The Management of il-Magħluq ta’ Marsaskala

Il-Magħluq ta’ Marsaskala is truly a remarkable place since it offers very rare habitats for various types of flora and fauna in the Maltese Islands. It is also very important for flood relief and for other services that it offers for free. Previously neglected for a number of years and suffering from mismanagement of the surrounding land uses; the area is also faced with various threats which give rise to the need for human intervention to correct these ailments. Thankfully through a collaboration with ERA, Nature Trust – FEE Malta and the involvement of key experts such as those from the Killifish Conservation Project, il-Magħluq is starting to recover from the effects of its neglect. 

Built in the period of the Knights of St. John, the site was formerly used for aquaculture purposes, a type of antique fish farming for several centuries. In fact the owners of a nearby restaurant recall how much fish, shrimps and other animals used to be caught from il-Maghluq. Nowadays the site is a protected nature reserve and the only fishing which can take place is that to control fish stocks for conservation purposes. The site forms part of the EU Natura 2000 network, a network of protected sites selected for their ecological importance. Locally it is protected under various levels of protection.

In the two main ponds which host around a million litres of water together, one can find many interesting species of fish which include Grey Mullet, Sea Bass, Sea Bream and the Freshwater Eel. However one particular fish, the Mediterranean Killifish is unique as it is known to be only found in three other locations around the Maltese Islands where one can find brackish water. Furthermore the site hosts plants such as the Sea Rushes which are quite rare in the Maltese Islands and the Sea Lavender which are typical of the salt marsh habitat il-Magħluq offers.


To support the conservation efforts of il-Magħluq, the Mediterranean Killifish is being bred through a separate project, The Killifish Conservation Project which is a collaboration among NGOs, public and private entities and is led by the Aquaculture Directorate. Breeding is kept for the maintenance of fish stocks. These may be used to release a few individuals on a period basis or as stock in the case of an emergency. As a further note on this project, there are plans to release the Killifish to other sites in the south of Malta, once the habitats are of a suitable nature. 

Despite these very interesting biological features, il-Magħluq is faced with significant stressors which are causing the area to face significant challenges. The challenge to top them all is the surrounding land uses, which are the greatest contributor to the present situation. Paved with a dense urban environment to the east side, and agricultural activities to the west side; the area is subject to various sources of nutrients and pollutants. Too much of anything is a bad thing and even excess nutrients can cause a massive change in the ecosystem, killing off important and sensitive plants and animals which offered services for regulating the ecosystem in the past. This situation is aggravated by the lack of a sufficient connection to the sea which means that there is very little exchange of water and therefore the water appears to become stagnant. 

Through a management agreement between Nature Trust – FEE Malta and ERA, works are being carried out to improve the site’s ecology and aesthetics. A rat control programme, monitoring of water quality and the Killifish population are being done a regular basis. Eggs from waterfowl are removed to prevent further offspring from occupying the area. These are one of the worst polluters and therefore controlling their population is also a priority. Two fish species are being controlled inside the fish ponds for their impact on the water quality and Killifish Population. These are the Grey Mullet which eats microscopic animals that eat the organisms that eat the green colour of the ponds (more Mullet = less zooplankton = more phytoplankton = more green colour) and the Sea Bass which eats the Killifish directly. 

Regular monitoring of the area through CCTV and site inspections, complemented by regular cleaning of the water and land are resulting in an area which is cleaner and more attractive. Various educational activities have taken place at the reserve where children and other visitors have been given talks and carried out fieldwork in the reserve. There are plans to hold an annual awareness raising event which will educate locals and visitors on the importance of the site for its ecology and human value. 

If you would like to know more about what is planned for the area and how to get involved please do not hesitate to contact James Gabarretta on jamesg@naturetrustmalta.org

James Gabarretta is the site manager for il-Magħluq ta’ Marsaskala and il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk. He graduated with a BSc. in Environmental Engineering from the Institute of Applied Sciences at MCAST in 2017.

