MALTA SEABIRD PROJECT - Creating an inventory of Marine IBAs for Puffinus Yelkouan, Calonectris diomedea and Hydrobates pelagicus in Malta

LIFE10 NAT/MT/000090

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Contact details:

Contact person: Nicholas BARBARA
Tel: +35621347646
Email: nicholas.barbara@birdlifemalta.org

Project description:


The LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater project (LIFE06 NAT/MT/000097) set a precedent for seabird research and conservation in Malta, trialling techniques for the identification of key feeding and rafting areas for the Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) breeding colony at Rdum tal-Madonna, the largest of its kind in Malta. This research was undertaken with the aim of trialling methods to identify marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for this and other seabird species, to help the Maltese government designate marine Natura 2000 Network Special Protected Areas (SPAs). As a second output, the Yelkouan Shearwater project created a roadmap for the Maltese government to fulfil its obligations of designating marine SPAs for its internationally important seabird colonies.


The MALTA SEABIRD PROJECT was the logical progression of the LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater project. It used the previous project’s roadmap to address the designation of marine SPAs for three bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, via the identification of marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Specific aims included the creation of an inventory of marine IBAs for Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), Scopoli's shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) and the Mediterranean subspecies of the European storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) breeding in Malta; the designation of relevant sites as SPAs within the Natura 2000 network; the identification of marine IBAs located within Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone (extending to 25 nautical miles radius) for the project’s three target species; and the enlargement and maintenance of the Central Mediterranean Seabirds at Sea database.


The MALTA SEABIRD PROJECT created a comprehensive inventory of marine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) for Yelkouan shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan), Scopoli's shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) and the Mediterranean subspecies of the European storm petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) breeding in Malta. This enabled the Maltese government to create eight marine Natura 2000 network Special Protection Areas (SPAs), in line with its obligations as a Member State under the EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) to designate SPAs for Annex I species.

On 28 June 2016, during the final conference of the project, Malta’s Minister for Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change formally announced Malta’s first eight Marine SPAs, covering no less than 27% of Malta’s Fisheries Management Zone (3 219.6 km2), which extends 25 nautical miles from Malta’s coast. The SPAs are: MT0000106 Il-Baħar tat-Tramuntana, MT0000107 Il-Baħar tal-Grigal, MT0000108 Il-Baħar tal-Lvant, MT0000109 Il-Baħar tax-Xlokk, MT0000110 Il-Baħar tan-Nofsinhar, MT0000111 Il-Baħar tal-Lbiċ, MT0000112 Il-Baħar ta' Madwar Għawdex, MT0000114 Il-Baħar tal-Majjistral. All these SPAs had been previously proposed as marine IBAs by BirdLife Malta and BirdLife International. Thanks to the project, all the important sites for the three target seabird species in Malta’s jurisdiction were granted protection under Maltese laws and under the EU Birds Directive. As a result, Malta is possibly the first EU country where 100% of its marine IBAs have been fully designated as marine SPAs.

The groundwork for this success was laid in the project’s preparatory actions. In particular, boat-based surveys (2012-2013) included 1 572 sightings of Yelkouan shearwater, 26 527 sightings of Scopoli’s shearwater and 304 sightings of European storm petrel. This was complemented by telemetry recordings (2012-2016) using radio tags and geolocators on storm petrel, geolocators and GPS data-loggers on Scopoli's shearwater, and GPS data-loggers on Yelkouan shearwater. Along with existing oceanographic and environment data, all the results were input into a GIS database. On the basis of modelled GIS data, the project team compiled a marine IBA inventory report.

The project team carried out 42 monitoring surveys on Filfla Island, estimating the European storm petrel population as 8 000 breeding pairs (50% of the world population of the Mediterranean subspecies). Furthermore, a total of 10 519 storm petrel and 439 Scopoli’s shearwater were handled for data collection purposes, and up to 10 accessible artificial nests were monitored. Nesting success rate on the island was estimated at between 60 and 78%. The team carried out 201 monitoring visits to the Rdum tal-Madonna colony, with 475 Yelkouan shearwater ringed and many subsequently recaptured. The population of Yelkouan shearwater at Rdum tal-Madonna was estimated to be about 500 pairs, with around 30 pairs of Scopoli’s shearwater also nesting there. A storm petrel chick was found in September 2016, which was the first known breeding record for storm petrel on mainland Malta. Nesting success for Yelkouan shearwater here was between 88% and 94%. The project established a platform to reach out to Maltese and Mediterranean-based research institutions, technology providers and stakeholders. The project’s awareness-raising activities included the production of an information pack, noticeboards, and a popular ‘seabird cave’ at the Malta National Aquarium. The successful Mediterranean IBAs workshop, held on Gozo (Malta) in November 2015, was attended by over 100 people of 18 nationalities. The good working relationship between BirdLife Malta in collaboration with the Ministry of Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (MSDEC), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), was considered instrumental to the project’s success.

The project was of high demonstration value and could be replicated by other countries in the process of identifying important marine sites for seabirds. It had several innovative aspects, such as the first successful radio tracking of storm petrel in the Mediterranean; the use of artificial nest boxes for storm petrel and Yelkouan shearwater; and the modelling of marine IBAs (e.g. the modelling of probability occurrences of seabirds based on years of robust data). In addition, the project made good use of best available technology to study a large marine area (25 nautical mile radius). All three target seabirds are suitable indicators of the marine environment, so ensuring their good conservation status should indirectly ensure that the environment they depend on is healthy.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Birds
Habitats - Marine


endemic species‚  marine ecosystem‚  protected area‚  island

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 ...
  • Marine environment and Coasts
  • Barcelona Convention for the Protection of Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Medit ...
  • Directive 2008/56 - Framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (M ...

Target species

 Calonectris diomedea   Hydrobates pelagicus   Puffinus yelkouan 

Natura 2000 sites

SCI MT0000006 Is-Simar (limiti ta' San Pawl il-Bahar)
SCI MT0000009 L-Inhawi tar-Ramla tat-Torri u tal-Irdum tal-Madonna
SCI MT0000016 Filfla u l-Gzejjer ta' Madwarha
SCI MT0000017 Kemmuna u l-Gzejjer ta' Madwarha
SCI MT0000019 L-Inhawi tad-Dwejra u tal-Qawra, inkluz Hagret il-General
SCI MT0000024 Rdumijiet ta' Malta: Ir-Ramla tac-Cirkewwa sal-Ponta ta' Benghisa



Coordinator BirdLife Malta
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description BirdLife Malta (BLM) is a non-profit organisation working for the protection of birds in Malta. It is the Maltese Partner in the global partnership, BirdLife International.
Partners Ministry for Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change (MESDC), Malta The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), United Kingdom Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), Portugal


Project reference LIFE10 NAT/MT/000090
Duration 01-SEP-2011 to 30-JUN -2016
Total budget 873,964.00 €
EU contribution 436,982.00 €
Project location Malta(Malta)


Read more:

Brochure "About the project"
Project web site Project's website
Project web site - 2 Project's blog
Project web site - 2 Project's Twitter page
Project web site - 2 Project's Facebook page
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman report (Maltese version)
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Video link "Eu Commissioner Karmenu Vella's address to the Mediterranean Seabird Conference" (4'15)
Video link "Yelkouan Shearwater nest, territorial fight!" (2'40)
Video link Project's video (footages, 4.51')
Video link "Yelkouan Shearwaters released after being stranded on land" (1'18)
Video link "Scopoli's Shearwater prelaying period 2016" (4.55')
Video link "Jack-in-the-box, update from our Yelkouan chick" (1'02)


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version