Notices to Mariners issued for the conservation of threatened seabird

September 10, 2020 12:14 pm

BirdLife Malta’s LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project has partnered with Transport Malta to reduce the impact of maritime activities on the protected Yelkouan Shearwater in the Maltese Islands. Apart from the European Union’s LIFE programme as main co-financer, the five-year project – which is now coming to an end – is also co-financed by the Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning.

Yelkouan Shearwater chicks in one of the breeding sites (Photo by Paulo Lago)

Through this project, the Ministry for the Environment, Climate Change and Planning supported the preservation of biodiversity and the security of the populations of threatened seabird species breeding on the Maltese Islands.  It will also promote the review of policies on outdoor lighting – with a much sharper focus on light pollution in coastal and natural areas in the Maltese Archipelago.

Following research carried out under the project, guidelines to minimize the impact of boats at a total of nine sensitive sites that host Yelkouan Shearwater (Garnija) colonies in Malta and Gozo were formalised by BirdLife Malta and Transport Malta, and issued as Notices to Mariners in the past days.

Project partner Transport Malta’s enforcement team patrolling around sensitive seabird breeding colonies (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

Malta hosts 10% of the global population of the Yelkouan Shearwater; a seabird which only lives in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. These vulnerable seabirds breed along the Maltese coast, inside burrows in caves and on sheer cliffs between January and July. Because they are active only at night and the chicks stay inside deep burrows during the day, people are not aware of them when they are visiting the sites. Disturbance happens when large boats enter into small caves with high noise and lights. Stress from this disturbance may impact the breeding success of this threatened species.

BirdLife Malta partnership with Transport Malta through LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project leads to compromise safeguarding the vulnerable Yelkouan Shearwater

One of the objectives of the LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project was to reduce the disturbance from boat activities to breeding Yelkouans. As boat-based tourism is highly popular and a source of income for many families in Malta, the socio-economic impact of this objective on commercial boat operators was also considered.

To reach a compromise BirdLife Malta and Transport Malta discussed these guidelines with boat operators and also consulted with the Environment and Resources Authority. As a result three new Notices to Mariners covering a total of nine sites were issued today:

The project team carries out research at Yelkouan Shearwater colonies (Photo by BirdLife Malta)

The nine sites covered by the Notices to Mariners are:

  1. L-Irdum tal-Madonna, l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa
  2. Santa Marija Caves, Comino
  3. Cominotto
  4. St. Paul’s Islands
  5. Majjistral Nature and History Park
  6. Miġra l-Ferħa
  7. Blue Grotto, Żurrieq
  8. Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo
  9. Dwejra, Gozo

The Notices to Mariners coming into force with immediate effect will be applicable all year round and can be found listed here (Coastal) and here (Local).

Apart from these policies, BirdLife Malta has also shared a voluntary code of conduct with commercial boat operators and encourages all mariners to follow this code of conduct and contribute to the conservation of the threatened Yelkouan Shearwater in Malta by reducing the impact of their activities to a minimum.

Read the Maltese version of the press release here. You can also find the three Notices to Mariners issued by Transport Malta in PDF format (click on the links) below.

Boat disturbance may impact the breeding success of Yelkouan Shearwaters (Footage by LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija, editing by Katarzyna Pacon)