The Maltese archipelago consists of 3 small inhabited islands
and about a dozen miniscule uninhabited rocks. The islands lie
in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, south of Italy and
north of Libya. The largest island, Malta, with a population of
about 400,000 is one of the most densely populated countries
in the world. Gozo is the second largest island and has a small
population of about 30,000. Comino, the smallest inhabited
island, is popular with tourists, in the summer months but in
winter only a handful of inhabitants.
The total surface area of the archipelago is about 316km² and
a significant percentage of consists of built up areas and
agricultural areas, reducing the true natural terrestrial
habitats to a few isolated areas. The anthropogenic pressure
on the environment is very high and pollution in all forms is
significant. However, in spite of the negative effects of
humans, the biodiversity of the island is high (over 4500
recorded land species, 85 of which are endemic).
The marine habitats are also diverse and a rich flora and
fauna can be found around the islands. In general the sea is
very clear with good visibility and light penetration. Coastal
areas tend to be more affected by human activities especially
during the hot summer months.
The climate in Malta is typical Mediterranean with windy, mild
winters and dry, hot summers. Winter temperatures are
typically 9°C - 15°C with an average rainfall of around 85mm
rain per month. Summer temperatures are typically 21°C -
31°C with very little sporadic rainfall (practically nil in July).
The number of hours of sunshine per day is 5 - 12 hours
depending on the season. (Source: Malta airport)
Rivers are not present on the islands and the limited sources
of water form streams which usually dry up in the summer
season. The only source of natural water is rain and some
water seeps through the porous globigerina limestone. This
water is retained underground either on the layer of clay
present below the softer limestone layers (this can be seen in
areas where water seeps out of rock) or where clay is not
present, forms a layer on top of a saline layer present at
about sea-level (this phenomenon can be encountered in
submerged caves where a layer of fresh water can be seen
on top of sea-water).
Sea water temperatures in coastal areas range from around
15°C (mid-winter) to around 25°C (mid-summer) but the
higher temperatures are lower in open water.