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Maltese Environment

Will the Maltese government sanction the destruction of Malta’s ‘Tropical Rainforest’?

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.

Posidonia oceanica seagrass meadows are often considered as tropical rainforests of the ocean, supporting a rich biodiversity, providing oxygen to the coastal ecosystems and absorbing considerable amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere (Photo credit: Aix Marseille Université)

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”.

Baha ic-Caghaq, the area being targeted by developers in their mission to rape and pillage the Maltese environment (Photo credit: maltatoday)

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.

Join the discussion

  1. Dr Joseph A Borg

    Mr Borg Micallef

    It is not ethical for the Department of Biology, which forms part of a public entity, and the undersigned in his official capacity as current head of same, to publish an opinion on such topic in the local media. I would have thought that a person with your educational background would know as much. Note, however, that I have already submitted detailed advice in relation to the concerned project proposal to the relevant authorities; this was done through the appropriate professional channels.

    J A Borg

    —————————–
    Dr Joseph A Borg
    Head of Department

    Room 227 (Biomedical Sciences Building)
    Department of Biology
    Faculty of Science
    University of Malta
    Msida MSD 2080
    Malta

    E-mail address: joseph.a.borg@um.edu.mt
    Tel (Office): +356 23402850
    Tel (Lab): +356 23402018

    Web page
    https://www.um.edu.mt/profile/josephaborg

    • Antoine Borg Micallef

      Thanks for your reply Dr Borg. However, I must completely disagree with you. There have numerous occasions where university lecturers of all levels commented on issues of public interest, such as divorce, civil unions, etc. These include Sociologist Mark Anthony Falzon, and even Dr Deidun who are University lecturers, so forgive me if I fail to see your point. Furthermore, a person of my educational background has been thought and encouraged to criticize practices when they need to be criticized – but I attribute that to my education in England mostly.

      It is worrying that any department of the UoM finds it unethical to criticize the government on issues it specializes in – how can the biology Department stay silent when such an issue comes to light? Fundamentally you are correct in saying that UoM is a public entity, but its allegiance seems to fall in line with who funds it as opposed to the public it should be informing and educating. Whilst submitting proposals proposals to the government is good, again the public has a right to know.

      • Dr Joseph A Borg

        Mr Borg Micallef

        I will reply one last time, after which I will not take this further.

        You are mixing things. The professionals you refer to have commented in their own personal capacity and not on behalf of University.

        I reiterate that, on a personal level, I have already rendered advice concerning the specific topic to the relevant local authorities. This would be compromised if I were to submit comments on the same topic elsewhere.

        J A Borg

  2. Antoine Borg Micallef

    Dear Prof Borg,

    Thank you for comment and I appreciate your interest in the matter, As I said, I personally believe that it would have been better to voice your concerns publicly, as after all you are an expert on the matter and the public always tends to listen to the experts since they would not know what is at stake. We agree to disagree on this issue, but I believe that scientists and other professionals in Malta should encourage an open debate and not leave citizens unaware and spectators for the umpteenth time while politicians dictate how their environment is managed. It is also good that we get to have an exchange after the many years I left the university.

    Regards,

    Antoine

  3. Eleanor Tabone

    Dear Professor Dr Joseph A Borg
    Antoine Borg Micallef

    My name is Eleanor Tabone and I am an Australian based Journalist currently compiling a story based on the marine environment of Malta.

    I am currently in the process of producing a documentary based around the beauty and magnificence of Malta’s marine life. However, I am aware that a proposed yacht marina and a cruise liner terminal in posidonia meadows has the potential to severely impact the habitat.

    I am aware that you both have an interest in the matter, therefore, I would like to interview you both on how this proposal has the potential to affect tourism and also raise awareness as to how global and environmental factors have the potential to destroy Maltese marine life. Whilst, at the same time, connecting this all to the Australian people.

    I would love to also discuss the impacts of the proposed development of the yacht marina and cruise liner terminal in the Simar quarry in Qala has on one of Malta’s five Marine Protection Areas.

    I would love to include you in this documentary and your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    I hope to hear from you soon.

    Kind Regards
    Eleanor Tabone
    Please reply via email
    eleanortabone@y7mail.com

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