A window pain for sure

March 15, 2017

A window pain for sure

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Alfred E Baldacchino

The Azure Window at Dwejra succumbed to the forces of nature on March 8. It was swallowed by the deep blue abyss. There it joined the cave it once proudly held so high above. There was nothing we could do about it.

Not even control people from roaming over its fragile top.

The Azure Window at Dwejra, Gozo before Wednesday, 8 March 2017,  09.23.

The adjacent inland sea was another sea cave, as were the surroundings of Fungus Rock. Time neither waits nor asks for any permit from any authority. Nor does it inform anyone beforehand of its brusque actions. When it is time up, it is time up.

Those who remember the Azure Window can never contain the void it left behind. The aesthetic landscape so damningly torn can never be restored. Its romantic aura now engulfed by emptiness can only lead to tears. Its contribution to the fabric of the Maltese islands is an unbearable pain.

The last time the Azure Window played Hobson’s choice was in Game of Thrones. It must have been painful to look at the scandalous scene where geological remains and ecological micro-niches were commercially exploited without respect.

The exploitation of fossils and micro-habitats at Dwejra during the filming of Game of Thrones.

The endemic Maltese Everlasting threatened by the invasive Hotentot Fig at Dwejra.

Could it be that the Azure Window could not withstand the ongoing rape of the historical, geological, ecological and social environs? Could it be that it could not bear anymore the onslaught on precious indigenous species, some fossilised? Could it be that it could not stand the sight of invasive species encroaching on restricted endemic species? Could it be that it could no longer sustain the past rock-cutting explosives in the vicinity and the relatively recent illegal explosives to widen the passageway to the inland sea?

Could it be that it could not stand and stare at the rife illegal exploitation of the rich, unique marine life and the blatant theft of underwater archaeological remains? Could it have been jealous of the illegal buildings in its shadow, which mushroomed with political blessings, having a stronger hold on their bedrock than the hidden, submarine, disjointed bedding plate it stood on?

Could it be that being a proud part of such a rich but abused national heritage was enough to shatter the window pane, to the extent that it did not want to look and be part of such a rape anymore? Could it be that smiling faces, not shedding any tears for the onslaught on such a heritage, led to profound heartbreaks?

Will such a loss be capitalised to further exploit the environment under the pretext of making up for the Azure Window’s disappearance?

This lone, overpowering geological giant has in no uncertain way disassociated itself completely from such exploitation.

The Azure Window is now far from this madding crowd, safely and silently contributing to an underwater habitat for the indigenous marine species. The fauna which once caressed its fragile underwater hold are now embraced by the new myriad mazes it offers.

Dwejra is poorer without the Azure Window, no doubt about it. But it is still very rich in the indigenous biodiversity of the area.

The numerous fossils at Dwejra daily trodden upon by the numerous boots of tourists and locals.

Not only endangered indigenous biodiversity, but also endemic species, which together with the Azure Window have graced and enriched the area without much appreciation.

Consider the extent to which Dwejra is regarded as a special area of conservation of European Union importance. It is a Natura 2000 site, a site which hopefully one day will be professionally managed and protected for future generations, as is morally and legally obliged.

Would it be too optimistic to expect that the Azure Window’s pain, brought about by its disappearance, can instill the real appreciation of our rich, not-yet-understood, natural heritage we have been entrusted to safeguard? Would it be too much to implement professionally sound environmental principles to make up for this national loss?

Can the Azure Window open a social vision to lead many to see and understand that no amount of richness or gigantic strength can stop the natural powers from the inevitable brusque actions, which one day will see them dethroned and naked serving willy-nilly as a habitat for less honourable beings?

Or will such a loss be capitalised to further exploit the environment under the pretext of making up for the Azure Window’s disappearance? Wouldn’t be surprised at all. There are competent individuals who can tear the place apart!

Many have shed a tear for the loss of such a natural national icon, pointing the finger at nature for taking the Azure Window away and depriving locals, future generations and tourists of its majesty. Can all the tears spilled over such a loss wash away the pecuniary blinkers which are blinding many with greed, leading to uncontrolled, irreversible ecological, economic and social destruction?

One hopes, as the Singaporean political activist Alex Tan  believes, that “Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again”, even if this is at a great cost. The view from the Azure Window is there for all those who have eyes to see.

