The Natura 2000 is a network of protected areas across the European Union; it was created in 1992 under the Habitats Directive, with the long term aim of protecting Europe’s most vulnerable and threatened species and habitats, including both terrestrial and marine sites. Natura 2000 areas consist of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) with the emphasis on sustainable ecological and economical management. The Natura 2000 network is considered the largest coherent group of protected areas in the world.
Malta has designated a total of 39 Natura 2000 sites, as follows:
- 28 terrestrial Special Areas of Conservation and 13 terrestrial Special Protection Areas covering a total of about 41.12km² (13.5% of the Maltese land area);
- 5 marine Special Areas of Conservation covering a total of 190.78km² (1.63% of the Maltese waters).
These sites bear a variety of protected habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive, including but not limited to seagrass meadows, reefs, coastal lagoons, coastal cliffs, caves, temporary ponds, grasslands, scrublands and woodlands, some of which are very rare in Malta. In turn, these habitats host a number of species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive and Annex I of the Birds Directive, including but not limited to species of invertebrates, orchids, snakes, bats and migratory birds.