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Geoheritage as a Tool for Environmental Management: A Case Study in Northern Malta (Central Mediterranean Sea)

Geoheritage as a Tool for Environmental Management: A Case Study in Northern Malta (Central... resources Article Geoheritage as a Tool for Environmental Management: A Case Study in Northern Malta (Central Mediterranean Sea) 1 1 , 2 1 Lidia Selmi , Paola Coratza *, Ritienne Gauci and Mauro Soldati Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Via Campi 103, 41125 Modena, Italy; lidia.selmi@unimore.it (L.S.); soldati@unimore.it (M.S.) Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta, MSD 2080 Msida, Malta; ritienne.gauci@um.edu.mt * Correspondence: paola.coratza@unimore.it; Tel.: +39-059-2058448 Received: 1 October 2019; Accepted: 22 October 2019; Published: 26 October 2019 Abstract: The recognition, selection and quantitative assessment of sites of geological and geomorphological interest are fundamental steps in any environmental management focused on geoconservation and geotourism promotion. The island of Malta, in the central Mediterranean Sea, despite having a steadily increasing growth in population and tourism, still conserves geological and geomorphological features of great relevance and interest, both for their contribution to the understanding of the geological processes acting through time on landscape and for their aesthetic importance. The present work proposes an inventory for northern Malta, through three main stages, with the outcome of a final list of geosites that have the potential to be recognized as both natural heritage and tourist resources with potential economic benefits. In particular, the assessment methodology applied combines scientific value and additional and use-values, showing the links existing between geoheritage and other aspects of nature and culture of the sites. The results provide useful knowledge for the definition of strategies aimed at the development of a sustainable and responsible tourism. Keywords: geoheritage; geosites; quantitative assessment; Malta 1. Introduction Recent global trends have shown heightened appreciation of the variety of abiotic natural resources, known as geodiversity. This variety of non-living natural resources is defined by Gray [1] as the natural range (diversity) of geological, geomorphological and soil features. It describes the diversity of physical processes operating on Earth and the resultant rocks, minerals, fossils, sediments, soils, landforms, landscapes and habitats found on the world’s surface today [1–3]. Geodiversity, a resource still little known and which can create potential economic growth that has been largely untapped, allows for the definition of geosites, that together form the geological heritage. In this regard, geoheritage is considered as a natural resource and can be used in local and regional development, especially for promoting a territory for geotouristic purposes [4,5]. The Maltese archipelago, which lies at the center of the Mediterranean Sea, is a European country with a rich cultural heritage endowed with a great variety of natural features of international significance. Indeed, the small geographic scale of the islands is inversely proportional to the richness and frequency of places and artefacts of major importance, and it encompasses, as well, a large number of sites of geoscientific interest, showing a considerable geodiversity. This applies in particular to northern Malta, a sector of the island moderately populated, but which still conserves landscapes of great relevance and interest from a scenic and scientific point of view. These sites are mainly located Resources 2019, 8, 168; doi:10.3390/resources8040168 www.mdpi.com/journal/resources Resources 2019, 8, 168 2 of 25 along coastal areas, and have to co-exist with the island’s main economic activity of tourism. This industry has in fact been capitalizing on some of the most impressive coastal sceneries of the Maltese archipelago for over half a century. However, there is still remarkable potential on how the rich natural and cultural heritage of the archipelago is valued and promoted especially with regard to its geological and geomorphological heritage. It is a widely shared opinion that any action aiming to promote or protect geoheritage implies a good knowledge of the resource in terms of its location and characteristics. For this reason, an inventory, based on the analysis and assessment of the most valuable elements that define the geoheritage of a territory, represents the first necessary step towards its e ective management. A number of European countries have already carried out a similar national inventory, such as Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom [6]. More work is, however, required on a global scale. Recently in Malta, considerable geological and geomorphological research, especially in the north of the archipelago, has been undertaken by scientists in order to showcase the international geological and geomorphological significance of Maltese landscapes [7–13]. Nevertheless, the Maltese Islands still lack an ocial inventory of sites of geological interest and the government has not yet assigned geological heritage as a specific (or separate) legal provision related to the conservation and management of natural sites. Though the Maltese natural landscapes are governed by a comprehensive legal framework, such instrument mainly (but not only) sustains the importance of biodiversity and ecological conservation at local and international levels. Recently, e orts to recognize elements of geological heritage of the Maltese Islands were primarily channeled to urban landscapes, through the historical and cultural use of the Maltese Lower Globigerina Limestone over the centuries for heritage buildings. These e orts resulted in this limestone unit receiving the status of Global Heritage Stone Resource (GHSR) by the International Union of Geological Sciences in 2019. In this context, a study for the inventory and assessment of sites of geological interest, highlighting their location and characteristics (e.g., integrity, state of activity, attractiveness and accessibility) in the northern part of the island of Malta has been conducted and the results are here presented. This work aims at providing a better understanding of the geological and geomorphological characteristics of the study area and facilitating the recognition of the opportunities and threats, in order to strengthen the argument for the setting-up an e ective environmental management plan, which would directly include both geoconservation and geotourism actions. 2. Maltese Context Despite the small geographic size of the archipelago, the protection of the natural heritage of the Maltese Islands is governed by a fair number of main legislative acts, related legal chapters and subsidiary legislation (Table 1). These legal instruments are regularly updated in order to transpose European and international laws, mainly from the United Nations (including the Mediterranean Action Plan), the Council of Europe and the European Union [14]. A number of subsidiary legislations are also in force (Table 1), a few of which have replaced earlier legal notices, in order to also transpose international legal obligations into national law. The Environment Protection Act is the main legal instrument that safeguards the protection of the ‘landscape and its features’ under the relatively broad umbrella term of ‘environment’. A number of natural landscape features are classified as areas of high landscape value (AHLV) under the Development and Planning Act, mainly coastal cli s, valley systems, karstic plateaus, escarpments, woodland and agricultural settings. Most of these natural features intrinsically incorporate geological and geomorphological properties; however, the value of these features is primarily recognized for its support function to biodiversity and ecological systems, rather than specifically (or exclusively) for their geological properties in their own right. Under the Cultural Heritage Act, the definition of cultural heritage also includes ‘geological sites and deposits’ and ‘landscapes’; however, the act has no specific provisions related to their geoheritage value. The Fertile Soil (Preservation) Act primarily Resources 2019, 8, 168 3 of 25 addresses the maintenance of terraced landscapes, so typical in Malta’s rural setting, by o ering direct protection to soil as a resource. A number of islets around the Maltese Islands, such as Filfla and St. Paul’s Islands have been legally established as nature reserves and limiting human access only for scientific purposes. In addition to that, 13.1% of terrestrial areas of the Maltese Islands and 35% of their territorial waters form part of the EU Natura 2000 Network as protected areas under various designations (Table 2, [15]). Table 1. Maltese legal instruments related to the natural landscape management and protection. Type of Legal Instruments Designations Environment Protection Act (Chapter 549) Development Planning Act (Chapter 552) Acts Cultural Heritage Act (Chapter 445) Fertile Soil (Preservation) Act (Chapter 236) Filfla Nature Reserve Act (Chapter 323) Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations (SL 549.44) Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations (SL 549.64) Selmunett Islands (St. Paul’s Islands) Nature Reserve Regulations (SL 549.03) ˙ ˙ Fungus Rock (il-Gebla tal-General) Nature Reserve Regulations (SL 549.01) Motor Vehicles O -roading Regulations (SL 552.01) Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Subsidiary Legislations Regulations (SL 552.02). Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations (SL 549.42) Establishment of the Majjistral, Nature and History Park Regulations (SL 549.48) Establishment of the Park Nazzjonali tal-Inwadar Regulations (SL 549.109) Protected Beaches (SL 549.42) Tree Protection Areas (SL 549.123) Table 2. The number of protected sites according to designation type (Source: Compiled from the Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) [15]). Designation Type Number of Sites Tree Protection Areas 60 Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance 41 Special Areas of Conservation - International Importance 35 Bird Sanctuary 26 Area of Ecological Importance 22 Special Protection Areas 21 Area of High Landscape Value 13 Protected Beaches 11 Site of Scientific Importance 10 Special Areas of Conservation—National Importance 7 List of Historical Trees Having an Antiquarian Importance 6 Nature Reserve 3 The legal framework of natural heritage protection of the Maltese Islands is thus a mosaic of di erent provisions, with a number of sites protected by more than one designation (Table 2). Within this legal context, the importance of geoheritage as a conservation rationale remains, however, diluted, when compared with that for ecological and biodiversity protection. Despite this, the interest of the scientific community in geoheritage and geotourism has been growing over a number of years. With respect to the Maltese archipelago, the importance of developing studies to investigate the linkage between environment and cultural heritage and the relationship between geoheritage and tourism was initially explored in April 2007 during the International Workshop on the ‘Integration of the geomorphological environment and cultural heritage for tourism promotion and hazard prevention’ Resources 2019, 8, 168 4 of 25 Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 24 held in Malta [16,17]. The papers presented dealt with di erent aspects of the integration of the physical environment and cultural heritage through case studies from di erent parts of the world including world including Malta (e.g., [18]). More recently, Gauci et al. [11] and Gauci and Inkpen [19] have Malta (e.g., [18]). More recently, Gauci et al. [11] and Gauci and Inkpen [19] have highlighted the highlighted the geoheritage value of shore platforms in Malta by examining the close relationship geoheritage value of shore platforms in Malta by examining the close relationship between the physical between the physical landscape of the foreshore and human cultural development. The significance landscape of the foreshore and human cultural development. The significance of Maltese coastal of Maltese coastal landforms for societal wellbeing was also investigated by Satariano and Gauci [20] landforms for societal wellbeing was also investigated by Satariano and Gauci [20] who examined who examined the intense reactions experienced by both the Maltese and international community the intense reactions experienced by both the Maltese and international community following the following the sudden loss of an iconic sea arch at Dwejra (Gozo) in March 2017. This latter work sudden loss of an iconic sea arch at Dwejra (Gozo) in March 2017. This latter work forms part of forms part of a collection of contributions recently edited by Gauci and Schembri [13] and which a collection of contributions recently edited by Gauci and Schembri [13] and which illustrate the illustrate the rich diversity of the Maltese physical landscapes under the World Geomorphological rich diversity of the Maltese physical landscapes under the World Geomorphological Landscapes Landscapes series (Springer). Specific studies on geoheritage and geosites inventory and assessment series (Springer). Specific studies on geoheritage and geosites inventory and assessment have been have been carried out on the north-west coast of Malta, especially in the area of Il-Majjistral Nature carried out on the north-west coast of Malta, especially in the area of Il-Majjistral Nature and History and History Park and environs [7,12]. With respect to the island of Gozo, this theme was explored by Park and environs [7,12]. With respect to the island of Gozo, this theme was explored by Coratza et Coratza et al. [8] who examined spectacular sinkholes having highly scientific, ecological, aesthetic, al. [8] who examined spectacular sinkholes having highly scientific, ecological, aesthetic, cultural and cultural and use-values as geomorphosites. Specific research on Dwejra area, on the western coast of use-values as geomorphosites. Specific research on Dwejra area, on the western coast of Gozo [9,21], Gozo [9,21], has highlighted how the integration of environmental and cultural heritage aspects has highlighted how the integration of environmental and cultural heritage aspects makes this area a makes this area a site of remarkable value to be promoted for a more holistic and varied tourism. site of remarkable value to be promoted for a more holistic and varied tourism. 3. Study Area 3. Study Area The study area is located in the north of Malta, the largest island of the Maltese archipelago The study area is located in the north of Malta, the largest island of the Maltese archipelago (Figure 1). It is sparsely inhabited and characterized by a high tourism vocation. According to the (Figure 1). It is sparsely inhabited and characterized by a high tourism vocation. According to the National Tourism Policy 2015–2020, northern Malta is defined as a ‘tourism zone’ due to its tourism National Tourism Policy 2015–2020, northern Malta is defined as a ‘tourism zone’ due to its tourism infrastructures, hosting a further 42% of tourist accommodation [22]. infrastructures, hosting a further 42% of tourist accommodation [22]. Figure 1. Location and geological setting of the study area. Figure 1. Location and geological setting of the study area. The island attracts many tourists, also thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate characterized by The island attracts many tourists, also thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate characterized by an average rainfall of 530 mm per year and mean temperatures ranging from 12 to 27 C. an average rainfall of 530 mm per year and mean temperatures ranging from 12 to 27 °C. The rocks exposed in the island comprise a marine sedimentary succession, mostly composed of The rocks exposed in the island comprise a marine sedimentary succession, mostly composed of limestones and marls and deposited in a period between Upper Oligocene and Miocene [23,24]. In the limestones and marls and deposited in a period between Upper Oligocene and Miocene [23,24]. In the study area, all five geological formations constituting the Maltese archipelago outcrop (Figure 1). From the oldest to the youngest the formations are Lower Coralline Limestone Fm., Globigerina Limestone Fm., Blue Clay Fm., Greensand Fm. and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (Figure 2). Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 24 The Lower Coralline Limestone Fm., composed of pale grey, hard, shallow marine biomicrites and biospartites [23,25], outcrops in a restricted coastal stretch between Rdum il-Qammieħ and Iċ- Ċumnija, in the eastern part of the study area. The sequence continues with the soft and yellowish Resources 2019, 8, 168 5 of 25 Globigerina Limestone Fm., named on account of the high percentage of planktonic foraminifera present in the unit (Figure 3a). The usual color of the formation is pale-yellow, although a pale-grey study area, all five geological formations constituting the Maltese archipelago outcrop (Figure 1). From subdivision bounded both above and below by phosphorite conglomerate horizons, occurs in the the oldest to the youngest the formations are Lower Coralline Limestone Fm., Globigerina Limestone middle of the sequence [25,26]. It outcrops on the Ras il-Qammieħ coast and in Selmun Bay, in Fm., Blue Clay Fm., Greensand Fm. and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (Figure 2). proximity of St. Paul’s Island. Figure 2. View of Il-Qammieħ, showing the entire geological/stratigraphic sequence. From the Figure 2. View of Il-Qammieè, showing the entire geological/stratigraphic sequence. From the bottom: Lower Coralline Limestone Fm. (LCL), Globigerina Limestone Fm. (GL), Blue Clay Fm. (BC), bottom: Lower Coralline Limestone Fm. (LCL), Globigerina Limestone Fm. (GL), Blue Clay Fm. (BC), Greensand and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (UCL). Greensand and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (UCL). The It is Lower followed by Coralline the Blue Limestone Clay Fm., Fm.,form composed ed in a deep of pale-sea deposition grey, hard, shallow al settin marine g and biomicrites is made up and of biospartites [23,25], outcrops in a restricted coastal stretch between Rdum il-Qammieè and Ic- ˙ Cumnija, fine-grained sediments with a large component of organic material derived from planktonic in organ the ieastern sms. It consis part of tsthe of se study quenc are ea. s oThe f alte sequence rnating pa continues le-grey and d withathe rk-gre soft y b and ande yellowish d marls (F Globigerina igure 3b), Limestone Fm., named on account of the high percentage of planktonic foraminifera present in the with lighter bands containing a higher proportion of carbonate [27]. The uppermost part of the Blue unit Clay Fm (Figur . sho e 3 w a). s an The incr usual ease in color brown of the phosphatic formation sand is pale-yellow grains and gr , although een grains a o pale-gr f glaucon ey subdivision ite, together bounded with abund both ant fos above sil fr and agbelow ments, o byfphosphorite ten separated by conglomerate an erosiona horizons, l surface occurs . This in level the middle is known as of the sequence Greensand [25 F,m 26. and ]. It unde outcrops rline on s the passag the Ras il-Qammie e to the oèverlyin coast g Upp and ineSelmun r Coralline Bay,Limes in prtoximity one Fm. The of St. Paul’s fossilife Islands. rous content is mostly represented by mollusks, gastropods, brachiopods, echinoids, Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 24 bryozoans, algae, shark teeth, and remains of marine mammals [23,24,28]. It shows its maximum thickness of 11 m in Gozo, but the formation is rarely thicker than one meter in the area under study at Il-Qammieħ point. The upper part of the sequence is made up of the Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., a hard, pale grey limestone unit, very similar to the Lower Coralline Limestone especially in color and coralline algal content, of shallow water environment. It usually makes up plateaus and steep cliffs affected by weathering and mass movements [26]. It is often affected by a dense network of tectonic discontinuities which provide the rock masses with a brittle behavior (Figure 3b) [29,30]. This formation largely covers the study area, with a thickness even higher than 100 m. Figure 3. Landscape features of the study area: (a) Terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone at Figure 3. Landscape features of the study area: (a) Terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone at Il- Il-Qammieè with typical honey pots dissolution structures; (b) badland topography in Blue Clay slopes Qammieħ with typical honey pots dissolution structures; (b) badland topography in Blue Clay slopes overlain by Upper Coralline Limestone cli s at Il-Qammieè. overlain by Upper Coralline Limestone cliffs at Il-Qammieħ. It is followed by the Blue Clay Fm., formed in a deep-sea depositional setting and is made up of The geological formations lie almost horizontally across the islands, although they are displaced fine-grained sediments with a large component of organic material derived from planktonic organisms. by tectonic structures [25,31,32]. From a tectonic viewpoint, the archipelago is crossed by two fault systems, he NW-SE trending Pantelleria Rift and the WSW-ENE graben system [23]. The latter is the most ancient and is responsible for a horst and graben structure that characterizes the northern sector of the island of Malta [33,34]. Indeed, the study area is part of the North Malta Graben, one of the three main structural regions of the Maltese Islands. The North Malta Graben is characterized by typical ridge-trough morphology and bounded by the Great Fault to the south [32]. The geomorphological landscape is largely controlled by the different physical and mechanical properties of the lithostratigraphic units and by tectonic features. The coastal landscape is mainly shaped by marine processes, that produce inlets and bays with small