Project Gaia About Us Gaia Team In the Media Downloads Contact Us Support Us Stakeholders Links


Key to
Project Names

Main Projects

- Apollo
- Athene
- Elysium
- Hermes
- Midas
- Odysseus
- Olympus
- Persephone

Other Projects

- Galatea
- Phoenix
- Poseidon

Bathing Water Quality Results

- Sampling Points by Zones
- Bathing Water Sampling

Olympus - Coastal area conservation

Olympus is the mountain of majestic beauty, said to be the abode of the gods. The coastal areas of Malta and Gozo rise majestically from the sea. Conservation here is of paramount importance, and makes up an essential part of environmental management.

Our conservation work in the Natura 2000 Sites around Għajn Tuffieħa, Malta, and Ramla Bay, Gozo, focuses on 2 lines of action:

  • Propagation and Planting of trees and shrubs that are appropriate for the specific habitat in question, and the phasing out of alien species which threaten the integrity of those habitats. This work falls under our Project Elysium, and

  • The patrolling, surveying, monitoring, and maintenance of the Natura 2000 sites, which form part of our Project Olympus: This is done in accordance with established planning and management procedures.

:: How we operate

All our activities for conservation are laid out in management plans that are submitted to MEPA, the official Environment Agency, for their approval. Such plans are not static, but are constantly evolving as we meet new challenges, gain hands on experience and learn from other projects. The management is:

  • Directed by MEPA

  • Overseen by a Management Advisory Board, made up of representatives from MEPA, the Environment Ministry, relative Local Councils and other Agencies.

  • Implemented by The Gaia Foundation as Manager.

The Sites and habitats we manage:

The coastal zone of the Maltese Islands is very rich in a number of very interesting, beautiful and ecologically important habitats. This makes coastal management an essential part of conservation and nature protection. These habitats include:

Salt Steppe Communities: This is the technical name for the clay slop formations which are found along the North West of Malta from Fomm ir-Riħ to Ċirkewwa and down to Mistra, and the areas in Gozo between Għajn Barrani, Ramla, San Blas and Daħlet Qorot, as well as the area between Mġarr and Ta' Ċenċ. These communities are mostly characterised by the Lygeum spartum (Esparto Grass, Ħalfa), and areas of Inula crithmoides (Golden Samphire, Xorbett) Qarraba also has a small rare community of the Fagonia cretica (Fagonia). The clay slopes contribute to the stunning landscape found in these areas.

Sand Dunes: Ramla Bay, Gozo boasts the best kept sand dune formations in the Maltese Islands, which are classified as a level 1 protected site. Many species found here are endemic to the sand dune community, like the Sea Daffodil, the Sea Samphire . The dunes are formed by sand movement, wind action and sand binding vegetation. The dunes have however been threatened by an invasion of alien giant reeds (Arundo donax). These are being phased out and kept at bay by our rangers.

Watercourses: 3 valleys converge at Ramla, providing a constant stream of water in the rainy season, characterised by species like the Vitex agnus castus (Chaste Tree, Virga). A series of dams have also allowed Ramla Valley to maintain the largest volume of surface water in Gozo.

Rocky shoreline: The rocky shore has developed its own biotope, with some species specifically associated with it. Some of the best examples of this habitat are found around the Qarraba Peninsula, which enjoys a high level 1 protection, and Rdum Majjiesa, which lies North of Golden Bay. Inula crithmoides is also prevalent here. One can also find Periploca angustifolia (Wolfbane, Siġra tal-Ħarir).

Woodland: Almost all existing woodland in Malta is the result of afforestation projects. Buskett was largely developed during the Knights and British periods. Miżieb, which lies between Għajn Tuffieħa and Xemxija was planted in the 1970's. Ħotba l-Bajda at Għajn Tuffieħa was planted in the late 1960's. Unfortunately the main trees planted were the invasive and alien Acacias. These need to be phased out over a number of years.

In former times, parts of the islands were covered in woodland, possibly also with Sandarac Gum Tree (Tetraclinis articulata, or Għ#argħar in Maltese). This was considered the king of trees in the ancient world, since the wood was excellent for sculptures. Traces of Aleppo Pine (Pinus halipensis, Żnuber) have also been found on archaeological digs. A small olive grove in Bidnija dates back over 1,000 years. Unfortunately during the British period, it is estimated that over 80,000 olive trees were cut down in order to develop cotton plantations which were unsuccessful. For more about the olive industry, turn to our Project Athene page.

