Comino: beyond sun-block and deckchairs

comino-mp-op-objective

During the past weeks, the island of Comino has been in the news. The controversy surrounding the deckchair/umbrella hawkers free-for-all at the Blue Lagoon focused on overcharging, breaching of permit conditions and the resulting lack of space for the public making use of public facilities at the beach.

Fines were imposed by the Malta Tourism Authority. This is fine (pun intended) in the short term. However, we need to plan for the long term, keeping in mind  that the island of Comino, is first and foremost a Natura 2000 site and a touristic destination second. Sites forming part of the Natura 2000 network are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) according to the Habitats and Birds Directives of the European Union, where habitats and species are listed. The Directives are designated to provide protection to the most vulnerable of the species listed.

It has been stated that every day, at the peak of the summer season, as many as 5,000 visitors land on Comino, most of whom remain in the Blue Lagoon and its environs .

The Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino published recently, considers that tourism at the Blue Lagoon needs to be controlled efficiently in order to ensure that it is “in harmony with the site’s conservation needs”. One of the measures which the Comino Management Plan establishes as an operational objective is “to plan and implement a tourism carrying capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon”.

The Management Plan believes that the tourism carrying capacity assessment should be carried out within the first year of the plan’s implementation, which means pretty soon! The issue is of fundamental importance in ensuring that the activity permitted on the island of Comino is compatible with its ecological requirements.

It is not known whether this carrying capacity assessment has been carried out yet. If not it should be done at the earliest.

This is not the first time that Maltese authorities have been asked to consider a proposal to study the possibility of limiting access to a specific site for protection purposes. Around 12 years ago, after rehabilitation work carried out at the Hypogeum in Ħal-Salfieni was concluded, it was decided that there was an urgent need to control its microclimate in order to better protect this archeological jewel so a maximum limit of 80 visitors per day was established.

Various other countries place limits on tourism in order to better control its environmental impacts. There are various examples, but permit me to point to the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 545 kilometres off the coastal city of Recife. The archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the number of visitors is restricted in order  to adequately protect its environmental patrimony. The environmental protection rules of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha go into such detail as to even forbid the use of sunprotection lotions/creams or even the use of footwear on the beach, as well as curtailing various other activities incompatible with the archipelago’s ecological characteristics!

It is a path we should consider following for Comino, if we are serious about protecting the little that we still have.

It is welcome news earlier this week as three of Malta’s environmental NGOs, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth and Nature Trust, have endorsed the proposal for carrying out the capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon at Comino. Comino deserves our protection. Implementing the Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino would be a suitable first step.

And the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 September 2016

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Kemmuna: mhux dwar l-umbrelel

comino

 

Matul il-ġimgħat li għaddew diversi paġni tal-gazzetti imtlew b’aħbarijiet minn Kemmuna: il-battalja bejn dawk li jikru l-umbrelel.

Issa l-għaqdiet ambjentali ħarġu bi proposta dwar il-kontrolli rejali li hemm bżonn isiru fuq Kemmuna: kemm għandhom jirfsu l-art persuni? X’inhu dak in-numru li  jkun aħjar li ma jinqabiżx?

In-numru jrid ikun stabilit bi ħsieb. Imma jeħtieġ li jkun stabilit.

L-idea tal-għaqdiet ambjentali (Nature Trust, Din l-Art Ħelwa u Friends of the Earth) m’hiex oriġinali għax diġa tqegħdet fil-prattika f’diversi postijiet oħra mhux biss fil-postijiet li ġew indikati fil-gazzetti (Blue Lagoon fl-Iżlanda u fir-reġjun pittoresk Taljan Cinque Terre).

Il-Bhutan (pajjiż fil-Lvant imbiegħed) jikkontrolla n-numru ta’ turisti li jidħlu fil-pajjiż għax hu kinxju li numru esagerati ta’ turisti jistgħu jagħmlu ħsara mhux żgħira. Hemm ukoll il-ġzira turistika Latino Amerikana ta’ Fernando de Noronha (parti mit-territorju Brażiljan) li kienet tillimita n-numru massimu ta’ turisti li jistgħu joqgħodu fuq il-gżira għal 420, u kull wieħed minn dawn kellu jħallas taxxa ambjentali li tiżdied iktar ma jdum!

