Red Palm Weevil invades eco-Gozo

June 1, 2013

times

Saturday,1 June, 2013

Weevil invades eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 

The red palm weevil first set foot in the Maltese Islands in 2007.  Despite the expanse of the natural adequate sea barrier preventing this weevil from crossing over to the Maltese Islands – it can only fly a distance of one kilometre – it did manage to get a free ride on infected palm trees imported from Egypt and Europe.

The bad news was relayed through a press release issued on 24 October 2007, by the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment informing the public of the Red Palm Red-Palm-WeevilWeevil’s presence in Malta. It quickly established itself and from St. Paul’s Bay, where the infected trees were housed, it spread to Salini, Qawra, Mosta, Attard, Mtafra, Rabat, Siġġiewi, Żebbuġ, Luqa: in a short spell it spread all over the island of Malta.

The transportation of palm trees to Gozo was immediately withheld. The expanse of sea between the islands also served as a natural barrier preventing its dispersal.

A parliamentary question dated 25 March 2009, revealed that 310 palm trees were uprooted in Malta. These consisted of 121 from public places and 189 from private gardens. This year, on the 5 May, another parliamentary question further revealed that during the first four months of 2013, a total of 248 palm trees infected by the Red Palm Weevil, were uprooted in Malta.

From 2008 to 2013, the total number of palm trees officially uprooted is 558: the result of the mismanagement of Maltese biodiversity, reflecting the hidden costs paid by society and the ecosystem.

I was under the impression (up to Sunday, 21 May 2013) that the Red Palm Weevil was prevented from invading Gozo, and palm trees there were safe. It was on these thoughts that I expressed myself during a comment on the Red Palm Weevil on the national TV station news bulletin. But my optimism was short lived.

No sooner had the news been transmitted than a Gozitan friend of mine phoned to inform me that the red palm weevil had officially established itself in Gozo since September 2012, despite the fact that trees landing at Imgarr Gozo are monitored.

On the morrow, another Gozitan friend contacted me to tell me that a relative of his had some palm trees on his land, which trees had also been attacked by the red palm weevil.

To add insult to injury, after reporting such infected trees, he was given a warning from the Ministry of Rural Affairs and the Environment, that if the infected trees were not uprooted in a couple of days he would be heavily fined to the tune of €666.66!

Why has the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil been kept a secret to this day? Why were the Gozitans not informed of the invasion by this introduced weevil, so that they could take any precautionary measures they deemed necessary?

Before I am so rudely reminded, I do recall that since the invasion of eco-Gozo by the red palm weevil, there was a general election!

2008.10.05---larvae-2

The larva of the Red Palm Weevil

Imported alien species all carry a hidden cost, no matter what politicians, entrepreneurs or public officials say or think.

And while landscapers cash on quick profits, and politicians gloat on the number of imported trees and flowers planted, and prime ministers tour ecological time bombs, the hidden cost is borne by society and the ecosystem.

Such burden is becoming heavier and heavier. Great Britain, an island, spends £3 billion annually to control three invasive fresh water species. The EU, the largest importer of alien species, spends €16 billion annually to control the negative impacts of invasive alien species. Brussels has belatedly realised that the free movement of goods with regards to living species, whether flora or fauna, is playing with a very expensive time bomb.

2008.10.05---larvae

The larva of the Red Palm Weevil at work

One hopes that Government will not follow the path of its predecessor, and will immediately intervene and take action.

The red palm weevil is just a living example. There are other invasive alien species, some which have already made their mark and issued invoices, such as the geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry long horned beetle, the Asian tiger mosquito, while others are still building on their populations before their impact is felt and seen, such as the number of land snails slowly but surely dispersing outwards from their nurseries.

2008.02.03---weevil-cocoons-

Cocoons of the Red Palm Weevil spun by the larvae, before they emerge as adult weevils

Social and ecological considerations are not even factored in the maximisation of profits of such businesses, which up to the ides of March 2013 had political backing.

The bottom line is that eco-Gozo, and Malta, despite obligatory phytosanitary certificates, political half-baked measures, colourful publications, and national and international legal obligations, have been invaded by an alien species despite persistent warnings. 

Gozo is such a small island that the red palm weevil won’t have any problem infesting each and every palm tree there.

Furthermore, it is not that difficult – if there is the will – to trace where new palm trees have been planted.

