Wednesday, August 10, 2011

SCIBERRAS, A. & SCIBERRAS, J. (2010) Additions to the Heteroptera Fauna of the Maltese Islands. (Hemiptera,Heteroptera, Coreidae).

Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):50-54. Nature Trust Malta publications.

SCIBERRAS, A. & SAMMUT M. (2010) Taeniopygia guttata (Vieillot, 1817) (Avifauna: Passeridae, Estrildidae) establishes a semi feral breeding population

Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):68-71. Nature Trust Malta publications.

CACHIA, D. & SCIBERRAS, A. (2010) Aglais io (Linneus, 1758) in the Maltese Islands (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae).

The Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):63-66. Nature Trust Malta publications.

GAUCI, C. & SCIBERRAS, A. (2010) First Records of Orthetrum chrysostigma(Odonata:Libellulidae) Burmeister, 1839 in the Maltese Islands.

Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):78-80. Nature Trust Malta publications.

SCIBERRAS, A. (2010) A note on aggressive male mating behavior of Papilio machaon melitensis Eller, 1936. (Lepidoptera:Papilionidae).

The Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):59-61. Nature Trust Malta publications.

SCIBERRAS, J. & SCIBERRAS, A (2010) Topography and Flora of the Satellite islets surrounding the Maltese Archipelago.

The Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):31-42. Nature Trust Malta publications.

SCIBERRAS, A. (2011) Preliminary recommendations for the conservation of the Killifish at Tal-Magħluq.

The Malta Independent, May 29th pg 12.

by Arnold Sciberras

Article published on 29 May 2011

The killifish, Aphanius fasciatus, an indigenous endangered Maltese species, has recently made the local headlines. Everyone is promoting the fish and the majority agrees that it should be a top priority to protect it at all costs. However, we have many words filling pages but again nobody is doing anything about it. From a scientific point of view, only very few people are working on this matter, and with very limited assistance, especially when it comes to obtaining funds. The few that want to help the fish multiply, such as for instance by captive breeding, are definitely working underground because it’s easier to go to another planet and come back rather than get a decent permit to do so.

So the species is protected. And that’s how it should be. Haven’t we learnt yet that saying it is protected only is just mocking those who really wish to see the species thrive for future generations? What about their habitat? Were it not for past NGOs in the 1980s, when the bird and nature reserves were being set up, for introducing this species in two localities, il-Buzaqq, as it is locally known, would most probably be an extinct species by now.

In the past, this species used to live in four localities − Marsaxlokk, Marsascala (il-Magħluq area), Marsa and Salina. The latter used to be the largest salt marshes on the island. In the 1950s, Marsaxlokk bay was dredged to provide a haven for fishing boats and the fish disappeared forever. There are definitely no specimens left at Marsa and I believe Salina’s population has decreased drastically in recent years.

So that leaves us with one original population, which for scientific purposes should be the most interesting. However, with all the laws, it seems that we will lose the population soon. Closing the channel of Il-Magħluq area from the sea and surrounding the location with a net structure did not help conserve either the place or the fish. Furthermore, with the present road, the debris and the sediments collected naturally have prevented water circulation, with all pollutants from the nearby road and chemicals seeping from the nearby fields increasing and remaining concentrated there. Other dominant fish species preferring this habitat, such as the Common Grey Mullet, Mugil cephalus, became trapped there and are competing with the killifish, overgrazing the area and feeding directly on the juveniles and the ova of the killifish. Feral poultry, such as domestic ducks that roam freely have infested the banks and the water with their foul waste, in the process threatening the killifish, as well as by hunting them directly, as is being observed. The population shows signs of weakness due to the conditions it is living in and it also has a relatively small gene-pool, which lacks genetic diversity. My recommendations are simple but effective if applied immediately. All that it is needed is to act fast and together (something we are really not good at). The remaining channel should be opened to permit water circulation, which releases and reduces the toxins present in the area. Whoever is responsible should remove the poultry from there. Culling may not be necessary. A suggestion may be that they can be transferred to the Ducks Village at Manoel Island as this area is often the only shelter for unwanted domestic poultry. The over-abundance of mullet can be controlled by selective means such as organising a rod fishing competition for the culling or catch and release (somewhere else) of this species. A serious programme backed by an official permit should allow the sampling of a few specimens for captive breeding and for later release to aid the population. I am sure that some local aquarist will be honoured to perform such a task.

I am certain that these preliminary recommendations will vastly improve the situation for this species and hopefully for other indigenous wildlife that used to be observed here in the past. Further improvements must be carried out to ensure that this act of ecological importance is preserved. One such act must be the channelling of road and field running water, which now passes straight through this “protected zone”. Our islands are already rich in biodiversity and we have to stop believing that we need additions to make our countryside more attractive. All we need to do is enjoy what we have, try to fix what we have already destroyed and learn from our mistakes.

SCIBERRAS, A. (2010) Notes on two Ortopthera (Acridoidea)species of the Maltese Islands.

Central Mediterranean Naturalist 5(2):73-76. Nature Trust Malta publications.