Orchids of the Maltese Islands

February 25, 2019

Stephen Mifsud (2018) Orchids of the Maltese Islands: a descriptive guide. Malta: Green House. ISBN 978-99957-1-367-6

Monday, 25th February, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Maltese flora is mostly unappreciated, overlooked, senselessly butchered, and exploited. Considering the smallness of the Maltese islands, compared to the United Kingdom, Malta has more different species per square kilometer than the UK has. Such is the richness of our country.

It is left to individuals or environmental NGOs to take the lead in scientific studies, fieldwork, publications whether scientific, popular or educational, and public awareness. Official entities are more interested in paper talks, drafting guidelines without any legal powers, or publishing regulations, hardly, if ever enforced.

One of the natural fields in this biodiversity richness with which the Maltese Islands have been gifted is Orchidaceae – the family of orchids. Scientific data on indigenous orchids was scattered. Such data was mainly available to botanists dedicated to scientific research. This data was not easily available in a popular way to many educators. As with many other wild species of flora and fauna, popular interest lacking scientific background, usually leads to a negative way of appreciating such a delicate, priceless richness – through collection.

Without any doubt, a breath of fresh air in this field, is the new 232-page book, Orchids of the Maltese Islands – a descriptive guide, by Stephen Mifsud. The initial efforts came from Green House  Malta and BINCO. The former is a non-profit eNGO with its major aims to conserve through ongoing monitoring schemes of threatened flora and fauna with the help of citizen scientists.

Biodiversity Inventory for Conservation (BINCO) is an international non-profit organisation with a passion for nature and a desire to help preserve the remaining natural resources on this planet. The Ministry for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change; EcoGozo within the Ministry for Gozo; the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) co-sponsored the publication.

Stephen Mifsud, though relatively young, is definitely on the way to becoming one of the leading botanist on these islands. With years of dedication, field work, an eye for detail, a vast experience in macro-photography, especially in the study of wild flora, he could not have been a better choice to author this book. The past difficulties he found in his studies without doubt gave him more drive and experience for such work.

This first comprehensive book on the subject, introduces the biology of orchids, systematic and classification.

The book goes in great detail about orchids in general and deeper on indigenous orchids. The main part of the book is taken up by orchid species profiles – 36 indigenous species of orchids, grouped in 7 genera. It goes in details with regards to recorded species. The present names of the species together with any related synonyms, including the etymology of the botanical name. The habitat, frequency, and local and global distribution, detailed morphological description, species variability, closely related species, taxonomic notes and problems, history accounts in Malta, observed pollinators and a useful quick identification note are also discussed. The status of each species is given: very rare, rare, scarce, frequent, locally frequent in restricted areas, or common.

The book is lavishly illustrated with 300 professional scientific photos the majority of which are taken by the author himself. Line drawing are also included where it was found necessary to illustrate details of parts of the species. A distribution map for every local species is also included. The distribution  maps are compiled from data available from the mid-19th century to date of publication. Wisely enough, the rare species are not accompanied  by a distribution map, to protect them  from avid orchid collectors, both locals and foreigners.

A classification table of each species, its description, and morphological, availability, reference to closely related species, flowering period are also given. These are also accompanied by a quick identification help.

It also explains that there are 20 species which are either misidentified or extinct because of the above given reasons.

A reference list shows the extensive research conducted. Two appendices further contribute to the great wealth of the book.

Appendix I relates to orchids occurring in Sicily.

Appendix II contains a number of tables with valuable data such as:

  • history of orchid taxa recorded in the Malta – a references table;
  • a table on selected taxa recorded from the Maltese Islands and their current treatment;
  • a taxonomic guide of the Maltese orchids – lumping and splitting classifications;
  • a botanical, English and Maltese names of orchids – one sorted by species name; one sorted by Maltese name; and one sorted by English name;
  • flowering periods of orchids in the Maltese islands;
  • orchids flowering per month;
  • known pollinators of orchids found in the Maltese islands;
  • and orchid protection provided by ERA.

These are followed by a glossary, index, and short notes on Green House, BINCO, and on the author.

Another great contribution of this book is the standardisation of Maltese names for wild natural species, in this case orchids, given in Appendix II.

This comprehensive reference on indigenous orchids is not only a much needed updated scientific platform for locals and other foreign botanists, but also for orchid enthusiasts, as well as for educators, planners, as well as those passionate about Maltese natural history. One also hopes that such a publication will catch the attention of politicians to help them realise the biodiversity richness of our Country, and the destruction for which they are responsible by their decisions, taken without any thought for the safeguarding of our national and international heritage.

