Malta needs to immediately start tackling natural habitat loss and the biodiversity that thrives in it, and to concretely protect and manage its seas
As a united front of environmental NGOs active in protecting the quality of life of all residents of the Maltese Islands, last week we put forward 9 Key Environmental Demands for the 2022 General Election “For our Environment: from Words to Action”. Two of these demands dwell on the very important topics of Habitats & Biodiversity, and Marine Areas.
The front of eNGOs strongly believes that in view of our highly-developed country and the fact that we are the most built-up Member State of the European Union (EU), Malta needs to immediately start tackling the major problem of natural habitat loss and consequently the biodiversity that thrives in it.
It is highly disappointing to see the two main political parties alienated from the fact that our natural footprint is shrinking and in need of protection. Investing €700 million in urban gardens has nothing to do with nature and biodiversity. Even if important, this is purely green infrastructure which does not balance out with the continuous destruction of natural habitats. How can one create a garden in Floriana while destroying a beautiful natural space like Wied Żnuber?
Promises of increasing the Outside Development Zones would be welcome but only if these also come with a concrete promise and effort to change our planning policies, some of which create loopholes and allow for ODZs to be developed nonetheless.
Biodiversity is crucial for the well-being of our society and it needs to be protected holistically. We say this because unfortunately the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA) does not cater anymore for bird protection laws and their enforcement, and this has been placed under a separate unit that aims to appease the hunting and trapping lobby, more than anything else. The result of this is a continuous effort of weakening wildlife protection laws and finding ways of derogating from the EU Birds Directive. The spring hunting seasons and the bird trapping seasons go against the European Birds Directive and anyone in government come end March will have to face the European Commission’s Infringement Procedures on all these issues.
Our biggest natural resource are our seas, our marine areas. Yet there seems to be no plan on how these highly important ecological sites are properly managed, protected and conserved for the benefit of all. We would like to see a very concrete effort of protecting the Marine Protected Areas while popular boating areas need to provide eco-friendly moorings in order to safeguard the Posidonia from further degradation. Land reclamation projects need to be shelved and stopped as the destruction of the natural marine beds would be devastating and no monetary gain can justify such destruction. Marine litter needs a nation-wide campaign to be tackled seriously along with the phenomenon of ghost fishing resulting from lost or dumped fishing gear which continues to trap marine animals and fish without control.
We therefore request any future government to:
- Stop immediately the destruction of further natural footprint
- Remove loopholes within planning policies to make sure ODZs remain untouched
- Create and implement all of the land and marine Natura 2000 sites’ management plans with particular attention to Comino
- Create no hunting zones in Natura 2000 sites
- End derogations from the EU Birds Directive as they are unjustified and unsustainable
- Create a Wildlife Crime Unit within the Malta Police Force that caters for all crimes related to land and marine habitat and biodiversity, in order to enforce the nature protection laws
- Protect biodiversity holistically, including birds, under one authority, namely ERA
- Create more nature reserves where biodiversity is given priority
- Stop any land reclamation plans
- Initiate a campaign to reduce marine litter and ghost fishing
- Set up eco-friendly moorings
- Plan a solid national strategy to tackle invasive alien species.
As eNGOs, we stress that biodiversity deserves a place in all future plans and visions of the country and demand an end to the cosmetic promises approach of greenwashing projects which are not natural but simply infrastructural. Malta needs a government with a conscience towards the natural beauty of our islands and a vision that sees the link between protecting our natural habitats, our biodiversity and our marine areas and the well-being and common good of our country.