Marsaskala Community Clean-Up Day – 18/09/2019

Image result for cleanup

As part of the Clean Up the World Campaign, the Marsaskala Local Council is organising a Community Clean-Up. Residents are urged to join and give a helping hand in cleaning our locality.

The clean-up will start at 9am from Żonqor. The more people turn up, the better, so as to move to other zones.

Do join and make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, get refillable water bottles, apply sun protection and you are urged to wear a cap.

Cleaning equipment including gloves, skips, garbage bags and other cleaning materials will be provided by the Local Council.

Nibbles and refreshments will be provided to those who attend.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Committee for Sustainability at the University of Malta (C-SUM) has just published good tips which can apply to everyone:

  1. Turn off air conditioners and lighting when a room is vacant unless it will be reoccupied within the next few minutes.
  2. Block direct sunlight on hot days and keep windows and doors closed, otherwise air conditioners need to consume much more energy to maintain a comfortable temperature.
  3. Keep the AC to an appropriate temperature setting, typically not below 23 degrees C for cooling. Set the fan to automatic and the flaps directed towards you. Consider that every additional degree of cooling requires some 6% higher energy consumption.  
  4. When there are multiple AC units in the same space avoid setting the AC mode of any of the units to Auto and ensure that all ACs within the same room are set to the same mode (cooling or heating).
  5. Close water taps completely after use.
  6. Use the appropriate half or full flush buttons in the toilets.
  7. Set the power options of the PCs to save energy. For example set turn off monitor after 20 minutes, sleep after 1 hour, hibernate after 2 hours. Note that as most PCs on Campus are powered through the University UPSs, the resultant power consumption is even higher due to losses within the UPS systems.
  8. Minimise the use of printers by using soft copies of documents when possible. This conserves energy, saves paper, reduces ink/toner consumption and any associated ultrafine particle emissions.

Il-Magħluq’s fish fauna – The killifish and seabass

In our first installment about the Magħluq’s fish fauna, we had talked about the common eel. In this second episode, we will be talking about 2 fish. One is the killifish; probably the fish that is most commonly associated with the Magħluq area.

The other is the seabass; another fish that habitates the area.

The information is again brought to our portal by Mr. Rio Sammut, who we thank for his valuable input.

Aphanius fasciatus: Killifish (Bużaqq in Maltese)

Aphanius fasciatus Saline de Cervia 2003
Photo from www.killi.co.uk

Max. length: 6.5cm Max. weight: 10g

Characteristics:

Rounded body covered in big scales: large eyes; short mouth deflected upwards; single dorsal fin set at mid-point of the back; anal fin bigger than pectorals; fan tail, truncated and slightly convex; the male is smaller and yellow or greyish-green with blue areas and about twelve dark vertical bands across the sides; the female is 10% larger and more greyish, with alternating narrower and shorter black stripes.

Habits:

The Maltese Killifish is an endemic sub-species. It used to be extremely abundant in brackish water, occasionally penetrating into the seawater inside bays, especially following torrential rainfall and consequent flooding. It feeds on small organic scraps, mosquito larvae, and minute crustaceans and copepods. Being a carnivorous predator it must not be kept in a community aquarium, but only with others of its own kind. Its numbers have declined alarmingly in the last two decades and it is now an endangered species. If any specimens are collected for a period of study in a suitable fish tank, they should be released exactly where they had been found within the week.

Dicentrarchus labrax : Seabass (Spnotta in Maltese)

Photo from renotonna.yolasite.com

The sea-basses belong to a small family of elongated grey fishes that superficially resemble grey mullets. They are heavily built powerful predators that live near the coastline and often associate themselves with schools of grey mullets. When young they are gregarious and visit bays and harbours in shoals, looking for small fishes that they attack and devour mercilessly. They have two distinct dorsal fins, the first spiny and fan-shaped, and the second with one spine followed by a number of soft rays. There are three spines leading the anal fin and the tail fin is somewhat forked. The head, eyes and mouth are all moderately sized.

