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Conservation research reports new alien species and declining local species in our sea

Photo of the Cocoa damselfish by S. Agius Darmanin, CBRG-UoM

16 January 2014

A first record of the Cocoa damselfish (Stegastes variabilis) in the Mediterranean Sea has been identified by the Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG) of the University of Malta led by Dr. Adriana Vella, Ph.D. This tropical reef fish species is not indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea, being native of Western Atlantic waters.

"Ongoing coastal research in collaboration with fishermen, as part of the projects run by Dr. Vella and her research group, has allowed various findings including the first Maltese records of other non-indigenous Mediterranean species: more specifically the Dory snapper (Lutjanus fulviflamma) and species of the Abudefduf genus (such as Abudefduf saxatilis and Abudefduf vaigiensis). The Indo-pacific Dory snapper is a reef fish, probably coming from the Red Sea while the tropical Atlantic and Indo-pacific reef Abudefduf fish, entered the Mediterranean Sea some years back and have recently been found in Maltese waters too.

"While new non-Mediterranean reef species are being observed in Maltese waters, a typical group of local colourful reef fish, referred to as wrasses, are on the decline. These wrasse species are Atlantico-Mediterranean and many are near or true endemics to the Mediterranean. While the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports one species (the green wrasse or Labrus viridis) of this group to be assessed as vulnerable in the Mediterranean, local conservation research by the CBRG, on this group of species is observing serious reductions for some of the wrasse species. For this reason conservation research is considered necessary in order to better understand environmental and biodiversity changes and how these will impact Maltese biodiversity and the goods and services it provides.

The CBRG considers the involvement of stakeholders as important and fishermen are effectively collaborating with researchers appreciating the urgent needs of our sea life currently under increasing pressures. The alien reef species reported above were caught during local sport fishing activities by Roderick Dimech, Josef Cassar, Sandro Zammit and Johan Portelli. The strange-looking dead fish specimen were forwarded to Sandra Agius Darmanin (post-graduate researcher) for scientific identification and investigations by the CBRG. Dr. Vella has been leading the CBRG since 1997, contributing to both scientific research and training in this biological field, essential for conservation management of our natural resources based on relevant knowledge.

For further information contact:

Dr. Adriana Vella, Ph.D,
The Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG),
The Biology Department, University of Malta, Msida.

The Dory One Spot Snapper. Photo by S. Agius Darmanin, CBRG-UoM

The Indo-pacific Sergeant.  Photo by Johan Portelli