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Title: Physical geography and ecology of the Maltese Islands : a brief overview
Other Titles: Malta : food, agriculture, fisheries and the environment
Authors: Schembri, Patrick J.
Keywords: Ecology -- Malta
Animals -- Malta
Plants -- Malta
Malta -- Climate
Geomorphology -- Malta
Geology -- Malta
Issue Date: 1993
Publisher: Options Méditerranéennes
Citation: Schembri P.J. (1993). Physical geography and ecology of the Maltese Islands: a brief overview. In S. Busuttil, F. Lerin, & L. Mizzi (Eds.), Malta : food, agriculture, fisheries and the environment (pp. 27-39). Montpellier: CIHEAM.
Series/Report no.: Options Méditerranéennes;B
Abstract: The Maltese archipelago, occupying an area of c.316 km 2 and situated in the central Mediterranean, consists of the inhabited islands of Malta and Gozo and a number of uninhabited islets and rocks. The islands are composed mainly of limestone of Oligo-Miocene age. Soils are young, show little horizon development, and are very similar to the parent rocks. There are no mountains, streams or lakes, but only minor springs. The main geomorphological features are karstic limestone plateaux, hillsides covered with clay taluses, and gently rolling limestone plains. The southwest coast is mainly steep sea-cliffs and the land tilts gently seawards to the northeast. The islands are riven by valleys which drain runoff during the wet season. The average annual rainfall is c . 530 mm of which some 85% falls during the period October to March. The mean monthly temperature range is 12-26°C. The islands are very windy and sunny. Natural water resources depend on percolating rainwater which collects in limestone aquifers. The flora and fauna are rich with c. 2,000 species of plants and more than 3,000 species of animals recorded to date; a relatively large number of species are endemic. The main ecosystems are maquis, garrigue and steppe. Minor ones include patches of woodland, coastal wetlands, sand dunes, freshwater and rupestral communities and those of caves. Human impact is significant. The resident population density is 1,140 per km2. Some 38% of the land area is cultivated and c.16% is built up. Environmental problems include accelerated soil erosion, quarrying, disposal of waste, high levels of chlorides and nitrates in the water supply, and loss of habitats and wildlife. The most important environmental issue at present is the rational use of land, a problem which is only now being tackled by the Maltese Government.
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