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Mepa designates four new marine protected areas

Four new marine protected areas which cover over 18,000 hectares of the Maltese marine environment have been designated by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The sites are -

* a significant stretch of area along the north east of the islands; and three smaller areas

* Mġarr ix-Xini;

* Dwejra; and

* an area between Għar Lapsi and Fifla.

They are being protected so that the underwater habitats in the area are preserved in all their beauty, for the enjoyment of the present and future generations.

These sites were primarily identified because they provided protection for more than 80 per cent of Posidonia beds found in the Maltese Islands.

Posidonia beds commonly referred to in Maltese as mergħat tal-alka is a priority habitat which is given special importance by the EU, as it is in danger of disappearing.

In the Mediterranean, this habitat provides both food and shelter for a number of marine species, acts as a carbon sink and protects sandy beaches from sand depletion.

These sites were also chosen for their geographical representation and good conservation status of this habitat.

Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco said that from the 28 Special Areas of Conservation of International importance which have become Natura 2000 sites, only one was a marine protected area.

For this reason, Mepa, as the competent authority responsible for the Habitats Directive that obliged member states of the European Union to identify protected areas in accordance with a specific set of criteria, had been working intensively to identify further marine sites.

Environment Protection Director Martin Seychell said:

“During 2010, the year dedicated to biodiversity by the United Nations, the authority has actively been working on various fronts to make sure that the safeguarding of our biodiversity is one of our top priorities.

“The designation of four new marine protected areas comes just a few days after Mepa scheduled the two valley systems of Wied il-Miżieb and Wied tax-Xaqrani located along the Mellieħa ridge.”

Environment Protection Officer Christopher Cousin explained that while the designated marine protected areas will enjoy a high degree of environment protection, not all activities occurring or proposed to occur in such areas would automatically be prohibited.

Any proposed activity would have to be assessed in terms of the likelihood and significance of its impact on the biodiversity for which the site was protected.

The first marine Natura 2000 site in Malta was designated in 2008 when the authority granted protection status to the coastline along the area off the northwest coast of Malta, between Rdum Majjiesa and Ras ir-Raħeb.

The Natura 2000 Network is an ecological network of protected areas designed to protect the most seriously threatened habitats and species across Europe.

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