F’Malta ukoll xi żmien ilu kienu ġew introdotti kontrolli fuq in-numru ta’ turisti li f’ħin wieħed jistgħu jidħlu fl-Ipoġew ta’ Ħal-Saflieni kif ukoll in-numru massimu li setgħu jidħlu matul il-ġurnata. Dan kien sar għax kien ġie stabilit li biex dan is-sit arkejolġiku jkun protett aħjar kellhom ikun hemm kontrolli tal-mikro-klima. Dan fil-fatt sar billi kien ġie identifikat in-numru massimu ta’ 80 persuna li setgħu jidħlu f’ġurnata fl-Ipoġew.

L-istess jista’ jsir dwar il-gżira ta’ Kemmuna. Tista’ tiġi protetta billi jkunu limitati n-numri ta’ persuni li jistgħu jinżlu l-art. Dan ikun pass tajjeb li jagħmel il-ġid, lill-Kemmuna, naturalment mhux lil dawk li jikru l-umbrellel!

Il-Bandiera l-Ħadra : investiment fil-futur ta’ pajjiżna

Green Flag

Kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni kbir il-bieraħ nisimgħu l-aħbar li iktar skejjel kisbu l-Bandiera l-Ħadra, rikonoxximent tal-għarfien ambjentali tat-tfal u ż-żgħażagħ tagħna fl-iskejjel Maltin.

S’issa hemm 36 skola li kisbu l-Bandiera l-Ħadra u hemm bosta oħrajn li qegħdin fit-triq. Dan kollu bis-saħħa tal-proġett eko-skola.

Dan hu ċertifikat kbir għall-iskejjel tagħna kif ukoll għall-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust Malta. Imma iktar minn hekk hu investment fil-futur. Għax l-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu dawn it-tfal u ż-żgħażagħ diġa qed ixerrduh: illum fil-familji tagħhom, għada fis-soċjeta. Huwa investiment fiċ-ċittadini ta’ għada li bla dubju ser ikunu f’posizzjoni tajba biex jikkoreġu l-iżbalji tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ qabilhom.

Prosit għal dan is-sodisfazzjoni kbir u għat-tama kbira għal Malta ta’ għada li tkun waħda aħjar minn dik tal-lum.

Abolish spring hunting

time is running out2

Spring hunting has been a contentious issue for many years in the Maltese Islands. Throughout the years both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have sought to deal with spring hunting through backroom deals with organisations representing the hunting community. Time and again promises to uphold hunters’ privileges have been made by both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.

Only one political party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, expressed itself clearly and unequivocally against spring hunting. The others boot-licked their way through imaginary exceptions and ineffective enforcement measures.

The current state of affairs is the direct result of government policies which have repeatedly ignored Malta’s obligations. Unfortunately even the Environment Directorate General of the European Union has proven itself to be ineffective in enforcing the provisions of the Birds’ Directive in Malta. Hence the only practical solution to tackle spring hunting is for the Maltese electorate to decide the matter itself as is provided for in the Referenda Act.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting is composed of Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust (Malta), Movement of Organic Agriculture in Malta (MOAM), Moviment Graffiti , International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation,Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Din l-Art Ħelwa,Coalition for Animal Rights, Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika. It was formed some eight months ago for one specific purpose: the abolition of spring hunting at the earliest possible date.

Last week, the Coalition submitted a petition to the Electoral Commission calling for an abrogative referendum to end spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The signatures to the petition had to exceed 10% of the registered voters in the latest electoral register, that is 33,418 signatures were required as a minimum.

44,376 persons signed the referendum petition making it the first ever submitted petition requesting an abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands since the Referenda Act was amended in 1996 to introduce the right to call an abrogative referendum.  Those who signed the petition have considered it their duty to respond to the Coalition’s invitation because they care. They care about the birds and they care about Malta. They deserve everybody’s appreciation as their commitment is sending one clear message: that voters can decide on spring hunting and in so doing they will clear the mess created by the parliamentary political parties.

This is an historic moment, very important for the protection of biodiversity but also of paramount significance in the development of democracy in the Maltese islands. It was not easy to achieve and cannot be underestimated.

There are various reasons which have motivated voters to sign the petition calling for a referendum to abolish spring hunting.

Spring is breeding time for birds which fly over the Maltese islands on their way back to mainland Europe. Signatories to the referendum petition believe that birds should be able to fly safely over Malta on the way to their breeding grounds.