pocket beaches [35–37]. Due to the presence of resistant conglomerate beds and hardgrounds within the stratigraphy of Globigerina Limestone, a number of shore platforms have developed at sea level as a result of differential erosion [19]. On the contrary, plunging cliffs are the dominating features in Upper Coralline Limestone, at times shaped in sea caves. Mass movements are widespread all along the northwestern part of the study area, due to the fragile behavior of limestones, which cap Blue Clay Fm. characterized by visco-plastic properties. Rock falls and topples are abundant along the coastline and mainly affect the Upper Coralline Limestone plateaus which are characterized by persistent fissures and cracks of tectonic origin [29,37–41]. Evidence of rock spreading and block sliding phenomena characterize the stretch of coast at Rdum il-Qammieħ and Rdum il-Qawwi, in the northwestern part of the Marfa Ridge Peninsula, and at Rdum il-Majjiesa, located inside the Il-Majjistral Park boundaries. The lateral extension of rock masses tends to evolve into block sliding whose onset is extensively witnessed by scattered blocks of variable size lying on the Blue Clay slopes which gently slide toward the sea and protect the shoreline from the marine erosion (Figure 4a) [29,42–44]. Karstic features are well developed on the surface topography of plateaus, characterized by highly irregular and rugged surface morphology, resulting from solution processes. Karst pavements, solution holes and solution pans are also particularly relevant. Sinkholes have been found in the area, usually caused by the collapse of cave roofs (Figure 4b). They are characterized by a flat bottom and may reach a few hundreds of meters in diameter and stratigraphic throw [45,46]. The area under study is relatively less urbanized compared with the rest of the island, but has been significantly influenced over time by human activity for agricultural and tourism purposes [47]. Coastal and inland slopes have been remodeled into terraced fields retained by dry stone walls and utilized as terraced agricultural land [48,49]. The terraced fields and agricultural land are usually installed on V-shaped dry valleys, relict of former pluvial conditions and extensive groundwater sapping. The presence of archaeological features and British military architecture can also be encountered. Resources 2019, 8, 168 6 of 25 It consists of sequences of alternating pale-grey and dark-grey banded marls (Figure 3b), with lighter bands containing a higher proportion of carbonate [27]. The uppermost part of the Blue Clay Fm. Shows an increase in brown phosphatic sand grains and green grains of glauconite, together with abundant fossil fragments, often separated by an erosional surface. This level is known as Greensand Fm. and underlines the passage to the overlying Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. The fossiliferous content is mostly represented by mollusks, gastropods, brachiopods, echinoids, bryozoans, algae, shark teeth, and remains of marine mammals [23,24,28]. It shows its maximum thickness of 11 m in Gozo, but the formation is rarely thicker than one meter in the area under study at Il-Qammieè point. The upper part of the sequence is made up of the Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., a hard, pale grey limestone unit, very similar to the Lower Coralline Limestone especially in color and coralline algal content, of shallow water environment. It usually makes up plateaus and steep cli s a ected by weathering and mass movements [26]. It is often a ected by a dense network of tectonic discontinuities which provide the rock masses with a brittle behavior (Figure 3b) [29,30]. This formation largely covers the study area, with a thickness even higher than 100 m. The geological formations lie almost horizontally across the islands, although they are displaced by tectonic structures [25,31,32]. From a tectonic viewpoint, the archipelago is crossed by two fault systems, the NW-SE trending Pantelleria Rift and the WSW-ENE graben system [23]. The latter is the most ancient and is responsible for a horst and graben structure that characterizes the northern sector of the island of Malta [33,34]. Indeed, the study area is part of the North Malta Graben, one of the three main structural regions of the Maltese Islands. The North Malta Graben is characterized by typical ridge-trough morphology and bounded by the Great Fault to the south [32]. The geomorphological landscape is largely controlled by the di erent physical and mechanical properties of the lithostratigraphic units and by tectonic features. The coastal landscape is mainly shaped by marine processes, that produce inlets and bays with small pocket beaches [35–37]. Due to the presence of resistant conglomerate beds and hardgrounds within the stratigraphy of Globigerina Limestone, a number of shore platforms have developed at sea level as a result of di erential erosion [19]. On the contrary, plunging cli s are the dominating features in Upper Coralline Limestone, at times shaped in sea caves. Mass movements are widespread all along the northwestern part of the study area, due to the fragile behavior of limestones, which cap Blue Clay Fm. characterized by visco-plastic properties. Rock falls and topples are abundant along the coastline and mainly a ect the Upper Coralline Limestone plateaus which are characterized by persistent fissures and cracks of tectonic origin [29,37–41]. Evidence of rock spreading and block sliding phenomena characterize the stretch of coast at Rdum il-Qammieèand Rdum il-Qawwi, in the northwestern part of the Marfa Ridge Peninsula, and at Rdum il-Majjiesa, located inside the Il-Majjistral Park boundaries. The lateral extension of rock masses tends to evolve into block sliding whose onset is extensively witnessed by scattered blocks of variable size lying on the Blue Clay slopes which gently slide toward the sea and protect the shoreline from the marine erosion (Figure 4a) [29,42–44]. Karstic features are well developed on the surface topography of plateaus, characterized by highly irregular and rugged surface morphology, resulting from solution processes. Karst pavements, solution holes and solution pans are also particularly relevant. Sinkholes have been found in the area, usually caused by the collapse of cave roofs (Figure 4b). They are characterized by a flat bottom and may reach a few hundreds of meters in diameter and stratigraphic throw [45,46]. The area under study is relatively less urbanized compared with the rest of the island, but has been significantly influenced over time by human activity for agricultural and tourism purposes [47]. Coastal and inland slopes have been remodeled into terraced fields retained by dry stone walls and utilized as terraced agricultural land [48,49]. The terraced fields and agricultural land are usually installed on V-shaped dry valleys, relict of former pluvial conditions and extensive groundwater sapping. The presence of archaeological features and British military architecture can also be encountered. Resources 2019, 8, 168 7 of 25 Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 24 Figure 4. Landscape views of the study area: (a) Aerial photo of Rdum il-Qammieè, showing the Figure 4. Landscape views of the study area: (a) Aerial photo of Rdum il-Qammieħ, showing the impressive rock fall and block slides, typical of the area; (b) remarkable example of karstic feature in impressive rock fall and block slides, typical of the area; (b) remarkable example of karstic feature in Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. at Aèrax point. Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. at Aħrax point. 4. Materials and Methods 4. Materials and Methods During the last 30 years, the increasing interest in geoheritage has led to the development of During the last 30 years, the increasing interest in geoheritage has led to the development of methodologies for its inventory and assessment [50,51] and references therein. In fact, the scientific methodologies for its inventory and assessment [50,51] and references therein. In fact, the scientific literature is rich in examples of geosite inventories both at national (e.g., [52–56], regional (e.g., [51,57–59]) literature is rich in examples of geosite inventories both at national (e.g., [52–56], regional (e.g., [51,57– and local scale (e.g., [60–62]). Numerous methods are described in literature for the qualitative and 59]) and local scale (e.g., [60–62])). Numerous methods are described in literature for the qualitative quantitative assessment of geoheritage and geosites in various contexts (cf. [63,64]): Environmental and quantitative assessment of geoheritage and geosites in various contexts (cf. [63,64]): Impact Assessment and territorial planning (e.g., [65–68]); inventory of natural heritage sites Environmental Impact Assessment and territorial planning (e.g., [65–68]); inventory of natural (e.g., [53,58,69–71]); tourist promotion (e.g., [72–76]); management of nature parks and geoheritage heritage sites (e.g., [53,58,69–71]); tourist promotion (e.g., [72–76]); management of nature parks and (e.g., [77–81]). A complete review of methods for the assessment of geosites has been recently published geoheritage (e.g., [77–81]). A complete review of methods for the assessment of geosites has been by Brilha [82]. In general, it should be emphasized that all methods inevitably imply a degree of recently published by Brilha [82]. In general, it should be emphasized that all methods inevitably subjectivity since their intrinsic value cannot be measured. In order to reduce subjectivity and properly imply a degree of subjectivity since their intrinsic value cannot be measured. In order to reduce evaluate the various components of a geosite, it is necessary to define clear and transparent criteria, subjectivity and properly evaluate the various components of a geosite, it is necessary to define clear which can vary according to the aim, working scale and subject of the assessment. Even though and transparent criteria, which can vary according to the aim, working scale and subject of the there is no generally accepted method for the numerical assessment of geosites, recurrent criteria are assessment. Even though there is no generally accepted method for the numerical assessment of used in literature, such as rarity, representativeness and integrity, ecological value, paleogeographic geosites, recurrent criteria are used in literature, such as rarity, representativeness and integrity, importance, educational value etc. [64]. ecological value, paleogeographic importance, educational value etc. [64]. Based on published literature, as well as on knowledge achieved in previous research on Based on published literature, as well as on knowledge achieved in previous research on geoheritage in various morphoclimatic contexts, the methodological approach adopted for the geoheritage in various morphoclimatic contexts, the methodological approach adopted for the identification of geosites in northern Malta comprises the following operational phases (Figure 5): identification of geosites in northern Malta comprises the following operational phases (Figure 5): (i) (i) Recognition and selection of sites of geological and geomorphological interest (i.e., potential geosites), Recognition and selection of sites of geological and geomorphological interest (i.e., potential based on their representativeness in terms of geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity [51,79]; (ii) analysis geosites), based on their representativeness in terms of geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity [51,79]; and characterization of potential geosites; (iii) quantitative assessment of potential geosites and final (ii) analysis and characterization of potential geosites; (iii) quantitative assessment of potential selection of geosites. geosites and final selection of geosites. Figure 5. The three stages of the methodological approach. Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 24 Figure 4. Landscape views of the study area: (a) Aerial photo of Rdum il-Qammieħ, showing the impressive rock fall and block slides, typical of the area; (b) remarkable example of karstic feature in Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. at Aħrax point. 4. Materials and Methods During the last 30 years, the increasing interest in geoheritage has led to the development of methodologies for its inventory and assessment [50,51] and references therein. In fact, the scientific literature is rich in examples of geosite inventories both at national (e.g., [52–56], regional (e.g., [51,57– 59]) and local scale (e.g., [60–62])). Numerous methods are described in literature for the qualitative and quantitative assessment of geoheritage and geosites in various contexts (cf. [63,64]): Environmental Impact Assessment and territorial planning (e.g., [65–68]); inventory of natural heritage sites (e.g., [53,58,69–71]); tourist promotion (e.g., [72–76]); management of nature parks and geoheritage (e.g., [77–81]). A complete review of methods for the assessment of geosites has been recently published by Brilha [82]. In general, it should be emphasized that all methods inevitably imply a degree of subjectivity since their intrinsic value cannot be measured. In order to reduce subjectivity and properly evaluate the various components of a geosite, it is necessary to define clear and transparent criteria, which can vary according to the aim, working scale and subject of the assessment. Even though there is no generally accepted method for the numerical assessment of geosites, recurrent criteria are used in literature, such as rarity, representativeness and integrity, ecological value, paleogeographic importance, educational value etc. [64]. Based on published literature, as well as on knowledge achieved in previous research on geoheritage in various morphoclimatic contexts, the methodological approach adopted for the identification of geosites in northern Malta comprises the following operational phases (Figure 5): (i) Recognition and selection of sites of geological and geomorphological interest (i.e., potential geosites), based on their representativeness in terms of geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity [51,79]; (ii) analysis and characterization of potential geosites; (iii) quantitative assessment of potential Resources 2019, 8, 168 8 of 25 geosites and final selection of geosites. Figure 5. The three stages of the methodological approach. Figure 5. The three stages of the methodological approach. 4.1. Recognition and Selection of Sites of Geological and Geomorphological Interest In order to recognize sites of geological and geomorphological interest, the first phase consists of a literature review of papers and maps of the area under study and field surveys. A number of papers dealing with the geological and geomorphological features of the Maltese archipelago compiled in the last decades are available, some of which specifically devoted to the geoheritage of the northwestern sector of the island. Literature review and field survey are fundamental for the recognition of sites of geological and geomorphological interest to be qualitatively assessed, considering the di erent morphoclimatic conditions, geomorphological processes and lithological and structural constraints that controlled their development. This enables us to account for a variety of features that can finally be considered as geosites. Two main criteria have been taken into account in the assessment procedure (cf. [51]): The sites have to be representative of the geo-history and geomorphological evolution of the study area at a regional scale. Both active and inherited geological and geomorphological features can be considered as potential geosites. The sites have to represent the regional geo(morpho)diversity, i.e., a complete set of geomorphological processes that acted over time in the study area. Unique or rare landforms, as well as more common and abundant ones, can be useful to provide an overview of the landforms visible in the area (cf. [12]). 4.2. Analysis and Characterisation of Potential Geosites The second phase foresees the analysis and characterization of potential geosites to be selected among the sites of geological and geomorphological interest previously identified. The analysis provides for the identification of a series of parameters characterizing each potential geosites. These parameters are collected in a descriptive card including elements of textual description and pictorial data. In particular, each descriptive card collects the following headings: (1) Feature: name of the potential geosite; (2) Location: as precise as possible; (3) Coordinates: international system; (4) Type (according to [51,58,60,83,84], distinguished on its geometrical characters in: (i) punctiform, small-size isolated single form or object (e.g., a sinkhole or a spring); (ii) linear, one or more simple forms developed preferentially in a single direction (e.g., a canyon, or a paleo riverbed) and/or stratigraphical sequences; (iii) areal: a set of large simple landforms related to just one type of genetic process (e.g., a karren field); (5) Lithology; Resources 2019, 8, 168 9 of 25 (6) Genesis/main interest: e.g., tectonic, geomorphological, stratigraphic; regarding the geomorphological interest, a morphogenetic division related to a group of processes (coastal, fluvial, karstic, gravity-induced etc.) can be applied; (7) State of activity (e.g., [85–93]): active sites, those that allow the visualization of geological and geomorphological processes in action (e.g., fluvial systems); inherited sites defined as inherited landforms, which testify to past processes and have a particular heritage value since they are symbols of Earth’s history and evolution (e.g., stack); (8) Brief geological and geomorphological description based on field observations and literature survey; (9) Documents, archive material and pictorial representations: e.g., photographs, sketches. 4.3. Quantitative Assessment of Potential Geosites and Selection of Geosites The employment of a quantitative assessment is considered necessary in order to decrease the subjectivity associated with any evaluation. The methodology adopted by Coratza et al. [8], already applied with positive results on the northwestern coast of the island of Malta, in a similar geological and geomorphological context [12], has been considered as the most suitable for the assessment of potential geosites. This methodology is inspired by methods previously proposed by Serrano and Gonzàlez Trueba [69], Bruschi and Cendrero [68], Pererira et al. [77] and Reynard et al. [70]. The geosite value assessment is based on 16 criteria divided into three main groups of value, i.e., scientific value (SV), additional value (AV) and use-value (UV), each one producing a final score for its category (Table 3). The scientific value aims to reveal the value of the site for the geosciences and it is assessed according to four criteria (paleogeomorphological model, rareness, representativeness and integrity) scored on a scale from 0 to 1. The additional value is linked to the importance that a geosite assumes owing to non-geological aspects which increase its overall value and is made up of three independent sub-values: ecological, aesthetic and cultural. The use-value refers to the possible utilisation of geosites by society. The scores given for each criterion are reported in Table 3. Table 3. Values and criteria of geosite assessment methodology and related scores. Value Criteria Score Paleogeomorphological model 0–1 Rareness 0–1 Scientific value (SV) Representativeness 0–1 Integrity 0–1 Ecological value Ecological role support 0–1 Panoramic quality 0–0.25 Color diversity 0–0.25 Aesthetical value Additional value (AV) Vertical development 0–0.25 Naturalness 0–0.25 Religious importance 0–0.33 Historical importance 0–0.33 Cultural value Artistic importance 0–0.33 Accessibility 0–0.75 Visibility 0–0.75 Use value (UV) Services 0–0.75 Importance for education 0–0.75 The value of a geosite results from the total of the scores obtained from all criteria, with 10 being the highest score possible. Once completed, the assessment will provide a set of total scores for each of the three observed values (scientific, additional and use-value). On the basis of both the range and the total of these scores, a series of score-defined thresholds were established in order to allow also the Resources 2019, 8, 168 10 of 25 inclusion of sites, which though they may have limited scientific value, they nonetheless may hold potential for geotourism and educational activities. The score thresholds were established on both the basis of the highest scores and the scope of the study. The sites that reach such thresholds can be finally considered as geosites. 