Did you ever wonder what lies under those blue Mediterranean waters?
When planning to take an educational internship abroad we separately picked the Maltese islands, in the centre of the Mediterranean, as being an ideal place to answer this question. Two Maltese entities which attracted us for conservation related internships and volunteer work are the Conservation Biology Research Group of the University of Malta and the Biological Conservation Research Foundation, BICREF, an environmental and non-profit organisation. Both these entities have been active in marine conservation work for many years and have extensive experience and know how for ongoing projects that interns or volunteers join in.
Research on biodiversity is at the heart of these projects considering ecosystems, species, populations and genetic diversity. The work is demanding but has brought us great rewards in learning and appreciating this type of research work. We have gained various skills needed to sustain effective conservation work and to promote the needs of plants and animals that cannot come to our door step to remind us of their needs and contributions to life on Earth.
Working in both small and larger teams according to the task at hand, we have shared Maltese natural heritage with various volunteers from different parts of the world and together have acquired a deep understanding of the vital role played by nature in our lives. In fact we too met each other in Malta coming from two different countries: Germany and France.
Through numerous sessions of marine field work undertaken all around the Maltese coast we became acquainted with various habitats and incredibly interesting species, from the active fish to the graceful octupus, jellyfish and fireworms, to mention just a few. We provided our time and assistance while BICREF provided us with training to undertake marine observations for ongoing monitoring. BICREF had in fact launched a very useful project in 2002 with local SCUBA diving centres to take part in reporting species seen during each dive. A laudable Maltese eco-project which is wisely utilised by some SCUBA centres to promote their contribution to local long-term monitoring effort, in collaboration with BICREF.
Knowing how to observe species in their habitats is important if we wish to discover their secrets without disturbing them and this is another important lesson we have learned. Biodiversity is wonderful as it may be fragile, and too often is taken for granted. We pollute the sea with wastes, chemicals, noise and light which affect the lives of different species in negative ways. So, it is vital to protect the marine environment through extensive and long-term research projects, such as these, where volunteers and research interns may also contribute to better awareness and respect.
Unforgettable emotions and experiences.
During one of our snorkelling sessions we observed a group of fish. So we stopped to investigate at a distance. We had the feeling they were following or waiting for something because they were all staring in the same direction. Suddenly the seabed moved and we could recognize an octopus which had been completely camouflaged a second before. It was an amazing feeling just to watch these species interact. Now we know that as the Common Octopus was eating, the fish, such as Ornate Wrasses and Painted Combers, were waiting for left-overs, to join in the feast.
During one of the SCUBA diving sessions, we were surprised by a young Dusky Grouper which seemed to be interested in watching us as we were in observing it. It was lovely when our eyes met and a humbling experience reminding us that we were visitors in the home of welcoming creatures. Unfortunately however these attractive fish are often only considered for their culinary value, to the point of catching them even when very young. This is a great pity and knowledge should assist in making the best choices that may allow us to continue to see these species also grow to their adult size in these lovely waters. Each species has its particular place in the ecosystem and if species slowly disappear the system becomes impoverished and less resilient. Diversity and abundance should be welcome so that sea life may withstand the various pressures, including those due to climate change.
Becoming aware is the first step toward understanding and protecting nature.
The importance of local education needs to be stressed and more marine related work like the various projects run by BICREF, allowing volunteers to experience first hand various aspects of conservation research and awareness, are to be encouraged. These experiences allow volunteers to take home not only a great satisfaction for the work accomplished but also greater understanding of what nature conservation really requires. Locally, educational tools produced by BICREF include high quality documentaries which may allow locals and tourists alike to immerse themselves in the intricate network of marine life. An impressive example of this is the documentary Waves of Life which shares interesting knowledge side by side to fascinating views and footage of marine life, uniquely presented from various perspectives. It transports the viewer through the marine experience and incredible diversity: from the colourful sponges, corals, sea slugs and delicate seahorses to the largest majestic dolphins and whales that transport us through the whole ranges of this beautiful Maltese sea. Without doubt this documentary is emotional as it is interesting and educational – a true tribute to Maltese and Mediterranean marine conservation and natural heritage. This documentary opened our eyes to the richness and needs of this sea and through its one hour feature, it has really transformed our superficial perception of local sea life to the deep appreciation of how necessary it is to sustain healthy marine biodiversity for future generations. It is no surprise that Waves of Life has been awarded an International Accolade Award for its intensive and breath-taking educational and inspirational experience. Through a Vodafone Foundation grant this documentary was produced in both English and Maltese for many to learn from and enjoy. Indeed it is a welcomed DVD documentary production that we are taking back home with us in memory of our lovely experience and a perfect way to share our educational experience with our friends and relatives at home.
FORWARD ANY SIGHTINGS TO BICREF WITH PHOTOS BY UPLOADING
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