Our terrible August seas – Arnold Cassola

After Cyprus, Malta is supposed to have the cleanest sea of the 28 EU member countries. Despite this excellent certificate, the reports about the situation of the seas around Malta this summer were disastrous. Many times, it actually seemed like reading a war bulletin, with the major victims being us Maltese living on this restricted space of 320 square kilometres, of course, together with tourists and those visiting us.

Here is the war bulletin for the Maltese summer till the first half of August:

July 19-26: the first appetiser of what was to come in the following month. For a whole week, the sea in the area of Qui-si-Sana was declared out of bounds for swimmers because of the discharge of drainage in the surrounding sea.

August 1: Xatt l-Aħmar, Gozo, is inundated with raw sewage… an exciting contrast of blue and brown colours, which happens every so often in the area.

August 1: The fish farm slime hits Marsa-scala. Swimmers have to forget what bathing in clear waters is all about.

August 4: Black liquid leaks onto the stairs of the newly-re-sanded Balluta Bay.

August 4: Foamy foul-smelling liquid is discharged into Ta’ Xbiex sea, near the waterpolo club.

August 5: Sewage overflows in St Paul’s Bay. The sea and beach are abandoned by the swimmers faster than when they ran away from St Paul’s supposed venomous viper.

August 5: Wonderful-smelling liquid oozes out near Fort Ricasoli, in Kalkara, and is deposited into the sea. Maggots all around. Some say this has been going on for ages.

August 6: Sewage overflows near the Sirens waterpolo pitch. Excellent exercise for the Sirens waterpolo players who increased their swimming speed by at least 30 per cent to escape the brownish liquid fast approaching. Bathing is stopped for a few days.

August 7: A dead tuna is seen floating among the swimmers in front of the old Chalet, in Għar id-Dud, Sliema. A great attraction for Japanese tourists, all eager for a sashimi.

August 11: The tuna slime travels a good number of kilometres and arrives at the Dragonara Lido, St Julian’s, to the great joy of locals and tourists alike.

August 14: Another large dead tuna is washed ashore in Qui-si-Sana, with two men unsuccessfully trying to drag it onto the rocks. Japanese tourists rush to the place for a second helping of sashimi.

August 15: At the peak of summer, the feast of Santa Marija, the infamous slime was signalled off the coast of Xgħajra. What a destiny for this quaint seaside town. For years, the sea had been out of bounds because of the raw sewage seeping into it in untold quantities. Finally, thanks also to EU help, a sewage treatment plant was built a few years ago and people could start swimming again in the pristine waters. However, this did not last long since, thanks to the tuna farmers, the slimy fish feed has replaced the sewage.

August 17: A fifth dead tuna carcass washed up among swimmers in St George’s Bay. Will it end up in our plates?

All the efforts over the past years to ensure clean sea water, in particular sewage purification, have been rendered useless over the past month.

Malta and Gozo are an extremely small country. Unlike any other Mediterranean state, or even islands like Sicily, Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes or what not, we do not have any forests, lakes, rivers or mountains to enjoy. Countryside is limited and is being usurped by greedy developers or even unscrupulous hunters and trappers.

The sea is the only place where we Maltese can get some solace and relaxation. It is the only natural antidote against any work-generated worries or the stress emanating from the hectic daily life we are leading. Depriving us of free access to clean seas is criminal.

The cause of the fast degradation of our sea quality is the fruit of two erroneous political decisions.

The first one is the expansion of the fish farm industry and the multiple abuses of its operators that are resulting in the slime which, summer after summer, is now invading our waters and beaches.

Secondly, allowing the building industry to expand vertically and horizontally without any reasonable limits on our two very small islands is resulting in the collapse of the infrastructure which, apart from the traffic gridlock, now also includes the regular overflow of sewage and drainage into our seas.

This cannot go on. The economy is there to serve the well-being of the people. Instead, the prevailing political philosophy is that the people are to be sacrificed to the economy.

I repeat, this cannot go on. If this attitude is not changed drastically and quickly, social tensions are destined to explode.

Arnold Cassola
Published on the Times of Malta Independent – 20 August 2018