BioDiversity of the Mediterranean eXperiment

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Accueil > Workshops BioDivMeX > Workshop 2014 à Malte

International Workshop on Marine Biodiversity in Malta.

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  • Presentations :
Anthropogenic impacts on Comino Island
Spatial dynamics of plankton in the Saint Paul’s Bay, Malta
Maltese submarine cave ecosystems
  • Reports :
N°1_Spatial dynamics of plankton in St Paul’s bay, Malta
N°2_Spatial dynamics in St Paul’s bay, Malta
Comino management plan
Daily summary pdf


Day 1 Sunday September 7th 2014

Top, from left to right : Raouia Ghanem, Siel Wellens, César Ruiz, Arnaud Lalo, Rachel Kelly, Guillaume Marchessaux, Rana Abu Alhaija, Marie Grenier, Ines Haberle, Joseph A. Borg, Martine Hossaert, Christophe Lejeusne, Erica Scerri, Thierry Pérez, Pierre Chevaldonné, Sven Beer, Niv David, Eyal Rahav, Julian Evans, Gal Dishon.
Down, from left to right : Maïa Fourt, Andreas Weil, Alexiane Viret, Laura Palomba, Rayda Ghribi, Amotz Degani, Alberto Martinez.

This first day of the workshop started with a presentation of the entities that came together and proposed this workshop : BioDivMex, University fo Malta, ECOOCEAN, CNRS/INEE.

Martine Hossaert (INEE) presented the CNRS Institute of Ecology and Environment (INEE) with its objectives as well as the MISTRAL (Mediterranean Integrated STudies at Regional And Local Scales) and BIODIVMEX (BioDiversity of the Mediterranean eXperiment) programs.

After a brief presentation of the workshop’s objectives, program and organisation, Patrick J. Schembri (University of Malta) gave a lecture on "Changing patterns of Mediterranean biogeography".

Marine habitats around the Maltese Islands was a lecture given by Joseph A. Borg from the University of Malta, also co-organiser of the workshop.

Lunch was followed by Eyal Rahav’s (Ecoocean) lecture on "Primary (photosynthetic) production in the sea : 1) Phytoplankton which will be followed by Sven Beer’s lecture tomorrow.

At the end of the day, 7 participants presented themselves as well as their research subjects and interests : Gal Dishon (Israel), Alexiane Viret (France), Rachel Kelly (Ireland), Guillaume Marchessaux (France), Rayda Ghribi (Tunisia), Rana Alhaija (Cyprus), Erica Scerri (Malta).

Day 2 Monday September 8th 2014

This second day was mainly dedicated to lectures. Sven Beer completed the chapter started on Sunday concerning primary production with a lecture on “Primary (photosynthetic) production in the sea : 2) Macroalgae and seagrasses”.

Pierre Chevaldonné followed with a lecture where macrolagae and seagrasses are not encountered : “Marine cave and deep sea biology”.

Just before lunch, Christophe Lejeusne gave a lecture on “An evolutionary approach of ecology. Two case studies : underwater caves and invasive species”.

Early afternoon was occupied by Thierry Pérez’ lecture “Global change and its possible effects on biodiversity”.

These lectures initiated many discussions on global change and its impacts (or not) on marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean.

8 participants presented themselves as well as their research subjects and interests : Niv David (Israel), Laura Palomba (France), César Ruiz (Colombia), Sile Wellens (Belgium), Marie Grenier (France), Ines Haberle (Croatia), Taouia Ghanem (Tunisia), Alberto Martinez (Spain).

A dive was organised at the end of the day for all the students and organisers that wished to discover Malta’s underwater world. 14 divers led by Rachel Watts and two other colleagues went for a deep exploration while others explored shallower depths with mask and fins.

Day 3 Tuesday September 9th 2014

Today, all of the participants studied the spatial distribution of seagrasses and benthic habitat types on the shore in the north of Malta near the hotel.

In this place hyper saline water flows out of a desalinisation plant into the sea. Five groups of 3 persons were distributed in five stations in order to test the effect of the desalinisation plant in the benthic community along a gradient.

Secondly, we have placed a 25cm x 25cm quadrat on the assemblage of photophylic algae. We have also sampled every species inside the quadrat in order to identify algae and invertebrates.

After lunch and a good shower, participants went to the lab put up in the hotel. Joseph A. Borg and Julian Evans explained methods to the students. It was a meticulous work to find copepods, echinoderms, molluscs, gasteropods and polychetea ! Also seagrasse were identified. All of the samples will be processed on Monday 15th of September in Malta University.

During lab work, Thierry Pérez and Pierre Chevaldonné went to explore submarine caves around Malta islands to find the most appropriate caves for WG3 expedition.

The Mediterranean Explorer (MedEx) had arrived in Gozo yesterday from Israel but we only got to see it today when it arrived on the dock near the hotel.

A small cruise was setup for the organisers to discover this very nice scientific vessel. During that cruise, two stops were made so that Joseph A. Borg and Julian Evans were able to sample Posidonia oceanica leaves in two different sites.