Breaking news: it has been officially announced that it has been decided not to ‘rebuild’ the Azure Window. These fairy-tale decisions from this EU member state dispel any doubt of the miserable, deep depths the endemic political intelligence is in. I have no tears; there is only pain.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com 

Alfred E Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

see also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/dwejra-gone-with-the-wind/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/dwejra-developments/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


EU to vote on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

February 22, 2017

EU to vote on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Wednesday, 22nd February, 2017

The European Commission’s legal act (fourth update) on the draft EDC (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) criteria proposal is to be discussed on the 28th of February by the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF), section phytopharmaceuticals.

Human exposure to EDCs occurs via ingestion of food, dust and water, via inhalation of gases and particles in the air, and through the skin. EDCs can also be transferred from the pregnant woman to the developing fetus or child through the placenta and breast milk. Pregnant mothers and children are the most vulnerable populations to be affected by developmental exposures, and the effect of exposures to EDCs may not become evident until later in life. Research also shows that it may increase the susceptibility to non-communicable diseases.

maxresdefaultEndocrinologists are at the core of solving the most pressing health problems of our time, from diabetes and obesity to infertility, bone health, and hormone-related cancers. The Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization of scientists devoted to hormone research and physicians who care for people with hormone-related conditions.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that, can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

The Endocrine Society has issued a press release dated 14th February, 2017, expressing disappointment in the European Commission’s revised proposal on defining and identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), citing unnecessarily narrow criteria for identifying EDCs that will make it nearly impossible for regulatory agencies to meet the unrealistically high burden of proof and protect the public from dangerous chemicals.

The Society opposes this European Commission’s proposal because it includes broad exemptions that ignore the ability of a chemical to interfere with the endocrine system. The Commission has only presented the criteria amendment for discussion. Since the “negligible risk” derogation amendment will have significant impact on how many endocrine disrupting pesticides will be banned, the two proposals should be discussed together.

More than 1,300 studies have found connections between endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) exposure and serious health conditions such as infertility, diabetes, obesity, hormone-related cancers and neurological disorders, according to the Endocrine Society’s 2015 Scientific Statement.

Enforcement of these regulations requires the European Commission to propose criteria to identify EDCs. The latest proposal from the European Commission does not include categories for identifying EDCs.

facebook_edcsFailure to effectively regulate EDCs comes with a high price tag. Recent studies have found that adverse health effects from EDC exposure cost the European Union more than €163 billion each year in healthcare expenses and lost productivity.

It’s in your hands to select a set of criteria that will provide a high level of protection for humans, animals and the environment, from the harmful effects that pesticides can cause.

The next Standing Committee has this proposal on its desk so that Member States can vote on on the 28th of February.

Please make your voice heard and show that you want Malta to vote NO at this meeting (Malta will be represented by MCCAA), and should ask for more improvements in the C omission’s proposal. Please find useful contact details below.

The responsible Ministers are:  

Hon. Christopher Fearne, Minister for Health (responsible for Environmental Healthchris@chrisfearne.com

Hon. Helena Dalli – Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties – (responsible for MCCAA)  helena.dalli@gov.mt

Hon. José Herrera – Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change (responsible for Environment and Resources Authorityjose.herrera@gov.mt

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) (The statutory Authority to promote, maintain and encourage competition, to safeguard the interests of consumers.info@mccaa.org.mt

 

related readings:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/herr-era-and-glyphosate/


Glyphosate debate goes on – 2

February 19, 2017

times of malta

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

bumble bee photo

A bumble bee pollinating white mignonette in spring. The EU is mulling on a ban on a chemical found in herbicides knows as glyphosate which is threatening this species (pollinators). Photo Alfred E. Baldacchino

Further related readings:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/departments-passing-buck-over-pesticide-regulations/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/


Susa perikoluża għatba ‘l bogħod minn Malta

February 9, 2017

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Il-Ġimgħa, 9 ta’ Frar, 2017

Ħabib tiegħi poġġa l-ħolqa fuq il-facebook ta’ artiklu li deher fuq in-Newsbook dwar susa perikoluża, għatba ‘l bogħod minn Malta, li qed teqred is-siġar tal-ħarrub,

Skont Newsbook, id-Direttorat għas-Saħħa tal-Pjanti qal fi stqarrija li s-susa bl-isem xjentifiku ta’ Xylosandrus compactus ġiet innutata f’Ragusa Sqallija fir-rebbiegħa tas-sena l-oħra, fejn qerdet ħafna friegħi mis-siġra tal-ħarruba.

Filwaqt li l-awtoritajiet Taljani nedew miżuri sabiex dan l-insett jiġi kkontrollat, dan infirex matul is-sajf u l-ħarifa.

