Country Profiles

Malta - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The Maltese archipelago is located in the central Mediterranean and approximately 93 km south of Sicily and 290 km north of the African continent. The archipelago consists of a group of three islands, Malta and the two smaller islands of Gozo and Comino, together with a series of smaller uninhabited islets, which are found scattered around the 271 km long coastline of the islands. Islets such as Filfla, St. Paul’s Islands and Fungus Rock are of a very high conservation value in that each harbours endemic species, as well as distinct plant communities. The topography of the islands is low-lying for the most part, comprised of low hills and terraced slopes only; there are no mountains, rivers or lakes present. The scarcity of freshwater has contributed to the overall rarity of freshwater flora and fauna in the Maltese Islands, especially those species that are dependent on a relatively constant supply of water.

With a relatively small land area of 316 km2, Malta displays an interesting variety of flora and fauna in the islands and its surrounding waters. Malta’s isolated yet central position in the Mediterranean has led to some species exhibiting elements of Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean, and North African and Sicilian affinity. The historical interchange of species has particularly influenced the composition of plants and animals that currently inhabit the Maltese Islands. The urban fabric, which covers approximately 22.3% of land area, is also important for certain species that have managed to adapt to living alongside man and use man-made structures as refuges. Such species include various birds, invertebrates, and reptiles. Other species that are encountered within urban environments include the House Mouse, shrews, and bats, with the latter roosting in old and abandoned dwellings and bastions.

When considering the flora, vascular plants are the most taxonomically diverse and are also the most studied group. Malta’s indigenous flora amounts to some 1,200 species of flowering plants with around 25 strict endemics. The endemic - Maltese Rock Centaury, Maltese Cliff-Orache and Maltese Everlasting - are included amongst the top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants at the brink of extinction. The first documented record of Polypodium vulgare L. subsp. melitense has increased the number of currently present pteridophytes to 10 species. While on the other hand the macrofungal mycoflora of the Maltese Islands may amount to some 400 taxa, there are still gaps in knowledge in the Maltese mycoflora, in particular the microfungal taxa, and indeed a sizeable proportion remains unidentified or partially identified. In terms of the fauna indigenous to the Maltese Islands, there is an immense diversity of insects, this being the most taxonomically represented group with new records continuously being discovered. As a result of the scarcity of freshwater ecosystems in Malta, and rivers being entirely absent, freshwater organisms are very limited in number. One can also appreciate the importance of soil biodiversity. Numerous diverse species live in Maltese soils. Such soil types act as a habitat and food source for soil microorganisms, microfauna, macrofauna, megafauna, microflora and macroflora. Important habitat types in terms of soil biodiversity include woodland remnants of various types.

The importance of Maltese biodiversity has been echoed in various works, with authors expressing the necessity to safeguard the country’s natural heritage. Benefits derived from ecosystem services, such as provision of food and raw materials, freshwater and clean air, are indeed considered to be indispensable life-support services. These greatly contribute to the human well-being and quality of life of the Maltese population. Biodiversity also provides other key benefits to the Maltese community, including scenic, recreational, scientific, educational, cultural and socioeconomic benefits. The use of certain local biological resources also provides the country with a degree of self-sufficiency and reduces its reliance on the importation of foreign produce and resources. It also minimises the risk of the introduction of invasive non-native species and pests associated with plants and plant products, which could severely impact Maltese agriculture and horticulture, not to mention other environmental and socioeconomic impacts that these could cause.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The high population density and the growing demand for natural resources have adversely affected the conservation status of a number of species and habitats alike. The State of the Environment Report for Malta (2005) acknowledged development in rural and marine areas, the introduction of non-native species that may compete with native biodiversity, and the exploitation of wildlife, as the main threats to local biodiversity. This was reiterated in State of the Environment Report for Malta (2008). The four economic sectors that are considered to have the most significant impacts on the environment are housing, transport, energy generation and tourism. The conservation status of native and endemic flora is thwarted by an intricate suite of threats that act simultaneously to the detriment of Maltese biodiversity. Such threats can be essentially traced to changes in land use and mismanagement of natural resources. Ensuing adverse impacts include those associated with pollution, nutrient overload, land fragmentation, soil erosion, anthropogenic climate change and biological invasions.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Adopted in December 2012, Malta's first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2012-2020), entitled "Working Hand-in-Hand with Nature", serves as a policy driver to set the country on the right track to meet its biodiversity and environmental objectives, as identified in Malta's National Environment Policy (2012) and in the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and EU targets. The NBSAP addresses the need to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services through biodiversity integration in decision-making as well as within policies, plans and programs of those sectors that act as drivers of biodiversity change. The NBSAP also aims to mobilise action in order to contribute to the achievement of the EU biodiversity headline 2020 target at a national level. Nineteen national targets have been adopted and are aligned with the Aichi Targets while still reflecting national priorities and contexts. The timeline for achieving the national NBSAP targets is 2020.