Max. length: 1m

Max. weight: 9kg

Characteristics:

A powerful stocky body, circular in cross section; conspicuous eyes; well developed strong jaws lined with fine teeth on the inside, the lower jaw protruding a little; the first gill cover has some spines on the lower edge and the second has no ridges; well attached, big cycloid scales cover the skin; the fins are short-based and well balanced, the tail fin is forked with a thick peduncle; dark brownish-grey on the back, with silvery-grey sides and almost white metallic belly.

Habits:

The European species inhabits the western Atlantic coasts, the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. This handsome fish travels during daytime from coast to coast, penetrating inshore waters to prey on small or young fishes, sand-eels, squids and crustaceans. Actually it attempts to swallow anything that moves, in fact the author has personally found a bird chick, a number of large flying ants, pieces of dead sea grass, and a bite of pizza, inside Seabass stomachs!

The young frequent bays and inlets and consume more invertebrates than adult fish do. The Seabass is a hardy fish found at all sorts of seabeds and even in brackish waters. When the sea is rough the adults are to be found at the surf zone, close to the shoreline, attacking the confused smaller fishes. This habit makes the Bass a favourite sporting fish, well known for the tenderness of its scrumptious white flesh.

This bass is bred and farmed extensively since it is a fast growing fish and very hardy. It is exquisite to eat, especially when it gets away from the fish farms and feeds on a natural diet for a week or more.

This fish may be found inside the Maghluq (fish ponds) of Marsaskala (Malta) It belongs there naturally, but is a threat to the killifish, being a predator. Together with the killifish, eels, and hundreds of other vertebrates and invertebrates, its numbers are always diminishing, mainly due to toxic chemicals leaching into the ponds from the Sant Antnin Recycling Plant as well as fertiliser farming and firework fallout.

Update 2: Jerma doublespeak

Well, that’s rather disappointing, to say the least. Following this morning’s Environment and Planning Review Tribunal meeting (more info on the meeting here and more info on the politically appointed EPRT here), developers have been given 30 days to present a method statement aimed at “minimising” damage caused by the Jerma site to Marsaskala’s coastline.

As reported on MaltaToday, “While confirming the legality of an enforcement issued by the Planning Authority against developers in which it decried the state of abandonment of the Jerma site, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal has modified the notice giving developers more lee-way in addressing the situation.

In its decision, the tribunal insisted that due to the large size of the development, the extent of the damage, and its location on the coast, the original enforcement notice implementing the enforcement notice as originally issued (i.e. removal of the ‘damage’ within 16 days) veered on the impossible.

And that’s it folks. No mention of penalties, no discussion of what measures to mitigate/reduce the damage would be considered to be ‘satisfactory’ by the EPRT; in short, little accountability, if any at all.

To be clear, this is a step forward for Marsaskala residents. At the very least, the irresponsible owners are now obliged to actually propose measures and presumably carry them out eventually, rather than just leaving the site as it is. However, the Tribunal’s change in wording (a good chunk of the 18-page document outlining the decision is dedicated to explaining the difference between ‘mitigation’ and ‘removal’ of the abandoned building) means that developers are NOT obliged to dismantle the building, as the PA originally requested. We’ll keep you updated – more on this next month.

#ħawwadniħanifhmek #wearenotstupid #greedwins #ownerspopthechampagne #30days






Update: Jerma – the end of the line?

In August 2016 the Planning Authority issued an enforcement order against Jerma site owners Jeffrey and Peter Montebello, requiring that the “injury to amenity” be addressed after years of complaints by the local council and residents over the dangerous state of the site.

Two years later, the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal upheld an appeal by the owners and annulled this enforcement order. In the latest twist to the sage, the PA went to court to appeal the decision of the EPRT and won it.

Today, at 13:00, the EPRT will discuss the matter again and hopefully decide in favour of the residents, considering that everyone (including the owners) agrees that Jerma must be demolished.

We’ll keep you updated.

