Externally-funded projects

Current projects

The IDEM (Implementation of the MSFD to the Deep Mediterranean Sea) project aims to support the next phase of the implementation of the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). In particular, the project aims to achieve a regionally coherent, coordinated and consistent initial environmental assessment and determination of Good Environmental Status (GES), as well as the definition of sets of environmental targets, for the Mediterranean deep sea (which, for purposes of this project is taken to be waters deeper than 200 metres). Beside this, IDEM aims at understanding, quantifying and mapping drivers, anthropogenic pressures and impacts, current knowledge and spatial coverage of data regarding the MSFD indicators in the Mediterranean deep sea.

IDEM will review the current determinations of GES, environmental targets and criteria/indicators assessed so far for Mediterranean coastal areas to see if these can be adapted to the Mediterranean deep sea. This will be done through literature surveys and reviews of existing information, and from data generated through scientific surveys already scheduled as part of ongoing national or international programmes during the lifespan of IDEM. Furthermore, an integrative analysis of all indicators will be performed in order to identify key areas for monitoring.

The IDEM consortium comprises nine partner institutions from six countries: Cyprus, France, Italy, Israel, Malta, and Spain. The role of the Department of Biology of the University of Malta is to collect, collate, synthesise and provide information pertinent to the deep sea of the central-eastern Mediterranean sub-regions.

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The LIFE BaĦAR for N2K (Benthic habitat research for Marine NATURA 2000 Site Designation) project aims to gather existing and new data on the location, range and conservation status of protected marine habitats listed in the Habitats Directive, primarily sandbanks, reefs and marine caves. Marine surveys will be carried out using research vessels equipped with a Multibeam Echosounder, Side Scan Sonar and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), as well as by the use of SCUBA diving. Benthic habitats will be surveyed from the Maltese coastline up to the 25 nautical mile boundary of the Maltese Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ), and down to depths of 1000m below sea level.

Following the surveys and interpretation of the data collected, sites that are considered a priority will be proposed for designation as Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) to form part of the European Natura 2000 network.

An important aspect of the project is to achieve active participation by stakeholders by providing a platform for discussion throughout the whole project. Furthermore the project will also identify conservation objectives in collaboration with key stakeholders. These objectives are the first concrete steps towards the future management of protected areas.

The Department of Biology is providing expertise on characterization and mapping of central Mediterranean benthic habitats, on the identification of characterising species, and on the use of statistical applications to analyse ecological communities, as well as general scientific advice on biological aspects of the project.

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The MANTIS project aims to provide scientific recommendations for the establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas to increase fisheries sustainability in the Central Mediterranean.

Most of the demersal fisheries in the Mediterranean target overfished stocks, are characterised by high juvenile fishing mortality rates, and produce significant amounts of discards. A key requirement to harvest resources in a more sustainable manner is to shift the size at first capture to larger individuals. Increasing mesh sizes to protect juveniles from fishing impacts is however difficult in fisheries which target small-sized commercial species, such as shrimp. An alternative management strategy is to reduce catches of juveniles by protecting the nursery habitats where they aggregate through establishment and implementation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Against this background, the main objectives of MANTIS are to (i) review and integrate scientific data available on the space-time dynamics of fisheries resources in the Central Mediterranean, and (ii) investigate how a network of MPAs can contribute to improving fisheries sustainability in the Central Mediterranean.

The MANTIS project consortium includes partners from Italy, Croatia, Malta as well as two international NGOs (WWF and Fundacion Oceana). The main role of the Department of Biology on this project is the provision of technical expertise on modelling of population dynamics and spatial interactions between target species and bottom otter trawl fisheries operating in the Central Mediterranean.

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In 2008, the Mediterranean Science Commission (CIESM: Commission Internationale pour l'Exploration Scientifique de la Mer Méditerranée) launched a programme called ‘Tropical Signals’ with the aim of  detecting, monitoring and understanding the effects of climate warming on Mediterranean marine biodiversity using representative biological indicators of change.

Researchers from the Department of Biology were given the role of implementing in Malta the biological monitoring protocols designed by the ‘Tropical Signals’ participants (presently 21 research teams from 15 different countries) for common application in all participating countries. The entry and spread of non-indigenous and other newcomer species in the Mediterranean has been linked to a changing marine environment, and monitoring such species is an important component of the ‘Tropical Signals’ programme.

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Past Projects

CoCoNet (Towards COast to COast NETworks of marine protected areas - from the high shore to the high and deep sea - coupled with sea-based wind energy potential) was a research project which aimed to address the need for scientific community to come together, synthesise existing knowledge and provide clear information to enable the establishment of a 'network of networks' of MPAs in the Mediterranean and Black Sea with a coordinated policy of marine protection.

The CoCoNet project had two main themes:

  1. Identification of prospective networks of existing or potential Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, shifting from a local perspective (centred on single MPAs) to the regional level (network of MPAs), and finally to the basin as a whole (network of networks). The identification of the physical and biological connections that exist among MPAs were investigated in order to elucidate patterns and processes of biodiversity distribution.
  2. Exploration of areas where offshore wind farms might be established, with the aim of producing an enriched wind atlas for the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

The Department of Biology's role was to contribute to the first of these two themes. CoCoNet included 39 partner institutions form 22 European, Mediterranean and Black Sea Countries.

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The EMPAFISH (European Marine Protected Areas as tools for Fisheries management and conservation) project was initiated to promote a basis for responsible and sustainable fisheries activities that contributes to healthy marine ecosystems, resulting in an economically viable and competitive fisheries industry that guarantees a fair standard of living for those who depend on it. The primary objective was to investigate the potential of different regimes of protected areas as measures to protect sensitive and endangered species, habitats and ecosystems from the effects of fishing, using 20 case studies where management regimes range from totally prohibited zones ('no take zones') to protected areas where different levels of fishing are accepted either on a seasonal or activity basis, and covering a broad geographic area from the Mediterranean to the Canary Islands and the Azores.

A secondary objective was to develop quantitative methods to assess the effects of marine protected areas where these methods are lacking or not well suited to assess the relevant type of effects. To cover these objectives the project aimed to reach a better understanding of structure and dynamics of marine ecosystems, including their response to the impact of human activities, and to develop operational protocols and procedures in order to improve scientific advice to fisheries management combining the long experience of the partners in monitoring and evaluating the effects of MPAs and the ecological processes involved, and in modelling socio-economic impacts of fisheries. 

The Department of Biology participated in this project by investigating two case studies: (i) the Rdum Majjiesa and Ras ir-Raħeb MPA, and (ii) the Maltese Fisheries Management Zone. The EMPAFISH consortium consisted of 14 partners from Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Malta and the United Kingdom.

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The EC-funded BIOMAERL project linked laboratories in the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Malta.The objectives of the project were to:
  1. Investigate and describe the biodiversity of maerl systems in the NE Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea
  2. Investigate the structural factors causing differences in biodiversity between sites. This involved detailed assessment of site edaphic factors, in particular the structural complexity of the habitat
  3. Investigate the interactions of the key habitat-structuring organisms
  4. Investigate the dynamics of community composition over time, especially the impact of natural disturbances
  5. Identify anthropogenic threats to, and assess the resilience of, maerl grounds.

The collaboration provided a comprehensive biogeographical coverage of sites from Scotland to Galicia in the Atlantic, to Alicante and Malta in the Mediterranean, covering a substantial range of conditions under which maerl systems occur in European seas. A detailed inventory of regional biodiversity of maerl beds was compiled based on the project results for the first time.

Surveys carried out as part of this project discovered an extensive maerl bed off the northeastern coast of Malta and Gozo, covering an area of about 20km2 of the seabed, at depths of between 40m and 80m. The maerl bed proved to have high species diversity with 244 animal and 87 algal taxa recorded; molluscs, crustaceans, and annelids were the dominant taxa in the endobenthos, and bryozoans and sponges in the epibenthos.

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