Id-Direttorat bħalissa jinsab għaddej b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Università sabiex jiġbor aktar dettalji u jkun armat jekk din il-ħanfusa titfaċċa Malta. Sa issa għadhom ma ġewx rappurtati każi ta’ dan l-insett f’Malta.

Il-kobor ta’ dan l-insett ivarja bejn il-1.4mm u l-1.9mm, u għandu forma kemxejn tonda u ċilindrika, u huwa ta’ lewn kannelli jew sewdieni.

Il-vittmi ta’ dan l-insett bosta drabi huma siġar u arbuxelli li jkunu diġa ddgħajfu minn qabel, iżda ġew rappurtati każi ta’ siġar friski li nqerdu mis-susa.

Id-Direttorat irrimarka li din hija waħda mill-ftit susi li jinfestaw u jeqirdu pjanti b’saħħithom, u tappartjeni għal familja ta’ susa li hi differenti mill-familji l-oħra minħabba l-mod kif tħaffer fiz-zokk.

———-0———-

Christian Borg fuq il-facebook kiteb hekk:

“Id-Direttorat bħalissa jinsab għaddej b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Università sabiex jiġbor aktar dettalji u jkun armat jekk din il-ħanfusa titfaċċa Malta. Sa issa għadhom ma ġewx rappurtati każi ta’ dan l-insett f’Malta.”

Tajjeb li jsiru studji, imma f’dak l-istadju ma jidrilniex li jkun daqxejn tard wisq?? Espert zgur li minix, imma cert li jistghu jittiehdu iktar mizuri biex nevitaw milli jidhol dan l-insett.

X’tahseb Alfred E. Baldacchino?!

———-0———-

Nirringrazzja lil Christian Borg li ġibidli l-attenzjoni u staqsini x’naħseb.

Xi tridni naħseb Christian? In-nies ta’ dan il-pajjiż jidhru determinati li jagħmluh deżert mingħajr ebda siġra. Naraw l-importazzjoni ta’ speċi invażivi bl-addoċċ u mingħajr kontrol, xi kultant ukoll imħallsa minn flus pubbliċi; nfiq ta’ €57 miljun minn flus pubbliċi u tal-EU wkoll biex l-ilma tax-xita narmuh il-baħar, waqt li dak tal-pjan jitella’ kif ġie ġie, bla kontrol ta’ xejn. Meta ħadd ma għandu l-ebda ħjiel, jew xi xewqa li jkun jaf bid-diżastru li qed inġubu fuqna, anzi nonfqu l-flus biex inġubuh b’idejna, x’tistenna?

Mill-esperjenza li għandi ta’ dan il-pajjiż, issa nistennew u nitolbu biex din is-susa ma ssibx ruħha hawn Malta. U meta tidħol imbagħad ngħidu li daħlet u nibku ftit ukoll u ngħidu ara x’ġaralna! Imbagħad inwaqqfu l-importazzjoni ta’ dawk is-siġar li din is-susa tista’ tiġi magħhom. Jew inkella nivvintaw xi bexx biex inbigħuh lil dawk li għandhom xi siġra tal-ħarrub biex inkomplu ngħinu lil dawk li l-għan tagħhom huwa li jagħmlu l-qliegħ mill-injuranza ta’ dawk li jmexxu.