Il-Magħluq Clean-Up – 7th March 2019

Il-Magħluq Clean-Up - 7th March 2019

Thursday being a normal day of work and with only 24 hours previous notice, was not highly conductive to expect a good number of volunteers in an organised clean-up session for Il-Magħluq. It turned out that Rio and Marianne from our group Marsascala Community & Friends were the only two who could make it. Admittedly not the most able-bodied within the community, but well, we did our very best.

James Gabaretta from Nature Trust and a few of his younger colleagues transmitted the energy needed to immediately roll up our sleeves. We were provided with gloves, huge brooms, garbage bags and spade. A good amount of plastic and rubble was swept and collected, an unsightly skip removed, large stones were turned into seats and in less than a couple of hours we could look back and appreciate the now clear space which made the area look much cleaner and bigger. We had a couple of visitors asking us what we were doing, and showed their appreciation. It was a good advert for our group. Ducks came along too. Admittedly cute, but in no way did they help us in our venture. In fact, unfortunately, il-Maghluq is certainly not the place for them as they contribute very negatively to the area in many ways.

Answering our question with regards dredging the waters, which was in the news only a few days before, our high hopes were instantly lowered when we were told that although permits were issued, it wouldn’t be until a year, or maybe more, before the work would really start. The media does not help when it raises people’s expectations and promises are not delivered until months or even years later. Hence the negative effect on people’s morale and the perception that nothing ever gets done. Perhaps an explanation to the public about how things will be conducted will be in order.

We are happy that our group was, at least, represented. We certainly would appreciate better timing next time so that more of us may be able to participate in further improving several areas around Marsaskala. Clean-up sessions are just one way of participating. More ideas from the general
public through our website and/or facebook page are always welcomed and much appreciated.

Il-Magħluq’s fish fauna – The Common Eel

An article published yesterday on MaltaToday speaks about the killifish re-population in the Marsaskala marshlands, known as il-Magħluq. Killifish is not the only fish fauna to inhabit the Magħluq area. Here is some very interesting information about the common eel, brought to our portal by Mr. Rio Sammut.

File:FMIB 51807 Common Eel, Anguilla chrisypa Rafinesque Holyoke, Mass.jpeg

Here is some info about the common eel; a predator found in the Magħluq of Marsaskala. It is a natural inhabitant of the fishpond as much as the killifish.

70. Anguilla anguilla (Linnaeus) E. Common European Eel I. Anguilla Europea M. Sallura

Max length: 1.4m

Max. weight: 3kg

Characteristics: Typical elongated body with a smallish head; inconspicuous pair of eyes set over the mouth; large jaws, lower slightly longer than upper; minute concealed scales making the skin proverbially slippery; the dorsal fin starts far back and blends with the caudal and anal fins all around the tail end; may be silvery grey or yellowish above with a white underside.

Elvers are called leptocephali and appear small, leaf-like, and transparent, with a minute head.

Habits: The adults slip gracefully and effortlessly between rocks and weeds at the bottom of shallow water. They often conceal themselves in rock crevices, or in soft mud, with only their head exposed, expecting any small creature to pass by and be devoured. They occur quite frequently in all muddy inlets.

The elvers start life in the Sargasso Sea and swim thousands of kilometres across the ocean while feeding and growing into the adult shape. The journey may take up to three years. On arrival at inshore waters the young eels swim up streams or rivers to find a fresh water lake or pond where to spend the greater part of their adult life, about seven years for males and twelve years for females. On approaching sexual maturity they migrate back to the sea for spawning. In the Mediterranean Sea there are seventeen similar species. The Common Eel is edible and so it is extensively fish-farmed in many countries.

Marsaskala Community & Friends would like to thank Mr. Sammut for his contribution. Should you be interested in more information about this topic, you may check out his book entitled “Mediterranean Sea Fishes – (Central Region)“.

Garbage Collection Service – Survey results analysis

54 residents filled in our survey regarding Waste Collection in Marsaskala.

This review analyzes responses given and presents to you tips and (possible) solutions, some of which have been presented by participants of our survey.  