Malta’s NBSAP addresses both direct and underlying causes of biodiversity change. NBSAP measures are grouped into the following thematic areas: Genetic Resources and Diversity; Species and Habitats; Ecological Network of Protected Areas; Biological Introductions; Sustainable Use of Biological Resources; Sustainable Use of Natural Resources: Soil, Water and Land; Climate Change; Pro-biodiversity Businesses and a Green Economy; Financing Biodiversity; Communication, Education and Public Awareness; Participatory Conservation; Enforcement; Environmental Assessment; Research and Development; Biodiversity Monitoring; Networking and Information Exchange; Capacity Building; and, Other Sectoral Integration. Each NBSAP measure is accompanied by an indicative timeline. The latter is classed into four categories in the form of different colour coding to reflect the timeline when each measure is expected to be implemented or achieved.

A number of strategic directions are defined and are viewed as pre-requisites in specifying the means required for meeting the NBSAP targets. These strategic goals draw attention to the need for a proper valuation of biodiversity and integration in decision and policy-making, a coherent biodiversity monitoring framework to improve knowledge of Malta’s biodiversity, resource mobilisation (e.g. human, financial, technical resources) to enhance national capacity and enabling activities, strengthening the science-policy interface, promoting local participation and public-private partnerships in support of biodiversity, and strengthening the integration of biodiversity concerns in those sectors that depend on ecosystem services.

CBD, EEA, SEBI and EU indicators, including the EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline, have been adapted to serve as examples of indicators to measure progress towards NBSAP implementation and are subject to revision.

Implementation of the NBSAP requires collective and coordinated action across relevant sectors and at all levels using existing or updated environmental and relevant sectoral policy instruments. New policy instruments for biodiversity are being developed at the EU level, as required by the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. These include for instance the forthcoming EU Regulations dealing with the compliance aspects of access and benefit sharing and with invasive non-native species and will be directly applicable to Malta.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Malta is currently undertaking various activities that contribute towards the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and implementation of Malta’s NBSAP. Significant progress is noted in the context of awareness and educational events, greater uptake of research projects and use of funds, strengthening of the legal regime affording protection to species, momentum in the implementation of the management planning process for terrestrial protected areas falling under the Natura 2000 Network as well as further designations in the marine environment, and continued mainstreaming of biodiversity in key sectoral policy instruments such as in the field of climate change adaptation and in proposals on spatial planning. Biodiversity considerations are also made in the implementation by Malta of EU Policy such as the Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The practice of undertaking EIAs and SEAs is also ongoing.

The status of species and habitats of Community importance present in Malta has been re-assessed in 2013. Results show an increase of 37 percentage points for habitats and 20 percentage points for species that have a favourable conservation status. This upward shift primarily resulted from the fact that Malta has gained additional knowledge on the habitats and species assessed, including enhanced data interpretation, such that the assessment could be carried out in a more comprehensive manner. A few genuine changes were also noted.

Other activities as defined in the NBSAP are in the pipeline. For instance, the exercise of assessing and mapping ecosystems and their services, will shed light on which areas warrant conservation action including restoration as well as any considerations of deploying elements of green infrastructure.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

Malta’s NBSAP includes measures that address the need to strengthen and mobilise resources, to address knowledge gaps and to promote capacity building. Efforts aimed at enhancing the legislative framework as part of the better regulation initiative is an ongoing practice. There are a number of ongoing EU co-funded research projects in the marine environment that will generate new knowledge on marine turtles (loggerhead turtle), cetaceans (bottlenose dolphin), seabirds as well as benthic habitats (namely sandbanks, reefs, and submerged or partially submerged sea caves). The results of such projects will also shed insight to the need for any additional site designation in the marine environment. Malta is also currently finalising its national operational programmes on European Community funds. Biodiversity considerations are made in the development of such programmes in consultation with the competent authorities. Such programmes once completed will assist the exercise of developing a national biodiversity financial plan.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

A review of the implementation of the NBSAP will be undertaken in 2014, 2017 and 2020. The indicators that will be used to assess such progress will be based on national, CBD and EU indicators, including the EU 2010 Biodiversity Baseline. Malta’s NBSAP is a living document, which will continue to evolve on the basis of experiences gained and review results with respect to its targets and actions. This reviewing process will continue to rely on consultations with relevant stakeholders.