Dinner was organised out of the hotel at a restaurant near a beach where everyone had fun !

It was a good day with joy and good mood with us ! Tomorrow, WG3 will have some demonstrations on the MedEx in the morning while WG1/2 will work on Posidonia leaves and all the students will to the University of Malta for the first analysis for the afternoon !
Written by Guillaume Marchessaux and coll.

Day 4 Wednesday September 10th 2014

Another sunny day in Paradise Bay and WG3 were fortunate enough to head off in the MedEx just after breakfast this morning. The group were given a grand tour of EcoOcean’s research vessel and deployed a test CTD off shore, supervised by Eyal Rahav Once back on land, Christophe Lejeusne and Maia Fourt delivered the instructions for tomorrow’s diving.

WG1/2 analysed leaves of Posidonia oceanica taken from three locations along Malta’s northern coast : St. Pauls Bay, Mellieha Bay and Cirkewwa. These locations have different levels of pollution and the goal was to detect whether seagrass and associated epiphytes are impacted by these disturbances. Gal Gishon, Joseph Borg and Julian Evans conducted the sampling for this at St. Paul’s and Mellieha Bays on day 3 and at Cirkewwa this morning.

Participants selected 6 shoots per site, counted the number of leaves per shoot and measured leaf length. Epiphytes were scrapped from each leaf and preserved in ethanol and the leaves were stored in plastic bags. The material was transported to facilities of University of Malta, where biomass analysis will be performed.

After lunch, the entire group (WG1/2, 3) took a bus to the University of Malta to complete taxonomic identification on the invertebrate and supporting algal species that were sampled yesterday. Joseph A. Borg and Julian Evan supervised the groups and their extensive knowledge of Mediterranean species was utilised by each of the groups !

WG3 will begin their cave-diving first thing in the morning. WG1/2 will head out to sea for the first day on board the MedEx, where they will sample and analyse Mediterranean plankton and sleep on board !
Written by Ines Haberle and Rachel Kelly

Day 5 Thursday September 11th 2014 — Cave group WG3—The Billingshurst cave

WG1/2 left this morning with the MedEx for analysis of the water column and will stay on board until friday noon. We will have their article on their experience only later.

It was the first day of diving for WG3. In the morning and before going to dive, we had a debriefing with Thierry Pérez and Pierre Chevaldonné on security measures and what we should do on the site. We were divided into two groups (one group with Thierry Pérez and one group with Pierre Chevaldonné).

The selected site was "the Billingshurst cave", which is located in Gozo. All group members dived together but one on each side (right and left). We have collected samples from the cave entrance to the darkest part. We also try to list the main communities and species occurring in the cave.
While returning to the hotel and after taking a shower and lunch, Christophe Lejeusne, asked each group to make a complete description of the cave (topography, depth, temperature, hydrodynamics, bottom type, biodiversity ...) and to make a comparison from the entrance to the darkest part of the cave. Group results were compared, and, with Thierry, Pierre and Christophe, we spent the whole afternoon to discuss and analyze the results.

We have also fixed the samples collected from the cave.
And after a long day of work, we ended up in the pool. Dinner was at the hotel. And tomorrow we will have, perhaps, the opportunity to dive into another cave.
Written by Raouia Ghanem and coll.

Day 6 Friday September 12th 2014 — Cave group WG3—Coral Cave
By our account, 8am was an early start but we quickly forgot our tiredness when it was confirmed that we were heading to Coral Cave, an underwater marine cave on the Western coast of the island of Gozo. Being our second cave dive of this workshop we were able to focus more closely on planning and organization of our data collection. Assisted by the great facilities of the paradise bay diving center, we reached the spot soon enough.
The cave is semi dark, starting at around 15 meters depth, continuing to a depth of 28 meters and stretching along 45 meters within. Being a semi dark cave, the cave walls harbor an incredibly rich community of sponges, bryozoans and of course scleractinian corals, after which the cave is named, extending to the inner most part. Applying some of the techniques we practiced in the previous dive, we were able to carefully assess the geomorphological features and orientation, sample unknown species and use quadrats to evaluate the cover percentage of the dominant species. Looking forward to the next dive…
Written by Niv David and coll.

Day 5 and 6 Thursday and Friday September 11th and 12th 2014 — Plankton group—WG1/2

Here are two points of view on the days at sea and everyone agrees on the quality of the meals !

Written by Alexiane Viret and coll. :
Thursday morning the crew of the Mediterranean Explorer welcomed us on board for 2 days during which we studied the impact of fishing farm in the Bay of St Paul. The aim of this short mission is to define the different planktonic communities, observe their variation and get physicochemical data along a transect. The reference stations are located off the Maltese islands. Samples with Niskin bottles and plankton nets started in the morning. In the afternoon the captain took us on a tour of Gozo with a stop in a beautiful bay where we swam and snorckled. |
On the way back to the Bay of St. Paul, the cook served us a delicious shakshuka. Sampling conitnued after the sundown. We spent the night moored in the Gozo marina. A final set of samples was performed before anchoring near Blue Lagoon in Comino to enjoy one last Israeli specialty.