5. Results 5.1. Recognition and Selection of Sites of Geological and Geomorphological Interest As a first stage, a literature review has been carried out referred to more than 50 scientific references comprising 13 theses, ca. 40 national and international papers, 5 geological and geomorphological maps and several reports of Maltese environmental agencies (Planning Authority, Environmental and Resources Authority, Malta Environment and Planning Authority). In particular, the scientific papers analyzed (Figure 6) deal with various geological aspects including geomorphology (33%), structural Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 24 geology (19%), stratigraphy (10%), paleontology (7%), geoheritage (6%) and miscellaneous geological topics (25%). Figure 6. Distribution of geological literature according to the main topics of the scientific papers analyzed. The item miscellaneous comprises papers on geology l.s. Figure 6. Distribution of geological literature according to the main topics of the scientific papers analyzed. The item miscellaneous comprises papers on geology l.s. This detailed literature review combined with several field surveys led to the identification of sites in the study area with geological and geomorphological interest. The field surveys were This detailed literature review combined with several field surveys led to the identification of essential to integrate the list of sites previously identified with new sites not mentioned in literature. sites in the study area with geological and geomorphological interest. The field surveys were essential In addition, field surveys were also fundamental to collect site-specific updated information—i.e., to integrate the list of sites previously identified with new sites not mentioned in literature. In state of conservation, state of activity, accessibility, visibility and presence of services—relevant to the addition, field surveys were also fundamental to collect site-specific updated information—i.e., state completion of the descriptive cards and the quantitative assessment of potential geosites. of conservation, state of activity, accessibility, visibility and presence of services—relevant to the Through literature review and field surveys, sites with geological and geomorphological interest completion of the descriptive cards and the quantitative assessment of potential geosites. were recognized and 31 were selected as potential geosites considering the two criteria mentioned in Through literature review and field surveys, sites with geological and geomorphological interest paragraph 4.1, i.e., geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity. The sites selected are representative evidence were recognized and 31 were selected as potential geosites considering the two criteria mentioned in of the main geological and geomorphological processes acting through time in the study area (Figure 7). paragraph 4.1, i.e., geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity. The sites selected are representative evidence of the main geological and geomorphological processes acting through time in the study 5.2. Analysis and Characterization of Potential Geosites area (Figure 7). The 31 potential geosites selected were analyzed and for each site a descriptive card has been compiled including the information reported in paragraph 4.2 and Figure 8. The data collected in this phase were stored in a GIS database. Figure 7. Location of the 31 sites selected within the study area. The numbers correspond to the ID of the sites. 5.2. Analysis and Characterization of Potential Geosites Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 24 Figure 6. Distribution of geological literature according to the main topics of the scientific papers analyzed. The item miscellaneous comprises papers on geology l.s. This detailed literature review combined with several field surveys led to the identification of sites in the study area with geological and geomorphological interest. The field surveys were essential to integrate the list of sites previously identified with new sites not mentioned in literature. In addition, field surveys were also fundamental to collect site-specific updated information—i.e., state of conservation, state of activity, accessibility, visibility and presence of services—relevant to the completion of the descriptive cards and the quantitative assessment of potential geosites. Through literature review and field surveys, sites with geological and geomorphological interest were recognized and 31 were selected as potential geosites considering the two criteria mentioned in paragraph 4.1, i.e., geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity. The sites selected are representative evidence of the main geological and geomorphological processes acting through time in the study Resources 2019, 8, 168 11 of 25 area (Figure 7). Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 11 of 24 The 31 potential geosites selected were analyzed and for each site a descriptive card has been Figure 7. Location of the 31 sites selected within the study area. The numbers correspond to the ID of Figure 7. Location of the 31 sites selected within the study area. The numbers correspond to the ID of compiled including the information reported in paragraph 4.2 and Figure 8. The data collected in this the sites. the sites. phase were stored in a GIS database. 5.2. Analysis and Characterization of Potential Geosites Figure 8. Example of a descriptive card of a potential geosite. Figure 8. Example of a descriptive card of a potential geosite. Regarding the type of sites (Figure 9a), 19 sites were classified as areal (61%), 10 sites as punctiform Regarding the type of sites (Figure 9a), 19 sites were classified as areal (61%), 10 sites as (31%) and 2 sites as linear (7%). It can be stated that the selected sites refer to the three main lithological punctiform (31%) and 2 sites as linear (7%). It can be stated that the selected sites refer to the three formations of the area under study (Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., Blue Clay Fm. and Globigerina main lithological formations of the area under study (Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., Blue Clay Fm. Limestone Fm.) and most of the sites consist of two or more di erent lithologies (Figure 9b). Regarding and Globigerina Limestone Fm.) and most of the sites consist of two or more different lithologies the main scientific interest, 26 of the selected sites have mainly geomorphological interest (84%), 3 (Figure 9b). Regarding the main scientific interest, 26 of the selected sites have mainly sites display evidence of anthropogenic activity (10%) and the last 2 sites have tectonic origin (6%). As geomorphological interest (84%), 3 sites display evidence of anthropogenic activity (10%) and the last 2 sites have tectonic origin (6%). As reported in Figure 9c, almost half of the geomorphological sites (45%, 14 sites) feature gravitational movements, followed by 7 sites (23%) shaped by sea action and 3 sites (16%) by karstic processes. Most of them are located along the coast (Figure 9d), where impressive lateral spreading phenomena dominate the landscape and where wave action and litho- structural processes shape cliffs and bays. For their representativeness, karst morphologies have also been selected, such as the surface topography on limestone plateaus that present small irregular rock pools colonized by typical Mediterranean vegetation and a large number of endemic communities [94]. Other selected sites in the area are two sinkholes at the eastern and western ends of the Marfa Ridge peninsula. Besides the sites with entirely natural origin, sites of geological and geomorphological interest strictly linked with the anthropogenic activity were selected. In fact, the geology has greatly influenced the location of settlement and activity of human civilization. The term ‘anthropogenic site’ was then used to differentiate these types of sites from the pristine ones. The best example is the large area of industrial salinas (ID26, ID27), not in use anymore, that covers approximately 1 km along the shore platforms of Blata l-Bajda in Selmun [95]. The rocky shore platforms in soft Globigerina Limestone developed the ideal coastal landscape for the formation of natural pools filled with seawater. This natural feature was extended and built from humans in order to collect seawater for the production of salt [11,19]. This site shows how geological features influence traditional practices and how sites with geological and geomorphological interest can be considered as part of the cultural heritage. Another example of anthropogenic site is the presence of cart ruts (ID12), on Wied Musa Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 24 Resources 2019, 8, 168 12 of 25 battery. This site is evidence of ancient agricultural civilizations that hewn the rock below the field, using a slide-car or wheeled cart. reported in Figure 9c, almost half of the geomorphological sites (45%, 14 sites) feature gravitational Two sites have been chosen mainly for the geological/geotectonic interest such as St. Paul’s movements, followed by 7 sites (23%) shaped by sea action and 3 sites (16%) by karstic processes. Islands that is crossed by one of the major SW-NE faults in the island and which affected the Most of them are located along the coast (Figure 9d), where impressive lateral spreading phenomena horizontal transition between Upper Coralline Limestone and Upper Globigerina Limestone. The dominate the landscape and where wave action and litho-structural processes shape cli s and bays. For 52% of the sites (16 sites) are active landforms which provide clear evidence of geological and their representativeness, karst morphologies have also been selected, such as the surface topography geomorphological processes in action. The remaining 48% (15 sites) consist of inherited landforms, on limestone plateaus that present small irregular rock pools colonized by typical Mediterranean that testify to inactive processes which are evidence of past geological and geomorphological vegetation and a large number of endemic communities [94]. Other selected sites in the area are two processes (Figure 9e). sinkholes at the eastern and western ends of the Marfa Ridge peninsula. (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) Figure 9. Distribution of potential geosites according to (a) type; (b) lithology; (c) main interest; (d) Figure 9. Distribution of potential geosites according to (a) type; (b) lithology; (c) main interest; (d) location; (e) state of activity. location; (e) state of activity. 5.3. Quan Besides titative Asses the sites smen with t and Selection entirely natural of Geosites origin, sites of geological and geomorphological interest strictly linked with the anthropogenic activity were selected. In fact, the geology has greatly influenced The 31 potential geosites have been assessed through the methodology described in paragraph the location of settlement and activity of human civilization. The term ‘anthropogenic site’ was then 4.3 in order to establish the final selection of geosites. used to di erentiate these types of sites from the pristine ones. The best example is the large area of Once the potential geosites have been evaluated, the total scores for each value (scientific, industrial salinas (ID26, ID27), not in use anymore, that covers approximately 1 km along the shore additional and use-value) were plotted on a graph plane according to the cartesian coordinate system. platforms of Blata l-Bajda in Selmun [95]. The rocky shore platforms in soft Globigerina Limestone The total scores of the scientific valueplus additional and use values (combined) were plotted on the developed the ideal coastal landscape for the formation of natural pools filled with seawater. This cartesian plane as x-axis and y-axis respectively (Figure 10). A score value of ≥4.5 was established for natural feature was extended and built from humans in order to collect seawater for the production of the total value, along which to define the potential geosites as (final) geosites, provided that the salt [11,19]. This site shows how geological features influence traditional practices and how sites with scientific value was ≥2.0. geological and geomorphological interest can be considered as part of the cultural heritage. Another The results are presented in Table 4 where the values of each geosite are shown. 10 sites have example of anthropogenic site is the presence of cart ruts (ID12), on Wied Musa battery. This site is been selected as geosites for the high score in scientific interest and total additional and use-value. evidence of ancient agricultural civilizations that hewn the rock below the field, using a slide-car or Not only sites with high scientific value were selected, but also sites with potential as geotourist wheeled cart. destination and ideal for educational activities, according to the aim of the present research. As Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 24 Badland topography 20 Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 in Blue Clay slopes Area affected by 21 Il-Parsott 2.00 0.80 1.50 2.30 4.30 Resources 2019, 8, 168 13 of 25 rock spreading Ta’ L- 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 Imgħarrqa Two sites have been chosen mainly for the geological/geotectonic interest such as St. Paul’s Islands Area affected that are crossed by one of the major SW-NE faults in the island and which a ected the horizontal 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 by rock spreading transition between Upper Coralline Limestone and Upper Globigerina Limestone. The 52% of the Gżejjer ta’ San sites (16 sites) are active landforms which provide clear evidence of geological and geomorphological 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 processes in action. The remaining 48% (15 sPaw ites) lconsist of inherited landforms, that testify to inactive processes which are evidence of past geological Gżejjer ta’ and San geomorphological processes (Figure 9e). 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 Pawl 5.3. Quantitative Assessment and Selection of Geosites 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 The 31 potential geosites have been assessed through the methodology described in paragraph Badland topography 4.3 in order to establish the final selection of geosites. 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 in Blue Clay slopes Once the potential geosites have been evaluated, the total scores for each value (scientific, additional and use-value) were plotted on Il-Pon a graph ta taplane l- according to the cartesian coordinate system. 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 Aħrax The total scores of the scientific value plus additional and use values (combined) were plotted on the cartesian plane Aas reax-axis affectand ed y-axis respectively (Figure 10). A score value of 4.5 was established 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 for the total by rock value, along spreading which to define the potential geosites as (final) geosites, provided that the scientific value was 2.0. 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of 2.0 and a total value of 4.5 (red dots). Descrip The tion results of th ar e Geos e presented ites in Table 4 where the values of each geosite are shown. 10 sites have been selected as geosites for the high score in scientific interest and total additional and use-value. Not only The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value sites with high scientific value were selected, but also sites with potential as geotourist destination and achieved. ideal for educational activities, according to the aim of the present research. As shown in Figure 10, ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault two salinas at Blata l-Bajda (ID26 and ID27), despite the high potential as tourist attractions, were not selected as geosite due to the lack of relevant scientific importance. Instead, areas a ected by Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features rock spreading (ID1 and ID4) and rock topple (ID2), even though the low relevance as scientific site, which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. are selected as geosite due to their important score in additional and use-value. All the identified geosites are examples that well represent geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity of the study area and are capable of being exploited as geotourist resources. The sinkhole at Il-Ponta tal-Aèrax (ID 13) is considered the only occurrence of this type in the island of Malta and the fault at Il-Qammieè (ID31) is Resources 2019, 8, 168 14 of 25 the only spot where all the Maltese geological formations outcrop in the study area. Considering the use-value, the rock topple at Il-Bajja tac- ˙ Cirkewwa (ID2) is the only site presenting a complete range of services and facilities, thus having the possibility to host geotourism activities. Almost all the sites are accessible without obstacles, except ID24 that is located on St. Paul’s Islands, a protected nature reserve with limited access. All the sites have educational potential at di erent levels. All the geosites show a high total aesthetic value, making them attractive also to a public of non-specialists. Table 4. Final quantitative assessment of potential geosites (sites finally selected as geosites are highlighted in yellow). Geosite Values ID Feature Location SV AV UV AV+UV SV+AV+UV Area a ected 1 Ta’ Qassisu 2.15 1.15 1.75 2.90 5.05 by rock spreading Il-Bajja 2 Rock topple 2.00 1.25 3.00 4.25 6.25 tac-Cirkewwa 3 Sinkhole Cirkewwa 3.00 1.10 1.65 2.75 5.75 Area a ected Rdum 4 2.15 1.40 1.50 2.90 5.05 by rock spreading il-Qawwi 5 Rock window Ta’ Qassisu 2.25 0.65 0.25 0.90 3.15 6 Marine cave Gebel Imbark 1.50 0.30 0.15 0.45 1.95 Lower Globigerina Rdum 7 3.25 1.15 0.40 1.55 4.80 Limestone terrace il-Qammieè Badland Rdum 8 topography 2.75 1.00 0.90 1.90 4.65 il-Qammieè in Blue Clay slopes Dissolution structure Rdum 9 2.00 1.30 0.50 1.80 3.80 (Globigerina il-Qammieè pavement) Ras 10 Shore platform 2.25 1.10 0.00 1.10 3.35 il-Qammieè Badland Ras 11 topography 2.25 0.80 0.25 1.05 3.30 il-Qammieè in Blue Clay slopes Il-Palazz 12 Cart ruts 0.50 0.25 0.90 1.15 1.65 tal-Marfa Il-Ponta 13 Sinkhole 3.50 1.00 1.50 2.40 6.00 tal-Aèrax Rdum 14 Marine Cave 1.75 0.60 1.15 1.75 3.50 l-Aèmar Karst landform 15 (limestone Aèrax Point 2.00 1.15 1.25 2.40 4.40 pavement) Rdum 16 Rock topple 1.75 0.25 1.50 1.75 3.50 l-Aèmar Rdum 17 Rock topple 1.75 0.45 1.50 1.95 3.70 tal-Madonna Resources 2019, 8, 168 15 of 25 Table 4. Cont. Area a ected Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 24 18 Il-Marbat 1.75 0.75 1.50 2.25 4.00 by rock spreading Rdum Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 24 Badland topography 19 Rock topple 1.75 0.50 1.25 1.75 3.50 Re20 sour ces 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 14 of 24 in Blue Clay slopes Badland Badland topography Area affected by Rdum 20 Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 Badland topography 21 20 topography Il-Parsott 2.00 2.25 0.80 0.75 1.50 1.152.30 1.90 4.30 4.15 in Blue Clay slopes 20 Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 rock spreading in Blue Clay slopes in Blue Clay slopes Area affected by Ta’ L- 21 Il-Parsott 2.00 0.80 1.50 2.30 4.30 Area affected by Area a ected by 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 rock spreading 21 21 Il-Par Il-Parsott sott 2.00 2.00 0.80 0.80 1.50 1.502.30 2.30 4.30 4.30 Imgħarrqa rock spreading rock spreading Ta’ L- Area affected 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 Ta’ L- Ta’ 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 Imgħarrqa 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 by rock spreading L-Imgèarrqa Imgħarrqa Area affected Gżejjer ta’ San 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 Area a ected Area affected 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 by rock 23 spreading Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 Pawl by rock spreading by rock spreading Gżejjer ta’ San Gzejjer ˙ ta’ San Gżejjer ta’ San 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 24 Fault Gżejjer ta’ San 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 Pa Pawl wl 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 Pawl Pawl Gzejjer ˙ ta’ San Gżejjer ta’ San 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 Gżejjer ta’ San Pawl Pawl 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 Pawl 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 Badland topography 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 in Blue Clay slopes 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 Badland Badland topography Il-Ponta tal- 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 28 topography Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 Badland topography 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 in Blue Clay slopes 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 Aħrax in Blue Clay slopes in Blue Clay slopes Il-Ponta tal- Il-Ponta Area affected 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 29 Tsunami deposit Il-Ponta tal- 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 tal-Aèrax Aħrax 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 by rock spreading Aħrax Area affected Area a ected 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 30 Gèajn 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 Area affected by rock spreading by rock spreading 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 by rock spreading 31 Fault Il-Qammieè 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 Description of the Geosites The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value achieved. ID31: Il-Qammieè Fault Il-Qammieè, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. The place is already designated under the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations (SL 549.44) in view of its diverse and endemic ecology. Upper beds of the Lower Coralline Limestone are well exposed along the base of an elevated platform. The top of this formation is marked by the abundance of the echinoid Scutella subrotunda and constitutes the important marker Scutella Bed. The succession continues with the exposure of Globigerina Limestone Fm., all the three members, and passes transitionally up into the banded Blue Clay deposit. Overlying the Blue Clay Fm. there is approximately 1 m of the Greensand Fm., occurring as a friable, green and brown colored glauconitic micrite. On the top of this stratigraphic section, the Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. outcrops, typically cream colored by fossiliferous algal limestones (Mtarfa Member) containing abundant spherical rhodoliths [23,96]. The site is one of the most accessible and clear spots showing the intact transition of the five formations, suitable for educational activities (Figure 2). Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). Description of the Geosites selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value Description of the Geosites Description of the Geosites achieved. The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault achieved. achieved. Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 16 of 24 are a potential threat to the exposed Blue Clay slopes. The second site, ID8 (Figure 11d), has high scenic impact and remarkable educational value. The Blue Clay slopes outcrop, gently corrugated, between the Upper Coralline Limestone plateau and a unique terrace (ID7) in Globigerina Limestone. Resources 2019, 8, 168 16 of 25 In this site it is possible to understand how detached blocks of Upper Coralline Limestone move on the underling Blue Clays slopes and how badland topography develops. ID13: Id-Dragonara Sinkhole ID7: Rdum Il-Qammieħ Terrace The site is a subsidence structure found at Il-Ponta tal-Aèrax. This structure is created as a result A 1 km terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone Fm. extends along the coast of Rdum il- of the corrosive action of rainwater with limestone which enlarges a cave to an extent where the cave’s Qammieħ, featuring with typical examples of karst terrain. Chemical weathering is the main process roof becomes unstable and collapses. This unique site is connected with the sea and it is a place shaping the surface of the platform and forming small solution pools, also known as honeycomb of interest for diving and kayaking. It lies 10 m above sea level; for this reason, it is regarded as a structures. High scientific value and high aesthetic value are assigned to this unique terrace in panoramic lookout point from where it is possible to view all Marfa peninsula, Gozo and Comino. The northern Malta, which is spectacularly flat and yellow-colored. In addition, it conserves a substantial site has already considered as a site with aesthetical value frequented by recreational activities, but it number of fossils. The intensive network of fossilized burrowing channels over the surface of the has also scientific relevance being a unique sinkhole in Malta connected with the sea (Figure 4b). It is Lower Globigerina Limestone scallop shells especially within the Lower Conglomerate bed, and the known by the locals as Id-Dragonara. fossils of Echinoids species exposed at the surface. It can be considered an unspoiled outbound site, without serv ˙ ices nearby. The Upper Coralline Limestone forms a plateau at the top of the slope profile ID3: Cirkewwa Sinkhole and is the source of numerous boulders that are deposited on the Blue Clay slopes and the terrace. A semi-circular sinkhole is found in Cirkewwa, northwest of Malta, known from the locals as These boulders, different in size, are used by climbers for boulder activity (Figure 11e). Latnija, or as Gèajn Tuta, the latter being the name of the local area in which it is situated. It is probably ID1 and ID4: Areas Affected by Lateral Spreading Quaternary in age [46,97] and represents the collapse of a limestone roof of a small cave. It shows a semi-circular shape and has a diameter of 35 m, on the ground level and it is surrounded by a rocky Located on the west coast, respectively in Ta’ Qassisu (Figure 11f) and Rdum il-Qawwi (Figure pavement with soil infills on its karstic surface. Partly obscured by typical Mediterranean scrubland, 12a), these two sites are representative of gravity-induced processes active on the coast. In particular, the site is highly a ected by human activities such as rock climbing, camping and recreation such as it is possible to appreciate deep fissures on the carbonatic plateau, block sliding and lateral spreading, barbeque. The geodiversity content of the site can be linked with other subjects as ecology and biology, constantly expanding towards the sea. The geodiversity content of the area can be combined with due to the presence of Mediterranean vegetation. The site is a unique example of inland sinkhole in the two other subjects: biology and history. Indeed, as additional value, the plateau hosts a variety of area under study and the second in all Malta (consequent only by Il-Maqluba in the south of Malta). endemic flowers and plants and offers a spectacular view of Gozo. Rich also from the cultural- It is a perfect spot to appreciate the karst processes that acted and act nowadays on the archipelago historical point of view, both sites host remains of old villages and pillboxes of the Second World (Figure 11a). War. ID4 presents a higher nu Figure 11. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Latinija sinkhole (ID3); (b) Il-Bajja tac- ˙ Cirkewwa Figure 11. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Latinija sinkhole (ID3); (b) Il-Bajja taċ-Ċirkewwa where where mass movements a ect Upper Coralline Limestone overlaying Blue Clays (ID2); (c,d) badland mass movements affect Upper Coralline Limestone overlaying Blue Clays (ID2); (c,d) badland topography in Blue Clay slopes (ID28 and ID8); (e) Lower Globigerina terrace (ID7); (f) lateral spreading topography in Blue Clay slopes (ID28 and ID8); (e) Lower Globigerina terrace (ID7); (f) lateral a ecting Upper Coralline Limestone overlying Blue Clays (ID1). spreading affecting Upper Coralline Limestone overlying Blue Clays (ID1). ID24: St. Paul’s ID2: Il-Bajja Ta Islands Fault c- ˙ Cirkewwa Rock Topple A spectacular site with lateral spreading and rock topple in Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., this embayment represents a highly-sought-after bay on the island with a pocket sandy beach. The site is called Il-Bajja tac- ˙ Cirkewwa, better known as Paradise Bay due to the clear sea waters that fringe the white sandy beach. The high score is assigned not only from a scientific point of view for its landslide Resources 2019, 8, 168 17 of 25 features, but also for the presence of recreational facilities. Services as bars, hotels, car parks and a bus station are found within the site. The bay is also popular for shore diving. The whole area is easily accessible via public services and directly connected with the national road that could favor educational activities (Figure 11b). ID28 and ID8: Badland Topography on Blue Clay Slopes Both sites have a high visual impact and make up exemplary cases that help to understand the geomorphological evolution of coastal areas. ID28 (Figure 11c) is located at Blata l–Bajda, between the salinas in Globigerina Limestone and the fragmented plateau of Upper Coralline Limestone. The site is easily accessible and it could be the destination of a number of activities related to other subjects, such as history, ecology and biology due to the presence of salinas, military fortifications and green areas. Despite the fragility of the environment, this site is widely used by locals for recreational activities such as hiking, cycling, motorcycling and hunting. These recreational activities are a potential threat to the exposed Blue Clay slopes. The second site, ID8 (Figure 11d), has high scenic impact and remarkable educational value. The Blue Clay slopes outcrop, gently corrugated, between the Upper Coralline Limestone plateau and a unique terrace (ID7) in Globigerina Limestone. In this site it is possible to understand how detached blocks of Upper Coralline Limestone move on the underling Blue Clays slopes and how badland topography develops. ID7: Rdum Il-Qammieè Terrace A 1 km terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone Fm. extends along the coast of Rdum il-Qammieè, featuring with typical examples of karst terrain. Chemical weathering is the main process shaping the surface of the platform and forming small solution pools, also known as honeycomb structures. High scientific value and high aesthetic value are assigned to this unique terrace in northern Malta, which is spectacularly flat and yellow-colored. In addition, it conserves a substantial number of fossils. The intensive network of fossilized burrowing channels over the surface of the Lower Globigerina Limestone scallop shells especially within the Lower Conglomerate bed, and the fossils of Echinoids species exposed at the surface. It can be considered an unspoiled outbound site, without services nearby. The Upper Coralline Limestone forms a plateau at the top of the slope profile and is the source of numerous boulders that are deposited on the Blue Clay slopes and the terrace. These boulders, di erent in size, are used by climbers for boulder activity (Figure 11e). ID1 and ID4: Areas A ected by Lateral Spreading Located on the west coast, respectively in Ta’ Qassisu (Figure 11f) and Rdum il-Qawwi (Figure 12a), these two sites are representative of gravity-induced processes active on the coast. In particular, it is possible to appreciate deep fissures on the carbonatic plateau, block sliding and lateral spreading, constantly expanding towards the sea. The geodiversity content of the area can be combined with two other subjects: biology and history. Indeed, as additional value, the plateau hosts a variety of endemic flowers and plants and o ers a spectacular view of Gozo. Rich also from the cultural-historical point of view, both sites host remains of old villages and pillboxes of the Second World War. ID4 presents a higher number of blocks located on the coast and a small rock window shaped by sea action. Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 17 of 24 The islets of St. Paul, protected as Nature Reserve, lie 800 m from Selmunett Bay. A direct fault across the island has brought the Upper Coralline Limestone in juxtaposition with Upper Globigerina Limestone [95]. The Upper Coralline Limestone is predominant on the surface and represents the entire surface morphology of the islets; the Upper Globigerina Limestone outcrops as a small cliff with a narrow shore platform at the base. The coast of islets also features a number of marine caves. The islets are a Level 2 Site of Scientific Importance (SSI) for its geomorphology (GN 827 of 2002). Resources 2019, 8, 168 18 of 25 Access to t Figure 12. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Lateral spreading affecting Upper Coralline Limestone Figure 12. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Lateral spreading a ecting Upper Coralline Limestone overlying Blue Clays (ID4); (b) St. Paul’s Islands fault (ID24). overlying Blue Clays (ID4); (b) St. Paul’s Islands fault (ID24). 6. Conclusions ID24: St. Paul’s Islands Fault This work aims to increase the knowledge of the rich geological heritage of northern Malta, The islets of St. Paul, protected as Nature Reserve, lie 800 m from Selmunett Bay. A direct fault providing a better understanding of the geological and geomorphological characteristics of the study across the island has brought the Upper Coralline Limestone in juxtaposition with Upper Globigerina area and facilitating the recognition of the opportunities, in order to strengthen the argument for the Limestone [95]. The Upper Coralline Limestone is predominant on the surface and represents the setting-up an effective environmental management plan, taking into full account the geological entire surface morphology of the islets; the Upper Globigerina Limestone outcrops as a small cli with component as well. The present research shows that, considering the small geographic scale of the a narrow shore platform at the base. The coast of islets also features a number of marine caves. The island, there is a high level of geodiversity of features primarily controlled by the interaction between islets are a Level 2 Site of Scientific Importance (SSI) for its geomorphology (GN 827 of 2002). Access geomorphological processes, structure and stratified geology. An assessment of geosites has been to the islets is only permissible between sunrise and sunset and then only against an entry permit carried out based on a set of criteria that links geological and geomorphological importance with obtainable from the Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) (Figure 12b). additional values of the sites, as aesthetic, cultural, ecological and economic. The accurate description and characterization of potential geosites and their inventory aim to help the government 6. Conclusions administration become more aware of the sites of geological interest in the area, giving useful This work aims to increase the knowledge of the rich geological heritage of northern Malta, information for their effective management which includes both geoconservation and geotourism providing a better understanding of the geological and geomorphological characteristics of the study actions. As found in the result (Section 5.1), we classified the sites in active or inherited, not only to area and facilitating the recognition of the opportunities, in order to strengthen the argument for note their state of activity, but to take into consideration their vulnerability and fragility. Active the setting-up an e ective environmental management plan, taking into full account the geological geosites, in fact, are fragile and may necessitate management and protection measures. Similar to component as well. The present research shows that, considering the small geographic scale of the most geosites, they are exposed to natural and man-made processes that threaten their integrity and island, there is a high level of geodiversity of features primarily controlled by the interaction between may compromise their value. Therefore, their conservation is a complex issue since it should address geomorphological processes, structure and stratified geology. An assessment of geosites has been the problem of both possible destruction by natural active processes and man-induced damage. In carried out based on a set of criteria that links geological and geomorphological importance with addition, very often dynamic sites are highly sensitive features, susceptible to modifications due to additional values of the sites, as aesthetic, cultural, ecological and economic. The accurate description processes’ changes in time, frequency and intensity. Many coastal environments are very sensitive and characterization of potential geosites and their inventory aim to help the government administration areas, particularly vulnerable to disturbance and prone to change, where climate change impacts are become more aware of the sites of geological interest in the area, giving useful information for their very acute. Changes are visible at very short time scales and may generate active processes, very e ective management which includes both geoconservation and geotourism actions. As found in evident to observe. The same consideration can be done to the size of the sites. The limited study area the result (Section 5.1), we classified the sites in active or inherited, not only to note their state of comprises small isolated features that are usually more vulnerable due to their dimension and can activity, but to take into consideration their vulnerability and fragility. Active geosites, in fact, are stand a lower tourist pressure compared to extensive areal geosites [58]. Geoheritage inventory and fragile and may necessitate management and protection measures. Similar to most geosites, they are assessment are therefore the first steps in the process of effective conservation and promotion. Some exposed to natural and man-made processes that threaten their integrity and may compromise their degree of legal protection already exists in a few sites. A wide part of the study area falls under value. Therefore, their conservation is a complex issue since it should address the problem of both Natura 2000 management as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Areas (SPA). possible destruction by natural active processes and man-induced damage. In addition, very often dynamic sites are highly sensitive features, susceptible to modifications due to processes’ changes in time, frequency and intensity. Many coastal environments are very sensitive areas, particularly vulnerable to disturbance and prone to change, where climate change impacts are very acute. Changes are visible at very short time scales and may generate active processes, very evident to observe. The same consideration can be done to the size of the sites. The limited study area comprises small isolated Resources 2019, 8, 168 19 of 25 features that are usually more vulnerable due to their dimension and can stand a lower tourist pressure compared to extensive areal geosites [58]. Geoheritage inventory and assessment are therefore the first steps in the process of e ective conservation and promotion. Some degree of legal protection already exists in a few sites. A wide part of the study area falls under Natura 2000 management as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Areas (SPA). In addition, some sites, such as Gzejjer ˙ ta’ San Pawl, are scheduled as Nature Reserves and so protected under the Nature Reserve legislation (Table 1) or established as nature parks, such as the Majjistral Nature and History Park. The integration of the geoheritage character of the area would mean both strengthening the landscape value for its geological and geomorphological component and unifying the whole study area under geoheritage conservation rather than leaving it as an area with single components of conservation. Geoheritage, combined with the rich cultural heritage, could be considered as the heart of tourism and educational activities, with Malta’s tourism direct contribution to GDP being among the highest in the EU. Data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) show that the travel and tourism industry’s total contribution to Malta’s GDP stood at 27.1% in 2017. This was the highest share recorded within the Mediterranean region by a notable margin and was also well above the Mediterranean, European Union and World averages, which ranged between 10% and 12%. The total contribution of travel and tourism industries to employment including indirect and induced impacts was estimated to reach 55,000 jobs in 2017 (28.3% of total employment) [98,99]. Concerning the kind of tourism, leisure tourism remains the main purpose of visit for the vast majority of tourist arrivals to the Maltese Islands, with a share of 85.3% of total inbound tourists in 2017. The number of visitors for business purposes stood at 7.9% (2017), whilst “other” tourist segments, such as for educational, religious and health-related purposes, stood at 6.8%. Most importantly, there has also been some evidence of diversification within the Maltese holiday product itself, which departs from the stereotypical image of the islands as a ‘sun and sea’ destination. The Market Profile Survey (for 2017) undertaken by the Malta Tourism Authority’s [100] has in fact shown that only 15.7% of inbound tourists chose Malta based on traditional ‘sun and sea’ destinations. The largest share of tourists (42.9%) chose Malta for its culture and heritage. Moreover, the tourism industry in Malta has gradually also shifted from package to non-package holidaymakers. This reflects the emergence of a more independent type of tourist who wishes to experience the Maltese Islands in a more autonomous and dynamic way. Given the increasing number of tourists (currently standing at 2.6 million tourists in 2018), geotourism, as a form of sustainable tourism, is the best solution that sustains and enhances the identity of the territory, especially rural areas, taking in consideration its geology, environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents [101]. Geotourism will ensure benefits for traveler that will discover the geoheritage, cultural heritage and traditions of the archipelago in an innovative and green way, respecting the environment and ensuring a sustainable economic growth. At the same time, geotourism may o ers to locals a high-quality standard of life, helping to build a local identity and promote the unique and authentic heritage in their territory, being involved and architects of geotourism activities. In addition, the need to establish geoheritage recognition of these sites is also paramount to provide long-term sustainable measures [102], especially in view of the recent trends of construction boom on the islands to meet the demands of a growing population. The latter is primarily driven by the influx economic migrant workers (EU and non-EU) to support the current growing economy of the Maltese Islands, with 14.1% of the population in 2017 being foreign citizens. The establishment of a geopark could align well with the recent vision announced by the Maltese government to improve not only the quality of the tourists’ experiences but also increase high expenditure and demand-oriented tourists [103,104], over and above the already high annual number of tourists reaching the islands (2.6 million in 2018). Geoparks have the strong potential to maximize the quality of these experiences expected by such higher-expenditure tourists and it would directly inject further policy actions in both geoconservation and geotourism strategies for the islands. In this framework, the recognition of viewpoint geosites, intended as “a specific locality which allows for unobstructed observation of the surrounding landscape and comprehension of Earth history recorded Resources 2019, 8, 168 20 of 25 in rocks, structures and landforms visible from this locality” [105], would be crucial for geo-education and outreach activities, and future research will be addressed to this. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, P.C. and L.S.; methodology, P.C. and L.S.; investigation, R.G. and L.S.; writing—original draft preparation, P.C., R.G. and L.S.; writing—review and editing, P.C., R.G. and L.S.; visualization, L.S.; supervision, M.S. Funding: The present work was carried out in the framework of the Project ‘Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment—The Path to Identifying Risk’ funded by the EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement of the Council of Europe (Ref No.: GA/2019/11; Scientific Responsible: Mauro Soldati). Acknowledgments: The authors gratefully acknowledge Darren Saliba, manager at Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park, Malta. Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest. References 1. Gray, M. Geodiversity—Valuing and Conserving Abiotic Nature, 1st ed.; Wiley, J., Ed.; The Atrium, Southern Gate: Chichester, UK, 2004. 2. Sharples, C. Concepts and Principles of Geoconservation. Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service; PDF Document; Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service: Hobart, Australia, 2002. Available online: https://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/ Documents/geoconservation.pdf (accessed on 17 October 2019). 3. Gray, M. Geodiversity: The backbone of Geoheritage and Geoconservation. In Geoheritage: Assessment, Protection, and Management; Reynard, E., Brilha, J., Eds.; Elsevier: Amsterdam, The Netherland, 2018; pp. 13–25. 4. Newsome, D.; Dowling, R. Geoheritage and Geotourism. 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Geoheritage as a Tool for Environmental Management: A Case Study in Northern Malta (Central Mediterranean Sea)