75.9% of respondents find that the current schedule meets their requirements, 22.2% respond in the negative, and 1.9% do not (yet) know. The reactions we received reveal opportunities for improvement.

Main issues reported

  • Many residents anger themselves at the apparent inability and/ or unwillingness of some to adher to collection schedule
    • Various residents have witnessed a number of “so-called temporary residents” and tourists leave their bags outside on the wrong day and / or in the wrong place. Despite being friendly informed that Malta  dictates otherwise, these “visitors” just shrugged their shoulders and did nothing to correct their behaviour.
    • Others angered themselves at some people’s seeming inability to stick to schedule and or contents /bag.

Tip: One respondent took charge of the block where he/she lives, hanging up the collection schedule for all to see, and helping others get the message through.

  • Alternative facilities are necessary for tourists, temporary residents and residents  leaving the country.
    • Good planning and proactivity are just as essential in this part of your vacation as they have been all along. It begins by reducing the amount of waste to be disposed off at the last moment.
    • When that moment arrives Malta offers you the following facilities:
      • Recycables (grey / green bag) can be disposed off at a civic amenity (CA) site but have to be sorted out beforehand into paper / plastic / metal / packaging. In other words the recycables cannot be disposed off in one container. Glass can also be brought to CA site.
      • Mixed waste (black bag) can be brought to CA site provided it does not contain any food. Note that food belongs in the organic bag!
      • Organic bags cannot be brought to a CA site, for this you will have to make alternative arrangements yourself like asking a neighbour or the owner of the appartment / B&B where you have stayed
  • Present schedule does not meet requirements
    • Residents with babies and cats report that their mixed waste (black) and recycable (grey/green) bags fill within a day; in other words, the present schedule does not meet their requirements.

Tip: Kindly go through the three R’s (Reduce, Re-use and Recycle) and think of possible ways you can diminish your waste: be creative and think out of the box! Report your successes to others so that they can benefit too.

  • Vulnerable organic bags
    • The organic (white) bag is flimsy and tears easily. When the white bag contains fish, meat and /or bones, cats and rats are attracted to it, tearing  the white bag apart and littering the environment which in turn attracts rats and flies. Coupled with the windy weather this is an issue for both  our health and our environment.
    • Tips:
      • Wrap fish/meat/bones carefully in newspapers before placing them in the white bag
      • Try making your own compost (wormery if you live in an appartment) and “usual” compost / “worm castings” / both if you have a garden with plenty of space. Composting will decrease your amount of organic waste, but above all, composting enriches the soil, renders plants healthier and better able to ward off disease, and can prove a rewarding hobby to self and the environment.
      • In the summer months residents can place “organic contents” in the deep freezer and get them out of the freezer and into the organic bag on the day of collection.
      • Keeping our own pavement clean especially when organic bags have spilled over or the wind has been at play is something all of us can do.
  • What to do with
    • Mixed waste that is neither small nor bulky and
    • A bag of garden waste when you do not own a car
    • Tips:
      • Call Marsaskala Local Council (telephone number 21637171) to avail yourself of the Bulky Refuse Service, offered free of charge. Check also https://www.wasteservmalta.com/bulkywaste
      • Depending on composition of your garden waste:
        • Rotten fruit and vegetables, fruit and vegetable peels, leaves and flowers go into the organic bag, branches do not – branches go to a Civic Amenity (CA) site.
        • Bundle large stems – devoid of leaves – and about one meter in length together with a string or rope. If you do not have a car or are disabled, call Marsaskala Local Council to check whether your bundle can be collected by the Bulky Refuse Service. If not try to find a neighbour or other resident who can and is willing to help you out.
        • Again here think of making your own compost! https://www.wasteservmalta.com/organicwaste
  • Collection times irregular and inefficient
    Residents complain about irregular / too early / too late collection times. Going through and abiding by the tips given above will help solve some of the present issues. Where the timing is too early for you, strike an agreement with a neighbour who is willing to help you out.
  • Skips are in a poor state and always (over)full.
  • What is missing and what the remedy might be as suggested by participants:
    • More intensive education of citizens
    • Abiding by the rules, if necessay enforcement
    • Respect for self, others and environment
    • Personal leadership
    • Accountability for one’s actions

