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Biodiversity congress unearths the woes of Malta’s habitats

Mako shark, a protected species, is sometimes passed off as swordfish by supermarkets and restaurants. Photo: Shutterstock

Mako shark, a protected species, is sometimes passed off as swordfish by supermarkets and restaurants. Photo: Shutterstock

Illegal fishing and the depletion of fish stocks is leading to false claims on the type of fish offered by supermarkets and restaurants, a biodiversity conference was told.

Mako shark, a protected species, is sometimes passed off as swordfish in Mediterranean countries.

Informing consumers on how to tell the difference would help improve the situation, according to a marine specialist speaking at the Fourth International Congress on Biodiversity held earlier this month.

Legal diplomat Simone Borg, known for her role in international climate talks, said on the first day of the congress that formulating simple legal measures to protect biodiversity would be essential to capture the attention of both politicians and the general public.

The need for an integrated approach between oceans and climate is clearly there but action remains superficial, said Prof. Borg, adding that science would always have knowledge gaps but action could not wait.

“No matter how many research papers you write, unless you get through to lawyers and politicians your work will remain on paper,” she told congress participants.

The incidence of environmental law has swept aside the burden of proof, explained Prof. Borg. This means that even when harm is not proven, but there is an indication it is likely, then steps must be taken to prevent it.

One out of three species of praying mantis in Malta is now practically extinct and the Common Blue butterfly is no longer a common sight

President Marie-Louise Coleiro  Preca spoke of the high risks of society continuing along the present path while calling for deep-rooted change:

“Sustainable development goals are a call for action not only for government but within our communities and individual lives.”

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has put the number of species being lost daily to 150 in the face of habitat destruction, pollution and over-exploitation.

Guido Bonnett, one of Malta’s most influential naturalists, pointed to the negative effect which the loss of large gardens to development in Sliema and Attard was having on butterflies, especially on the Red Admiral. An observed increase in the number of dragonflies could be explained by these insects expanding their range due to climate change.

He added that one out of three species of praying mantis in Malta is now practically extinct and the Common Blue butterfly is no longer a common sight.

Also of concern is the situation at Buskett nature reserve. The undergrowth, so important a habitat for insects, has been declared a fire hazard and removed. The Civil Protection Department is worried about the possibility of a fire breaking out in the wood despite the fact that there hasn’t been a fire in the Buskett woodland in 500 years.

“Rotting wood is part of the biotope and should not be cleared. A 100-year-old tree, which provided a territory marker for the speckled wood butterfly, has been cut down to allow access to a farmer,” said former environment authority director Alfred Baldacchino.

A unique stand of pistachio trees, which added to the diversity of the reserve, was allegedly ripped out by a landscaping consortium to be replaced by citrus trees, duplicating already existing habitats.

And an assemblage of fennel providing a food source for the swallowtail butterfly near the abandoned Trade Fair Grounds had been sprayed with a toxic herbicide by the Naxxar local council.

Perchlorate, from year-round fireworks, is also thought to be behind a marked decrease in diversity of insects on the Maltese Islands.

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