Islands in general have historically relied on the great seas and oceans for commerce, subsistence, travel, recreation and so on. Most harbours that are still used in the present day extend back centuries in their use, sometimes millenia. Malta is no exception to this case, which boasts one of the most celebrated natural harbours in the world. However, given its high population density, and increasing amounts of boat owners living and visiting the islands, is there room for more docking space in an ever shrinking coastline?
The place of concern is Malta’s sister island, Gozo, where the current Government has issued a call for expressions of interest to build a cruise liner terminal and yacht marina. Apparently, the response has been “bigger than expected”, which is to be anticipated given how coveted marina space has become in Malta.
Gozo has only one major port facility, the Mgarr Harbour, that currently also operates the Malta-Gozo shuttle ferry service on a daily basis (pictured above). The biggest issue about building such facilities in Gozo is the obvious lack of space, since the vast majority of the island’s coastline is protected by some form of terrestrial or marine treaty which ‘in theory’ should inhibit the presence of marinas or terminals.
All terrestrial areas in red is land that is legally designated as a Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protected Areas (SPAs) and/or are part of the Natura2000 framework – all of which enjoy European protection. There are also three Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Gozo:
- an area in the east of Gozo that extends between Xwejni Bay next to Marsalforn and the White Rocks in Pembroke Malta – this is the entire area which covers the Neptune Sea grass meadows Posidonia oceanica (the green areas in the sea in the map above) which are internationally protected.
- an area next to Dwejra Heritage Park
- an area next to Mgarr ix-Xini.
Basically, the only area which is legally permissible to construct any form of maritime hub is depicted by the green line along the Gozo coastline in the map above, which is practically a fourth of the island.
But can we build there?
There needs to be a lot of planning when it comes to building a marine or terminal, but the rule of thumb is that the area needs to be at sea level, in order for boats and ships to berth without problems. Unfortunately, Gozo is not a smooth surfaced island, with many elevations and depression along the coastline. This can be illustrated by the following contour map which is freely available from MEPA’s MapServer online.
As expected, the light green areas are located at the coast, with the majority of these being either bays or beaches:
- A – Dwejra
- B – Wied il-Mielah
- C – Wied Ghasri
- D – Marsalforn/Qbajjar
- E – Ramla l-Hamra
- F – San Blas
- G – Dahlet Qorrot
- H – Hondoq ir-Rummien
- I – Mgarr Harbour
- J – Xatt l-Ahmar
- K – Mgarr ix-Xini
- L – Xlendi
As can be observed from the above figure, there is really very little option in the choice of constructing this marina or cruise liner terminal, this barring also logistic issues of whether the site is easily accessible and so on. The current Gozo minister has pledged to not build this maritime monster at Hondoq ir-Rummien, which has recently been in the headlines over contentious development issues. He has instead suggested that an ideal site would be Marsalforn, which is located inside the MPA.
The only thing we can do now is wait and observe how this issue unfolds, but I am certain (based on the long standing faulty development decisions taken by the Gonzi administration), that the legal designation of MPA, SPA, SAC or Natura2000 will do little to prevent juggernaut projects such as this one from proceeding.