The EU bathing water quality report for 2013 has just been published, showing an impressive 93% of bathing waters across the EU meeting the minimum requirements as set by the EU bathing water directive. For the second year, Malta has ranked second in the list with 96.6% of its sites having an excellent quality, falling short by three sites to achieve the 100% result currently held by Cyprus. While 84 of the 87 bathing sites in Malta meet water quality standards, the same cannot be said for how some of these prime spots are being managed by the Maltese environmental authorities.
This report recently published by the European Environment Agency is based on data collected from 22,000 bathing sites across the EU, Croatia (which is set to enter the EU on the 1st of July) and Switzerland. I doubt how many people in Malta actually know what an impressive achievement this is, considering how other prominent countries scored relatively meagre results (UK – 58.2%, France – 59.6%).
Unfortunately, this report only includes the health and safety issues associated with using the sites for swimming. It fails to account for the management of ecological and other natural systems, the presence of informative signage to educate the public, and general management of the site in terms of waste, sanitation and sustainable transport and so on. These factors are incorporated into the Blue Flag certification, which is an award issued by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) an NGO that operates worldwide in over 40 countries (22 of which are part of the EU).
Unlike the EU bathing quality results, there is no legal requirement for Blue Flag beaches or marinas. As such, countries can choose to not aspire to allowing their beaches or marinas to achieve Blue Flag status. As indicated on their website, the Blue Flag programme aspires to:
“work towards sustainable development of beaches and marinas through strict criteria dealing with Water Quality, Environmental Education and Information, Environmental Management, and Safety and Other Services”.
How does Munchies snack bar and Golden Bay fit into this?
The Maltese media has been quite diligent at covering up a 10-year old saga of the presence of Munchies at Golden Bay. For those of you who do not know, this snack bar is built in the middle of what is now left of a protected sand dune in Golden Bay. The entire complex, including those cosy wooden steps leading down to it, have been constructed into protected land – so I will leave it up to the readers to digest the legality of this building.
This is one of the main reasons why it is suspected that Golden Bay has consistently been denied the coveted Blue Flag status, something which has been given to ‘semi-artificial’ beaches such as St. George’s Bay and the perched beach in Buġibba.
I cannot understand how a popular beach such as Golden Bay is being deprived of this award in order to potentially fuel the economic benefits of this cafe owner. Malta works in mysterious ways when the environment is concerned, so nothing is to be unexpected.
This statement in itself makes me quite uncomfortable, as the situation should not have been allowed to deteriorate to this level – if memory serves me well, Munchies recently also underwent a refurbishment which should have been approved by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. If the Blue Flag status does not mean anything to the Maltese authorities, then they are really missing out on a key marketing angle. Most tourists take such things into account – in fact the current Blue Flag beaches are also advertised on the main website for information about the Maltese Islands.
I urge people to consider bringing their own refreshments if they visit Golden Bay, and to not contribute to this economic juggernaut that is most probably partly responsible for depriving this beautiful beach from a much deserved Blue Flag.