During the spring hunting season, when nature is at its best, people do not feel at ease in the Maltese countryside as they consider themselves to be under the constant threat of hunters, few in number but convinced just the same that they have a free hand. Access to the countryside during spring is further hampered by public footpaths which are closed to the public so as to facilitate the free access of hunters. The aggressiveness of some hunters has given all their colleagues a bad name.

Spring is a very special time of year when the Maltese countryside invites all to appreciate its abundance of life and colour. Those who have signed the petition feel that they are being impeded from enjoying nature’s gifts. Furthermore, hunting in spring definitely has a negative impact on birds which breed or can breed in the Maltese islands.

A large number of the signatories of the petition believe that the deals (both secret and the not so secret) that the hunting lobby has signed with successive governments to gain more privileges is not how a modern democracy should function. They believe that governments should work in the common interest. This has not been the case so far and the only solution is the utilisation of the referendum as a decision tool. It is only the referendum which will settle matters once and for all.

These birds flying through our airspace in spring do not belong to us. Other countries dedicate a lot of time and resources to ensure that these birds are adequately protected, only to be blasted when they fly through Malta.

We now await the Electoral Commission to verify the petition signatures and hand over the process to the Constitutional Court. This will enable all of the Maltese voters to finally have their voice heard on spring hunting so it can be stopped on these islands once and for all.

 

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday April 5, 2014

MEPA: from bad to worse

mistra-monster

Government acting through MEPA is playing to the interests of property developers and speculators. This was stated by a group of environmental NGOs who decided to act together in voicing their concern. The eNGOs are Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Birdlife Malta, Friends of the Earth Malta, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Malta Organic Agricutural Movement, Nature Trust Malta and Ramblers’ Association.

There is nothing new in stating that government is in cahoots with property developers and speculatiors. The new element is that it is much more obvious that it ever was. MEPA in fact is functioning worse than it ever did in its 21 year history.

And we have seen nothing yet. It will get worse .

The recent approval of the redevelopment of the Mistra Village site is a case in point.  In addition to its being a blot on the landscape the approved project consisting of 774 residential units [yes its seven hundred and seventy four] as well as 1,800 square metres of retail area [including a supermarket] spread in 6 rectangual blocks of various heights up to and including 13 floors.  The traffic load on an area already bursting at the seams will be enormous.

In fact, Transport Malta  had initially objected to the project as it was considered that the situation would inevitably develop from bad to worse.

Transport Malta has however had second thoughts and withdrew its objections.  FAA is on record as commenting that “In dropping its objection, Transport Malta insults local residents by claiming that the traffic situation is already so bad that adding heavy construction vehicles and another 1,500 cars to the area will not make a difference.”

This signifies that Transport Malta will now go back to its archives and reconsider the development of the TEN-T road network in the area. All the options have already been discussed and all of them will create even more probelms.  One proposal signifies cutting through the Miżieb aquifer. Other proposals pose serious threats to Manikata, the agricultural community in L-Imbordin as well as being a threat to the Simar Nature Reserve.

This is what MEPA’s decisions are leading to.  It will get worse soon.

Having nine NGOs voicing their concern together on the above and more is a good step. Their protest in Valletta’s streets on the 30th November 2013 deserves everyone’s support.

I will be there.

Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa? Le grazzi !

turtle dove

Tnax-il għaqda ambjentali flimkien ma Alternattiva Demokratika ġimgħat ilu waqqfu l-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa.  Dan hu kunsens wiesa’ u uniku : l-ewwel darba li f’Malta daqstant organizzazzjonijiet li japprezzaw l-ambjent ingħaqdu flimkien biex imexxu l-quddiem proposta waħda.

Dawn l-organizzazzjonijiet huma : Ramblers Association of Malta,  Nature Trust-Malta,  Moviment Graffiti,  Malta Organic  Agriculture Movement,  International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation, Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Coalition for Animal Rights, BirdLife Malta u Alternattiva Demokratika.

Il-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa m’hemmx lokha. L-għasafar li fir-rebbiegħa jpassu minn fuq Malta jiġu maqtula fl-iżjed mument li huma vulnerabbli, meta jkunu qed iħejju biex ibejtu biex ikollhom il-friegħ. Hu l-iżjed żmien li jeħtieġu protezzjoni. Din il-protezzjoni għandha tingħata billi l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa tieqaf, darba għal dejjem.

