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International Marine Mammal Conference to be held in Malta for the first time

05 March 2015

The European Cetacean Society Conference, from the 23rd to 25th of March, is an educational and scientific event being held in Malta for the first time through the organisational involvement of the NGO BICREF and The University of Malta, Conservation Biology Research Group. Sponsorships in aid of this unique event is provided by various bodies, including the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business and the Ministry of Finance.

As Malta together with all other European member states pave their way toward more integrative, knowledge-based sustainable maritime development involving the implementation of various Conventions and Directives among these, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, this marine conference on flagship and indicator species brings to the fore what is often ignored. Although dolphins and whales are among the most popularly liked species, they also stand out as being among the most vulnerable with certain species still requiring research, such as Risso dolphins and Sperm whales while others already found to be endangered with declining population numbers.

An example of the latter is the Common dolphin's Mediterranean subpopulation which was reported as being endangered through scientific studies by various researchers across this region in 2003 - a local to regional effort. An effort to which the long-term research started in Maltese waters in 1997 by Dr. Adriana Vella, Ph.D (Cambridge) leading the Conservation Biology Research Group of the University of Malta and assisted by BICREF volunteers has contributed to. This same ongoing local research has allowed for different discoveries including coastal presence of Fin whales and the year-round presence and movements of the different species of cetaceans in the central Mediterranean Sea.

Marine mammal research also allows for the investigation of various other species and aspects of the marine environment proving to be useful toward an integrative assessment of the sea and its marine life. Locally Dr. Vella and her research team has found everyday support for this conservation project from various collaborators, including the Armed Forces of Malta, fishermen, Royal Malta Yacht Club, maritime institutions, sea-users and interested members of the public too.

The most difficult challenge for marine conservation biologists is to increase recognition of issues often put aside due to their apparent distance and irrelevance to our everyday routines. However the good quality of our marine life is an integral requirement for good quality of life and our health. This quality needs to be assessed, monitored and taken care of just as the air we breathe and the water we drink. What better indicator of marine quality of life can there be than considering the survival of our closest relatives - marine mammals - reflecting the state of their three-dimensional world with varying conditions and increasing human impacts?

 

 

The upcoming conference focuses on these issues therefore contributing to future improvements in marine science, education, veterinary treatments, mitigation measures and conservation management. It is not surprising therefore that this conference has already attracted over 350 delegates from all over Europe and beyond and will allow the presentation of numerous scientific and conservation efforts from a local to global perspective reflecting the theme of this conference.

Due to the scope of this conference various international bodies are also contributing including: The Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA); Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS); Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS); and the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS). Additional support is being supplied by the Malta Tourism Authority and the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate change.

To add on to the outputs and contribution of this event in Malta various other educational and awareness activities are being held during this conference. In fact the conference will be preceded by workshops on various topics including bio-acoustics, mitigation measures and guidelines, pathology, rescue practices, research ethics and marine science education in schools. These will be held between the 21st and 22nd of March. There will be a public local awareness event on the 24th of March in the evening and a special seminar for youths on the 26th of March which will target tertiary education students in Malta and Gozo and will be addressed by marine mammal scientists from Europe and USA focusing on how conservation starts best from knowledge and needs to be spread through effective education and awareness. Interested persons are invited to contact the ECS conference organisers to register for any event listed above.

For more information visit: www.bicref.org  or email: bicref@gmail.com or contact: Dr. Adriana Vella, CBRG, Dept. of Biology, University of Malta on adriana.vella@um.edu.mt