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.
Map sources: Malta Mediterranean (modified)
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.
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