Din il-ħanfusa hija indiġena għall-pajjiżi mill-orient, u nfirxet permezz tal-kummerċ. Hija tattakka madwar 200 speċi ta’ pjanta.
U jekk tgħidli li qed nesaġera, infakkret f’meta daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm – ir-red palm weevil. Minkejja li kien hemm pariri biex ma jiġux importati siġar tal-palm minħabba dan il-bumunqar, xorta ġew importati. U minn fejn? Minn dawk il-pajjiżi fejn dan kien qed jagħmel ħerba bla rażan. Sallum inqerdu ‘l fuq minn 5000 siġra tal-palm.
U hekk naħseb li sejjer jiġri minn dan il-susa sewda tal-friegħi (black twig borer).
Ir-responsabbiltà biex jittieħdu passi hija tal-ERA – l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u tar-Riżorsi). Din għanda l-għodda legali kollha biex twaqqaf id-dħul ta’ din il-ħanfusa. U magħha hemm ukoll is-Segretarjat tal-Agrikultura. Dawn it-tnejn qegħdin fil-Ministeru tal-Ambjent.
Issemma wkoll li “Id-Direttorat bħalissa jinsab għaddej b’kollaborazzjoni mal-Università sabiex jiġbor aktar dettalji u jkun armat jekk din il-ħanfusa titfaċċa Malta. Sa issa għadhom ma ġewx rappurtati każi ta’ dan l-insett f’Malta.”
Dan jgħati ‘l wieħed x’jifhem li d-Direttorat diġa qata’ qalbu li jwaqqaf id-dħul ta’ din il-ħanfusa f’pajjiżna, u qed jagħmel studju biex jikkontrollaha meta tidħol. Imma ma hemm l-ebda viżjoni, ħeġġa jew determinazzjoni biex din il-ħanfusa ma titħallhiex tidħol. L-istess kif ġara meta daħal il-Bumunqar Aħmar tal-Palm.
U ngħid jien, meta l-Università ħallset biex 60 siġra taż-żebbuġ inħasdu metru ‘l fuq mill-art, għax kif intqal kienu qed iwaqqgħu ftit weraq fuq il-karozzi, u qisu ma ġara xejn, taħseb li l-Università ta’ Malta, għandha xi viżjoni, ħeġġa jew interess fil-ħarsien tas-siġar u kif sejra titwaqqaf din is-susa sewda tal-friegħi milli tidħol hawn Malta?
Kull ma nista’ nagħmel jien, Christian, huwa li nitlob ‘l Alla biex jgħinna ftit ħalli nużaw imqar niskata intelliġenza minn dak li tagħna, forsi nbexxqu ftit għajnejna mill-għamad tal-kilba tal-flus li qed jaħkimna, jagħmina u li sejjer jeqridna.
aebaldacchino@gmail.com
ara wkoll:

Glyphosate & you – with addenda

January 17, 2017

gravatar

Glyphosate & you – with addenda

Tuesday, 17th January 2016.

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the article in the Times of Malta, which was also posted on this blog, the Minsiter for the Environemnt, made a statement on Glyphosate during the parliamentary sitting of 16th January, 2017.

I am posting a photo shot of such comments, downloaded from the Minister’s Facebook page, and kindly forwarded to me by the Clean Food Movement.

2017.01.16 - ministru fil-parlament.png

A clear, official indication that the commercial rules of the free market come before any concerns for human health, the safeguarding of the ecosystem, and additional public expenditure to correct the negative impacts. All in the name of commerce!

This despite the official EU claims that the EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides, because this is the responsibility of the Member States, as explained in the previous post on this blog. I still cannot find any reference where the EU concluded that glyphosate is not cancerogenic.

Previous findings from the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that glyphosate is a ‘probable carcinogen’.

A study was conducted over two years at Kings College, London. It found that residues of popular weedkiller glyphosate found in food can cause fatty liver disease.

Rats were administered a very low daily dose of four nanograms per kilogram of bodyweight per day. To put that into perspective this is 75,000 times below the levels of glyphosate permitted in the EU in our food.

According to lead researcher Dr Michael Antoniou, previous studies on human urine found that we often consume around a thousand times the amount of glyphosate the rats consumed. Regulators globally accept toxicity studies in rats as indicators of human health risk, making this a signiÏcant, a truly disturbing, discovery.

Glyphosate has only now been recognised as a cause of the liver disease (nonalcoholic fatts liver disease), which can cause fatigue, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, spiderlike blood vessels, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itching, and swelling of the legs and abdomen, and mental confusion.

I do honestly hope that no politician can dare say that there is nothing wrong with this as long as it is not cancer.

dead bee 16Unfortunately, I can only join the bees and say: “Thank you Honourable Minister” for the heroic efforts towards human health and the environment. Future generations will be grateful for the ‘price’ they will have to pay.

further reading:

Glyphosate & you – http://wp.me/pL6Mk-16E

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/sena-dizastru-ghan-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/

 

 

 


Glyphosate & you

January 16, 2017

times of malta

‘EU’s permission to ban glyphosate is not needed’

Monday, January 16, 2017

 Sarah Carabott

 

photo-pesticides

Placing peticides on the market is the role of the member states. Photo: Shutterstock

Malta can still decide to ban products containing the weedkiller glyphosate and does not need any EU permission, environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino insists.

Mr Baldacchino, a former assistant director of the environment directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, was contacted after this newspaper was informed the government would only ban the use of glyphosate when such a move was ordered by the EU.