Thanks the crew Itay, the captain, Ofer, the engineer and Neta, the cooker.

Written by Gal Dishon and Eyal Rahav :
Nearly seven days have gone since the beginning of the BioDivMex workshop in Malta... During this time we learned to work as a team, had academic lectures, prepared and discussed our scientific samplings at sea and mostly got to know each other and have lots of fun... Currently everyone is working together very intensively on the data we’ve collected aboard the MedEx last Thursday and Friday !
During these two days expedition we went out and studied Saint Paul’s Bay plankton diversity and abundance, as well as mapping its physical & chemical characteristics. This bay is really an interesting site to study since it’s highly affected by anthropogenic activities such as fish farms and by the many boats docking in it. To this aim we used advanced scientific equipment provided by EcoOcean, Malta University and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR).
The work at sea went really well, mostly thanks to the joint efforts and excellent performance of our international group of brilliant students. The sea was relatively calm (despite the rough sea forecast), allowing us to follow the "business as usual" work plan and to sample the bay’s water during the day and even at night (see some of the real-time results we got). We even found some time to relax and have a swim in a beautiful "secret" bay that cannot be approached from land.
"An army marches on its stomach" (Napoleon,1769-1821)
As many of our scientists were from France, the MedEx crew followed Napoleon’s suggestion and really took care of us. Neta, the cook, prepared Mediterranean cuisine which felt like home to everyone and connected between us all. We were surprised to learn how little the differences are between Israeli food and Tunisian, for example...
We will finish with yet another cultural fusion of Italian and Arabic from the Maltase language : Ciao Alekum !

Day 7 Saturday September 13th 2014

Cave group—WG3
The group went back to the impressive Billinghurst Cave to continue and improve the data collection in this rich cave. As usual, Rachel Watts diving instructor and responsible of the diving at the University of Malta led the group with joyfulness !

Plankton group—WG1/2
Today, the "plankton team" went to Comino island, located between Malta and Gozo, in order to evaluate anthropogenic impacts in three bays and to provide a management plan. We observed the main habitats distributed on 20 m long transects along the rocky shore. We made maps of distribution of benthic communities such as Posidonia oceanica, photophilic algae, Cystoseira and Cymodocea beds. We have recorded all mobile organisms associated to these communities (fish, algae, mollusks, crustaceans…), and we have also surveyed, putative environmental pressures such as : the number of boats which were anchored in the bay, discharges of freshwater and waste waters.
For instance, we wanted to assess the impact of the anchors on Posidonia oceanica or Cystoseira beds. In the Santa Marija bay, we could not make good observations because of the proliferation of the jellyfish Pelagia noctiluca. Swimming with jellyfish was very fun but just a little frightening. At the end, we also observed the environment of the Blue Lagoon. For some, nap was pleasant and for others this little expedition was very rewarding in terms of scientific autonomy and the discovery of the wonderful Comino Island.
Written by Laura Palomba and coll.

Day 8 Sunday September 14th 2014
This is the last day in the North of Malta. This evening we will be leaving for a hotel next to the University of Malta so that the analysis be done on the samples collected during these days.
Today, WG1/2 is working on their report and presentations while WG3 is diving for the last time in Alex’s Cave on Comino.

In the afternoon, after the transfer towards the University, Lucienne Bugeja from the University of Malta, keystone person of the workshop organisation with Arnaud Lalo from the CNRS French office for the Mediterranean , had organised for a nice workshop meal in the fields under the M’dina.

Everyone seemed to be happy to get together in this wonderful place.

Thank you Lucienne and Arnaud for the work you have done and for never losing your temper with our numerous requests and changes !

Day 9 Monday September 15th 2014

Faces start to show tire but students are working hard at their report and presentation but also analysing their samples in the labs of the University of Malta.
Working started early and finished very late in the night to be able to present their work tomorrow.
The cultural adviser of the French embassy in Malta, M. Laurent Croset, came to visit us and share a light lunch.

Day 10 Tuesday September 16th 2014
Last day of the Workshop !

This morning the students presented three topics :

-  Maltese submarine cave ecosystems

-  Spatial dynamics of plankton in the Saint Paul’s Bay, Malta

-  Anthropogenic impacts on Comino Island

Original results have come out of these well done presentations and are also compiled in each report. Presentations are available on the Biodivmex website.
After each presentation, interesting discussions and exchanges took place between everyone.

Students during this workshop have really worked hard in the field, lab as well as to present their results. Many friendships developed and grew, hopefully creating some peri-mediterranian international scientific relations !

MISTRAL’s (Mediterranean Intergrated Studies at Regional and Local scales) scientific director M. Etienne Ruellan came to visit us, present the MISTRAL organisation and programs of which BIODIVMEX, and followed the presentations.

The workshop ended at noon and students were able to visit M’dina or Valetta in the afternoon.