A resurgence of environmental protection advocacy groups

Lately, a number of environmental “pressure” groups have been sprouting up across our lovely islands. These follow the lead of other recent, successful environmental groups such as Front Harsien ODZ and Kamp Emergenza Ambjent. In no particular order, we have heard from:

Inħobbu l-Gżira – This group is advocating for a sustainable plan for Manoel Island that benefits the whole population. This is an impression of what is at stake:

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and text

Xgħajra Seafront Interest Group – The group was re-kindled recently, after original comments about land reclamation in the past were dismissed, only to surface again now. Multiple articles published on the Times of Malta can be read here and here. James Debono also published an excellent piece on MaltaToday about why land reclamation is a bad idea. Renders of this abomination have not surfaced yet; however, here is something interesting to read on the subject from a country which unfortunately has opted to implement extensive land reclamation. The more sensible Dutch counterpart stopped reclaiming land (the Markermeer) in the Ijsselmeer because of the effect on the eels.

Save the North – The group focuses on large-scale development in the North of Malta and how these are detrimental to our life. The proposed Mistra project is one example.

This is what it would look like:

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Marsaskala Community & Friends – Our own group advocates active citizenship, with the environment being one of 3 pillars that are the back-bone of the community. As the dust has temporarily settled on the Żonqor university given the troubles faced by the AuM, it is time for the Jerma relic to be in the news (again), as documented in this MaltaToday article.

This is a 3D render of what 13 to 15 storeys would look like, taken from the applicant’s Proposal for Development:

A render of the proposed development

It is positive that these groups are not only working for their cause. Fund-raising organized by the Save the North group in order to appeal the Mistra project was a success, with documented donations coming from some of the above groups, hundreds of Maltese and even international contributions. Save the North is encouraging followers of their FaceBook page to attend a MEPA meeting on 7th March regarding the Manoel Island Project. Members of our own group attended the Xghajra meet-up last January 2019, where the group was objecting to possible land reclamation in the vicinity. The latter 2 groups also formally discussed possible ways to collaborate in March 2019 .

This type of collaboration is possibly one of the best ways to not only make our voices heard, but also to trigger discussion and change. When you treat behemoth development projects individually, localities and pressure groups feel stranded and many times the sensation that a decision has already been taken regarding a proposed development reigns supreme. This is well known by developers, who count on this feeling of helplessness to help them roll over any individual resistance and exploit the common good for personal gain.

It is easy to see how the general discontent of the common citizen is increasing to unprecedented levels. The people behind these groups are rarely politically affiliated. The environment belongs to us and to our children. It is sad to see how few politicians take a definite stance against any of these projects. Politicians dwell in grey, blurred lines. A favorite quote of theirs that seems to have become a motto is: “Wieħed irid jara sew l-impatt…” (One needs to closely examine the situation“). How about ‘NO’? How about plucking enough courage to tell it how it is? As much as we would like to steer away from the clichés crying foul at the pocket lining of the few at the detriment of the majority, it is the harsh reality.

A sure way to implement these projects seems to be that of proposing outrageous plans, that have no way to be approved in their original format, and then scale them down to pacify the rest of us. Well, nobody is an idiot.

Economic drive is fine, but not at this price. This is not the legacy we choose to leave to our future generations. It is the legacy that those in power are choosing to shove down our throats; cementing our mouths and the little land we have left. These groups, be they successful or not in their battles, will not be erased. “Front Kontra l-Golf Kors” (2000-2004) and “Front Kontra l-Hilton” (1994-1997), both spearheaded by Moviment Graffitti, are two examples of a won and lost battle, respectively.

Someone, somewhere in time, tried to stop this madness. We hope that, looking back, we will also be able to proudly say that we tried – and succeeded – in making Marsaskala, and other localities, a better place to live in.