Only last summer, the Environment Ministry said the government had started the process to ban glyphosate. However, only products containing both the active substance glyphosate and the co-formulant POE-tallowamine are being banned. This, according to the ministry, includes Hopper Blu, Roundup, Roundup Max and Seccherba Respect.

stephanie-seneff-glyphosate

The price society pays to have ‘cheap’ food. Is it worth it?

A study has just been released showing that Roundup caused liver disease in rats. The World Health Organisation’s cancer agency says glyphosate itself is a “probable carcinogen”. Mr Baldacchino said the government was right to vote last June against the use of glyphosate in line with the precautionary principle cited by environmental groups, which stated that potentially hazardous substances should not be used unless they were proven to be safe.

What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones

“But it seems the Environment Minister’s spokeswoman wants the minister to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.” “The EU does not authorise the placing on the market of pesticides. It is the role and responsibility of the member states to do so and the regulator in this area is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.”

“Malta can still decide to ban products containing glyphosate if it is not sure that the chemicals can have negative health and ecological impacts,” he insisted. Mr Baldacchino noted that it had already been proven that glyphosate killed bees, directly when they came in contact with the product and also by killing the flowers they fed on. Traces of the chemical had also been found in honey.

dead bee 16“What more proof does the minister need? The minister should seek the advice of all stakeholders, not just commercial ones, and this includes NGOs, technical experts, health experts, environmentalists and beekeepers,” he said.

The ministry, Mr Baldacchino continued, should also make clear what its intentions were and how it would enforce the ban. He wondered who would monitor what chemicals were used in herbicides and pesticides.

In a letter sent to the Environment Minister, the Clean Food Movement expressed dismay at the ministry’s watered-down position, saying the ban had turned out to be “no more than window dressing”.

“We are now more concerned than ever about the possible continued use of glyphosate on these islands,” the letter to the minister read.

Contacted in his capacity as chemical expert, Alfred Vella, the University rector, said herbicides containing more than one active ingredient did exist. POE-tallowamine was frequently present in herbicide compositions to serve as a “surfactant”, which was not designed to kill weeds but to make the delivery of the actual toxic chemical, such as glyphosate, more effective in its action. Still, at high enough concentration, POE tallowamine itself did have toxic properties in the case of certain organisms, he said.

Concern usually revolved around the stability and durability of herbicides and pesticides after being dispersed in the environment. If their stability was high and they remained on edible produce for far too long, it meant they could be consumed together with the vegetables containing them. There were also concerns about their solubility in water, as rainwater would be able to take chemicals down to the water table or nearby seawater.

On the other hand, chemicals that were not easily soluble in water were normally quite soluble in fatty matter, meaning they could be absorbed through the skin if contaminated harvested produce came in contact with animals or people.

killed by public funds

The price the ecosystem pays to have ‘cheap food. Is it worth it?

Prof. Vella acknowledged there was concern about pesticides and herbicides in general, however, he advised on looking at both sides of the coin. The use of pesticides allowed agriculture to produce food in much larger volumes and cheaper prices than without the chemicals.

While it was possible to live in a pesticide-free environment, society would likely have to pay a price. Apart from increased cost of foods, the decline in production could cut off some people’s access to meat, fruit and vegetables and that would also have health consequences, Prof. Vella pointed out.

______________________________________________________

Does the EU authorise the placing on the market of pesticides?

dead bee 8

who is paying for this if we may ask?

No, that’s the role of member states but active substances in the pesticides have to be approved at EU level. Once an active substance is approved at EU level, the safety evaluation of every pesticide formulation is done at a later stage by individual member states before they grant, refuse or restrict the use of pesticides formulations at national level.

In their authorisation decision, member states can therefore define the conditions for use of the product, for instance, restricted to certain crops, for professional use or for use in glass houses only.

*Information taken from the European Commission site.

______________________________________________________

 

further reading:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/sena-dizastru-ghan-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/


Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

December 16, 2016

times

Friday, 16th December, 2016

Olive Quick Decline Syndrome

Alfred E Baldacchino

Mid-October 2013, saw Xylella fastidiosa, the olive quick decline syndrome (OQDS) recorded in Italy: its first record for Europe. By April 2015 it had infected up to a million olive trees, many of them century-old, in the southern region of Apulia. This invasive disease is believed to have been introduced by ornamental plants from Costa Rica, where it is also causing havoc.

By July 2015 it quickly spread to Corsica, in municipalities of Nice, and Mandelieu-la-Napoule and by late October in Alpes-Maritimes in France. August 2016 saw it in Germany infecting oleander plants.

