Dolphin and Sea Turtle Conservation in Malta

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Basic research to define marine protected areas

Bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles are protected under EU law and a range of international agreements. However, to effectively control threats to these species, we need in-depth knowledge about population size, distribution, habitat use and potential dangers. Based on these data, key areas for dolphins and sea turtles can become part of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas in Europe.

The Spanish organisation SaveTheMed (formerly KAI Marine Services) has carried out this basic research as part of the European LIFE Migrate Project in Maltese waters. OceanCare supported and partly accompanied the research project in 2013 and 2014. During this time about 5,330 kilometres of research trips yielded 293 sightings of loggerhead turtles, 19 sightings of bottlenose dolphins, 15 sightings of striped dolphins, and 12 sightings of common dolphins, a species highly endangered in the Mediterranean Sea. One encounter with a sperm whale was also documented.

This research clearly shows the importance of the waters around Malta for the loggerhead turtle, especially for adolescent animals. Because many of these endangered sea turtles die as bycatch in nets or on fishing lines, it has been important to inform local fishermen about how they can apply technical changes to reduce these accidental catches.

In 2014 a number of workshops took place in Malta, involving representatives of fisheries, shipping traffic, tourism, security, energy, education and nature conservation. They discussed measures to protect local marine wildlife. OceanCare’s presentation focused on the threats posed by plastic pollution and highlighted options for action.

The first research results were presented in two scientific conferences in 2015. Maltese authorities will use the results in designating Natura 2000 marine protected areas and in implementing conservation measures.