BICREF Assists Conservation Research
Among the various academic conservation research projects under my care, the scientific project on local dolphins, porpoises and whales has advanced a great deal since its launching in 1996 aimed at identifying the distribution, abundance, variety and individuals of cetaceans encountered around the Maltese Islands. Unfortunately prior to this project no scientific work had previously been undertaken on this group of marine animals, even though cetaceans are protected by local and international legislations. This conservation research project has been assisted by the members of the Biological Conservation Research Foundation (BICREF). This non-profit and non-government organisation consists of volunteers dedicating time and effort to local conservation research work.
The cetacean research project consists of several aspects
Each piece of information is important and fits in neatly with all the others. No stone is left unturned toward finding out all we can of these splendid creatures inhabiting our waters. With the increased vessel traffic, pollution, fishing activity, coastal development and global climate change, many marine species are facing survival problems. Knowing their biology and life-history requirements is a basic need to safeguard them in their natural environment. Locally, cetaceans are not always understood. Too often their coastal approach and relation with fish makes them vulnerable to the local needs of fishermen and fishing enthusiasts. Though most sea-users and fishermen admire the beauty and right of dolphins to their presence in our seas, some individuals still need to learn this.
Cetaceans are protected by International laws and the Mediterranean species are also protected by local laws, nonetheless, several dolphins ended up being killed accidentally or deliberately as evidenced by some dolphin carcasses found close to our coasts with shot wounds. Cetaceans should not be killed, disturbed or harassed. Even in case of strandings, it is the Environment Protection Department that has a leading role in making sure that the animal is handled in a responsible manner by authorized individuals holding special permission to do so.
Though this cetacean project is primarily an academic research project, the high quality achieved by the volunteers assisting in the field aspects of the project has allowed the work to go beyond office hours and during holidays. Also it was felt necessary to organise a new type of local non-government organisation (ngo), i.e. an ngo focusing on research for conservation. Since its conception in 1997, the Biological Conservation Research Foundation (BICREF) has focused little time and money on publicity, but has devoted all funds and concrete number of hours to assist in biological surveys and research, aimed at obtaining the so much required tangible data that make effective management possible. For the volunteers the enjoyment of working close to a wildlife biologist and in the natural environment has made them more motivated and interested in the advancement of local knowledge for the future conservation management of the organisms studied.
It is heartening to say that though research funds are hard to come by even at the University, local sponsors and government institutions actually allowed this project to continue into its fifth year. Thanks to assisting institutions such as, the MMA and the AFM, to private sponsors and to interested sea-users and fishermen, it is possible to sustain this necessary work effectively. It is positive to look forward to a greater contribution by sea-users and sponsors, which will further boost this research and conservation work in the near future. Indeed any interested sea-user should feel encouraged to give a hand by forwarding any information on cetacean sightings and photos. This valuable information could be forwarded at the contacts given below.
What cetacean species are found in our waters?
Well, the Mediterranean Sea is blessed with at least nineteen different cetacean species, out of which eight are seen on a regular basis. The latter include the Fin Whale, the Sperm Whale, the Culvier's Beaked Whale, the Long-Finned Pilot Whale, the Risso's dolphin, the Bottle-nosed dolphin, the Common dolphin and the Striped dolphin. Indeed it is wonderful to note that recently, Fin whales were sighted off the Sicilian coasts, most probably on their way to the Ligurian Sea where they seem to like spending their summer holidays! Around the Maltese Islands, the most popular are the Bottlenose dolphins, Common dolphins, Striped dolphins and Risso's dolphins.
There are no words that can express the joy in sighting and studying local free-living cetaceans. Our seas are indeed another universe of life still to explore. In order to make sure that there will be still lots to explore in the following generations it is our responsibility to make sure that the sensitive links in the marine ecosystem are kept healthy.
BICREF has recently contributed toward increasing local awareness on the presence and plight of cetaceans in our territorial waters and in the central Mediterranean Region though different projects. The first example is BICREF's project running between 2000-2004 in collaboration with the Royal Malta Yacht Club's Middle Sea Race and kindly sponsored by the Westin Dragonara, were BICREF is increasing local and international awareness on the presence and needs of cetaceans in the Central Mediterranean. Another example, is the roving Photographic Exhibition of Dolphins and other endangered marine organisms in Maltese Waters, sponsored by the Malta Tourism Authority which was inaugurated by the Hon. Minister for Tourism, Dr. Refalo in March 2001 and has since been obtaining very positive feedback from all those who have seen the photos at the Westin Dragonara Resort in April and at the General Workers' Union in May 2001. In so doing BICREF aims at showing how with many hours and days of intense and dedicated research work tangible results can be achieved, but also wishes to encourage the public in contributing toward conservation in every way they can. The research results are important in optimising the accuracy of our local conservation needs and awareness. Of course these local awareness projects would not have been possible with out the sponsors' determination to assist the conservation aims and without the dedication of all BICREF's members.
May I end this feature on a note of encouragement to all interested in the well-being of our sea. It is hard to engage on the difficult task of studying completely wild, free and agile animals in a vast sea, lacking a boat dedicated to this project. Nonetheless, the hard work and dedication, of the many engaged in this effort, has achieved scientific results that have now placed the Maltese Islands on the map for World Cetacean Research for Conservation. The next step is to continue monitoring and encourage real local conservation management of our marine resources. Only through scientific and long-term studies and monitoring may the complex marine ecosystems be elucidated to the levels required for practical conservation actions. We can all contribute in one way or another to the safeguarding of our unique marine environment. It is each one's duty and right to see how he or she can and should contribute. BICREF members' efforts and assistance toward BICREF's efforts by anyone interested are valuable contributions toward our natural heritage for generations to come.
For further information on this conservation
project and for queries on how you may assist contact:
Adriana Vella read her honours degree at the University of Malta. Through scholarships she pursued further specialization to doctoral level at the University of Cambridge (U.K). Since her return to Malta in 1995 she has joined the academic members of staff at the Biology Department of the University of Malta as full-time lecturer and researcher. Though she lectures in various biological subjects, she has been instrumental in organising the first University courses in Conservation Biology. She also supervises and undertakes conservation oriented research projects on local fauna and habitats. She collaborates with international research bodies such as the CIESM cetacean research group to promote Mediterranean cetacean knowledge and is currently the National Contact Person for the European Cetacean Society. Her cetacean research project was listed as the Research and Monitoring initiative at sea around Malta in the ACCOBAMS area - a bonus in future ACCOBAMS' initiatives (ACCOBAMS stands for Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black sea, Mediterranean sea and contiguous Atlantic area which Malta has recently ratified). Results from her cetacean research project have been presented at several International Conferences. She founded the biological conservation research foundation - BICREF as a means to allow individuals seriously wishing to dedicate time toward assisting local research for conservation to have a means of focusing their efforts.
Web design & graphics by
Copyright ©Sharkman's Graphics