La l-Gvern tal-lum u l-anqas il-Gvern tal-bieraħ ma jaqblu ma dan u allura l-unika mod kif miżura ta’ din ix-xorta isseħħ hu billi l-poplu jieħu d-deċiżjoni f’idejh permezz ta’ referendum. Referendum ta’ din ix-xorta jissejjaħ mill-poplu kemm-il darba jkun hemm 10% tal-votanti li isimhom jidher fir-reġistru elettorali (madwar 34,000) li jaqblu li dan isir.

Il-ġbir tal-firem beda u s-issa diġá qabeż l-10,000 firma. Meta n-numru ta’ firem jaqbeż l-34,000 dawn jiġu ppreżentati lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex jibda l-proċess ta’ referendum abrogattiv, jiġifieri referendum li jħassar ir-regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Dan għandu jwassal biex nissejħu ħalli nivvutaw dwar jekk naqblux jew le li dawn ir- regolamenti li jippermettu l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa jispiċċaw darba għal dejjem.

Jekk fil-votazzjoni li ssir il-maġġoranza taqbel li dawn ir-regolamenti jitħassru, hekk isir. Dak il-ħin stess mingħajr il-ħtieġa li jintervjeni l-Parlament. Għax il-poplu jkun iddeċieda.

Ma dan, hemm min jaqbel u ovvjament hemm ukoll min ma jaqbilx. Għalhekk hemm bżonn li niddeċiedu billi nivvutaw.

Jekk inti li qed taqra dan l-artiklu taqbel ma dan ħu ħsieb li tiffirma l-petizzjoni biex jissejjaħ dan ir-referendum. Tista’ tikkuntattja lil waħda mill-għaqdiet li jissemmew hawn fuq inkella billi tikteb lill-Koalizzjoni għall-Abolizzjoni tal-Kaċċa fir-Rebbiegħa fuq cashmalta2013@gmail.com.

 

Ippubblikat fuq iNews It-Tlieta 8 t’Ottubru 2013

Spring Hunting Referendum (2) collecting the signatures

flamingo

Not less than 34,000 signatures need to be collected.

The organisations forming part of the Coalition to Abolish Spring Hunting are currently organising their teams to commence the collection of the signatures.

Some have already commenced.

Your help would be appreciated.

Contact Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife Malta, Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Nature Trust (Malta) and the Ramblers Association of Malta. Your help will make a difference.

Spring Hunting Referendum (1) signing the petition

hunting in Malta 02

The signature collection is in hand, organised by the organisations forming part of the Coalition, that is to say Alternattiva Demokratika, Birdlife Malta, Coalition for Animal Rights, Din l-Art Helwa, Flimkien ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Gaia Foundation, Moviment Graffiti, Greenhouse Malta, Nature Trust (Malta) and the Ramblers Association of Malta.

If you have any difficulty in contacting any one of these organisations contact the Coalition on cashmalta2013@gmail.com and you will be put in touch with the appropriate persons.

The mauling of Dwejra : an environmental crime

 

Some would have formed the opinion that the basic information on the Dwejra debacle is known to all.

Not quite, I would say.

MEPA issued a permit containing The Consent Conditions relative to a number of sites in Malta and Gozo to be used for filming parts of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones”. One of the sites was at Dwejra Gozo.

Two site specific conditions applicable to Dwejra (conditions 23 and 24 of The Consent Conditions) refer to Areas of Ecological Importance and Sites of Scientific Importance. These are terms used by the Structure Plan to classify the protection afforded to areas of conservation (Structure Plan Policies RCO 1, RCO 2 and RCO 3). Given that the Dwejra site is a Special Area of Conservation I searched and noted that in The Consent Conditions there is no reference whatsoever to Special Areas of Conservation rules and policies, regulated in terms of the Habitats Directive of the EU which was transposed into Maltese law through Legal Notice 311 of 2006 (Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations 2006).

This leads to the logical conclusion that the consent issued by MEPA for the use of the Dwejra site to film part of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones” was only processed in terms of land use planning considerations. Environmental considerations are completely absent: they were completely ignored. The Consent Conditions being a written proof  of this.

Planning vs Environment

During the national debate as to whether it made sense to have land use planning and environment protection forming part of the same authority the Gonzi-Demarco duo  always insisted that MEPA dealing with both would lead to having a much better protection of the environment. Coordination, it was said, was the name of the game. In practice we are faced with something else: land use planning considerations are ruling the day and environmental considerations are being continuously sidelined. The Dwejra case being a typical example.

