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Title: Biodiversity conservation and utilisation in the Maltese Islands
Authors: Stevens, Darrin T.
Lanfranco, Edwin
Mallia, Adrian
Schembri, Patrick J.
Keywords: Biodiversity -- Malta
Biodiversity conservation -- Malta
Biodiversity conservation -- Malta -- Planning
Nature conservation -- Malta
Protected areas -- Management -- Malta
Marine biodiversity conservation -- Malta
Issue Date: 1995
Publisher: Commonwealth Science Council
Citation: Stevens, D. T., Lanfranco, E., Mallia, A., & Schembri, P. J. (1995). Biodiversity conservation and utilisation in the Maltese Islands. Commonwealth Science Council Conference on Identifying and Monitoring Biodiversity and its Utilization in Commonwealth Small Island Developing States, Velletta. 1-33.
Abstract: The Maltese archipelago which occupies an area of c.316km2 consists of the inhabited islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino and several other uninhabited islets and rocks. In spite of their restricted area, the limited number of habitats, and the intense human pressure, the Maltese Islands support a very diverse terrestrial and freshwater biota, with some 2000 species of plants and fungi known, more than 4000 species of insects, several hundred species of other invertebrates, and more than 200 terrestrial or freshwater vertebrates; of these c.80 taxa are considered as endemic. The most characteristic terrestrial ecosystems are those represented by the Mediterranean scrubland, of which the maquis, garigue and steppe are the main types present - evergreen woodlands are all but extinct and only four relict patches occur. Minor terrestrial ecosystems include rupestral, freshwater and coastal communities including sand dunes, saline marshlands and rocky coasts. Marine communities include those characteristic of both hard and mobile substrata. Human impact is significant, and human influence is a key feature of the islands' ecology. In fact, the population density is the highest in Europe and built-up areas have increased from 5 to 16% in the past 30 years. Some 38% is agricultural land and 46% of the area is undeveloped, but even so, no wilderness areas remain in the Maltese Islands. The management practices of the islands include mainly those concerned with agriculture, animal husbandry and herding, and the use of fire, which all proved to be detrimental to the local biota, mainly through habitat destruction, the removal of competing species and the introduction of alien ones, particularly goats, rabbits and sheep. All these human activities have put great stress on the Maltese biodiversity, with a consequent impoverishment of the flora and fauna. Flora and fauna which are directly or indirectly exploited in the Maltese Islands are reviewed. Work on biodiversity carried out by national institutions, government departments, agencies and non-governmental organisations is also outlined. Legislation safeguarding biodiversity is relatively new to Malta. Prior to the Environment Protection Act [EPA] (1991), and the Development Planning Act [DPA] (1992), legislation mainly protected species due to their associated economic importance. Both the EPA and DPA have permitted the creation of protected areas. The EPA also protects some of the flora and fauna, including some 10% of the endemics. The DPA, on the other hand incorporates the Structure Plan for the Maltese Islands which is a strategic plan meant to harmonise development with conservation. On the international level, Malta is party to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which is implemented locally by means of regulations controlling trade in species of flora and fauna (1992). Malta is also party to the Ramsar Convention, the Berne Convention, the Barcelona Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Law of the Sea Convention.
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