2008.02.03---ther-works-of-the-Red-Palm-Weevil-larva

The fatal works of the Red Palm Weevil

Along with habitat destruction, over-exploitation, and the domino effect of extinction of species, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Jared Diamond has included invasive species as one of the “Four Horsemen” of this ecological apocalypse.

2008.01.15---dead-palm-tree-at-Imtarfa

One of the 600 dead palm trees killed by the Red Palm Weevil at Mtarfa. Who’s paying for the damages?

Eco-Gozo and the Maltese ecosystem now have to pay through their noses for such self inflicted political mismanagement and for ignoring national and international obligations showing the complete failure of virtual eco-Gozo and the once environmental pillar.

Will this apocalypse horse gallop on unbridled, spurred by financial greed?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

See also

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/the-red-palm-weevil-another-alien-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/eu-stand-on-invasive-species/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/the-introduction-of-alien-species-into-the-natural-environment-%E2%80%93-a-european-concern/

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Funds down the drain

May 7, 2013


times

Tuesday,  May 7, 2013

Funds down the drain

Alfred E. Baldacchino

A few days ago we visited Seville. The old part, which was once dominated by the Moors, reminded us of Mdina with its defensive walls and gates. We admired the general city’s landscaping amidst the historical and ecological environment, all contributing to the social, ecological and economical fabric.

Fortifications,-Citrus-Trees-and-Bear's-Breeches-safe-from-Malta-Governemnt-Landscapiong-Advisers

Fortifications, Citrus Trees and Bear’s Breeches – safe from Maltese  landscapers and advisors

Walking through the old part along the winding streets, the small squares, alleys and  quarters, we could not help but admire the number of city birds, such as goldfinch, serin, blackbird, sparrow, collared dove, and the odd robin. These avian visitors are attracted to the intertwining trees, which also attracted both locals and tourists, sitting on the shaded benches beneath, undetered and unafraid of any potential bird droppings.

Citrus-trees,-myrtle-box-hedges-and

Myrtle box hedges and Citrus trees with benches in their shade adorn open spaces for the families

In shady corners of the old historical city grew the Bear’s Breeches (ħannewija), while Ivy (liedna) grew lusciously hugging the surrounding walls of open spaces and also those of the fortification walls. The small patches of soil in the squares and open spaces were lined with box hedges of Myrtle (riħan) and Pomegranate (rummien). The smaller open spaces were also graced by other trees amongst which were Judas and Citrus trees. All these flora are Mediterranean indigenous species, found growing also in the Maltese Islands.

Bear's-Breeches-and-Ivy-adorning-Seville's-public-gardens

Bear’s Breeches and Ivy adorn Seville’s public gardens

Outside the fortified city walls, on a larger scale we could admire lines of citrus trees growing in open spaces and also close to the façade of houses and fortifications.  A replica of the landscaping within the old city could also be appreciated on a larger scale outside the city. There was NO lavish spread of turf which would have jarred with the environment, and would have heavily used the rare resource of water.

Citrus-trees-and-Ivy-gracing-old-fortifications-in-Seville-old-quarters.

Citrus trees and Ivy gracing old fortifications in Seville old quarters.

We also encountered some dead palm trees, devastated by the introduced Red Palm Weevil. Contrary to the local approach of cutting down dead palm trees 30 cm off the ground, the Seville palm trees were only decapitated and left for the ivy to climb up to the top, forming a living green column of natural habitat.  Besides, others which were attacked and lost their fronds were treated and could be seen to be shooting anew. We could not help but compare the planning and management of the Seville Government to that of the Maltese Government with regards to the control of the Red Palm Weevil and the protection of the Palm Trees.

