[Pictured: Buskett Gardens]
With invasive alien species (IAS) being the second most important factor threating global biodiversity, including the Maltese Islands, the preservation of our organisms, including plants, animals and even micro-organisms has been an environmental priority to the government, researchers and environmentalists who all ongoingly strive to fight against accidental introductions, the naturalisation of alien invasive species and harmful plant pathogens to indigenous species.
FAST – Fight Alien Species Transborder, which falls within the framework of INTERREG V-A ITALIA-MALTA 2014-2020, was kicked off remotely on 16 April 2021, in the presence of the Sicilian and Maltese partners and contributors to this project, including the Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning, the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food & Animal Welfare, the University of Malta through its Institute of Earth Systems, Malta’s Plant Protection Directorate, the Environmental Resource Authority and Ambjent Malta.
The project recognises that the issue of Invasive alien species (IAS) is to be dealt with on a large scale and using common methodologies over the transboundary zones. The project will attempt to control established invasive alien species and reduce the number of red-listed species, which currently amount to 1872 in Europe, 354 of which are IAS.
FAST, which will go on for 30 months and will come to an end in May 2023, will release a comprehensive, online database of alien species present in Sicily and Malta, publish a catalogue of alien species in the two countries, produce informative scientific publications, release a data-video through a series of drone-images, and elaborate on regulatory suggestions based on the identification of main pathways of alien. This project will, through its implementation, also be supporting Malta’s National Biodiversity and Action Plan, and on a wider level, the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030.
The University of Malta’s role in this project, the local principal investigator of which is Prof. David Mifsud, whose work will be supported by a team of researchers and a research support officer, will be to scientifically monitor, assess and determine the IAS.
During the kick-off meeting, Prof. Mifsud noted that together with the other partners, he has been working hard for the past five years for this project to be launched, and expressed his gratitude that it is moving forward to implementation stage.
Prof. Mifsud explained that three particular areas across the Maltese islands have been identified for the monitoring and assessing part of the project, namely the limits of Buskett and Girgenti, Il-Maghluq ta’ Marsaskala, and the limits of Xlendi and Wied Kantra. All three are Nature 2000 sites, as are the four corresponding sites chosen in Sicily, meaning that they are part of a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species.
Prof. Mifsud also informed those following that meeting 10% of non-native organisms tend to become invasive as they have moved from their original habitat to other places. This process has been going on because of the rapid effects of climate change, trade, tourism and other human activities. Once they move, these species will reproduce in the new territory, and because of this, they will interfere with the local flora and fauna.
“This is especially why we need to raise more awareness on the matter, and document the changes happening before us – we need to act fast to help prevent the loss of biodiversity as much as possible”, he said.
FAST is co-financed by the INTERREG framework and the European Regional Development Funds to the collective tune of almost €2 million.