President George Vella on Friday warned about the destruction of the natural environment that was being allowed to happen as a result of excessive development.

Addressing an event about Corallo, a marine conservation project, at San Anton Palace, Vella warned that "while promoting all this love for things linked to the sea, we cannot allow our land to be eroded, abused, destroyed".

He also expressed hope that the untouched marine environment would not be exploited for commercial and industrial interests.

"Once one reaches my age, they realise that if we are not careful, the sea will suffer the same faith suffered by land... and this can also happen to sites within conservation areas," he said.

The President noted that those who, years ago, spoke fervently about environmental protection used to be perceived as people who were academically obsessed with the topic. Nowadays people had realised that whatever happened to the environment around us was intrinsically linked to life itself.

"It is a cycle. If we don't make sure that the environment around us is protected from destruction or deterioration, we will pay the price one way or another," Vella said, noting that over the years, many had witnessed the deterioration of the coastline. 

Fish farming contributes to contamination of idyllic places

"Fish farming nowadays contributes to our economy, however, it also contributes to the contamination and destruction of several places that were once deemed heaven on earth.

"There was a time when Hurd's Bank was heaven on earth, a breeding ground for several species. Pollution and anchor dragging has destroyed it all...

"I don't believe transshipping and longtime berthing are rendering much to the economy and, additionally, we are risking the wellbeing of the environment and our economy in the event of strong winds or some other incident."

Vella, who said he felt strongly about the topic and was pained by the current state of affairs, warned that wrecks on their own would not attract diving tourists.

If the natural beauty of diving sites was not protected, there could be a repeat of what happened in Xlendi, where foreigners who once loved the area no longer visited the seaside locality. 

Everyone could see what was being "allowed to happen": authorities that had been set up as watchdogs should not simply claim they were following the rules. If rules needed to be amended, then they should be amended, Vella said.

"Fifty, 60 years ago, no one could foresee the current environmental destruction around us: concrete and glass erected everywhere," he said, calling for investment in a generation of children who spoke up in favour of the protection of heritage irrespective of partisan interests.

Islands destroyed by excessive development

The president sounded a further warning: several islands that used to depend on tourism had been destroyed by excessive development, he said.

He lamented that those drawing up the assessments of sites earmarked for development paid only lip service to vegetation and garigue. The protection was trumped by the "high figures" in regard to development.

Vella also warned about the impact of environmental destruction on the tourism industry and on the locals' quality of life.

It was not about how much money one had in his pocket, but about how and whether that person could enjoy those funds, Vella noted.

Inequalities were created when one could no longer enjoy fresh air in Malta, and had to seek it in Sicily, among others, he said. 

The President thanked the Malta Environment and Resources Authority, the University of Malta and Heritage Malta for their collaboration on the Corallo project.

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