LIFE Project Cover Photo

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

Reference: LIFE10 NAT/MT/000090 | Acronym: MALTA SEABIRD PROJECT



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).


Reference: LIFE10 NAT/MT/000090
Start Date: 01/09/2011
End Date: 30/06/2016
Total Eligible Budget: 873,964 €
EU Contribution: 436,982 €
Project Location:


Coordinating Beneficiary: BirdLife Malta
Legal Status: PRIVATE
Address: Flat 2, Xemxija Waterfront Apartments, Triq Is-Simar, SPB9025, Xemxija,
Contact Person: External Team NEEMO -TIMESIS SRL
Email: Send Email

LIFE Project Map



  • Birds
  • Marine


  • endemic species
  • marine ecosystem
  • protected area
  • island


  • Directive 2008/56 - Framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) (17.06.2008)
  • Barcelona Convention for the Protection of Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean of 1995 (further to the earlier version of 1976) (UNEP-MAP)
  • 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” (03.05.2011)


  • 0 - Non applicable (i.e.species project)


  • Hydrobates pelagicus
  • Calonectris diomedea
  • Puffinus yelkouan


Type Code Name
SPA MT0000006 Is-Simar (limiti ta' San Pawl il-Baħar)
SPA MT0000009 L-Inħawi tar-Ramla tat-Torri u tal-Irdum tal-Madonna
SPA MT0000016 Filfla u l-Gżejjer ta' Madwarha
SPA MT0000017 Kemmuna u l-Gżejjer ta' Madwarha
SCI MT0000019 L-Inħawi tad-Dwejra u tal-Qawra, inkluż Ħaġret il-Ġeneral
SCI MT0000024 Rdumijiet ta' Malta: Ir-Ramla taċ-Ċirkewwa sal-Ponta ta' Bengħisa


Name Type
BirdLife Malta Coordinator
Ministry for Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change (MESDC), Malta Participant
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), United Kingdom Participant
Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA), Portugal Participant