Għadira Bay could end up losing parts of its beach if a planned sand replenishment project is carried out without detailed scientific studies, according to a Blue Flag International representative.
“We have concerns that if one changes the dynamics of the beach one may end up with losing the entire or part of the beach itself as happened in some cases in other countries, though the cases were a bit different,” Vince Attard, the Blue Flag Malta national coordinator said.
The amount of sand on beaches is controlled by the interaction between sources - when sand is added - and sinks - when sand is taken away.
This fragile balance, known as the dynamic equilibrium, can be easily disturbed. In the Spanish coastal town of Sitges, for instance, adding breakwaters to limit erosion ended up inadvertently accelerating it.
Mr Attard noted that Għadira Bay's Blue Flag status could not be taken for granted.
“It is of utmost importance that the studies are carried out. Negative impacts to beaches are considered very seriously by Blue Flag International and flags have been lost or withdrawn mid-season,” Mr Attard warned.
Blue Flag International promotes sustainable beaches through the implementation of stringent environmental measures.
What are the plans for Għadira?
The government plans to double the size of this popular beach.
Submitted last year by Projects Malta, a State agency responsible for public-private partnerships, the development application which is still pending seeks to extend the beach by up to 40 metres along a one-kilometre perimeter.
According to a project description statement, the first phase will involve the pumping of sand from a spot within the bay to extend the beach further, and the construction of a wave deflector near the former Tunny Net complex.
The second phase will comprise the construction of an artificial reef to prevent the replenished sand from being carried out to sea during stormy weather, while the third and final phase will be the reconstruction of the road along Għadira Bay on stilts to facilitate the natural regeneration of the sand dunes.
How have plans panned out?
Though a study was supposed to have been carried out, the project seems to have been placed on the backburner as the last submissions in the Planning Authority’s website date back to May 2018.
Nationalist MP Robert Cutajar has in fact been criticising the Tourism Ministry over its refusal to publish the scientific studies, saying none of his seven parliamentary questions had been fully answered.
Meanwhile, Mr Attard noted that any interventions on beaches having such certification like Għadira Bay had to be covered by the necessary permits, and, in case of a Natura 2000 site, all measures had to adhere to the area’s management plan.
He called on the authorities to ensure that all studies and modelling tests were carried out to safeguard this popular beach, its ecology and Blue Flag status.
Other threats to Blue Flag
Malta currently has 12 certified Blue Flag beaches which the international organisation monitors, especially in the summer months, to ensure that certain environmental criteria are being adhered to.
Such a status implies high health and safety standards, beach management, environmentally-sustainable practices, better accessibility and excellent bathing water quality.
Surprise inspections are carried out periodically by the internationally body. Though there has been no imminent risk of losing the Blue Flag status in any of these beaches, Mr Attard confirmed that, this year, there were some “challenges” on the cleanliness of the beaches.
“We had the occasional slime also hitting a few beaches where the Blue Flag had to be put down until the slime passed away,” he told Times of Malta.
He also pointed out that waste separation, which was one of the Blue Flag beach criteria, remained a challenge. While it was necessary to monitor beach cleaners to ensure separated waste was not ending up at the landfill, there was still a long way to go to ensure that beach goers were disposing of the waste in the correct manner.
“In Greece, a whole island lost all its flags due to bad management of waste on beaches in 2018. This year they had to start again to regain the status,” Mr Attard said.
“In the case of Għadira Bay, there were issues which we reported to the Malta Tourism Authority and these were ratified within the 10-day period allowed by Blue Flag”, he said.
“However, we have been instructed by Blue Flag to keep monitoring the beach to ensure there is no repeat. If a repeat is noted, the flag can be put to question,” he warned.
A further threat to Blue Flag beaches in recent months was marine debris, especially at Golden Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa.
The absence of a proper collection system posed an ever tougher challenge as the only solution was to wait until this debris is washed ashore for beach cleaners to collect. Though there are specialised boats that collect such waste out at sea, their cost at around €190,000 each is prohibitive, Vince Attard remarked.
On a positive note, he noted that, this year, Ramla Bay in Gozo had made a big leap forward with regards to standards.
“Malta has only 12 Blue Flag beaches compared to countries like Cyprus which has 53. Two of these are private and run by hotels. So, we cannot afford to lose out,” Mr Attard said, while he urged the country to consider Blue Flag marinas as Malta is one of the few countries without these.