It is also another tool to help create a stronger public awareness which can be a deciding factor in the harnessing and controlling the continuous destruction of natural areas resulting in the ever bleaker outlook, not only for dwindling orchid population, but also for all Maltese biodiversity.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

Advertisements

Maltese indigenous trees and their propagation – A two session course

January 26, 2019

published by Josmar Azzopardi on 2019.01.22

A 6 hour course, including a practical session, where one can learn about Maltese indigenous trees, the need for their protection, the negative impact of invasive aliens species, and how to propagate them.

The first session will take place – 7th February at 5:30pm -8:00pm – Scout Island Head Quarters Congreve-Bernard Memorial Hall, E.S. Tonna Square, Floriana.

The second session will take place 16th February at 8:30am – 12.00pm – Ghajn Tuffieha International Scout Campsite

The sessions will be presented and facilitated by Mr Alfred E Baldacchino and the course will be delivered in Maltese/English.

Maximum number of participants is limited to 20. If you are interested to attend this training course please complete the application form below.

The course is open to active member of the Scout Association of Malta and the General Public.

Course Fee is 10 euros for Scouts and 15 euros for non Scout participants.

REGISTRATION can be done online via https://bit.ly/2Dtkufx by  Tuesday 5th February 2019.

Brief cv of trainer: Alfred E. Baldacchino D.P.A.; D.E.S.; P.G.D. Env. Managt.; M.Sc. Env. Mangt & Plan. 
Born in Rabat, Malta in 1946. Studied at the Malta College or Arts, Science and Technology; Teachers Training College; and the University of Malta. General secretary of the Malta Ornithological Society (MOS) from 1974 to 1986. Assistant Director at the Environment Protection Directorate from 2002 till retirement in 2007. Author of a number of books on Maltese biodiversity.

This Training course is being undertaken as a TSAM Ltd initiative to create a better understanding of the wealth of biodiversity available at the Ghajn Tuffieha Campsite.

For more info please send an email to chairman@tsam.com.mt

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 


Valley – check with likes

January 23, 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Alfred E Baldacchino

The news of the restoration of Wied il-Qlejgħa, alias Chadwick lakes, is good news. Not least because the ‘cleaning of valleys’ has been put to bed.

The largest dam at Wied il-Qlejgħa in all its glory

The measures highlighted in the media for such restoration are also something to look forward to, namely: restoration of dilapidated rubble walls; removal of the playing area; removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna; removal of accumulated sediment behind dams; restoration and utilisation of the Fiddien pumping station; and the planning of walking trails.

Dilapidated rubble walls – not an uncommon site after some heavy rainfall

Valleys in the Maltese islands are a sensitive ecological areas – much ignored, unappreciated and abused. These have been abandoned and mismanaged for years, making their restoration more delicate. They are dried river beds, once adorned with dwarf hippopotamus and endemic swan. Climate change reduced these rich fresh water habitats to what they are today.

30+ year old gabbjuni still uncolonised by indigenous flora.

 

Dilapidated rubble walls is the first item that should be addressed, thus stopping soil erosion, one of the main culprits for the filling up of the dams.

The use of gabbjuni (big cages) to repair/replace rubble walls should not even be considered. A look at the 30-year-old gabbjuni installed along the valley, shows how barren they are. Not even the tenacious invasive cape sorell (l-ingliża) has managed to colonise any of them.

The play area in the midst of willow trees. Now who would have thought of this?

The removal of the playing area in the midst of the valley is a sine qua non. I wonder who was the architect who conceived this idea in the middle of one of the largest valley in the Maltese Islands!

Alien invasive eucalyptus trees dominate the valley. One might have to tread careful here because these can be protected by the latest tree protection regulations issued by ERA.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and  fauna is another step in the right direction.

No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour. It is not just bulldozing them on the lines of how the Ministry of Transport bulldozes trees. The invasive species of flora have to be gradually removed  in some areas, while being replaced by indigenous species.

Invasive species growing in Wied il-Qlejgħa include: she oak (less than a dozen), castor oil trees (less than 100), acacias and eucalyptus (more than a score and twenty of each species).

Their removal has to be professional so as not to contribute further to their dispersal. This applies mainly to the castor oil tree which has to be uprooted, and burned on site thus eliminating the possibility of giving it a free ride and opportunity to its seeds to germinate on new reclaimed grounds.

Furthermore, indigenous species which grow in the valley, such as poplar trees, willows, almond trees, lentisks, olive trees, chaste trees,  should not be mistaken for invasive species and removed. Not a far-fetched concern.