November 2016 found OQDS in the Spanish island of Mallorca, in a garden centre on three cherry trees and an oleander.

OQDS is regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world. It infects grapevines, peaches, citrus, oak, sycamore, and many other trees and ornamental plants, such as spurge, lavender and rosemary. No cure has yet been found for such disease, as the European Food Safety Organisation has warned.

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organisation (EPPO) had since 1981 listed it on its A1 list of pests recommended for regulation as quarantine pests, regarding it as representing a very serious threat for the EPPO region

effect-of-x-f

Symptoms of OQDS, regarded as the most harmful plant pathogenic bacteria in the world.

Across Europe, 359 plant species have been identified as susceptible to Xylella. Many of these species show no symptoms of the disease, and provide a reservoir for reinfection of other plants, thus making Xylella difficult to control and making phytosanitary certificates  useless

This bacterium thrives in the water-conducting vessels (xylem) of plants. It invades these vessels and blocks the transport of water and other soluble mineral nutrients. This leads to the drying, scorching, wilting of the foliage, and eventually the collapse and death of the tree.

spittlebug

Spittlebugs – serves as carriers of OQDS

It spreads with the help of insects such as leafhoppers and spittlebugs, which feed on the plant xylem. These insects do not fly long distances, but can be helped by the wind, by other animals, and by vehicular transport.

Spain and France were deeply concerned when Xylella was recorded for the first time in 2013. Their production of olive oil and wine is under a great threat. The matter was also raised at European Union level.

Italy is heavily affected, considering that the only method to date to control such disease is by eradication of the infected million olive trees. These contribute to 40 per cent of the olive oil produced in Italy. Besides the economic loss, the social and ecological impacts are beyond any estimate.

effect-of-x-f-2

Olive trees which succumbed to OQDS. Not that we really need Xylella to reduce our olive trees to such a state. The sight of the 60 olive trees on Malta University campus were similarly aesthetically reduced and paid for by University funds. Perhaps the University’s educational pro-active vision wanted to show the people a picture of things to come if Xylella succeeds in being imported in Malta. The only difference would be that they will give up their  ghost for ever.  

Malta is blessed that it is an island surrounded by an expanse of sea that makes it impossible for these xylem-feeding insects to arrive naturally. But… it seems that we never learn.

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Pruned olive trees which once enhanced the campus of the University of Malta. A mis-management exercise of the highest grade.

Palm trees were imported for landscaping purposes from areas known to be infected by the Asian red palm weevil. More than 5,000 palm trees have been lost to date. Timber introduced the African long-horned mulberry beetle, which besides killing most of the mulberry trees in the islands, now has turned its attention to the white mulberry, carob and fig tree.

Imported geraniums by garden centres have also helped to introduce the geranium bronze butterfly from South Africa. All of these have been introduced by trees and plants carrying a phytosanitary certificate from the country of origin, to confirm that they were all disease free. How many imported tomato seedlings accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate, introduced the South American tomato moth (Tuta absoluta)?

Trees and other plants mainly, for landscaping and ornamental purposes, are still being imported from countries which are infected with this OQDS.

The Ministry for the Environment is responsible to ensure that such invasive species and other pathogens are not introduced in Malta, both through the Environment and Resource Authority, and also through its Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Department of Agriculture. Once there was a renowned experimental farm at Għammieri, which today is more concerned with domestic dogs, cats, and birds.

A very good animation video has been produced by the Plant Health Department. Very good. What is needed now is urgent action.

Environmental responsibilities are far from being helped by the Ministry of Landscaping. Doors are flung wide open for exotic species to be planted in ‘landscaping’ projects, paid out of public funds, administered through an €8 million yearly budget, according to a secret agreement which, despite the Commissioner for Data Protection’s ruling, is still being withheld.

If Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination

Those handful of pro-business politicians and their acolytes might ask if they are expected to stop the importation of exotic species. The question is whether such politicians are worried, not only for the young developing olive oil industry in Malta which is trying hard to acquire an EU/EC Declaration of Conformity (DOC) for CE Marking, but also for the wine and citrus industry. And naturally the islands ecosystem which if, God forbid, Xylella were to make a foothold on this island, the price that society and the environment will have to pay is beyond any imagination.

Prevention is better than cure, especially when there is no cure all. That would be the day when one can honestly boast of a sound environmental policy. From experience, political action in this regard will only be considered when the social, economic and environmental fabric have bit the dust, or as it is said, when all the horses have bolted.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.