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resources Article Geoheritage as a Tool for Environmental Management: A Case Study in Northern Malta (Central Mediterranean Sea) 1 1 , 2 1 Lidia Selmi , Paola Coratza *, Ritienne Gauci and Mauro Soldati Department of Chemical and Geological Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Via Campi 103, 41125 Modena, Italy; lidia.selmi@unimore.it (L.S.); soldati@unimore.it (M.S.) Department of Geography, Faculty of Arts, University of Malta, MSD 2080 Msida, Malta; ritienne.gauci@um.edu.mt * Correspondence: paola.coratza@unimore.it; Tel.: +39-059-2058448 Received: 1 October 2019; Accepted: 22 October 2019; Published: 26 October 2019 Abstract: The recognition, selection and quantitative assessment of sites of geological and geomorphological interest are fundamental steps in any environmental management focused on geoconservation and geotourism promotion. The island of Malta, in the central Mediterranean Sea, despite having a steadily increasing growth in population and tourism, still conserves geological and geomorphological features of great relevance and interest, both for their contribution to the understanding of the geological processes acting through time on landscape and for their aesthetic importance. The present work proposes an inventory for northern Malta, through three main stages, with the outcome of a final list of geosites that have the potential to be recognized as both natural heritage and tourist resources with potential economic benefits. In particular, the assessment methodology applied combines scientific value and additional and use-values, showing the links existing between geoheritage and other aspects of nature and culture of the sites. The results provide useful knowledge for the definition of strategies aimed at the development of a sustainable and responsible tourism. Keywords: geoheritage; geosites; quantitative assessment; Malta 1. Introduction Recent global trends have shown heightened appreciation of the variety of abiotic natural resources, known as geodiversity. This variety of non-living natural resources is defined by Gray [1] as the natural range (diversity) of geological, geomorphological and soil features. It describes the diversity of physical processes operating on Earth and the resultant rocks, minerals, fossils, sediments, soils, landforms, landscapes and habitats found on the world’s surface today [1–3]. Geodiversity, a resource still little known and which can create potential economic growth that has been largely untapped, allows for the definition of geosites, that together form the geological heritage. In this regard, geoheritage is considered as a natural resource and can be used in local and regional development, especially for promoting a territory for geotouristic purposes [4,5]. The Maltese archipelago, which lies at the center of the Mediterranean Sea, is a European country with a rich cultural heritage endowed with a great variety of natural features of international significance. Indeed, the small geographic scale of the islands is inversely proportional to the richness and frequency of places and artefacts of major importance, and it encompasses, as well, a large number of sites of geoscientific interest, showing a considerable geodiversity. This applies in particular to northern Malta, a sector of the island moderately populated, but which still conserves landscapes of great relevance and interest from a scenic and scientific point of view. These sites are mainly located Resources 2019, 8, 168; doi:10.3390/resources8040168 www.mdpi.com/journal/resources Resources 2019, 8, 168 2 of 25 along coastal areas, and have to co-exist with the island’s main economic activity of tourism. This industry has in fact been capitalizing on some of the most impressive coastal sceneries of the Maltese archipelago for over half a century. However, there is still remarkable potential on how the rich natural and cultural heritage of the archipelago is valued and promoted especially with regard to its geological and geomorphological heritage. It is a widely shared opinion that any action aiming to promote or protect geoheritage implies a good knowledge of the resource in terms of its location and characteristics. For this reason, an inventory, based on the analysis and assessment of the most valuable elements that define the geoheritage of a territory, represents the first necessary step towards its e ective management. A number of European countries have already carried out a similar national inventory, such as Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom [6]. More work is, however, required on a global scale. Recently in Malta, considerable geological and geomorphological research, especially in the north of the archipelago, has been undertaken by scientists in order to showcase the international geological and geomorphological significance of Maltese landscapes [7–13]. Nevertheless, the Maltese Islands still lack an ocial inventory of sites of geological interest and the government has not yet assigned geological heritage as a specific (or separate) legal provision related to the conservation and management of natural sites. Though the Maltese natural landscapes are governed by a comprehensive legal framework, such instrument mainly (but not only) sustains the importance of biodiversity and ecological conservation at local and international levels. Recently, e orts to recognize elements of geological heritage of the Maltese Islands were primarily channeled to urban landscapes, through the historical and cultural use of the Maltese Lower Globigerina Limestone over the centuries for heritage buildings. These e orts resulted in this limestone unit receiving the status of Global Heritage Stone Resource (GHSR) by the International Union of Geological Sciences in 2019. In this context, a study for the inventory and assessment of sites of geological interest, highlighting their location and characteristics (e.g., integrity, state of activity, attractiveness and accessibility) in the northern part of the island of Malta has been conducted and the results are here presented. This work aims at providing a better understanding of the geological and geomorphological characteristics of the study area and facilitating the recognition of the opportunities and threats, in order to strengthen the argument for the setting-up an e ective environmental management plan, which would directly include both geoconservation and geotourism actions. 2. Maltese Context Despite the small geographic size of the archipelago, the protection of the natural heritage of the Maltese Islands is governed by a fair number of main legislative acts, related legal chapters and subsidiary legislation (Table 1). These legal instruments are regularly updated in order to transpose European and international laws, mainly from the United Nations (including the Mediterranean Action Plan), the Council of Europe and the European Union [14]. A number of subsidiary legislations are also in force (Table 1), a few of which have replaced earlier legal notices, in order to also transpose international legal obligations into national law. The Environment Protection Act is the main legal instrument that safeguards the protection of the ‘landscape and its features’ under the relatively broad umbrella term of ‘environment’. A number of natural landscape features are classified as areas of high landscape value (AHLV) under the Development and Planning Act, mainly coastal cli s, valley systems, karstic plateaus, escarpments, woodland and agricultural settings. Most of these natural features intrinsically incorporate geological and geomorphological properties; however, the value of these features is primarily recognized for its support function to biodiversity and ecological systems, rather than specifically (or exclusively) for their geological properties in their own right. Under the Cultural Heritage Act, the definition of cultural heritage also includes ‘geological sites and deposits’ and ‘landscapes’; however, the act has no specific provisions related to their geoheritage value. The Fertile Soil (Preservation) Act primarily Resources 2019, 8, 168 3 of 25 addresses the maintenance of terraced landscapes, so typical in Malta’s rural setting, by o ering direct protection to soil as a resource. A number of islets around the Maltese Islands, such as Filfla and St. Paul’s Islands have been legally established as nature reserves and limiting human access only for scientific purposes. In addition to that, 13.1% of terrestrial areas of the Maltese Islands and 35% of their territorial waters form part of the EU Natura 2000 Network as protected areas under various designations (Table 2, [15]). Table 1. Maltese legal instruments related to the natural landscape management and protection. Type of Legal Instruments Designations Environment Protection Act (Chapter 549) Development Planning Act (Chapter 552) Acts Cultural Heritage Act (Chapter 445) Fertile Soil (Preservation) Act (Chapter 236) Filfla Nature Reserve Act (Chapter 323) Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations (SL 549.44) Trees and Woodland Protection Regulations (SL 549.64) Selmunett Islands (St. Paul’s Islands) Nature Reserve Regulations (SL 549.03) ˙ ˙ Fungus Rock (il-Gebla tal-General) Nature Reserve Regulations (SL 549.01) Motor Vehicles O -roading Regulations (SL 552.01) Rubble Walls and Rural Structures (Conservation and Maintenance) Subsidiary Legislations Regulations (SL 552.02). Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations (SL 549.42) Establishment of the Majjistral, Nature and History Park Regulations (SL 549.48) Establishment of the Park Nazzjonali tal-Inwadar Regulations (SL 549.109) Protected Beaches (SL 549.42) Tree Protection Areas (SL 549.123) Table 2. The number of protected sites according to designation type (Source: Compiled from the Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) [15]). Designation Type Number of Sites Tree Protection Areas 60 Area of Ecological Importance and Site of Scientific Importance 41 Special Areas of Conservation - International Importance 35 Bird Sanctuary 26 Area of Ecological Importance 22 Special Protection Areas 21 Area of High Landscape Value 13 Protected Beaches 11 Site of Scientific Importance 10 Special Areas of Conservation—National Importance 7 List of Historical Trees Having an Antiquarian Importance 6 Nature Reserve 3 The legal framework of natural heritage protection of the Maltese Islands is thus a mosaic of di erent provisions, with a number of sites protected by more than one designation (Table 2). Within this legal context, the importance of geoheritage as a conservation rationale remains, however, diluted, when compared with that for ecological and biodiversity protection. Despite this, the interest of the scientific community in geoheritage and geotourism has been growing over a number of years. With respect to the Maltese archipelago, the importance of developing studies to investigate the linkage between environment and cultural heritage and the relationship between geoheritage and tourism was initially explored in April 2007 during the International Workshop on the ‘Integration of the geomorphological environment and cultural heritage for tourism promotion and hazard prevention’ Resources 2019, 8, 168 4 of 25 Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 24 held in Malta [16,17]. The papers presented dealt with di erent aspects of the integration of the physical environment and cultural heritage through case studies from di erent parts of the world including world including Malta (e.g., [18]). More recently, Gauci et al. [11] and Gauci and Inkpen [19] have Malta (e.g., [18]). More recently, Gauci et al. [11] and Gauci and Inkpen [19] have highlighted the highlighted the geoheritage value of shore platforms in Malta by examining the close relationship geoheritage value of shore platforms in Malta by examining the close relationship between the physical between the physical landscape of the foreshore and human cultural development. The significance landscape of the foreshore and human cultural development. The significance of Maltese coastal of Maltese coastal landforms for societal wellbeing was also investigated by Satariano and Gauci [20] landforms for societal wellbeing was also investigated by Satariano and Gauci [20] who examined who examined the intense reactions experienced by both the Maltese and international community the intense reactions experienced by both the Maltese and international community following the following the sudden loss of an iconic sea arch at Dwejra (Gozo) in March 2017. This latter work sudden loss of an iconic sea arch at Dwejra (Gozo) in March 2017. This latter work forms part of forms part of a collection of contributions recently edited by Gauci and Schembri [13] and which a collection of contributions recently edited by Gauci and Schembri [13] and which illustrate the illustrate the rich diversity of the Maltese physical landscapes under the World Geomorphological rich diversity of the Maltese physical landscapes under the World Geomorphological Landscapes Landscapes series (Springer). Specific studies on geoheritage and geosites inventory and assessment series (Springer). Specific studies on geoheritage and geosites inventory and assessment have been have been carried out on the north-west coast of Malta, especially in the area of Il-Majjistral Nature carried out on the north-west coast of Malta, especially in the area of Il-Majjistral Nature and History and History Park and environs [7,12]. With respect to the island of Gozo, this theme was explored by Park and environs [7,12]. With respect to the island of Gozo, this theme was explored by Coratza et Coratza et al. [8] who examined spectacular sinkholes having highly scientific, ecological, aesthetic, al. [8] who examined spectacular sinkholes having highly scientific, ecological, aesthetic, cultural and cultural and use-values as geomorphosites. Specific research on Dwejra area, on the western coast of use-values as geomorphosites. Specific research on Dwejra area, on the western coast of Gozo [9,21], Gozo [9,21], has highlighted how the integration of environmental and cultural heritage aspects has highlighted how the integration of environmental and cultural heritage aspects makes this area a makes this area a site of remarkable value to be promoted for a more holistic and varied tourism. site of remarkable value to be promoted for a more holistic and varied tourism. 3. Study Area 3. Study Area The study area is located in the north of Malta, the largest island of the Maltese archipelago The study area is located in the north of Malta, the largest island of the Maltese archipelago (Figure 1). It is sparsely inhabited and characterized by a high tourism vocation. According to the (Figure 1). It is sparsely inhabited and characterized by a high tourism vocation. According to the National Tourism Policy 2015–2020, northern Malta is defined as a ‘tourism zone’ due to its tourism National Tourism Policy 2015–2020, northern Malta is defined as a ‘tourism zone’ due to its tourism infrastructures, hosting a further 42% of tourist accommodation [22]. infrastructures, hosting a further 42% of tourist accommodation [22]. Figure 1. Location and geological setting of the study area. Figure 1. Location and geological setting of the study area. The island attracts many tourists, also thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate characterized by The island attracts many tourists, also thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate characterized by an average rainfall of 530 mm per year and mean temperatures ranging from 12 to 27 C. an average rainfall of 530 mm per year and mean temperatures ranging from 12 to 27 °C. The rocks exposed in the island comprise a marine sedimentary succession, mostly composed of The rocks exposed in the island comprise a marine sedimentary succession, mostly composed of limestones and marls and deposited in a period between Upper Oligocene and Miocene [23,24]. In the limestones and marls and deposited in a period between Upper Oligocene and Miocene [23,24]. In the study area, all five geological formations constituting the Maltese archipelago outcrop (Figure 1). From the oldest to the youngest the formations are Lower Coralline Limestone Fm., Globigerina Limestone Fm., Blue Clay Fm., Greensand Fm. and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (Figure 2). Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 24 The Lower Coralline Limestone Fm., composed of pale grey, hard, shallow marine biomicrites and biospartites [23,25], outcrops in a restricted coastal stretch between Rdum il-Qammieħ and Iċ- Ċumnija, in the eastern part of the study area. The sequence continues with the soft and yellowish Resources 2019, 8, 168 5 of 25 Globigerina Limestone Fm., named on account of the high percentage of planktonic foraminifera present in the unit (Figure 3a). The usual color of the formation is pale-yellow, although a pale-grey study area, all five geological formations constituting the Maltese archipelago outcrop (Figure 1). From subdivision bounded both above and below by phosphorite conglomerate horizons, occurs in the the oldest to the youngest the formations are Lower Coralline Limestone Fm., Globigerina Limestone middle of the sequence [25,26]. It outcrops on the Ras il-Qammieħ coast and in Selmun Bay, in Fm., Blue Clay Fm., Greensand Fm. and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (Figure 2). proximity of St. Paul’s Island. Figure 2. View of Il-Qammieħ, showing the entire geological/stratigraphic sequence. From the Figure 2. View of Il-Qammieè, showing the entire geological/stratigraphic sequence. From the bottom: Lower Coralline Limestone Fm. (LCL), Globigerina Limestone Fm. (GL), Blue Clay Fm. (BC), bottom: Lower Coralline Limestone Fm. (LCL), Globigerina Limestone Fm. (GL), Blue Clay Fm. (BC), Greensand and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (UCL). Greensand and Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. (UCL). The It is Lower followed by Coralline the Blue Limestone Clay Fm., Fm.,form composed ed in a deep of pale-sea deposition grey, hard, shallow al settin marine g and biomicrites is made up and of biospartites [23,25], outcrops in a restricted coastal stretch between Rdum il-Qammieè and Ic- ˙ Cumnija, fine-grained sediments with a large component of organic material derived from planktonic in organ the ieastern sms. It consis part of tsthe of se study quenc are ea. s oThe f alte sequence rnating pa continues le-grey and d withathe rk-gre soft y b and ande yellowish d marls (F Globigerina igure 3b), Limestone Fm., named on account of the high percentage of planktonic foraminifera present in the with lighter bands containing a higher proportion of carbonate [27]. The uppermost part of the Blue unit Clay Fm (Figur . sho e 3 w a). s an The incr usual ease in color brown of the phosphatic formation sand is pale-yellow grains and gr , although een grains a o pale-gr f glaucon ey subdivision ite, together bounded with abund both ant fos above sil fr and agbelow ments, o byfphosphorite ten separated by conglomerate an erosiona horizons, l surface occurs . This in level the middle is known as of the sequence Greensand [25 F,m 26. and ]. It unde outcrops rline on s the passag the Ras il-Qammie e to the oèverlyin coast g Upp and ineSelmun r Coralline Bay,Limes in prtoximity one Fm. The of St. Paul’s fossilife Islands. rous content is mostly represented by mollusks, gastropods, brachiopods, echinoids, Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 6 of 24 bryozoans, algae, shark teeth, and remains of marine mammals [23,24,28]. It shows its maximum thickness of 11 m in Gozo, but the formation is rarely thicker than one meter in the area under study at Il-Qammieħ point. The upper part of the sequence is made up of the Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., a hard, pale grey limestone unit, very similar to the Lower Coralline Limestone especially in color and coralline algal content, of shallow water environment. It usually makes up plateaus and steep cliffs affected by weathering and mass movements [26]. It is often affected by a dense network of tectonic discontinuities which provide the rock masses with a brittle behavior (Figure 3b) [29,30]. This formation largely covers the study area, with a thickness even higher than 100 m. Figure 3. Landscape features of the study area: (a) Terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone at Figure 3. Landscape features of the study area: (a) Terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone at Il- Il-Qammieè with typical honey pots dissolution structures; (b) badland topography in Blue Clay slopes Qammieħ with typical honey pots dissolution structures; (b) badland topography in Blue Clay slopes overlain by Upper Coralline Limestone cli s at Il-Qammieè. overlain by Upper Coralline Limestone cliffs at Il-Qammieħ. It is followed by the Blue Clay Fm., formed in a deep-sea depositional setting and is made up of The geological formations lie almost horizontally across the islands, although they are displaced fine-grained sediments with a large component of organic material derived from planktonic organisms. by tectonic structures [25,31,32]. From a tectonic viewpoint, the archipelago is crossed by two fault systems, he NW-SE trending Pantelleria Rift and the WSW-ENE graben system [23]. The latter is the most ancient and is responsible for a horst and graben structure that characterizes the northern sector of the island of Malta [33,34]. Indeed, the study area is part of the North Malta Graben, one of the three main structural regions of the Maltese Islands. The North Malta Graben is characterized by typical ridge-trough morphology and bounded by the Great Fault to the south [32]. The geomorphological landscape is largely controlled by the different physical and mechanical properties of the lithostratigraphic units and by tectonic features. The coastal landscape is mainly shaped by marine processes, that produce inlets and bays with small pocket beaches [35–37]. Due to the presence of resistant conglomerate beds and hardgrounds within the stratigraphy of Globigerina Limestone, a number of shore platforms have developed at sea level as a result of differential erosion [19]. On the contrary, plunging cliffs are the dominating features in Upper Coralline Limestone, at times shaped in sea caves. Mass movements are widespread all along the northwestern part of the study area, due to the fragile behavior of limestones, which cap Blue Clay Fm. characterized by visco-plastic properties. Rock falls and topples are abundant along the coastline and mainly affect the Upper Coralline Limestone plateaus which are characterized by persistent fissures and cracks of tectonic origin [29,37–41]. Evidence of rock spreading and block sliding phenomena characterize the stretch of coast at Rdum il-Qammieħ and Rdum il-Qawwi, in the northwestern part of the Marfa Ridge Peninsula, and at Rdum il-Majjiesa, located inside the Il-Majjistral Park boundaries. The lateral extension of rock masses tends to evolve into block sliding whose onset is extensively witnessed by scattered blocks of variable size lying on the Blue Clay slopes which gently slide toward the sea and protect the shoreline from the marine erosion (Figure 4a) [29,42–44]. Karstic features are well developed on the surface topography of plateaus, characterized by highly irregular and rugged surface morphology, resulting from solution processes. Karst pavements, solution holes and solution pans are also particularly relevant. Sinkholes have been found in the area, usually caused by the collapse of cave roofs (Figure 4b). They are characterized by a flat bottom and may reach a few hundreds of meters in diameter and stratigraphic throw [45,46]. The area under study is relatively less urbanized compared with the rest of the island, but has been significantly influenced over time by human activity for agricultural and tourism purposes [47]. Coastal and inland slopes have been remodeled into terraced fields retained by dry stone walls and utilized as terraced agricultural land [48,49]. The terraced fields and agricultural land are usually installed on V-shaped dry valleys, relict of former pluvial conditions and extensive groundwater sapping. The presence of archaeological features and British military architecture can also be encountered. Resources 2019, 8, 168 6 of 25 It consists of sequences of alternating pale-grey and dark-grey banded marls (Figure 3b), with lighter bands containing a higher proportion of carbonate [27]. The uppermost part of the Blue Clay Fm. Shows an increase in brown phosphatic sand grains and green grains of glauconite, together with abundant fossil fragments, often separated by an erosional surface. This level is known as Greensand Fm. and underlines the passage to the overlying Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. The fossiliferous content is mostly represented by mollusks, gastropods, brachiopods, echinoids, bryozoans, algae, shark teeth, and remains of marine mammals [23,24,28]. It shows its maximum thickness of 11 m in Gozo, but the formation is rarely thicker than one meter in the area under study at Il-Qammieè point. The upper part of the sequence is made up of the Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., a hard, pale grey limestone unit, very similar to the Lower Coralline Limestone especially in color and coralline algal content, of shallow water environment. It usually makes up plateaus and steep cli s a ected by weathering and mass movements [26]. It is often a ected by a dense network of tectonic discontinuities which provide the rock masses with a brittle behavior (Figure 3b) [29,30]. This formation largely covers the study area, with a thickness even higher than 100 m. The geological formations lie almost horizontally across the islands, although they are displaced by tectonic structures [25,31,32]. From a tectonic viewpoint, the archipelago is crossed by two fault systems, the NW-SE trending Pantelleria Rift and the WSW-ENE graben system [23]. The latter is the most ancient and is responsible for a horst and graben structure that characterizes the northern sector of the island of Malta [33,34]. Indeed, the study area is part of the North Malta Graben, one of the three main structural regions of the Maltese Islands. The North Malta Graben is characterized by typical ridge-trough morphology and bounded by the Great Fault to the south [32]. The geomorphological landscape is largely controlled by the di erent physical and mechanical properties of the lithostratigraphic units and by tectonic features. The coastal landscape is mainly shaped by marine processes, that produce inlets and bays with small pocket beaches [35–37]. Due to the presence of resistant conglomerate beds and hardgrounds within the stratigraphy of Globigerina Limestone, a number of shore platforms have developed at sea level as a result of di erential erosion [19]. On the contrary, plunging cli s are the dominating features in Upper Coralline Limestone, at times shaped in sea caves. Mass movements are widespread all along the northwestern part of the study area, due to the fragile behavior of limestones, which cap Blue Clay Fm. characterized by visco-plastic properties. Rock falls and topples are abundant along the coastline and mainly a ect the Upper Coralline Limestone plateaus which are characterized by persistent fissures and cracks of tectonic origin [29,37–41]. Evidence of rock spreading and block sliding phenomena characterize the stretch of coast at Rdum il-Qammieèand Rdum il-Qawwi, in the northwestern part of the Marfa Ridge Peninsula, and at Rdum il-Majjiesa, located inside the Il-Majjistral Park boundaries. The lateral extension of rock masses tends to evolve into block sliding whose onset is extensively witnessed by scattered blocks of variable size lying on the Blue Clay slopes which gently slide toward the sea and protect the shoreline from the marine erosion (Figure 4a) [29,42–44]. Karstic features are well developed on the surface topography of plateaus, characterized by highly irregular and rugged surface morphology, resulting from solution processes. Karst pavements, solution holes and solution pans are also particularly relevant. Sinkholes have been found in the area, usually caused by the collapse of cave roofs (Figure 4b). They are characterized by a flat bottom and may reach a few hundreds of meters in diameter and stratigraphic throw [45,46]. The area under study is relatively less urbanized compared with the rest of the island, but has been significantly influenced over time by human activity for agricultural and tourism purposes [47]. Coastal and inland slopes have been remodeled into terraced fields retained by dry stone walls and utilized as terraced agricultural land [48,49]. The terraced fields and agricultural land are usually installed on V-shaped dry valleys, relict of former pluvial conditions and extensive groundwater sapping. The presence of archaeological features and British military architecture can also be encountered. Resources 2019, 8, 168 7 of 25 Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 24 Figure 4. Landscape views of the study area: (a) Aerial photo of Rdum il-Qammieè, showing the Figure 4. Landscape views of the study area: (a) Aerial photo of Rdum il-Qammieħ, showing the impressive rock fall and block slides, typical of the area; (b) remarkable example of karstic feature in impressive rock fall and block slides, typical of the area; (b) remarkable example of karstic feature in Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. at Aèrax point. Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. at Aħrax point. 4. Materials and Methods 4. Materials and Methods During the last 30 years, the increasing interest in geoheritage has led to the development of During the last 30 years, the increasing interest in geoheritage has led to the development of methodologies for its inventory and assessment [50,51] and references therein. In fact, the scientific methodologies for its inventory and assessment [50,51] and references therein. In fact, the scientific literature is rich in examples of geosite inventories both at national (e.g., [52–56], regional (e.g., [51,57–59]) literature is rich in examples of geosite inventories both at national (e.g., [52–56], regional (e.g., [51,57– and local scale (e.g., [60–62]). Numerous methods are described in literature for the qualitative and 59]) and local scale (e.g., [60–62])). Numerous methods are described in literature for the qualitative quantitative assessment of geoheritage and geosites in various contexts (cf. [63,64]): Environmental and quantitative assessment of geoheritage and geosites in various contexts (cf. [63,64]): Impact Assessment and territorial planning (e.g., [65–68]); inventory of natural heritage sites Environmental Impact Assessment and territorial planning (e.g., [65–68]); inventory of natural (e.g., [53,58,69–71]); tourist promotion (e.g., [72–76]); management of nature parks and geoheritage heritage sites (e.g., [53,58,69–71]); tourist promotion (e.g., [72–76]); management of nature parks and (e.g., [77–81]). A complete review of methods for the assessment of geosites has been recently published geoheritage (e.g., [77–81]). A complete review of methods for the assessment of geosites has been by Brilha [82]. In general, it should be emphasized that all methods inevitably imply a degree of recently published by Brilha [82]. In general, it should be emphasized that all methods inevitably subjectivity since their intrinsic value cannot be measured. In order to reduce subjectivity and properly imply a degree of subjectivity since their intrinsic value cannot be measured. In order to reduce evaluate the various components of a geosite, it is necessary to define clear and transparent criteria, subjectivity and properly evaluate the various components of a geosite, it is necessary to define clear which can vary according to the aim, working scale and subject of the assessment. Even though and transparent criteria, which can vary according to the aim, working scale and subject of the there is no generally accepted method for the numerical assessment of geosites, recurrent criteria are assessment. Even though there is no generally accepted method for the numerical assessment of used in literature, such as rarity, representativeness and integrity, ecological value, paleogeographic geosites, recurrent criteria are used in literature, such as rarity, representativeness and integrity, importance, educational value etc. [64]. ecological value, paleogeographic importance, educational value etc. [64]. Based on published literature, as well as on knowledge achieved in previous research on Based on published literature, as well as on knowledge achieved in previous research on geoheritage in various morphoclimatic contexts, the methodological approach adopted for the geoheritage in various morphoclimatic contexts, the methodological approach adopted for the identification of geosites in northern Malta comprises the following operational phases (Figure 5): identification of geosites in northern Malta comprises the following operational phases (Figure 5): (i) (i) Recognition and selection of sites of geological and geomorphological interest (i.e., potential geosites), Recognition and selection of sites of geological and geomorphological interest (i.e., potential based on their representativeness in terms of geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity [51,79]; (ii) analysis geosites), based on their representativeness in terms of geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity [51,79]; and characterization of potential geosites; (iii) quantitative assessment of potential geosites and final (ii) analysis and characterization of potential geosites; (iii) quantitative assessment of potential selection of geosites. geosites and final selection of geosites. Figure 5. The three stages of the methodological approach. Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 24 Figure 4. Landscape views of the study area: (a) Aerial photo of Rdum il-Qammieħ, showing the impressive rock fall and block slides, typical of the area; (b) remarkable example of karstic feature in Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. at Aħrax point. 4. Materials and Methods During the last 30 years, the increasing interest in geoheritage has led to the development of methodologies for its inventory and assessment [50,51] and references therein. In fact, the scientific literature is rich in examples of geosite inventories both at national (e.g., [52–56], regional (e.g., [51,57– 59]) and local scale (e.g., [60–62])). Numerous methods are described in literature for the qualitative and quantitative assessment of geoheritage and geosites in various contexts (cf. [63,64]): Environmental Impact Assessment and territorial planning (e.g., [65–68]); inventory of natural heritage sites (e.g., [53,58,69–71]); tourist promotion (e.g., [72–76]); management of nature parks and geoheritage (e.g., [77–81]). A complete review of methods for the assessment of geosites has been recently published by Brilha [82]. In general, it should be emphasized that all methods inevitably imply a degree of subjectivity since their intrinsic value cannot be measured. In order to reduce subjectivity and properly evaluate the various components of a geosite, it is necessary to define clear and transparent criteria, which can vary according to the aim, working scale and subject of the assessment. Even though there is no generally accepted method for the numerical assessment of geosites, recurrent criteria are used in literature, such as rarity, representativeness and integrity, ecological value, paleogeographic importance, educational value etc. [64]. Based on published literature, as well as on knowledge achieved in previous research on geoheritage in various morphoclimatic contexts, the methodological approach adopted for the identification of geosites in northern Malta comprises the following operational phases (Figure 5): (i) Recognition and selection of sites of geological and geomorphological interest (i.e., potential geosites), based on their representativeness in terms of geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity [51,79]; (ii) analysis and characterization of potential geosites; (iii) quantitative assessment of potential Resources 2019, 8, 168 8 of 25 geosites and final selection of geosites. Figure 5. The three stages of the methodological approach. Figure 5. The three stages of the methodological approach. 4.1. Recognition and Selection of Sites of Geological and Geomorphological Interest In order to recognize sites of geological and geomorphological interest, the first phase consists of a literature review of papers and maps of the area under study and field surveys. A number of papers dealing with the geological and geomorphological features of the Maltese archipelago compiled in the last decades are available, some of which specifically devoted to the geoheritage of the northwestern sector of the island. Literature review and field survey are fundamental for the recognition of sites of geological and geomorphological interest to be qualitatively assessed, considering the di erent morphoclimatic conditions, geomorphological processes and lithological and structural constraints that controlled their development. This enables us to account for a variety of features that can finally be considered as geosites. Two main criteria have been taken into account in the assessment procedure (cf. [51]): The sites have to be representative of the geo-history and geomorphological evolution of the study area at a regional scale. Both active and inherited geological and geomorphological features can be considered as potential geosites. The sites have to represent the regional geo(morpho)diversity, i.e., a complete set of geomorphological processes that acted over time in the study area. Unique or rare landforms, as well as more common and abundant ones, can be useful to provide an overview of the landforms visible in the area (cf. [12]). 4.2. Analysis and Characterisation of Potential Geosites The second phase foresees the analysis and characterization of potential geosites to be selected among the sites of geological and geomorphological interest previously identified. The analysis provides for the identification of a series of parameters characterizing each potential geosites. These parameters are collected in a descriptive card including elements of textual description and pictorial data. In particular, each descriptive card collects the following headings: (1) Feature: name of the potential geosite; (2) Location: as precise as possible; (3) Coordinates: international system; (4) Type (according to [51,58,60,83,84], distinguished on its geometrical characters in: (i) punctiform, small-size isolated single form or object (e.g., a sinkhole or a spring); (ii) linear, one or more simple forms developed preferentially in a single direction (e.g., a canyon, or a paleo riverbed) and/or stratigraphical sequences; (iii) areal: a set of large simple landforms related to just one type of genetic process (e.g., a karren field); (5) Lithology; Resources 2019, 8, 168 9 of 25 (6) Genesis/main interest: e.g., tectonic, geomorphological, stratigraphic; regarding the geomorphological interest, a morphogenetic division related to a group of processes (coastal, fluvial, karstic, gravity-induced etc.) can be applied; (7) State of activity (e.g., [85–93]): active sites, those that allow the visualization of geological and geomorphological processes in action (e.g., fluvial systems); inherited sites defined as inherited landforms, which testify to past processes and have a particular heritage value since they are symbols of Earth’s history and evolution (e.g., stack); (8) Brief geological and geomorphological description based on field observations and literature survey; (9) Documents, archive material and pictorial representations: e.g., photographs, sketches. 4.3. Quantitative Assessment of Potential Geosites and Selection of Geosites The employment of a quantitative assessment is considered necessary in order to decrease the subjectivity associated with any evaluation. The methodology adopted by Coratza et al. [8], already applied with positive results on the northwestern coast of the island of Malta, in a similar geological and geomorphological context [12], has been considered as the most suitable for the assessment of potential geosites. This methodology is inspired by methods previously proposed by Serrano and Gonzàlez Trueba [69], Bruschi and Cendrero [68], Pererira et al. [77] and Reynard et al. [70]. The geosite value assessment is based on 16 criteria divided into three main groups of value, i.e., scientific value (SV), additional value (AV) and use-value (UV), each one producing a final score for its category (Table 3). The scientific value aims to reveal the value of the site for the geosciences and it is assessed according to four criteria (paleogeomorphological model, rareness, representativeness and integrity) scored on a scale from 0 to 1. The additional value is linked to the importance that a geosite assumes owing to non-geological aspects which increase its overall value and is made up of three independent sub-values: ecological, aesthetic and cultural. The use-value refers to the possible utilisation of geosites by society. The scores given for each criterion are reported in Table 3. Table 3. Values and criteria of geosite assessment methodology and related scores. Value Criteria Score Paleogeomorphological model 0–1 Rareness 0–1 Scientific value (SV) Representativeness 0–1 Integrity 0–1 Ecological value Ecological role support 0–1 Panoramic quality 0–0.25 Color diversity 0–0.25 Aesthetical value Additional value (AV) Vertical development 0–0.25 Naturalness 0–0.25 Religious importance 0–0.33 Historical importance 0–0.33 Cultural value Artistic importance 0–0.33 Accessibility 0–0.75 Visibility 0–0.75 Use value (UV) Services 0–0.75 Importance for education 0–0.75 The value of a geosite results from the total of the scores obtained from all criteria, with 10 being the highest score possible. Once completed, the assessment will provide a set of total scores for each of the three observed values (scientific, additional and use-value). On the basis of both the range and the total of these scores, a series of score-defined thresholds were established in order to allow also the Resources 2019, 8, 168 10 of 25 inclusion of sites, which though they may have limited scientific value, they nonetheless may hold potential for geotourism and educational activities. The score thresholds were established on both the basis of the highest scores and the scope of the study. The sites that reach such thresholds can be finally considered as geosites. 