The removal of invasive alien species of flora and fauna is another step in the right direction. No need to say that this is a sensitive and delicate endeavour

On the other hand, the notorious lately introduced red swamp crayfish also abounds in the valley, detrimental to any fresh aquatic life such as indigenous painted frog and its tadpole, dragonflies and water beetles larvae. The person who introduced such alien species, should be chained to a poplar tree until the last crayfish is collected.

The indigenous poplar tree – adorns its natural habitat. No it is not dead.

On the other hand indigenous trees adapted to such a riverine habitat include the poplar tree, already established in the valley, willow (two species also established), chaste tree (of which there is half a dozen) and rare species of ash and elm.

AmbjentMalta can start propagating them immediately so that they will be readily available for planting as standard trees as soon as a parcel of the valley has been restored.

There are also a number of indigenous flora, some  rare and scarce aquatic species, such as water cress, sanicle-leaved water crowfoot, and bulbous buttercup. Others not so rare are greater plantain, creeping cinquefoil, rushes and sedges.

Rare and scarce aquatic plants whose seeds aestivate in the sediment. (Photos by Stephen Mifsud).

 

Another delicate exercise is the removal of debris, and sediment accumulated behind the two main water dams. Presumably, one would think, this would be undertaken during the hot summer months when the cisterns are dry. This means that the top layer of the sediment will be full of seeds and ova of species frequenting the aquatic habitat. The collecting of approximately 15 cm of scraped surface sediment to be redeposited in the restored parts, would contribute to the survival of these rare species.

motor bike tracks in the main footpaths 

The valley bottom is constantly being abused by off-roading motorbikes as one can see from the erosion of footpaths and fresh tyre marks.

One of the shallow dams closest to Fiddien has also been damaged to make easier access.

Modern environment friendly public access gate

So the suggestions for walking trails is another positive approach, especially if these are somewhat raised from the ground, for the convenience of wild fauna.

Furthermore, public access gates can be installed along the way, as a measure for controlling bikes – motor or manual.

I know that if Dr Daniel Micallef, one of the few politicians with environment at heart, could see this, I am sure he would send some people to hell.

The Fiddien box, which was restored during the time when Daniel Micallef was Minister for Education and Environment, has long been vandalised and the heavy water pump has seemingly disappeared – hopefully taken by the Water Services Corporation for safe keeping?

The plans for their restoration and educational use is also another positive step.

The second dam, needing some structural repairs, still contributes its best for the storage of water, before it passes it to Wied tal-Isperanza.

Once restoration works are completed, the valley has to be monitored and managed. Traffic management tops the list.

This will ensure that the number of vehicles frequently jamming the area on public holidays and Sundays will not bring such restoration to naught by their haphazard parking. So it would be beneficial to one and all if the road through the valley is made one way: from Imtarfa to Mosta.

The farming community can have an identification permit displayed on car windscreens, to allow them to use it both ways during working days.

The proof of this EU funded pudding is in the eating.

I will be watching grastis et amoris patria, naturally.

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on this blog:

Jappella biex Chadwick lakes jigi mmaniġġat aħjar

In-nixfa tax-xitwa u s-siġra tal-lewż

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/xqed-naghmlu-bl-ilma-tax-xita/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/water-harvesting-culture/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/aghmel-xita-aghmel-2/

 

 

 


To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


To Gozo with love

January 8, 2019

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The proposed Gozo tunnel has resurfaced once again. No surprise. The MEP elections are round the corner. It is normal that white elephants are driven in the political arena during such times.

Their main aim is to try to get on board the blindfolded followers who can be convinced that a circle is square, especially if this comes from the political leaders, no matter from which side.

This time a new step in this regard has been made. An international call for tenders for the construction of the 10 km underwater tunnel, plus additional inland excavation – approximately an additional 5 km – was announced.

The information was revealed by the Minister for Transport, who regrettably, is already associated with the destruction of any tree which dares stand in the way of spending EU millions to widen roads – the latest to bite the dust are national trees at Buqana.

Suggested socially and environmentally friendly alternative connections between the two islands.

Does the public have a right to know what were the findings of the social, environmental and financial impacts of this tunnel? After all, our country belongs to all of us and not just to politicians and entrepreneurs.

Has consideration been given to the negative impacts of such works on the only remaining unadulterated water catchment area at l-Imbordin?  How will this affect the water table? And how will this affect the livelihood of  those involved in agriculture in the area?

