Planning nightmares: the coastline and marine resources

 

Last Monday, Parliament commenced a discussion on the implementation of the Public Domain legislation, in respect of which the Planning Authority has submitted a report entitled “Sites Nominated to be declared as Public Domain”. This report refers to 24 sites, nominated primarily by eNGOs: 16 sites were nominated by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), seven by Friends of the Earth and one by Minister for the Environment Josè Herrera.

The discussion is still in its initial stages and so far it has been limited to an explanation of the legislation enacted by Parliament in mid-2016.

Currently under the radar is the urgent need to implement the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning, which had to be adopted by end of 2014. Malta has, in fact, adopted it and through Legal Notice 341 of 2016 it identified the Planning Authority as the competent authority which will deal with issues of maritime spatial planning in the Maltese Islands.

After submitting a query, it was pointed out to me that the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) shall constitute Malta’s Maritime Spatial Plan – something I had not realised. Thinking that I had missed something, I checked the SPED and found a text entitled Coastal Zone and Marine Area under which are listed three coastal objectives. These are clearly objectives that can (and hopefully will) be developed into a detailed Maritime Spatial Plan.

While Malta has apparently limited itself to three brief objectives, other countries have gone into considerable detail to prepare their Maritime Spatial Plans. Ireland, for example, has published an 88-page document entitled Harnessing our Ocean Wealth – an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland and the United Kingdom has published a 55-page document entitled UK Marine Policy Statement.

Both documents go into some detail as to the Maritime Spatial Planning required in Ireland and the United Kingdom and they will undoubtedly have to be supplemented with more detailed plans. The EU Directive determines the year 2021 as the deadline for the establishment of Maritime Spatial Plans.

The fact that Malta is an island should be reflected in more importance being given to maritime policy. Unfortunately, this is clearly not the case as it seems that we have to manage with three coastal objectives in our Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED).

The EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning is intended to nudge us to fill the gaps in our policies and plans. The blue economy, which is the economic activity dependent on the utilisation of marine resources, requires much careful planning.

Successive Maltese governments have ruined land-based resources and natural habitats. At times this has been done almost beyond repair. The water table is one such glaring example.

Careful maritime spatial planning could be of assistance in not exporting this erroneous behaviour beyond the coastline so that the environmental damage inflicted on the land is not repeated at sea.

Some years ago, addressing the quality of seawater by ensuring that urban wastewater dumped into the sea was adequately treated was a positive step. More still needs to be done to use the treated water. We repeatedly face issues of contamination arising out of fish-farms that has a negative impact on our residential and tourist facilities. What about fishing, energy, climate change, biodiversity, maritime safety, marine archaeological remains and land reclamation nightmares? A Maritime Spatial Plan for the Maltese Islands has to address all these issues and many more, in an holistic manner.

The Maltese Islands have a land area of 316 square kilometres. On the other hand, the area around the Maltese islands up to 25 nautical miles from the shoreline measures 11,480 square kilometres, while the area of the Continental Shelf under Malta’s jurisdiction in terms of the Continental Shelf Act measures approximately 75,779 square kilometres.

This is the physical extend of the challenge we face to protect our sea.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 24th December 2017 

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