Restoring Threatened Habitats

S-Cubed will be organising a clean-up of Riviera Martinique and adjacent areas on the 23rd of March 2019. This event is in collaboration with the Gaia Foundation, an organisation which takes care of management of Natura 2000 sites and Blue Flag beaches in both Għajn Tuffieħa and Ramla l-Ħamra.

The coastal cliffs in Għajn Tuffieha Bay are sites of high ecological importance. They are home to various endemic, threatened or protected species on clay slopes. Threatened and protected habitats like the Mediterranean Salt Steppe and Sand Dunes are also present in this area. The foundation works to protect the site from various forms of negative environmental impacts and pressures like trampling and picnicking on the clay slopes or sand dunes, off-roading, soil erosion and fires.

The dominant keystone species on the slopes are grasses including the Esparto Grass species, due to their role in maintaining balance between endemic and alien plants. Posidonia oceanica banquettes are highly abundant along the arm of the beach. The leaves, reefs and matte provide structural complexity for many species of isopods, insects and amphipods to find shelter from both the environment and predators.

The area is under threat from various activities, including off-roading, trampling and camping. These activities cause significant amounts of erosion of the clay slopes and subsequent degradation of the biological assemblages thriving on them. Hunting and trapping in the conservation area are highly problematic. These activities are seen taking place throughout the area, with particular significance on the clay slopes and plateau surfaces. Although these activities are not permitted in certain parts of the area, certain zones are accessible for hunters. Sand erosion is a significant problem throughout the islands with sandy beaching becoming very limited such they only constitute about 2.5% of the coastline. Posidonia sp. not only provides a habitat for several species but it also provides protection to the underlying sand, decreasing the rate of erosion significantly. Upon removal of these beds, the sand becomes exposed to wind and wave action. These are usually removed from the main beach at the beginning of the summer months to make bays more attractive for bathers.

Visitors of the beach need to be made aware of the importance of the seagrass through the use of signs in the area.

The beach and the surrounding areas are littered by various types of waste, despite the abundant waste bins present. Microplastics are also a being observed on the beach of this site. These are less than 1mm in size and are formed by fragmentation of larger plastic materials through wind and wave action, as well as photo-oxidation by sunlight. These plastics are consequently being found in high quantities in the guts of many marine species.

Tourism is quite significant in the area, and while this is not harmful, there needs to be appropriate regulation of activities in the area. In fact, multiple signs have been set up in all areas to educate the public, as well as instruct on what is permissible in the particular area. Planting of species such as Esparto Grass, Tamarisk and Acacia has helped in slowing down the rate of erosion by stabilising the substrata. The Aleppo pine is beneficial for faunal species residing in the area. Reptiles use this tree for shade and several species of birds build nests in its branches. It also attracts a high variety of insects which are important for pollination of plant species in the area.

In-Situ conservation, including on-site observation and research, is preferred in cases such as this since by sample collections, some form of destruction or disturbance needs to be done and cannot be controlled. Systems in this zone are highly complex so it would be very difficult to replicate the precise conditions in a laboratory environment. It would also be very time consuming and expensive and there would be no guarantee that replication would be successful. Ex-Situ methods are being done to safeguard the area and are highly beneficial. This is done through tree nurseries at the Elysium Centre of the Foundation. Scientific research is important to give information on the diversity and distribution of species within the area, as well as the levels of disturbance which the system can tolerate. Such information is needed to manage an area or restore a degraded ecosystem.

Although a habitat may be ‘restored’, once lost, it may not be returned to the exact same state- restoration has its limitations. Preservation must therefore be the priority of conservation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not reflective of ‘A Bird’s Eye View’ as a whole.


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