What about the Gozitan farmers on the other side of the tunnel exit? Is this of importance? Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists? Have such studies been undertaken despite the official tender calls? Has the general public a right to know of these negative impacts or are these confidential too? Would any professional firm tender for such works without such important scientific studies?

How much deeper under the 35 m of sea-depth will the tunnel be excavated? What kind of geological strata grace such depths? What is the position of the ERA?

Who will be giving the assurance and take responsibility for any loss of human life and limb in meddling with such dangerous large and deep sea bottom faults the area is full of, as has been pointed out by geologist Peter Gatt?

Will the responsible minister and the Planning Authority, which incidentally is in his portfolio, be shouldering all responsibility for loss of human life and ecological and social destruction and disasters, both on the site in question and also, directly or indirectly, in the affected areas? Somebody has to.

The answer to these and other questions raised by sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino ‘What purpose should tunnel serve?’ (January 4) have never been addressed, much more answered.

In the background of this political circus, one can hear the artificial, shameless pleadings that this is all in the interest of the general public, especially Gozitans, who deserve to have better crossing facilities between the two islands. No doubt about it.

Everybody agrees that Gozitans and Maltese deserve better crossing facilities. But not with such destructive decisions bereft of any technical and scientific studies, solely based on local arbitrary political acumen and agendas.

There is an ever-increasing momentum among the public, not least Gozitans, that the best environmental, social and financially friendly approach is the fast ferry service between the two islands. These can run not just from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa, but also to St Paul’s Bay or Qawra, to Sliema and also to Valletta.

And if found that there is the appropriate economically feasible demand, also to the Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk.

This would help commuters from getting caught in traffic jams along the way in St Paul’s Bay, Mosta, Birkirkara, Msida, Ħamrun, Floriana or everywhere along their journey across the island, something the tunnel can never achieve. The sea routes are already available at no cost at all. And these do not need any widening.

Who will benefit most from the tunnel, the people or the capitalists?

If the Ministry of Transport is open to suggestions, unless they believe that the people out there can all be convinced that a circle is square, they can plan a holistically better managed public transport system on both islands, in connection with the stops of these fast ferries service. The present service between the two islands should also form part of this national transport management plan.

Such holistic public transport management can include, among others, a shuttle service from the Valletta ferry stop to the Valletta bus terminus to cut down on private transport and help commuters reach their destination easier.

Another shuttle service can take commuters to the Blata l-Bajda park-and-ride to reach a parked car which, if one wishes, can be left there. Such facilities can also be available at every fast-ferry stop.

This would be far less expensive and more socially and environmentally friendly than the proposed tunnel, in all aspects. It would also help commuters to cut down on expenses, both in the consumption of petrol, and also in the wear and tear of their cars. It would also help to further reduce pollution from the urban and rural environment, with all its negative impacts on the people’s physical and psychological health.

Furthermore this would also help to lessen the stress in crossing from one island to the other, especially through the 15 km+ tunnel, where all the psychological impact studies seem to have been completely ignored. Unless of course these negative social impacts are also officially regarded as further contributing to the economy.

It would also be interesting to know the toll commuters will have to pay to use the tunnel. It seems that this is not in the public interest either, possibly because it might scare some of the ‘faithful’ who may have concluded that driving through the tunnel would be free, like driving through any other road.

From past experience, I am convinced that the minister responsible for transport has a positive environmental awareness and would positively study any alternative suggestions. However, I have my doubts how much power he has to decide himself because of directions from upstairs.

From the way the social and environmental fabric of these islands is being officially exploited and destroyed, without any scientific studies or regard for their negative impacts, it is very difficult not to conclude that their destruction is part of an official political agenda supported by the square-circled mentality, and endorsed by some academics paid to decide politically and not to think professionally.

The Minister for Transport, nonetheless, is both personally and collectively responsible for the future sanity and well-being of the people of these islands and their environment with regards to the tunnel and transport management.

The crossing to Gozo and back can be made easier for the benefit of the people of these islands, with love and not with co-ordinated politically motivated destruction.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

other related articles:

Tunnelling the cross

Efficient link to Gozo

 

 


Il-Milied u s-sena t-tajba / Happy Christmas & happy new year

December 16, 2018

Lil dawk kollha li matul din is-sena għoġobhom jaraw il-kitbiet fuq dan il-blog, u dawk li żiedu l-kummenti tagħhom, jew inkella għenu biex ixerrdu l-messaġġ biex dejjem titqajjem kuxjenza pubblika aktar b’saħħitha dwar l-ambjent ta’ pajjiżna, u lill-ħbieb kollha tagħna nixtieq, flimkien ma’ Mary Rose, nawguralkom Milied hieni u sena ġdida mimlija paċi u barka biex flimkien ilkoll naqsmu u ngħixu f’dan il-pajjiż li ġie misluf lilna mill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. J’Alla jkun hemm oħrajn li jingħaqdu magħna għal dan il-għan.