Maquis: Maquis is characterised by small trees and shrubs like Pistacio lentiscus (Lentisk) and tetraclinis articulata (Sandarac Gum Tree), climbers like the Lonicera implexa (Evergreen Honeysuckle, Qarn il-Mogħza) and species like the Euphorbia melitensis (Maltese Spurge) and the Euphorbia dendroides (Tree Spurge).

Garrigue: this habitat is found mostly on the hilly slopes, that have suffered extensive soil erosion over the years. This ecosystem is dominated by low lying shrubs like Tymus capitatus (Wild Thyme, Sagħtar), Erica multiflora (Mediterranean Heath, Erika)

Sandy Beaches: Sandy beaches are often characterised by Posidonia Banquets, the dried seaweed that is washed ashore. Very often this is removed for tourism purposes in order to clear the bathing areas. The banquets however accommodate a number of organisms and may also have an effect on the beach dynamics.

Seagrass Meadows: Most often characterised by the Posidonia oceanica (Posidonia). This is an extremely important habitat for fish that use the meadows as their breathing grounds. The sea stretching between Rdum Majjiesa and Ras ir-Raħeb has been declared Malta's first Marine Conservation Area (MCA). A management plan for this area is progress. Gaia's marine ranger patrols contribute to the monitoring of the site. We are liaising with MEPA to include the management of this MCA in the overall integrated management of Għajn Tuffieħa. For further details see our Project Poseidon page on marine conservation.

:: Other Coastal habitats in the Maltese Islands include:

Saline Marshes: These are shallow areas that fill with brackish water during the rainy season. The salt in the mud leads to the formation of saline marshlands. The wetlands are extremely important habitats for birds. Two wetlands have been declared Bird Sanctuaries, or Special Areas of Conservation, in terms of the EU Habitats' Directive; The Għadira Bird Sanctuary in Mellieħa, and the Simar Bird Sanctuary in Xemxija. These are managed by another NGO, Birdlife Malta.

Rainwater Rock Pools: These may be found around the islands, including parts of coastal zone. They are home to a number of species like frogs. There are a number of such pools at Ta' Ċenċ, Gozo.

Cliff and Boulder Shore: A large part of the coastal cliffs is part of a Natura 2000 site that also covers the area around Għajn Tuffieħa and Rdum Majjiesa. A number of very rare endemic species characterise this habitat, like the national shrub of Malta, the Maltese Rock Centaury, the Darniella melitensis, (the Maltese Salt Tree, ix-Xebb) the Cremnophyton lanfrancoi (the Maltese Cliff Orache, Bjanka tal-Irdum) and the Helichrysum melitensis (Maltese Everlasting, Sempreviva t'Għawdex) which is actually endemic to the Dwejra cliffs and environs.

:: What we do:

Patrols: The enforcement of site regulations and relative environment laws is an essential part of effective management. Għajn Tuffieħa is covered by a Conservation Order (CO). Ramla Bay is awaiting its own CO to be issued by MEPA. Enforcement is carried out by Gaia's Rangers, in collaboration with Green Wardens and the Police Force, where necessary. Our Rangers are also trained to guide the public and inform them of site regulations. Rangers carry out patrols both on land and at sea. Our sea patrols extend as far South as Filfla, and as far North as Ramla Bay in Gozo and Blue Lagoon in Comino. Patrols are carried out through the use of a Fletcher Class 140 HP patrol boat and an Isuzu Trooper, which were financed by the Life Project TCY 99/M/095, successfully completed in 2003. Off roading, camping, open fires and disruption of flora and fauna are not permitted. Such infringements carry heavy fines. BBQ's are limited to the beach areas and to proper BBQ sets.

Information: A number of information boards are placed on site for the public. These include one on the said regulations, fire hazards, beach safety and walking trails. More detailed information is available at our Visitor Centre at Għajn Tuffieħa, and on our brochures.

Site Maintenance: Our Rangers are also kept very busy maintaining the information boards, beach safety equipment and controlling vehicular access to the protected sites. The site regulations permit such access only for beach cleaning and conservation work. Any other exceptions can only be granted in writing by MEPA, who would inform us as Managers accordingly. Removal of alien species, planting of indigenous ones, and irrigation thereof are also an essential part of the Rangers' work.

Surveys and Monitoring: Monitoring of progress of the habitats, and restoration of degraded paths of the sites are also carried out by our Rangers. Public surveys are carried out to assess public awareness of coastal management issues. We are also monitoring the flora by carrying out regular species identification exercises. A number of rare species have been identified on these sites. These form a basis for the their protection.

Copyright The Gaia Foundation © 2007 • All Rights Reserved