Fourth National Report to the cbd – malta executive Summary




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Figure 7 – Status of Butterflies and Moths in Malta (MEPA 2008)
epidoptera of the Maltese Islands have been considered as part of a commissioned study, which included a review of their distribution and status. An assessment of 87 possibly threatened species of Lepidoptera was hence carried out following such study, assigning a threat category, where this applied. Each species was assessed utilising the IUCN Criteria. Threatened species were included under Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. This led to the results depicted in Figure 7. Apart from 5% being extinct, 58% are indeed threatened, with a high degree having been assigned the worst threat status i.e. “Critically Endangered”. For instance, if one considers the threatened species7 only, almost 50% of these are critically endangered. Only 13% are “Near Threatened” or of “Least Concern”; there was not enough data to assess 23% of the species (+ 1 species which was not evaluated). The latter implies that actually more species that were initially assessed would possibly qualify as threatened, apart from the fact that 10% are close to being threatened if their situation remains as it is or if it worsens.

1.2.2 Habitats

The Article 17 assessment mentioned above in Section 1.2.1 has also resulted in the preparation of 31 datasheets on habitats: 26 terrestrial and 5 marine. Such assessment serves as baseline for monitoring habitat change in future years. Figure 8 provides a summary of the conservation status assigned to such habitats in Malta – with a few habitat types having a favourable conservation status. Figure 9, overleaf provides further details. It is apparent that further studies are needed to obtain the necessary details for assessing certain habitat types, especially, when considering those for which the conservation status is yet unknown.







Figure 8 – Conservation status of habitats of European Community importance (2008)

(MED – Mediterranean Region; MMED – Mediterranean Marine Region)





Figure 9 – Overall assessment of conservation status by habitat category (2008)

(The number in brackets indicates the number of occurrences)



The marine habitat type dominated by Posidonia oceanica meadows is indeed the only marine habitat for which the conservation status could be assigned, since details were available following a survey carried out in 2002. The aim of this survey was to map the important habitats formed by this species and to determine its extent and character (health status) in Maltese waters. The survey results indicate that Posidonia meadows were in a good state of health, with the channels between Gozo-Comino and Comino-Malta being very densely covered. Posidonia oceanica colonises approximately 1.4% of the 12nm Maltese territorial waters. Although some meadows have locally regressed, eroded or have experienced heavy epiphytic loads and reduction in shoot density, the status of this species and its meadows in the Maltese Islands is still overall relatively good and healthy. This survey has paved the way to select potential marine protected areas, especially to form part of the EC Natura 2000 network, noting that Posidonia beds is a priority habitat type in Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive.

    1. Trends

A biodiversity monitoring regime needs to be developed further in order to assess the conservation status of species of European Community Importance with an “unknown” status, and also to assess the status of species of national importance. Notwithstanding this, a number of indicators have been considered. Indeed, various indicators are included in this chapter (Sections 1.1 and 1.2 of this chapter). However, time series comparisons are limited since mostly baseline data is available, though Malta is active in gathering data for the development of indicators based on time series. Following the publication of the State of the Environment Report for 2005 (SOER 2005), which was already based on indicators, State of the Environment Indicators (SOEI) were published in 2006 and in 2007. These included indicators related to biodiversity, amongst other environment sectors. The publication of the 2008 SOER/SOEI is forthcoming. Over the years, different assessments have been carried out by different entities and individuals in relation to biodiversity in the Maltese Islands. Appraisals related to the status of species and habitats have been published through the years, with the latest assessment of habitats and species of EU importance being considered through the Article 17 Report submitted to the EC in 2008 as afore-mentioned in section 1.2. An indication of trends based on information gathered via the SOER process is provided hereunder.

1.3.1 Population Trends

Table 4, overleaf (reproduced from the 2005 SOER – Section on Biodiversity) provides an overview of the status and trends of groups of species.

PLANTS

Significant reduction in species diversity since early 1980s, particularly in sand dunes, freshwater wetlands and saline marshlands. Some species possibly extinct while others vulnerable or endangered, mainly through habitat loss or modification. The endemic Maltese Everlasting is now found only in Gozo. Increased species diversity is observed in disturbed habitats, possibly due to invasions by alien species that threaten native flora, including endemics.



MAMMALS

Variable trends and information available. Bats are generally declining. The Algerian Hedgehog seems stable, although the impact of vehicles needs more detailed assessment. Rats are increasing, particularly in urban areas, disturbed habitats and smaller islands, to the detriment of flora and fauna. Wild rabbit populations increasing in some areas, particularly Comino, which may negatively affect the regeneration of native plants and animals. Status of marine mammals is unknown.



FUNGI

Many species are confined to few areas, particularly forest remnants and selected garigue sites, of which a good number are protected. Increased human disturbance in key areas leading to possible decline.




FISHERIES

Mediterranean dolphin fish stocks appear unaffected by fishing pressure so far. Stocks of tuna and swordfish apparently diminishing. Large pelagic species account for over 60% of annual value of landings – these are heavily dependent on international management efforts. Fishing activities or effort distribution in the 25 mile Fisheries Management Zone should not be increased to ensure their sustainability and safeguard fish “refugia”.



INVERTEBRATES

Studies of a few well-known groups such as insects (e.g. butterflies) indicate general decline. Molluscs also declining in particular habitats, especially water-associated species, and some endemics threatened by human-associated disturbance and development.




BIRDS

33 bird species breed in Malta, of which some 20 retain constant numbers. Recent increases in breeding pairs for the Tree Sparrow are noted, while Corn Bunting numbers continue to decrease drastically. Spectacled Warbler still breeding in very low numbers but seems to be spreading slowly in Gozo. Most breeding in protected areas (Buskett and Simar sanctuary), where Moorhens, Little Ringed Plovers and Reed Warblers increased recently. Reed Warbler breeding records increased from 1 (at Salina) in 1995 to 8 (at Simar)8 in 2004.



AMPHIBIANS & REPTILES

Populations overall appear stable, although many species still vulnerable and/or subject to illegal exploitation. Despite lack of detailed assessment, endemic wall lizard populations appear stable, with the possible exception of those at Selmunett. Some snake populations appear to be increasing. Although marine turtles accidentally captured or injured are now being rehabilitated, their status needs assessment.






Sources: MEPA, Malta Centre for Fisheries Science, M. Gauci/Birdlife Malta, Coleiro 2002, Coleiro 2003, Bertrand et al 2000, Camilleri 2002, Camilleri 2005, MaLiRa Group 2004, Mosteiro and Camilleri 2005, MEPA Nature Protection Unit 2005

Table 4 - Population Trends of Certain Taxonomic groups (MEPA 2006)

As an update to the status of birds presented in table 4, it is noted that 34 bird species were recorded as either “Confirmed” or “Probably Breeding” in Malta in 2008, along with a further 3 introduced species. Recent increases in breeding success rates for Yelkouan Shearwater at their main colony at Rdum tal-Madonna are also noted. On the other hand, Corn Bunting numbers continue to decline. Spectacled Warbler still breeds in lower numbers than historically, but appears to be increasing again in Gozo. Many of the rarer species breed in protected areas (such as Buskett Bird Sanctuary and Għadira and Simar Nature Reserves), where species such as Little Grebe, Little Ringed Plovers and Reed Warblers retain their only Maltese breeding populations. Reed Warbler breeding records increased from 1 (at Salina) in 1995 to 8 (at Simar) in 2004. In 2009, the first pairs of Common Kestrel were confirmed breeding after an absence of 15 years. In that year, Pallid Swifts bred for the first time, Grey Wagtail returned after an absence of 150 years, and two species of finch were confirmed breeding (Common Chaffinch and Linnet).



1.3.2 Habitat Trends

Although garigue is one of the most common vegetation communities in the Maltese Islands it is fast declining due to land conversion. Specialised habitats such as valley watercourses and sand dunes have suffered extensive range constriction over the years due to habitat loss, modification and deterioration.



As part of the process of developing Malta’s NBSAP, a questionnaire-based survey was carried out directed at research and education entities, NGOs and environmental consultancy agencies. The following question was posed - “How would you rate the severity of the following direct drivers of biodiversity change in Malta (Legend: 1-not of concern; 2-low; 3-moderate; 4-high; 5-very high)?” Table 5 shows how respondents replied to the question.