————

To all those who during the current year had the pleasure of going through my blog, and those who contributed by adding their comments or else helped to share the message to further increase public awareness on the environment of our Country, and to all our friends, together with Mary Rose, we would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a new peaceful and blessed new year, so that together we can share and live in this Country which was lent to use by future generations. May others join us in doing so.

 

 


The environmental state

November 24, 2018

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Alfred Baldacchino

The last meeting of the Environment and Development Planning Parliamentary Committee on the state of the environment report highlighted, consciously or unconsciously, the environment hurdles that are preventing professional environmental awareness, management and enforcement, in short not allowing Environment and Rural Authority to fulfill its obligations.

One of the main difficulties is the fact that environment is not understood and interpreted in a holistic way. This was also emphasised by the chairman of ERA who stressed that a great percentage of people only regard the building and development aspect when referring to the environment, unaware of other important biodiversity, marine, air and water aspects. A case in point is the replenishing of Balluta Bay with sand, which was completely carried away at nature’s whims and fancies.

An MP on the head table remarked on the marine environment, as if dumping to reclaim land is something to which there cannot be any objection, because it is far from the visible eye, ignoring the biodiversity (biological and physical aspect) completely. Environment Minister Josè Herrera was quick to comment that the ERA has the qualified officials (in fact two marine biologist professors sit on ERA’s board) to address this issue.

What irritates me most is the fact that such need for awareness and educational approach is more often than not addressed to ‘school children’. Not that this in itself is wrong, but today a good number of  primary  schoolchildren, individually have more environmental awareness than that collectively of most of the political MPs and official entities who are nilly-willy involved with environmental matters.

Perhaps the Planning Authority tops the list for such lack of awareness through the blindness for development without any environmental considerations.

As I had the opportunity to write and say many times, it is not just the Minister for the Environment and his entourage who bear all responsibility for environmental matters, but all official and social entities such as religious, legal, commercial, educational, voluntary organisations, mass media and the man in the street.

Each of these, in one way or other, use, abuse, and is in contact with environmental matters and has different but collective responsibility for such a holistic approach.

The ERA on its own cannot, despite all its willingness, achieve this national responsibility, the more so since it is not given the importance it deserves by the government

I would like to see or hear somebody, possibly a political leader who does not need air, water, the ecosystem and health for his everyday livelihood.

This was endorsed by another MP on the head table who emphasised that at home it is his children who tell him what to do and what not to do on environmental matters – thanks to the hard-working professional educators.

Another MP on the head table, referring to the building of towers, remarked that if there is a demand for them and a demand for more people on this island, than one has to satisfy this demand. Yet again, the unawareness of the holistic approach towards environmental matters, through narrow specialised teaching, ignoring the greater environmental demands of society such as a healthier environment, more open spaces, demand for less population density because of its negative social, ecological and financial impacts, less stress, all in the interests of present and future generations. It seems that the politician is programmed by the Planning Authority’s dictum.

ERA on its own cannot, despite all its willingness, achieve this national responsibility, the more so since it is not given the importance it deserves by the government, both with regard to resources (financial and human) and also by the lack of respect it has from other government quarters, especially from the Planning Authority, which still dictates what goes on in the construction and developmental field irrespective of social, national and international environmental obligations, not to add electoral promises.

This was again highlighted by the Environment Ombudsman when saying that the ERA needs to be strengthened and be on the same level as the Planning Authority if environmental matters are to be taken seriously and professionally.

The Environment Ombudsman also dwelt on a case in point. He said that it is unacceptable that an employee (a case officer) of the Planning Authority completely ignores and dismisses a report on a project drawn up by the Environment and Resource Authority.

It is not only unacceptable but also unethical by an official authority to act in this way and regard the ERA as still under lock and key in limbo and under its control, as it was when it was under Mepa.

These are the highest hurdles faced by the environmental watchdog. It was so evident from the debate in the said parliamentary committee. Whether this is being done with political blessing or with personal initiatives and interests is left for the intelligent public and intellectuals to conclude. One can build more on these environmental official hurdles following next week’s two-day seminar on the state of the environment report.

aebaldachino@gmail.com

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

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece