Discoveries in Marine Biodiversity

An Indo-pacific Marine Flatworm Species in Maltese Waters: first scientific report of this species for the Mediterranean Sea

Maritigrella fuscopunctata (darkspotted flatworm) alien species discovery

The Conservation Biology Research Group, University of Malta (CBRG-UoM), led by Adriana Vella, Ph.D. (Cambridge), has been undertaking coastal and offshore marine biodiversity research for two decades and has been involved in setting up the Malta National Biodiversity Platform in order to promote the importance of studying local biodiversity at ecosystem, species, population and genetic levels. The latter is considered a fundamental requirement for all countries that have taken up the important responsibility of safeguarding local biodiversity together with its goods and services for future generations.

This research group has found support from fishermen, SCUBA divers, Armed Forces of Malta, the Malta Maritime Authority, Civil Protection and sailing crews among the many sea-users that forward their observations and experiences out at sea to complement the scientific field research that has been running as a long-term project. Another very important entity assisting this effort is the environmental NGO, BICREF (The Biological Conservation Research Foundation), which encourages its volunteers to contribute to ongoing conservation projects linked to both terrestrial, marine species and habitats.

Among the various species studied by the CBRG-UoM down to the necessary population and genetic level, one finds sharks and rays, turtles, dolphins and whales, fish species including bluefin tuna, molluscs, jellyfish and various other species. Due to this long-term effort, both typical local species as well as new species constituting our sea life have been studied.

To understand changes in marine life long-term data of Maltese biodiversity is essential. The involvement of researchers, students and interns working with the CBRG-UoM through the years has allowed for other interest findings. Some local marine species are drastically decreasing in numbers while others are appearing as alien species.

An example of the latter is the punctuated or darkspotted flatworm (Maritigrella fuscopunctata), a typically Indo-pacific organism that has not been reported as an alien in the Mediterranean Sea before being discovered in local waters through on going field surveys. It is probable that it has been spreading in the Mediterranean Sea from the Red Sea.  Such discoveries point toward the importance of sustained research efforts. BICREF eco-volunteers find it interesting to assist ongoing biodiversity monitoring projects such as these.

The research discovery has been published in: