In December of 2013, the Maltese government received 21 proposal following a call for expression of interest in land reclamation. Amongst the most desirable areas is Bahar ic-Caghaq, an area in the north west of Malta which houses protected Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows and a Marine Protected Area. Do you think the Maltese government will sanction such a development?
Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows are the Mediterranean’s equivalent to the Amazon’s tropical rainforests: they provide a unique habitat and ecosystem for countless endemic marine species, they absorb considerable amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere offsetting climate change, the produce oxygen that supplies coastal ecosystems, and they have been found to be the oldest living organisms in the world at a recorded age of 100,000 years off the coast of Formentera and Ibiza. All in all, they are a spectacular wonder of the Mediterranean sea, that according to the IUCN Red List, are protected by the EU Habitats Directive, the Bern and Barcelona Conventions at the European level, and by national legislation in every country they inhabit including Malta.
A recent article on local newspapers has revealed that developers want to construct an artificial island in this protected area, complete with luxury villas and a resort. The reason why developers are targeting this area is because it is mostly unspoilt, and consists of virgin land that is protected as a result of the characteristic Maltese ecosystems that inhabit it. To quote the article, the area is being considered as it it:
“the most commercially viable due to its potential for upmarket real estate through which developers can reclaim massive construction costs”.
The only reason which the government can use to justify the elimination of protected Posidonia meadows is if the project has “overriding public interest”. It is essentially a no-brainer in this case, as upmarket real estate provides absolutely no value to the public, but only seeks to line the pocket of developers, who want to build in a protected area to reclaim their costs.
However, this is Malta we are talking about, a country where the Malta Developer’s Assocation (MDA) president calls NGOs a “threat” to the construction industry and who sees no conflict of interest in openly supporting the political party in power – so what do you think will happen when the MDA president insists on the Prime Minister to turn a blind eye on this issue for the ‘benefit’ of the county’s economy?
Whilst I commend scientists such as Alan Deidun on protesting such an issue, I am quite disappointed that other academic professionals have not yet voiced their concerns – most notably the current Head of Department for Biology of the University of Malta, who dedicated a career studying and working on Posidonia meadows. Yet again, this is Malta and people still fear retribution if they challenge government action, even if their morals and beliefs are stifled.