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Biodiversity and Sustainable Development in the Strait of Sicily

By Alessia Spampinato - Biodivalue Project Coordinator, GAL Xlokk

23 July 2014

Biodiversity is about the degree of variation of life on earth, and is thus at the basis of human existence. This explains why it is so important to protect the latter as well as the ecological and evolutionary processes that ensure its conservation.

Thanks to all the environmentalists that have long been advocating this, a large number of initiatives have been taken at global and national level to encourage, support and help bring about sustainable development while ensuring conservation of biodiversity. One such initiative in Malta is the BioDiValue Project, which stands for Biodiversity and Sustainable Development in the Strait of Sicily. The latter is a strategic project funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the Italia-Malta 2007-2013 Operational Programme, which is being implemented by GAL Xlokk, the University of Malta through its Physical Oceanography Unit and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and six Sicilian entities - all involved in environmental protection activities. The main aim of this project is to research and study the negative effects of maritime traffic pollution in the Strait of Sicily so as to develop a set of tools able to measure the risk of loss of biodiversity.

For islands like Malta and Sicily, it is well understandable to have a high concern for protecting marine biodiversity, especially when maritime traffic is so intense that it can seriously disrupt the marine ecosystems balance. In order to counteract the negative impacts which the high level of maritime traffic is causing in the Strait of Sicily, Malta and Sicily joined forces way back in 2011 to research about the pollution resulting from this traffic. The project, which started being implemented in July 2012, is in fact studying the flow of vessels in the area of sea enclosed between the South Eastern Sicilian Coast and the Maltese and Pelagian Islands.

Identifying the negative impacts of maritime traffic pollution on water, marine sediments, flora and fauna, and the effects on the vessel generated waste is among this projects' objectives, along with the quantification of the costs to be incurred for restoring the marine environment to the status preceding pollution. Another project objective is developing a software which is able to collect all the findings into a system useful for maritime traffic administrators.

So far the most important achievements yielded by the Biodivalue project include:
• The design and development of a towfish, which will be used to collect samples of water and sediments as well as images and video.
• A project website is up and running, Vessel trackers which allow finding out the number and characteristics of vessels approaching or anchored at the ports in question can be accessed from this website.
• One sampling campaign has been carried in the Sicilian and Maltese ports under study during last summer, and a second campaign should be completed this Summer. These campaigns will enable to determine the physical impact of maritime traffic pollution on water, sediments and biodiversity.
• The vessel waste generated impact assessment has almost been completed and it is already evident that important findings will be derived from it.
• The Biodiware software specifications have been set, and the procurement process for selecting the company to develop the software has kicked off.
• The advertising and communication plan is now in place. Thanks to GAL Xlokk, project brochures are already available for distribution during the project's upcoming events.

GAL XLokk and Green Life are now focusing on the procurement of the experts which will carry the economic impact analysis of maritime traffic, for which a methodology has recently been devised. Considering that the project end is approaching (23rd January 2015), the focus will be on carrying the economic impact analysis, testing and fine-tuning the towfish and developing the BioDiWare software. Moreover, during the coming months the partners will also host a series of events to discuss project findings with the main stakeholders.