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LIFE Bahar for N2K (Benthic habitat research for Marine NATURA 2000 Site Designation 

The LIFE BAHAR for N2K (LIFE 12/NAT?MT/000845) is a research programme that aims to conduct research on benthic habitats in Maltese waters to support marine Natura 2000 site designation and is 50% co-financed by the EU LIFE+ Funding Programme.

Marine habitats are subjected to multiple human influences and pressures. Consequently, various regional and international agreements and legal instruments have been enacted to manage such pressures and to protect the most vulnerable or ecologically important habitats. For instance, EU Member States are obliged to designate Sites of Community Importance for areas hosting vulnerable habitats and species under the EU Habitat’s Directive, while the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive calls for coherent and representative networks of marine protected areas. However, only very limited information is available on the location and conservation status of many marine habitats in the Maltese Islands, hindering the designation of representative habitat areas for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network. Against this background, the objectives of the Life+ Baħar project are:

1) Inventory and designation

The project aims to collect existing information on marine benthic habitats in Maltese waters, to carry out scientific surveys in areas where knowledge gaps are identified, and to analyse the data collected during these surveys in order to map the distribution of three protected habitat types: 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.

2) Increase participation and coordination of stakeholders

An active participation of all stakeholders throughout the duration of the project will be encouraged, and the project relies on the active cooperation between the project beneficiaries: the Malta Environment & Planning Authority, the University of Malta’s Department of Biology, the Department for Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the International Non-Governmental Organisation Fundación Oceana (based in Spain).

3) Conservation objectives for marine Natura 2000 sites

Active stakeholder participation in the Life+ Baħar project will be used to support the establishment of conservation objectives for proposed Sites of Community Importance and the protected habitats hosted therein. The ultimate aim is to provide a platform that will guide the management of Natura 2000 sites following the completion of the project.

4) Increase awareness

Through ongoing outreach and stakeholder involvement activities the project aims to enhance stakeholder understanding of conservation and management of marine resources and the Natura 2000 network in general.

 

The University of Malta’s Biology Department (UoM-DoB) 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.

In particular, the UoM-DoB research team will be :

  • Reviewing and critically assessing existing data on local benthic habitats, including the quality of available data, in order to identify gaps in knowledge;
  • Identifying sites where the three habitats under investigation (i.e. sandbanks, reefs and marine caves) are likely to occur, in order to focus surveys on under-explored locations;
  • Analysing biological data collected during field surveys in order to characterise the habitat types and subtypes; 
  • Contributing to the final assessment of the habitats being studied, including aspects such as habitat classification, relative coverage, species assemblages present, characterising species, conservation status, and threats and pressures.

Ultimately this will enable the compilation of a prioritised list of marine areas to be considered for designation as Sites of Community Importance.

For further information please visit the project website. 

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Last Updated: 22 October 2015

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