A-dead-palm-tree-trunk-springing-to-live-with-ivy

A trunk of a dead palm tree springing to live covered with ivy

Along the Seville roads, busily frequented by buses and coaches we could see how the trees on the pavements were pruned.  These caused no problem to the buses and double deckers stopping beneath, and were managed and sculptured as if they were candle trees or candelabras. So different from the ones in Malta pruned as lollipops or hat stands. Visibly the qualifications required for those pruning trees were more than just knowing how to switch on and wield a chain saw.

driving-through-tree-tops-in-a-double-decker---no-problem

Driving through tree tops in a double-decker —                       no problem

During the past ten years more than €75 million were made available from public funds for ‘landscaping’ in Malta. Unfortunately, because of the lack of social and ecological considerations, most of these went down the drain. And, where there was an established healthy landscaped area on the lines of Seville planning and environmental management, such as the Mdina ditch, this was completely destroyed and eliminated.

a-lesson-in-pruning---with-love-for-trees-from-Seville

A lesson in urban tree pruning — with love for trees from Seville

A few weeks ago there was a change of political guard in Malta, landscaping now featuring in the portfolio of the Minister responsible for Infrastructure and Transport, as opposed to Agriculture under the previous administration.  Hopefully, the new political acumen will demand that social and ecological aspects are given due considerations and importance, at least on the same standing as commercial aspects, so that the previous waste of resources mainly for commercial purposes, and short sightedness will be a thing of the past.

professional-pruning-andlandcaping---NOT-in-Malta

Professional pruning and landcaping one can never see in Malta

NO,-NO,-NO,-NO-this-is-not-Seville.-It-is-the-professional-expert-pruning-and-lanscaping-in-Malta-approved-by-government

NO, NO, NO. This is not Seville. It is the ‘professional’ ‘expert pruning’ and ‘landscaping’ in Malta!

While roaming the Parque de Maria Luisa at Plaza de España, lined with Ivy creeping on boundary walls sheltering Bear’s Breeches, and lined with Myrtle and Pomegranate box hedges around flower beds, we came across a very old tree with a three meter circumference trunk. From a distance we could read a word deeply engraved on its trunk – MALTA – reddish­-brown in colour visibly showing on the light coloured bark.  It was so embarrassing for us to associate with such ‘blissful ignorance’. Unfortunately, this is the result of the exposure and imprinting by the mis­management and lack of appreciation of trees in Malta, something which public funds though substantially available have not yet managed to correct during the last decade.

Maltese-blissful-ignorance-in-Seville

Maltese ‘blissful ignorance’ in Seville. I really felt  the pain of a hanged dog after it was given a bad name.  

Landscaping utilising local indigenous flora, can contribute socially, ecologically and also economically.  These can all work hand in hand. We have so much to learn! The protection and appreciation of trees needs good planning and environmental management, so different from the present blinkered commercial interests.  Such planning and environmental management is a requisite to good governance.

How-to-prune-trees-without-a-chainshaw

Olé, olé Seville trees professionally  pruned  without a chainshaw

I-can-almost-hear-a-Maltese-Minister-shouting

I could almost hear a Maltese politician  screaming his head off  to get the bloody trees removed  as adviced by some local historian and architect, so that they can see the stone-works. Then a commemorative plaque would eventually be erected to commemorate such destruction.  This thought brought scary visionary pictures of  what a Maltese bull can do in a Seville china-shop!      

 SEE ALSO

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/the-garden-at-…ly-inaugurate

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-further-news-on-trees-1/?preview=true&preview_id=1479&preview_nonce=0d8c5a776d

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/lets-hide-our-face-in-shame-following-more-information-on-trees-2/?preview=true&preview_id=1520&preview_nonce=64ba89ee2d

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1266&action=edit

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com


GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

GOVERNMENT POLICY ON TREES!

February 27, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

By now those who love nature and  trees should be aware what the Government Policy. on trees in the Maltese Islands. is. All the established trees are in danger of being hacked to a  pitiful state, whether in urban areas,  in public gardens and protected areas.  I will list some areas and leave readers to add to them: Valletta (Bus terminus), Zebbug (Vjal il-Helsien – certianly not for the trees), It-Tokk Gozo, and the Road leading from Xewkija to Rabat in Gozo; Balzan, Mellieha, Fgura and Luqa. Trees at San Anton Gardens do not escape the massacre either, as those which have been planted by the late internationally renowned  Prof John Borg, who used to plant indigenous trees in this garden,  such as the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar), the Mastic Tree (Deru) and the rare and only specimen of Christ Thorn (Sigra tal-Kuruna).  The latter two have been butchered and some completely cut down to the ground.

The remains of the indigenous Mastic Tree (Deru) at San Anton Gardens

The strictly protected rare Christ Thorn (Xewk tal- Kuruna) Tree at San Anton Gardens – butchered

Natura 2000 sites, which have been declared for their ecological importance and accepted by the EU, did not escape the massacre either, as the remains of this Ash tree shows.

