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The Qawra/Dwejra site combines interesting geology, both on land and under the sea, rich diverse wildlife and habitats, dramatic seascapes dominated by a rocky shoreline, cultural elements spanning from the 3rd century BC to the 19th century AD and a general wilderness feel. Both the inland sea (Qawra) and Dwejra Bay are excellent examples of large-scale circular subsidence structures and associated infill sediments with clear fossil beds. In fact, on western Gozo one finds an impressive number of solution subsidence structures in a relatively small area. These geological formations were formed as underground caverns through a dissolution process which could only have taken place on land. During the Miocene, seafloor collapse created 12 initial structures whereas many others originated from Quaternary subaerial collapse during the Pleistocene, when the emergence of the Maltese Islands reactivated the process. These various structures, some of which are completely submerged, clearly explain the geological history of the Pelagian Block (Central Mediterranean).
Superimposed on the geological processes is the geomorphological one with evidence of marine erosion on the subsidence structures. In fact, very good examples of marine erosion processes at work are present at Qawra/Dwejra, with the whole sequence of features being present - sea-caves, tunnels, arches, stacks and reefs.
Terrestrial influence is also evident, especially with the effects of erosion by freshwater flows, the presence of perennial freshwater pools, seepage from cliffs, a waterfall at Dwejra Bay and the presence of large dry-valley systems feeding into the inland sea at Qawra, including examples of phreatic tubes, depressions and undercutting.
The site is also of importance for its palaeontology, with the presence at Qawra of Quaternary deposits containing partly re-worked blue clay and fossil remains that can throw light on the biogeography and terrestrial evolution of the Pelagian Block since the Pliocene (Messinian). The whole area of Qawra/Dwejra is very rich in fossiliferous deposits.
As regards the biological processes, the locality contains an important rupestral community which is endemic to the Maltese Islands, showing ongoing evolution of a biological community. The area also supports a number of endemic species, with nearly all of the 18 higher plants endemic to the Maltese Islands represented here.
The small offshore islet known as "Fungus Rock" is also the only locality of the Maltese Wall Lizard race known as Podarcis filfolensis generalensis. This sub-species (one of five sub-species of P. filfolensis, four of which are endemic to Malta) is endemic to this rock and shows micro-evolution in progress. The same islet is also the only locality in the Maltese Islands where the "Malta Fungus" Cynomorium coccineum is found. This parasitic flowering plant (which was thought to be a fungus with medicinal properties) was first described from this rock and was highly prized by the Knights of St. John who saw it fit to guard the rock against intruders. Today it is known from other places in the Mediterranean as well but it is nowhere common except on Fungus Rock. The area of Qawra/Dwejra also supports other Maltese endemics such as the isopod Spelueoniscus vallettai, a variant of the topshell Trochoidea spratti and the door snail Muticaria macrostoma forma oscitans.
The area also comprises an important bird breeding and nesting site, especially on the sheer cliffs overlooking the sea and it also harbours several rare and endemic species.
The marine environment is a mix of shallow lagoon-type habitats, seagrass meadows, impressive boulder fields, submarine caves, sea stacks, archways, sheer drop-offs, blow-holes and shallow reefs. The landscape also boasts of impressive scenery, again dominated by geomorphological features including valleys, archways, tunnels, caves, subsidence structures, depressions as well as an offshore islet, Fungus Rock, which was revered by the Knights of St. John and which today is a Nature Reserve.
Justification of "Outstanding Universal Value"
1. Criteria met
The above account shows that Western Gozo, and in particular the Qawra/Dwejra area, is:
a) an outstanding example representing significant on-going geological processes in the development, evolution and biogeography of the Pelagian Block;
b) an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of communities of plants and animals, including micro-evolutionary processes and the development of an endemic rupestral community; as well as the presence of the full range of marine habitats in the central Mediterranean;
c) an area of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance with the presence of massive solution subsidence structures in a relatively small area, some completely submerged, and extensive sheer limestone cliffs which rise straight out of the sea and contain a concentration of the full sequence of structures associated with marine erosion from sea caves through stacks to reefs;
d) an area containing the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, with the presence of a unique and endemic rupestral community made up of a large number of endemic higher plants (some endemic to the island of Gozo), and the presence of rare and endangered species.