 

The Species Data Form

Dwejra was included as a Nature 2000 site and consequently as a Special Area of Conservation by the European Union at the request of the Maltese Government which also supplied the detailed justification as to why the area should be protected. The scientific reasons justifying the selection of the site as a Special Area of Conservation are available on the Species Data Form which MEPA had submitted to the EU on behalf of the Government of Malta some years back. An electronic copy is available at the EU website.

EU LIFE+  financial support

In 2003, given the importance of the protection afforded to the site the EU through its LIFE+ Fund  supported a conservation project for the area headed by Nature Trust Malta then in partnership with MEPA and WWF Italy. The EU forked out €324,000 of the EU taxpayers’ money.

Permissible Activity

Permissible activity in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is a very delicate matter. It is regulated primarily by regulations 18 and 19 of Legal Notice 311 of 2006.

Regulation 18 establishes that a permit is necessary for any activity in an SAC. It also determines who needs to be notified.

Regulation 19 goes in detail and establishes the parameters within which MEPA as the Competent Authority can act. When the consent required is not related to the management of the SAC and it is likely to have a significant effect thereon, MEPA or the applicant is to carry out “an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

Legitimate question

After having ascertained, through the assessment, that the integrity of the site is not affected MEPA is required to obtain and take into account “the opinion of the general public and representations made”.  This means that the assessment carried out has to be subject to a public consultation.

In view of the above it is legitimate to ask: was an appropriate assessment carried out? And further, when was this appropriate assessment subjected to the scrutiny of the public in order that representations could be made by the public as well as environmental NGOs?

I am not aware as to whether an appropriate assessment was carried out and hence nor am I aware as to its possible conclusions. However if this assessment was carried out I do not recollect that it was subjected to public consultation.  Nor have any of the environmentalists with whom I have discussed the matter any recollection of this public consultation ever taking place.

The public interest

Regulation 19 of Legal Notice 311/2006 further specifies what is to be done if the appropriate assessment results in negative implications for the SAC site. In such cases MEPA as the Competent Authority may only give its consent to the activity “for imperative reasons of overriding public interest …… of a social or economic nature.”  These reasons are defined as relating to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment or other reasons which in the opinion of the EU Commission are imperative reasons of overriding public interest.   

The consent must be accompanied by “compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected.”  The EU Commission is furthermore to be informed of these compensatory measures taken by the Competent Authority.

MEPA’s responsibilities

To date the public has been informed in detail as to how the conditions of the permit which MEPA issued to Fire and Blood Productions were not observed. The public is aware that Fire and Blood Productions has apologised for the damage caused but shifted the blame onto its Gozitan sub-contractor.

This only explains one small part of the saga. No one has yet commented as to how MEPA has contributed to the debacle when it is crystal clear that it is precluded from issuing a permit for the Dwejra site in terms of the provisions of the Habitats Directive.

MEPA as the Competent Authority has the duty to ensure that the provisions of the Habitat’s Directive of the EU are observed to the letter. As explained above, through its actions MEPA has ignored both the letter and the spirit of the Habitats Directive.

This leads me to conclude that the damage caused to the SAC was not caused just by the Gozitan sub-contractor acting on behalf of Fire and Blood Productions. Through its lack of observance of the provisions of Legal Notice 311/2006 MEPA has made it much easier for damage to be inflicted onto the Dwejra SAC. Instead of protecting the environment the now reformed MEPA has facilitated its damage.

This is an environmental crime for which persons having a name and a surname are directly and personally responsible.                        

Accountability

It is time to translate words into action.

I hope that investigations currently in hand will identify the names of those responsible in order that they may be requested to account for both their actions as well as their inaction which have led to the Dwejra SAC mauling.

In a country where the organs of the state are bursting at the seams with lawyers one may sometimes assume that in Malta the rule of law is strictly observed. Such incidents prove that one is grossly mistaken in making such assumptions.    

Environmental legislation must be adhered to first of all by the state. If the state through its institutions ignores environmental legislation how do we expect Joe Bloggs to respect it?

The EU has given us the tools to hold decision takers to account. This is a reason why a large number of environmentalists voted in favour of Malta’s accession to the EU. It is the only way to save what’s left of our heritage.

Published in the Environment Supplement of  The Malta Independent on Sunday,   November 21, 2010