Today Oceana launched its second expedition to document previously unexplored marine areas in Malta as part of the LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project. Scientists from several countries including Malta will research underwater caves, sand banks and reefs in order to provide the Maltese government with enough data to identify new Sites of Community Importance under Natura 2000, a network that gathers together areas of high ecological importance in the European Union.
This year, improvements to technical equipment have been incorporated to enhance the performance of the campaign team’s work. Such improvements, including the use of underwater scooters, will now allow divers to move faster and be able to spend more time documenting secluded caves. Additionally, a boat equipped with a multi-beam sonar will work in parallel to survey the underwater terrain. The sonar will also serve as a vital tool for scientists to be more precise when choosing research spots and will help increase the efficiency of Oceana’s Remotely Operated Robot (ROV), which is able to reach 1,000 metres deep.
“We are very excited about the final leg of our at-sea work in Malta. Last year’s findings include large coral reefs, undiscovered caves at great depths and species that were rare or had never been found in this part of the Mediterranean. Discovering so many ecologically-valuable features in a country famous for its diving spots proves that the true abundance of the sea is yet to be fully uncovered. The protection of these areas will allow for a better conservation of Malta’s rich marine heritage and eventually a healthier Mediterranean”, said Ricardo Aguilar, expedition leader and research director at Oceana in Europe.
Both expeditions will sum up a total of 120 days of intense work at sea on board Oceana’s research catamaran, the Ranger. In 2015, the field work lasted 52 days and included 106 dives carried out by the ROV and divers. The images gathered are still being analysed and, together with this year’s findings, will serve as the groundwork for the creation of marine protected areas.
LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project is co-financed by the EU LIFE+ Funding Programme and led by the Environment and Resources Authority in collaboration with the Maltese Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the University of Malta and Oceana.