Boating activity restrictions introduced to protect Yelkouan Shearwaters

Paulo Lago

Boating activities are being restricted in a number of areas along the coast – which all lie in the vicinity of sea caves and cliffs – in a bid to protect the vulnerable Yelkouan Shearwaters.

BirdLife Malta – whose LIFE Arċipelagu Garnija project seeks to protect the seabird species – has teamed up with Transport Malta in a bid to reduce the disturbances of boat activities to breeding Yelkouans.

Malta hosts 10% of the global population of the seabird species, which can only be find in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The seabirds breed along the Maltese coast, inside burrows in caves and on sheer cliffs, but as they are active only at night and their chicks stay inside deep burrows during the day, people are often unaware of their presence.

However, the birds are often disturbed when large boats enter small caves, blasting music and using lights. Stress from this disturbance may impact the threatened species’ breeding success, BirdLife maintained.

Restrictions cover 9 coastal sites

BirdLife observed that boat-based tourism was highly-popular, and that the impact of restrictions on commercial boat operators was also considered in a bid to reach a compromise solution.

Ultimately, following consultations with boat operators and with the Environment and Resources Authority, three new Notices to Mariners covering a total of nine sites have been issued. The nine sites covered by the notices are as follows:

  • L-Irdum tal-Madonna, l-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa
  • Santa Marija Caves, Comino
  • Cominotto
  • St. Paul’s Islands
  • Majjistral Nature and History Park
  • Miġra l-Ferħa
  • Blue Grotto, Żurrieq
  • Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo
  • Dwejra, Gozo

The notices do not restrict access to commercial boating activities that is generally present in the areas in question, such as fishing and diving vessels, and in the case of the Blue Grotto, the commercial vessels which organise tours to the site.

However, they do restrict access to the most sensitive areas by all other vessels, but in any case, any non-compulsory lighting and sounds is prohibited in the buffer zones outlined, while strict speed limits have been introduced. The restrictions apply year-round.

BirdLife Malta has also shared a voluntary code of conduct with commercial boat operators, highlighting that it did not require major changes in activities.

The measures would also help protect other seabird species native to Malta, including the Scopoli Shearwater and the Mediterranean Storm Petrel.