5. Results 5.1. Recognition and Selection of Sites of Geological and Geomorphological Interest As a first stage, a literature review has been carried out referred to more than 50 scientific references comprising 13 theses, ca. 40 national and international papers, 5 geological and geomorphological maps and several reports of Maltese environmental agencies (Planning Authority, Environmental and Resources Authority, Malta Environment and Planning Authority). In particular, the scientific papers analyzed (Figure 6) deal with various geological aspects including geomorphology (33%), structural Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 24 geology (19%), stratigraphy (10%), paleontology (7%), geoheritage (6%) and miscellaneous geological topics (25%). Figure 6. Distribution of geological literature according to the main topics of the scientific papers analyzed. The item miscellaneous comprises papers on geology l.s. Figure 6. Distribution of geological literature according to the main topics of the scientific papers analyzed. The item miscellaneous comprises papers on geology l.s. This detailed literature review combined with several field surveys led to the identification of sites in the study area with geological and geomorphological interest. The field surveys were This detailed literature review combined with several field surveys led to the identification of essential to integrate the list of sites previously identified with new sites not mentioned in literature. sites in the study area with geological and geomorphological interest. The field surveys were essential In addition, field surveys were also fundamental to collect site-specific updated information—i.e., to integrate the list of sites previously identified with new sites not mentioned in literature. In state of conservation, state of activity, accessibility, visibility and presence of services—relevant to the addition, field surveys were also fundamental to collect site-specific updated information—i.e., state completion of the descriptive cards and the quantitative assessment of potential geosites. of conservation, state of activity, accessibility, visibility and presence of services—relevant to the Through literature review and field surveys, sites with geological and geomorphological interest completion of the descriptive cards and the quantitative assessment of potential geosites. were recognized and 31 were selected as potential geosites considering the two criteria mentioned in Through literature review and field surveys, sites with geological and geomorphological interest paragraph 4.1, i.e., geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity. The sites selected are representative evidence were recognized and 31 were selected as potential geosites considering the two criteria mentioned in of the main geological and geomorphological processes acting through time in the study area (Figure 7). paragraph 4.1, i.e., geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity. The sites selected are representative evidence of the main geological and geomorphological processes acting through time in the study 5.2. Analysis and Characterization of Potential Geosites area (Figure 7). The 31 potential geosites selected were analyzed and for each site a descriptive card has been compiled including the information reported in paragraph 4.2 and Figure 8. The data collected in this phase were stored in a GIS database. Figure 7. Location of the 31 sites selected within the study area. The numbers correspond to the ID of the sites. 5.2. Analysis and Characterization of Potential Geosites Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 10 of 24 Figure 6. Distribution of geological literature according to the main topics of the scientific papers analyzed. The item miscellaneous comprises papers on geology l.s. This detailed literature review combined with several field surveys led to the identification of sites in the study area with geological and geomorphological interest. The field surveys were essential to integrate the list of sites previously identified with new sites not mentioned in literature. In addition, field surveys were also fundamental to collect site-specific updated information—i.e., state of conservation, state of activity, accessibility, visibility and presence of services—relevant to the completion of the descriptive cards and the quantitative assessment of potential geosites. Through literature review and field surveys, sites with geological and geomorphological interest were recognized and 31 were selected as potential geosites considering the two criteria mentioned in paragraph 4.1, i.e., geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity. The sites selected are representative evidence of the main geological and geomorphological processes acting through time in the study Resources 2019, 8, 168 11 of 25 area (Figure 7). Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 11 of 24 The 31 potential geosites selected were analyzed and for each site a descriptive card has been Figure 7. Location of the 31 sites selected within the study area. The numbers correspond to the ID of Figure 7. Location of the 31 sites selected within the study area. The numbers correspond to the ID of compiled including the information reported in paragraph 4.2 and Figure 8. The data collected in this the sites. the sites. phase were stored in a GIS database. 5.2. Analysis and Characterization of Potential Geosites Figure 8. Example of a descriptive card of a potential geosite. Figure 8. Example of a descriptive card of a potential geosite. Regarding the type of sites (Figure 9a), 19 sites were classified as areal (61%), 10 sites as punctiform Regarding the type of sites (Figure 9a), 19 sites were classified as areal (61%), 10 sites as (31%) and 2 sites as linear (7%). It can be stated that the selected sites refer to the three main lithological punctiform (31%) and 2 sites as linear (7%). It can be stated that the selected sites refer to the three formations of the area under study (Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., Blue Clay Fm. and Globigerina main lithological formations of the area under study (Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., Blue Clay Fm. Limestone Fm.) and most of the sites consist of two or more di erent lithologies (Figure 9b). Regarding and Globigerina Limestone Fm.) and most of the sites consist of two or more different lithologies the main scientific interest, 26 of the selected sites have mainly geomorphological interest (84%), 3 (Figure 9b). Regarding the main scientific interest, 26 of the selected sites have mainly sites display evidence of anthropogenic activity (10%) and the last 2 sites have tectonic origin (6%). As geomorphological interest (84%), 3 sites display evidence of anthropogenic activity (10%) and the last 2 sites have tectonic origin (6%). As reported in Figure 9c, almost half of the geomorphological sites (45%, 14 sites) feature gravitational movements, followed by 7 sites (23%) shaped by sea action and 3 sites (16%) by karstic processes. Most of them are located along the coast (Figure 9d), where impressive lateral spreading phenomena dominate the landscape and where wave action and litho- structural processes shape cliffs and bays. For their representativeness, karst morphologies have also been selected, such as the surface topography on limestone plateaus that present small irregular rock pools colonized by typical Mediterranean vegetation and a large number of endemic communities [94]. Other selected sites in the area are two sinkholes at the eastern and western ends of the Marfa Ridge peninsula. Besides the sites with entirely natural origin, sites of geological and geomorphological interest strictly linked with the anthropogenic activity were selected. In fact, the geology has greatly influenced the location of settlement and activity of human civilization. The term ‘anthropogenic site’ was then used to differentiate these types of sites from the pristine ones. The best example is the large area of industrial salinas (ID26, ID27), not in use anymore, that covers approximately 1 km along the shore platforms of Blata l-Bajda in Selmun [95]. The rocky shore platforms in soft Globigerina Limestone developed the ideal coastal landscape for the formation of natural pools filled with seawater. This natural feature was extended and built from humans in order to collect seawater for the production of salt [11,19]. This site shows how geological features influence traditional practices and how sites with geological and geomorphological interest can be considered as part of the cultural heritage. Another example of anthropogenic site is the presence of cart ruts (ID12), on Wied Musa Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 24 Resources 2019, 8, 168 12 of 25 battery. This site is evidence of ancient agricultural civilizations that hewn the rock below the field, using a slide-car or wheeled cart. reported in Figure 9c, almost half of the geomorphological sites (45%, 14 sites) feature gravitational Two sites have been chosen mainly for the geological/geotectonic interest such as St. Paul’s movements, followed by 7 sites (23%) shaped by sea action and 3 sites (16%) by karstic processes. Islands that is crossed by one of the major SW-NE faults in the island and which affected the Most of them are located along the coast (Figure 9d), where impressive lateral spreading phenomena horizontal transition between Upper Coralline Limestone and Upper Globigerina Limestone. The dominate the landscape and where wave action and litho-structural processes shape cli s and bays. For 52% of the sites (16 sites) are active landforms which provide clear evidence of geological and their representativeness, karst morphologies have also been selected, such as the surface topography geomorphological processes in action. The remaining 48% (15 sites) consist of inherited landforms, on limestone plateaus that present small irregular rock pools colonized by typical Mediterranean that testify to inactive processes which are evidence of past geological and geomorphological vegetation and a large number of endemic communities [94]. Other selected sites in the area are two processes (Figure 9e). sinkholes at the eastern and western ends of the Marfa Ridge peninsula. (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) Figure 9. Distribution of potential geosites according to (a) type; (b) lithology; (c) main interest; (d) Figure 9. Distribution of potential geosites according to (a) type; (b) lithology; (c) main interest; (d) location; (e) state of activity. location; (e) state of activity. 5.3. Quan Besides titative Asses the sites smen with t and Selection entirely natural of Geosites origin, sites of geological and geomorphological interest strictly linked with the anthropogenic activity were selected. In fact, the geology has greatly influenced The 31 potential geosites have been assessed through the methodology described in paragraph the location of settlement and activity of human civilization. The term ‘anthropogenic site’ was then 4.3 in order to establish the final selection of geosites. used to di erentiate these types of sites from the pristine ones. The best example is the large area of Once the potential geosites have been evaluated, the total scores for each value (scientific, industrial salinas (ID26, ID27), not in use anymore, that covers approximately 1 km along the shore additional and use-value) were plotted on a graph plane according to the cartesian coordinate system. platforms of Blata l-Bajda in Selmun [95]. The rocky shore platforms in soft Globigerina Limestone The total scores of the scientific valueplus additional and use values (combined) were plotted on the developed the ideal coastal landscape for the formation of natural pools filled with seawater. This cartesian plane as x-axis and y-axis respectively (Figure 10). A score value of ≥4.5 was established for natural feature was extended and built from humans in order to collect seawater for the production of the total value, along which to define the potential geosites as (final) geosites, provided that the salt [11,19]. This site shows how geological features influence traditional practices and how sites with scientific value was ≥2.0. geological and geomorphological interest can be considered as part of the cultural heritage. Another The results are presented in Table 4 where the values of each geosite are shown. 10 sites have example of anthropogenic site is the presence of cart ruts (ID12), on Wied Musa battery. This site is been selected as geosites for the high score in scientific interest and total additional and use-value. evidence of ancient agricultural civilizations that hewn the rock below the field, using a slide-car or Not only sites with high scientific value were selected, but also sites with potential as geotourist wheeled cart. destination and ideal for educational activities, according to the aim of the present research. As Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 24 Badland topography 20 Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 in Blue Clay slopes Area affected by 21 Il-Parsott 2.00 0.80 1.50 2.30 4.30 Resources 2019, 8, 168 13 of 25 rock spreading Ta’ L- 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 Imgħarrqa Two sites have been chosen mainly for the geological/geotectonic interest such as St. Paul’s Islands Area affected that are crossed by one of the major SW-NE faults in the island and which a ected the horizontal 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 by rock spreading transition between Upper Coralline Limestone and Upper Globigerina Limestone. The 52% of the Gżejjer ta’ San sites (16 sites) are active landforms which provide clear evidence of geological and geomorphological 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 processes in action. The remaining 48% (15 sPaw ites) lconsist of inherited landforms, that testify to inactive processes which are evidence of past geological Gżejjer ta’ and San geomorphological processes (Figure 9e). 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 Pawl 5.3. Quantitative Assessment and Selection of Geosites 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 The 31 potential geosites have been assessed through the methodology described in paragraph Badland topography 4.3 in order to establish the final selection of geosites. 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 in Blue Clay slopes Once the potential geosites have been evaluated, the total scores for each value (scientific, additional and use-value) were plotted on Il-Pon a graph ta taplane l- according to the cartesian coordinate system. 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 Aħrax The total scores of the scientific value plus additional and use values (combined) were plotted on the cartesian plane Aas reax-axis affectand ed y-axis respectively (Figure 10). A score value of 4.5 was established 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 for the total by rock value, along spreading which to define the potential geosites as (final) geosites, provided that the scientific value was 2.0. 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of 2.0 and a total value of 4.5 (red dots). Descrip The tion results of th ar e Geos e presented ites in Table 4 where the values of each geosite are shown. 10 sites have been selected as geosites for the high score in scientific interest and total additional and use-value. Not only The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value sites with high scientific value were selected, but also sites with potential as geotourist destination and achieved. ideal for educational activities, according to the aim of the present research. As shown in Figure 10, ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault two salinas at Blata l-Bajda (ID26 and ID27), despite the high potential as tourist attractions, were not selected as geosite due to the lack of relevant scientific importance. Instead, areas a ected by Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features rock spreading (ID1 and ID4) and rock topple (ID2), even though the low relevance as scientific site, which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. are selected as geosite due to their important score in additional and use-value. All the identified geosites are examples that well represent geohistory and geo(morpho)diversity of the study area and are capable of being exploited as geotourist resources. The sinkhole at Il-Ponta tal-Aèrax (ID 13) is considered the only occurrence of this type in the island of Malta and the fault at Il-Qammieè (ID31) is Resources 2019, 8, 168 14 of 25 the only spot where all the Maltese geological formations outcrop in the study area. Considering the use-value, the rock topple at Il-Bajja tac- ˙ Cirkewwa (ID2) is the only site presenting a complete range of services and facilities, thus having the possibility to host geotourism activities. Almost all the sites are accessible without obstacles, except ID24 that is located on St. Paul’s Islands, a protected nature reserve with limited access. All the sites have educational potential at di erent levels. All the geosites show a high total aesthetic value, making them attractive also to a public of non-specialists. Table 4. Final quantitative assessment of potential geosites (sites finally selected as geosites are highlighted in yellow). Geosite Values ID Feature Location SV AV UV AV+UV SV+AV+UV Area a ected 1 Ta’ Qassisu 2.15 1.15 1.75 2.90 5.05 by rock spreading Il-Bajja 2 Rock topple 2.00 1.25 3.00 4.25 6.25 tac-Cirkewwa 3 Sinkhole Cirkewwa 3.00 1.10 1.65 2.75 5.75 Area a ected Rdum 4 2.15 1.40 1.50 2.90 5.05 by rock spreading il-Qawwi 5 Rock window Ta’ Qassisu 2.25 0.65 0.25 0.90 3.15 6 Marine cave Gebel Imbark 1.50 0.30 0.15 0.45 1.95 Lower Globigerina Rdum 7 3.25 1.15 0.40 1.55 4.80 Limestone terrace il-Qammieè Badland Rdum 8 topography 2.75 1.00 0.90 1.90 4.65 il-Qammieè in Blue Clay slopes Dissolution structure Rdum 9 2.00 1.30 0.50 1.80 3.80 (Globigerina il-Qammieè pavement) Ras 10 Shore platform 2.25 1.10 0.00 1.10 3.35 il-Qammieè Badland Ras 11 topography 2.25 0.80 0.25 1.05 3.30 il-Qammieè in Blue Clay slopes Il-Palazz 12 Cart ruts 0.50 0.25 0.90 1.15 1.65 tal-Marfa Il-Ponta 13 Sinkhole 3.50 1.00 1.50 2.40 6.00 tal-Aèrax Rdum 14 Marine Cave 1.75 0.60 1.15 1.75 3.50 l-Aèmar Karst landform 15 (limestone Aèrax Point 2.00 1.15 1.25 2.40 4.40 pavement) Rdum 16 Rock topple 1.75 0.25 1.50 1.75 3.50 l-Aèmar Rdum 17 Rock topple 1.75 0.45 1.50 1.95 3.70 tal-Madonna Resources 2019, 8, 168 15 of 25 Table 4. Cont. Area a ected Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 24 18 Il-Marbat 1.75 0.75 1.50 2.25 4.00 by rock spreading Rdum Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 24 Badland topography 19 Rock topple 1.75 0.50 1.25 1.75 3.50 Re20 sour ces 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 14 of 24 in Blue Clay slopes Badland Badland topography Area affected by Rdum 20 Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 Badland topography 21 20 topography Il-Parsott 2.00 2.25 0.80 0.75 1.50 1.152.30 1.90 4.30 4.15 in Blue Clay slopes 20 Rdum il-Ħmar 2.25 0.75 1.15 1.90 4.15 rock spreading in Blue Clay slopes in Blue Clay slopes Area affected by Ta’ L- 21 Il-Parsott 2.00 0.80 1.50 2.30 4.30 Area affected by Area a ected by 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 rock spreading 21 21 Il-Par Il-Parsott sott 2.00 2.00 0.80 0.80 1.50 1.502.30 2.30 4.30 4.30 Imgħarrqa rock spreading rock spreading Ta’ L- Area affected 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 Ta’ L- Ta’ 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 Imgħarrqa 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 22 Sinkhole 2.25 0.65 1.25 1.90 4.15 by rock spreading L-Imgèarrqa Imgħarrqa Area affected Gżejjer ta’ San 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 Area a ected Area affected 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 by rock 23 spreading Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 23 Rdum il-Bies 1.50 0.95 1.50 2.45 3.95 Pawl by rock spreading by rock spreading Gżejjer ta’ San Gzejjer ˙ ta’ San Gżejjer ta’ San 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 24 Fault Gżejjer ta’ San 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 Pa Pawl wl 24 Fault 2.25 1.00 1.50 2.50 4.65 Pawl Pawl Gzejjer ˙ ta’ San Gżejjer ta’ San 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 Gżejjer ta’ San Pawl Pawl 25 Marine cave 2.25 0.25 1.00 1.25 3.50 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 Pawl 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 Badland topography 26 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.25 0.88 2.00 2.88 4.13 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 in Blue Clay slopes 27 Salinas Blata l-Bajda 1.50 0.88 1.75 2.63 4.13 Badland Badland topography Il-Ponta tal- 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 28 topography Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 Badland topography 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 in Blue Clay slopes 28 Tal-Blata 3.00 0.90 1.25 2.15 5.15 Aħrax in Blue Clay slopes in Blue Clay slopes Il-Ponta tal- Il-Ponta Area affected 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 29 Tsunami deposit Il-Ponta tal- 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 tal-Aèrax Aħrax 29 Tsunami deposit 2.00 0.25 1.25 1.50 3.50 by rock spreading Aħrax Area affected Area a ected 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 30 Gèajn 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 Area affected by rock spreading by rock spreading 30 Għajn Ħadid 1.75 1.15 1.00 2.15 3.90 by rock spreading 31 Fault Il-Qammieè 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 31 Fault Il-Qammieħ 2.75 2.20 1.25 2.20 6.20 Description of the Geosites The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value achieved. ID31: Il-Qammieè Fault Il-Qammieè, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. The place is already designated under the Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations (SL 549.44) in view of its diverse and endemic ecology. Upper beds of the Lower Coralline Limestone are well exposed along the base of an elevated platform. The top of this formation is marked by the abundance of the echinoid Scutella subrotunda and constitutes the important marker Scutella Bed. The succession continues with the exposure of Globigerina Limestone Fm., all the three members, and passes transitionally up into the banded Blue Clay deposit. Overlying the Blue Clay Fm. there is approximately 1 m of the Greensand Fm., occurring as a friable, green and brown colored glauconitic micrite. On the top of this stratigraphic section, the Upper Coralline Limestone Fm. outcrops, typically cream colored by fossiliferous algal limestones (Mtarfa Member) containing abundant spherical rhodoliths [23,96]. The site is one of the most accessible and clear spots showing the intact transition of the five formations, suitable for educational activities (Figure 2). Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally Figure 10. Total scientific value vs total additional and use-value of potential geosites. Sites finally selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). Description of the Geosites selected as geosites are those displaying a scientific value of ≥2.0 and a total value of ≥4.5 (red dots). The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value Description of the Geosites Description of the Geosites achieved. The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value The geosites finally selected are reported in descending order, considering the total score value ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault achieved. achieved. Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault ID31: Il-Qammieħ Fault which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features Il-Qammieħ, on the south side of the Marfa Ridge, is one of the most striking geological features which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. which exposes the entire Oligo-Miocene Maltese lithological sequence, including the Greensand Fm. Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 16 of 24 are a potential threat to the exposed Blue Clay slopes. The second site, ID8 (Figure 11d), has high scenic impact and remarkable educational value. The Blue Clay slopes outcrop, gently corrugated, between the Upper Coralline Limestone plateau and a unique terrace (ID7) in Globigerina Limestone. Resources 2019, 8, 168 16 of 25 In this site it is possible to understand how detached blocks of Upper Coralline Limestone move on the underling Blue Clays slopes and how badland topography develops. ID13: Id-Dragonara Sinkhole ID7: Rdum Il-Qammieħ Terrace The site is a subsidence structure found at Il-Ponta tal-Aèrax. This structure is created as a result A 1 km terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone Fm. extends along the coast of Rdum il- of the corrosive action of rainwater with limestone which enlarges a cave to an extent where the cave’s Qammieħ, featuring with typical examples of karst terrain. Chemical weathering is the main process roof becomes unstable and collapses. This unique site is connected with the sea and it is a place shaping the surface of the platform and forming small solution pools, also known as honeycomb of interest for diving and kayaking. It lies 10 m above sea level; for this reason, it is regarded as a structures. High scientific value and high aesthetic value are assigned to this unique terrace in panoramic lookout point from where it is possible to view all Marfa peninsula, Gozo and Comino. The northern Malta, which is spectacularly flat and yellow-colored. In addition, it conserves a substantial site has already considered as a site with aesthetical value frequented by recreational activities, but it number of fossils. The intensive network of fossilized burrowing channels over the surface of the has also scientific relevance being a unique sinkhole in Malta connected with the sea (Figure 4b). It is Lower Globigerina Limestone scallop shells especially within the Lower Conglomerate bed, and the known by the locals as Id-Dragonara. fossils of Echinoids species exposed at the surface. It can be considered an unspoiled outbound site, without serv ˙ ices nearby. The Upper Coralline Limestone forms a plateau at the top of the slope profile ID3: Cirkewwa Sinkhole and is the source of numerous boulders that are deposited on the Blue Clay slopes and the terrace. A semi-circular sinkhole is found in Cirkewwa, northwest of Malta, known from the locals as These boulders, different in size, are used by climbers for boulder activity (Figure 11e). Latnija, or as Gèajn Tuta, the latter being the name of the local area in which it is situated. It is probably ID1 and ID4: Areas Affected by Lateral Spreading Quaternary in age [46,97] and represents the collapse of a limestone roof of a small cave. It shows a semi-circular shape and has a diameter of 35 m, on the ground level and it is surrounded by a rocky Located on the west coast, respectively in Ta’ Qassisu (Figure 11f) and Rdum il-Qawwi (Figure pavement with soil infills on its karstic surface. Partly obscured by typical Mediterranean scrubland, 12a), these two sites are representative of gravity-induced processes active on the coast. In particular, the site is highly a ected by human activities such as rock climbing, camping and recreation such as it is possible to appreciate deep fissures on the carbonatic plateau, block sliding and lateral spreading, barbeque. The geodiversity content of the site can be linked with other subjects as ecology and biology, constantly expanding towards the sea. The geodiversity content of the area can be combined with due to the presence of Mediterranean vegetation. The site is a unique example of inland sinkhole in the two other subjects: biology and history. Indeed, as additional value, the plateau hosts a variety of area under study and the second in all Malta (consequent only by Il-Maqluba in the south of Malta). endemic flowers and plants and offers a spectacular view of Gozo. Rich also from the cultural- It is a perfect spot to appreciate the karst processes that acted and act nowadays on the archipelago historical point of view, both sites host remains of old villages and pillboxes of the Second World (Figure 11a). War. ID4 presents a higher nu Figure 11. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Latinija sinkhole (ID3); (b) Il-Bajja tac- ˙ Cirkewwa Figure 11. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Latinija sinkhole (ID3); (b) Il-Bajja taċ-Ċirkewwa where where mass movements a ect Upper Coralline Limestone overlaying Blue Clays (ID2); (c,d) badland mass movements affect Upper Coralline Limestone overlaying Blue Clays (ID2); (c,d) badland topography in Blue Clay slopes (ID28 and ID8); (e) Lower Globigerina terrace (ID7); (f) lateral spreading topography in Blue Clay slopes (ID28 and ID8); (e) Lower Globigerina terrace (ID7); (f) lateral a ecting Upper Coralline Limestone overlying Blue Clays (ID1). spreading affecting Upper Coralline Limestone overlying Blue Clays (ID1). ID24: St. Paul’s ID2: Il-Bajja Ta Islands Fault c- ˙ Cirkewwa Rock Topple A spectacular site with lateral spreading and rock topple in Upper Coralline Limestone Fm., this embayment represents a highly-sought-after bay on the island with a pocket sandy beach. The site is called Il-Bajja tac- ˙ Cirkewwa, better known as Paradise Bay due to the clear sea waters that fringe the white sandy beach. The high score is assigned not only from a scientific point of view for its landslide Resources 2019, 8, 168 17 of 25 features, but also for the presence of recreational facilities. Services as bars, hotels, car parks and a bus station are found within the site. The bay is also popular for shore diving. The whole area is easily accessible via public services and directly connected with the national road that could favor educational activities (Figure 11b). ID28 and ID8: Badland Topography on Blue Clay Slopes Both sites have a high visual impact and make up exemplary cases that help to understand the geomorphological evolution of coastal areas. ID28 (Figure 11c) is located at Blata l–Bajda, between the salinas in Globigerina Limestone and the fragmented plateau of Upper Coralline Limestone. The site is easily accessible and it could be the destination of a number of activities related to other subjects, such as history, ecology and biology due to the presence of salinas, military fortifications and green areas. Despite the fragility of the environment, this site is widely used by locals for recreational activities such as hiking, cycling, motorcycling and hunting. These recreational activities are a potential threat to the exposed Blue Clay slopes. The second site, ID8 (Figure 11d), has high scenic impact and remarkable educational value. The Blue Clay slopes outcrop, gently corrugated, between the Upper Coralline Limestone plateau and a unique terrace (ID7) in Globigerina Limestone. In this site it is possible to understand how detached blocks of Upper Coralline Limestone move on the underling Blue Clays slopes and how badland topography develops. ID7: Rdum Il-Qammieè Terrace A 1 km terrace in Lower Globigerina Limestone Fm. extends along the coast of Rdum il-Qammieè, featuring with typical examples of karst terrain. Chemical weathering is the main process shaping the surface of the platform and forming small solution pools, also known as honeycomb structures. High scientific value and high aesthetic value are assigned to this unique terrace in northern Malta, which is spectacularly flat and yellow-colored. In addition, it conserves a substantial number of fossils. The intensive network of fossilized burrowing channels over the surface of the Lower Globigerina Limestone scallop shells especially within the Lower Conglomerate bed, and the fossils of Echinoids species exposed at the surface. It can be considered an unspoiled outbound site, without services nearby. The Upper Coralline Limestone forms a plateau at the top of the slope profile and is the source of numerous boulders that are deposited on the Blue Clay slopes and the terrace. These boulders, di erent in size, are used by climbers for boulder activity (Figure 11e). ID1 and ID4: Areas A ected by Lateral Spreading Located on the west coast, respectively in Ta’ Qassisu (Figure 11f) and Rdum il-Qawwi (Figure 12a), these two sites are representative of gravity-induced processes active on the coast. In particular, it is possible to appreciate deep fissures on the carbonatic plateau, block sliding and lateral spreading, constantly expanding towards the sea. The geodiversity content of the area can be combined with two other subjects: biology and history. Indeed, as additional value, the plateau hosts a variety of endemic flowers and plants and o ers a spectacular view of Gozo. Rich also from the cultural-historical point of view, both sites host remains of old villages and pillboxes of the Second World War. ID4 presents a higher number of blocks located on the coast and a small rock window shaped by sea action. Resources 2019, 8, x FOR PEER REVIEW 17 of 24 The islets of St. Paul, protected as Nature Reserve, lie 800 m from Selmunett Bay. A direct fault across the island has brought the Upper Coralline Limestone in juxtaposition with Upper Globigerina Limestone [95]. The Upper Coralline Limestone is predominant on the surface and represents the entire surface morphology of the islets; the Upper Globigerina Limestone outcrops as a small cliff with a narrow shore platform at the base. The coast of islets also features a number of marine caves. The islets are a Level 2 Site of Scientific Importance (SSI) for its geomorphology (GN 827 of 2002). Resources 2019, 8, 168 18 of 25 Access to t Figure 12. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Lateral spreading affecting Upper Coralline Limestone Figure 12. Views of the selected geosites: (a) Lateral spreading a ecting Upper Coralline Limestone overlying Blue Clays (ID4); (b) St. Paul’s Islands fault (ID24). overlying Blue Clays (ID4); (b) St. Paul’s Islands fault (ID24). 6. Conclusions ID24: St. Paul’s Islands Fault This work aims to increase the knowledge of the rich geological heritage of northern Malta, The islets of St. Paul, protected as Nature Reserve, lie 800 m from Selmunett Bay. A direct fault providing a better understanding of the geological and geomorphological characteristics of the study across the island has brought the Upper Coralline Limestone in juxtaposition with Upper Globigerina area and facilitating the recognition of the opportunities, in order to strengthen the argument for the Limestone [95]. The Upper Coralline Limestone is predominant on the surface and represents the setting-up an effective environmental management plan, taking into full account the geological entire surface morphology of the islets; the Upper Globigerina Limestone outcrops as a small cli with component as well. The present research shows that, considering the small geographic scale of the a narrow shore platform at the base. The coast of islets also features a number of marine caves. The island, there is a high level of geodiversity of features primarily controlled by the interaction between islets are a Level 2 Site of Scientific Importance (SSI) for its geomorphology (GN 827 of 2002). Access geomorphological processes, structure and stratified geology. An assessment of geosites has been to the islets is only permissible between sunrise and sunset and then only against an entry permit carried out based on a set of criteria that links geological and geomorphological importance with obtainable from the Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) (Figure 12b). additional values of the sites, as aesthetic, cultural, ecological and economic. The accurate description and characterization of potential geosites and their inventory aim to help the government 6. Conclusions administration become more aware of the sites of geological interest in the area, giving useful This work aims to increase the knowledge of the rich geological heritage of northern Malta, information for their effective management which includes both geoconservation and geotourism providing a better understanding of the geological and geomorphological characteristics of the study actions. As found in the result (Section 5.1), we classified the sites in active or inherited, not only to area and facilitating the recognition of the opportunities, in order to strengthen the argument for note their state of activity, but to take into consideration their vulnerability and fragility. Active the setting-up an e ective environmental management plan, taking into full account the geological geosites, in fact, are fragile and may necessitate management and protection measures. Similar to component as well. The present research shows that, considering the small geographic scale of the most geosites, they are exposed to natural and man-made processes that threaten their integrity and island, there is a high level of geodiversity of features primarily controlled by the interaction between may compromise their value. Therefore, their conservation is a complex issue since it should address geomorphological processes, structure and stratified geology. An assessment of geosites has been the problem of both possible destruction by natural active processes and man-induced damage. In carried out based on a set of criteria that links geological and geomorphological importance with addition, very often dynamic sites are highly sensitive features, susceptible to modifications due to additional values of the sites, as aesthetic, cultural, ecological and economic. The accurate description processes’ changes in time, frequency and intensity. Many coastal environments are very sensitive and characterization of potential geosites and their inventory aim to help the government administration areas, particularly vulnerable to disturbance and prone to change, where climate change impacts are become more aware of the sites of geological interest in the area, giving useful information for their very acute. Changes are visible at very short time scales and may generate active processes, very e ective management which includes both geoconservation and geotourism actions. As found in evident to observe. The same consideration can be done to the size of the sites. The limited study area the result (Section 5.1), we classified the sites in active or inherited, not only to note their state of comprises small isolated features that are usually more vulnerable due to their dimension and can activity, but to take into consideration their vulnerability and fragility. Active geosites, in fact, are stand a lower tourist pressure compared to extensive areal geosites [58]. Geoheritage inventory and fragile and may necessitate management and protection measures. Similar to most geosites, they are assessment are therefore the first steps in the process of effective conservation and promotion. Some exposed to natural and man-made processes that threaten their integrity and may compromise their degree of legal protection already exists in a few sites. A wide part of the study area falls under value. Therefore, their conservation is a complex issue since it should address the problem of both Natura 2000 management as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Areas (SPA). possible destruction by natural active processes and man-induced damage. In addition, very often dynamic sites are highly sensitive features, susceptible to modifications due to processes’ changes in time, frequency and intensity. Many coastal environments are very sensitive areas, particularly vulnerable to disturbance and prone to change, where climate change impacts are very acute. Changes are visible at very short time scales and may generate active processes, very evident to observe. The same consideration can be done to the size of the sites. The limited study area comprises small isolated Resources 2019, 8, 168 19 of 25 features that are usually more vulnerable due to their dimension and can stand a lower tourist pressure compared to extensive areal geosites [58]. Geoheritage inventory and assessment are therefore the first steps in the process of e ective conservation and promotion. Some degree of legal protection already exists in a few sites. A wide part of the study area falls under Natura 2000 management as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Areas (SPA). In addition, some sites, such as Gzejjer ˙ ta’ San Pawl, are scheduled as Nature Reserves and so protected under the Nature Reserve legislation (Table 1) or established as nature parks, such as the Majjistral Nature and History Park. The integration of the geoheritage character of the area would mean both strengthening the landscape value for its geological and geomorphological component and unifying the whole study area under geoheritage conservation rather than leaving it as an area with single components of conservation. Geoheritage, combined with the rich cultural heritage, could be considered as the heart of tourism and educational activities, with Malta’s tourism direct contribution to GDP being among the highest in the EU. Data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) show that the travel and tourism industry’s total contribution to Malta’s GDP stood at 27.1% in 2017. This was the highest share recorded within the Mediterranean region by a notable margin and was also well above the Mediterranean, European Union and World averages, which ranged between 10% and 12%. The total contribution of travel and tourism industries to employment including indirect and induced impacts was estimated to reach 55,000 jobs in 2017 (28.3% of total employment) [98,99]. Concerning the kind of tourism, leisure tourism remains the main purpose of visit for the vast majority of tourist arrivals to the Maltese Islands, with a share of 85.3% of total inbound tourists in 2017. The number of visitors for business purposes stood at 7.9% (2017), whilst “other” tourist segments, such as for educational, religious and health-related purposes, stood at 6.8%. Most importantly, there has also been some evidence of diversification within the Maltese holiday product itself, which departs from the stereotypical image of the islands as a ‘sun and sea’ destination. The Market Profile Survey (for 2017) undertaken by the Malta Tourism Authority’s [100] has in fact shown that only 15.7% of inbound tourists chose Malta based on traditional ‘sun and sea’ destinations. The largest share of tourists (42.9%) chose Malta for its culture and heritage. Moreover, the tourism industry in Malta has gradually also shifted from package to non-package holidaymakers. This reflects the emergence of a more independent type of tourist who wishes to experience the Maltese Islands in a more autonomous and dynamic way. Given the increasing number of tourists (currently standing at 2.6 million tourists in 2018), geotourism, as a form of sustainable tourism, is the best solution that sustains and enhances the identity of the territory, especially rural areas, taking in consideration its geology, environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents [101]. Geotourism will ensure benefits for traveler that will discover the geoheritage, cultural heritage and traditions of the archipelago in an innovative and green way, respecting the environment and ensuring a sustainable economic growth. At the same time, geotourism may o ers to locals a high-quality standard of life, helping to build a local identity and promote the unique and authentic heritage in their territory, being involved and architects of geotourism activities. In addition, the need to establish geoheritage recognition of these sites is also paramount to provide long-term sustainable measures [102], especially in view of the recent trends of construction boom on the islands to meet the demands of a growing population. The latter is primarily driven by the influx economic migrant workers (EU and non-EU) to support the current growing economy of the Maltese Islands, with 14.1% of the population in 2017 being foreign citizens. The establishment of a geopark could align well with the recent vision announced by the Maltese government to improve not only the quality of the tourists’ experiences but also increase high expenditure and demand-oriented tourists [103,104], over and above the already high annual number of tourists reaching the islands (2.6 million in 2018). Geoparks have the strong potential to maximize the quality of these experiences expected by such higher-expenditure tourists and it would directly inject further policy actions in both geoconservation and geotourism strategies for the islands. In this framework, the recognition of viewpoint geosites, intended as “a specific locality which allows for unobstructed observation of the surrounding landscape and comprehension of Earth history recorded Resources 2019, 8, 168 20 of 25 in rocks, structures and landforms visible from this locality” [105], would be crucial for geo-education and outreach activities, and future research will be addressed to this. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, P.C. and L.S.; methodology, P.C. and L.S.; investigation, R.G. and L.S.; writing—original draft preparation, P.C., R.G. and L.S.; writing—review and editing, P.C., R.G. and L.S.; visualization, L.S.; supervision, M.S. Funding: The present work was carried out in the framework of the Project ‘Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment—The Path to Identifying Risk’ funded by the EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement of the Council of Europe (Ref No.: GA/2019/11; Scientific Responsible: Mauro Soldati). 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