The currently ongoing United Nations’ Decade for Ocean Sciences (2021-2030) strongly advocates for increased awareness on matters that directly influence them, endorsing any nationwide campaigns among its members that help gather scientific information on marine issues.
In this regard, a collaboration reached between the University of Malta, through the International Ocean Institute (IOI) Malta Training Centre Director and Malta’s Ocean Ambassador, Prof. Alan Deidun, and the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Animal Rights, on Wednesday 2 June 2021, sees the two entities promoting the citizen science campaign ‘Spot the Alien Fish’.
This campaign is encouraging the general public, as well as Maltese and Gozitan fishers and divers to report any sightings of marine invasive species, and in doing so, better informing scientists to get a better idea and a more accurate picture of just how wide these species are spreading across Maltese waters.
A new set of attractive posters that explain, in both Maltese and English languages, how one can avoid being stung by the lionfish species, and what actions to take if they capture one of them, are being distributed for free among fishers and divers, and are also available electronically via the Aliens Malta website.
Prof. Deidun said that a GoPro 7 camera is also being offered as an incentive to whoever has the first verified sighting of the lionfish in Maltese waters.
This is not the only citizen science campaign to gather nationwide attention, with another two campaigns, namely the Spot the Jellyfish Campaign and the Spot the Non-Fish Alien Species Campaign also welcoming contributions from the public.
Attending a brief press event promoting the Spot the Alien Fish Campaign, Hon. Anton Refalo, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Animal Rights, expressed his and his team’s full support for such an initiative, saying that it’s always a positive sign to raise more awareness among those who are close to Maltese waters in their daily profession, so that they can keep carrying on their duties in the most well-informed way possible, and among the scientists who can keep track of how fast these species are spreading and what damage they might cause to indigenous species.
On a related note, the Ministry is currently leading another campaign, encouraging the consumption of the blue swimmer crab, a marine invasive species originating from the Persian Gulf, that is widely present in Maltese waters, and safe to eat, as it believes that this is the best way to keep that presence under control.
Prof. Godfrey Baldacchino, the University’s Pro-Rector for International Development and Quality Assurance, and the University’s representative in the SEA-EU (University of the Seas) Alliance, an alliance of 6 coastal European universities working together to remove knowledge barriers between countries starting with marine and maritime issues, was also present at this event. He not only commended the involvement of Maltese citizens in making observations and discovering more about our immediate surroundings, but also remarked that citizen science is an extremely important vehicle to democratise science and promote equal access to scientific information that makes for well-informed decisions by all.