Driver

Type of Ecosystem

1

2

3

4

5

Biotic exchange/Invasive alien species

Marine

14%

0%

43%

29%

14%

Freshwater

0%

0%

0%

43%

57%

Terrestrial

0%

0%

0%

57%

43%

Anthropogenic Climate Change

Marine

14%

0%

0%

57%

29%

Freshwater

14%

0%

14%

43%

29%

Terrestrial

14%

0%

29%

29%

29%

Changes in land use and cover – habitat transformation


Marine

17%

0%

33%

17%

33%

Freshwater

0%

0%

0%

17%

83%

Terrestrial

0%

0%

0%

0%

100%

Harvest and resource consumption - overexploitation

Marine

0%

0%

14%

14%

71%

Freshwater

0%

0%

14%

29%

57%

Terrestrial

0%

0%

14%

14%

71%

Nutrient Loading/Pollution

Marine

0%

0%

14%

43%

43%

Freshwater

0%

0%

14%

14%

71%

Terrestrial

0%

0%

0%

57%

43%

Table 5 – Responses to the question - “How would you rate the severity of the following direct drivers of biodiversity change in Malta (1-not of concern; 2-low; 3-moderate; 4-high; 5-very high)?”

CORINE land cover data provides a depiction of the extent of natural and semi-natural ecosystems compared to the country’s area (see Figure 1 in this chapter). When comparing the CORINE land cover maps of 2000 and 2006 and associated data, the SOEI of 2007 reports that the land use pattern of the archipelago has remained largely constant between 2000 and 2006.

Considering sectors related to biodiversity that take up land/sea area, namely agriculture and aquaculture, it can be stated that:



  • the share of organic farming is still minimal in Malta, apparently the lowest amongst European countries (vide for instance EEA technical report 5/2009 - Progress towards the European 2010 biodiversity target - indicator fact sheets – page 58);

  • taking into account the aquaculture production relative to length of coastline, it appears that the value for Malta is amongst the lowest when considering European countries (vide for instance EEA technical report 5/2009 – Progress towards the European 2010 biodiversity target - indicator fact sheets - page 62).

Habitat protection aimed directly at species conservation has been adopted in Malta in later years, with legislation being published for the first time in 2003 in this respect. The habitats concerned are especially those of European Community interest, listed in Annex I of the EC Habitats Directive. These include coastal and marine communities, garigue and steppe, maquis and woodland formations, and wetlands. An assessment was carried out in 2005 to estimate the cover of these habitats within Natura 2000 sites. Figure 10 give a summary of the results.




Figure 10 - Percent cover of the main habitat groups of EU Importance in Natura 2000 sites (MEPA 2006)

Of the 32.24% cover of the four habitat groupings when considering the total area covered by Natura 2000 sites (as at 2005), Figure 10 depicts that 53% of this is comprised of garigue and steppe communities. These include the very rare thorny burnet phrygana based on Sarcopoterium, found only in one locality across the Maltese Islands. It also includes other more frequent habitat types as are the Maltese Spurge communities based on the endemic Euphorbia melitensis and the Mediterranean xeric grasslands. Coastal communities9 comprise the second-largest group - 40% of the habitat groups of European community importance. On the other hand, maquis and woodland communities, and wetlands, together comprise only the remaining 7%, clearly depicting the fact that these habitat types are restricted across Malta.

As per above, habitats of European importance constitute about a third of the Natura 2000 sites that had been proposed up to 2005. The other areas are occupied mostly by natural habitat types of national importance, these including ericaceous heaths, labiate garigue, ermes, andropogonid grass steppes, rock-rose communities, together with other maquis, garigue and steppic communities. Buffer zones, mostly comprised of agricultural land, are also present within the sites. It should be noted that additional sites were and are being considered for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network, including marine sites. Additionally, further surveys are necessary to enhance the habitat mapping that has been carried out to date. Nevertheless, the change in relative cover of the different habitat types is not expected to change drastically.

1.3.3 Environmental Trends

Indicators documented on the State of the Environment for the years 2005, 2006 and 200710, have been compiled by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA) in partnership with the National Statistics Office (NSO). These indicators draw upon information and data deriving from environmental monitoring programmes carried out by various government agencies including the Malta Resources Authority, the Malta Standards Authority and the Department for Environmental Health. The indicators are considered according to 10 policy areas (Table 6). The faces accompanying the indicators have been awarded according to two criteria, related both to the overall dimensions of the problem and the recent trend.





Positive outlook



Outlook unclear or positive but limited, insufficient to reach targets



Negative outlook
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