It had to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop this Government massace at Buskett – an EU Natura 2000 site.

Now this Government Policy –  towards which 7 million Euros were voted each year for five years, to help with landscaping – plants new established trees from overseas. Amongst others, these  include Palm trees (some had Red Palm Weevil too, remember, although one must admit that they too were  accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate which was supposed to confirm that they were free of disease and other organisms) and other exotic trees – naturally at a price and at a profit, paid from public funds. Such policy also involved the importing and planting of some trees, which after some years  were uprooted (like those near the War memorial in Floriana). Is there somebody who is finding money growing on trees?

Initiative by Moviment Graffiti placing tomb-stones against butchred trees. Any other ideas?

If one follows the history of tree protection inMalta, urban trees were protected and needed a permit from the Department of Agriculture for their uprooting or pruning (LN 12 of 2001).  Not that what is now left of the once glorious Department of Agriculture has ever objected to uprooting or butchering of any tree. And now the trees growing in urban areas are up for grabs: anybody can saw them off, mutilate them , uproot them, kill them, you name it, it can be done without any permit, without any condition, without any guilty feelings. And though the Agriculture Department is responsible for the protection of trees and also for landscaping, it seems that there is no accountability anywhere. Government replaces these trees with imported exotics. Somebody mentioned the 34U campaign! I cannot understand for whom the ‘U’ stands! The majority of the trees being planted, are all imported. But Government has a clean conscience,  like Pontius Pilate, because it says that it is not importing any trees but buys them  from the local market. Intelligent eh! First somebody imports them and then Government buys them and pays for them from public funds! Somebody must be spending a lot of time with primary school children.

Not only are urban trees decimated, but also those in Natura 2000 sites do not escape such policy.  Remember Buskett.  Go and have a look at the pitiful state of this Natura 2000 site. It has to be a ‘Gakbin’ to stop the rape of such a Natura 2000 site and avoid repercussions of such a dilettante’s activities which could have lead to EU repercussions.

But one has also to remember that this Government’s Tree Policy, is in line with the Government environmental pillar (now dead and buried) and also with the political dictum that Government should not be judged by what it says but by what it does.  A look at the massacre of trees shows  a clear picture emerging showing  what Government is doing towards the protection and care of the environment.  Something that Government should have done long ago is to appoint a minister for landscaping, someone who has a vision and understanding, who hears AND listens, someone who is capable to accept the fact that he does not know anything about the subject and accepts advice.  Government should appoint a Minister, who besides the economic aspects of such ‘landscaping’, should also be able to understand the social and ecological negative impacts such activities are having. Government may be hearing but it never listens, as the massacre of trees show.

There have been NGOs and private individuals voicing their concern on such insensitive treatment of trees. It seems that the economic aspect of such massacre is too strong to take in consideration any social and ecological negative impacts. Now it seems that an unofficial Government spokesman has also enlightened the general public that trees move from place to place according to the needs of the day.  I can now understand why there are so many accidents of vehicles colliding with trees: the driver may not be aware that there are  moving rtrees crossing the road! Perhaps the Minister responsible for transport can issue new traffic signs to inform drivers of crossing trees. Pathetic! Trees move from place to pace only when there is no planning, if planning means anything to anybody these days.

I am attaching some photos of the result of such commercial activity undertaken by Government and paid out of public funds. The people and future generations will definitely remember who was responsible for such a waste of resources, such a waste of their money, and such an onslaught and insensitive treatment of the social and ecological environment.  No wonder that the Government is now  saying that it needs to be closer to the people to hear their complaints after the mess some of his ministers have landed him into.

As an addendum with regards to the three photos attached below, wouldn’t it be a good idea to choose one of these,  make a miniature trophy of it, and  present it to  Government, whether present or future, so that it can be ceremoniously given to the Minister whose decisions, ideas, stubbornness and policies have been the most damaging to the environment?  This used to be organised in the past by some NGO, but unfortunately not any more these days!

And if you had to have your choice, which one of the photos would you chose? And to which Minister would you recommend that it should be given?

Take your pick from one of these:

1.    Social and ecological damage through insensitive importation of trees – the work of the Red Palm Weevil

2.   A work of art by the hands of man

3.   A work of art by the Creator, adulterated by crass ignorance of man