Malta risked missing an EU deadline for managing the country’s 14 designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) unless the necessary resources were roped in to establish the necessary management plans in two years’ time, the National Audit Office said.
In a report published yesterday, the NAO said the government had already missed a deadline for one of the 14 sites.
“While the government has committed to have the management measures in place for all the 14 MPAs it designated, the six-year time period for developing and adopting management plans outlined by the EU Habitats Directive has elapsed for one out of these 14 sites.
“Malta has announced that it would develop management plans by 2020… nonetheless, the risks that the remaining plans pertaining to the other designated MPAs will not be completed by the established deadlines prevail,” the NAO said.
The report noted that the threats to the marine environment caused by economic and recreational activities were not being adequately addressed because of a lack of monitoring and enforcement, the absence of site-specific management plans or similar management measures, as well as weaknesses in administrative capacity.
The NAO was looking into the management of protected areas within Maltese waters meant to protect habitats and seabirds in accordance with the Natura 2000 framework.
The 14 designated Marine Protected Areas constitute around 30 per cent of the Maltese Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ).
The NAO noted that until such plans were in place, it would remain problematic for national competent authorities to converge their efforts – rather than embark on initiatives to safeguard their particularistic interests – to ascertain the sustainability of marine biodiversity.
“This is evident as the various National Authorities are focusing their efforts to ensure compliance to their respective mandate rather than taking a holistic view and approach to ascertain the sustainability of marine ecosystems. Additionally, this state of affairs hinders compliance surveillance and enforcement as National Authorities do not have the common management criteria against which to plan and implement these functions,” according to the report.
The NAO highlighted the risks to conservation, including the impact of economic activities on MPAs, such as anchoring at is-Sikka l-Bajda and excessive diving at Mġarr ix-Xini.
“The former leads to potential risks of degradation of posedonia oceanica while the latter threatens the biodiversity of this site. This illustrates the critical need for the more expedient adoption and implementation of the national strategic framework, including site – specific management plans,” it warned.
The NAO made a number of recommendations aimed at strategic, administrative capacity and operational levels.