The concrete culvert recently built in Comino or, more precisely the illegal works, are an ominous indication of what the future might hold for this small island. Culverts are built to carry electricity cables, water and drainage pipes so that kiosks, snack-bars and, maybe, discos can operate.

If it was possible to circumvent planning regulations to construct what the Ombudsman declared to be illegal works, what or who will be able or willing to stop a few caravans or other “temporary” constructions appearing on the island for use by the kiosk owners and others?

The Ombudsman also recommended that the site be reinstated to its original state. Of course, as expected, he was ignored. So much for the constant assertions that the institutions are working.

Once these services are available on the island, illegal shacks and boat houses simi­lar to those in Armier, Qawra, the White Rocks, St Thomas Bay, Marsascala and elsewhere along the Coast Road will inevitably sprout on Comino. It only takes one ramshackle construction to be built for the floodgates to open.

The deleterious impact on the landscape of the island and, therefore, on this archipelago, would be gradual and insidious but, once started, it will be impossible to reverse. Such construction must be nipped in the bud if we are to avoid an ‘Armierisation’ of Comino.

We need to preserve the natural beauty of Comino. It would, therefore, be a praiseworthy initiative if we were to embark on a massive afforestation project and convert the island into a wooded park, an oasis of peace and tranquillity where picnickers and ramblers can enjoy nature; a boschetto on Comino.

Concrete, cement, tarmac and construction would be taboo. We can adopt the rules and regulations that apply in European city parks where no traffic, barbecues, fires, campsites, caravans, erection of walls or loud music are allowed (The Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations, 1997, UK).

In the Greek islands, visited by millions of tourists, there are unbendable rules and quotas in force to avoid confusion and overcrowding that would degrade and spoil one’s holiday.

The only sound on Comino would be that of the rustling of leaves and the singing of birds. Visitors would be able to fill their lungs with the clean fresh air blowing in from the majjistral. They would be able to have respite from the noise of traffic and jack hammers in Malta and Gozo.

Astronomy enthusiasts would be able to organise trips to the island and train their telescopes from the top of the Santa Maria Tower where light pollution is much lower. An artificial lake and trees would entice rare species of birds to return to breed on the island.

Comino is five times larger than Manoel Island. It would take one or two hours to walk round Comino, thus offering many opportunities for visitors to enjoy the open spaces and spectacular panoramic views from all the points of the compass. Joggers, families and ramblers would have the leafy shaded tracks all to themselves. Park rangers would patrol the island to ensure the maintenance of order. Schools would organise trips to the island to teach students about the garigue, flora and fauna there and indulge in bird watching.

Stewardship of the project could be given to a consortium of nature-loving organisations that would, no doubt, be happy to cooperate. A similar arrangement was made with the FKNK at the Miżieb and L-Aħrax woodlands; a similar one for Comino would balance things out.

Tamarisk, eucalyptus, pine, ash, elm, holm oaks, carob and cypress trees grow happily in Buskett, San Anton Gardens and elsewhere. They are waiting to be planted on Comino.

We have lost a golden opportunity to convert Manoel Island into a green lung for the overpopulated and densely built surrounding areas. Let us not make the same mistake again with Comino. But, alas, such a project would find it difficult to materialise in this go-as-you-please (for some) republic. It is evident that avaricious eyes are already set on Comino.

We must, therefore, act now and be vigilant. The insensitive barons who built the culvert in Comino and who have powerful patrons with vested interests backing them will surely return in the not-too-distant future for another attempt at grabbing some other chunk of the island.

Let’s not be hoodwinked a second time.

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