring of conservation status of protected species, primarily cetaceans (dolphin, whales and porpoises) and marine turtles, and contributing actively in international, regional and European biodiversity frameworks.
The Ministry for Tourism, Culture and the Environment (MTCE), which has under its portfolio, amongst other areas, responsibility for the environment. As the Environment Ministry therefore, it is responsible for ensuring the implementation of the EU environment acquis and environmental protection.
Bank of Valletta is co-financing this project and is supporting it as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility environmental programmes.
MEPA will also be involving the general public, including boat owners and other sea users, who would like to participate in this conservation initiative. This will help part of the project’s actions, whereby we will be collecting more information about these amazing creatures that inhabit our waters.