The ‘experimental’ Balluta Bay sand nourishment project has cost taxpayers over €100,000 but this investment might go down the drain as there is a distinct possibility of the beach disappearing completely in winter.

The authorities are monitoring the situation closely to determine the long-term feasibility of the project.

Inaugurated a fortnight ago, the sandy beach is already showing signs of erosion and a visual onsite inspection carried out by The Sunday Times of Malta revealed that in some parts it had already shrunk by about a metre.

Plans to restore the Balluta sandy beach have been in the pipeline for a number of years as part of an effort to create a tourist attraction in this highly-sought tourist area.

While the authorities were originally considering extending the beach by importing sand, on the same lines as the replenishment carried out at St George’s Bay, it was eventually decided to adopt a different approach. Instead it was decided to dredge sand from strategic parts of the bay and pump it on shore in order to extend it further.

Though the timing of the work carried out last month during the peak summer season prompted criticism, upon completion the project was nevertheless praised as it resulted in a 20-metre beach complete with amenities like showers and a lifeguard service. A total of 4,200 cubic metres of sand was recovered from the seabed to create a beach spanning over 900 square metres.

While this initiative was commended, concerns were immediately flagged that the beach was exposed to stormy weather and consequently could be eroded in winter. Such a warning had also been sounded at the planning stage in the case officer’s report in which it was pointed out that this project might not last beyond this summer.

In the wake of these considerations questions were raised about the long-term feasibility and financial viability of such a project.

Replying to questions from this newspaper, a Malta Tourism Authority spokeswoman said that the overall cost of the project was €110,000.  She added that the contract was awarded to Bezzina Maritime Services Limited through a negotiated procedure following an open public call for pre-qualification. The MTA added that this was the “cheapest, technically compliant” offer among those submitted.

As for concerns about the long-term feasibility, the spokeswoman insisted that this was the objective itself of this “experimental” pilot project. 

It was also pointed out that the decision to adopt this approach was based on several years of studies including hydrodynamic modelling which indicated that under certain storm conditions, the bay would likely lose between seven and 30 per cent of the sand. 

Though by no means scientific, from a photographic comparison carried out by this newspaper, between the day when the project was completed and last Friday, it turned out that in certain parts, the beach have already receded by about a metre.

However, the MTA played down such concern saying that so far the beach had ‘behaved’ in the expected manner, with sand at the seaward edge of the beach being dragged down to form the slope. 

However, the MTA remarked that much depended on the action of waves which in turn are affected by the storm direction, its intensity and duration. The characteristics of the sand granules, particularly their size was also cited as another factor. 

“The possibility of the beach disappearing completely over winter is still a reality and hence the monitoring will give us valuable information on the project and the viability of the methods used,” the spokeswoman said.

This newspaper was assured that the Environment Resources Authority was already monitoring the situation through a detailed programme which would continue for the coming months until next summer.

Monitoring has included seabed surveys, beach profiles, water quality (turbidity) testing, diving inspections, photographic records of the beach (initially on a daily basis, now weekly), and also drone footage during and after the work. An archaeological inspection was also undertaken following the works, the MTA said.

Depending on the extent of sand lost, and the monitoring results, a decision on whether to undertake yearly or less frequent interventions to re-nourish the beach will be taken, the spokeswoman remarked.

From a purely technical perspective, one of the long-term solutions could be the construction of an artificial reef in order to mitigate sand erosion. Such a proposal is being actively considered under a similar re-nourishment plan for Għadira Bay which is still at the planning stage.

However, for the time being no such plan is being considered in the case of Balluta, the MTA said.


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