Footage of Comino’s Blue Lagoon has gone viral, but for the wrong reasons – the idyllic spot, used to promote the island among tourists, is being showcased for its sea of unsightly sunbeds and umbrellas and not for its azure waters, as operators hog the area before anyone arrives.

The Times of Malta video, which records employees preventing swimmers from moving deckchairs and umbrellas to make space on the public beach as they did not want to hire them and had turned up early with their own, had at the time of writing received more than 3.2 million views, and counting.

It has been viewed in the UK, Malta’s biggest tourist market, four times more than in Malta itself.

Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

But the Tourism Ministry, which has to date not explained what is going on with concession operators, their permits, fees and any enforcement, brushed aside calls for clarification and reactions to the public outrage, saying merely that “Comino needs a holistic plan based on sustainability”.

Asked whether the authorities would be addressing the recurring situation at one of the country’s main touristic selling points, a ministry spokesman simply said: “The aforementioned island is not made up only of the Blue Lagoon, but incorporates other natural attractions that, as a government, we will continue conserving and investing in, while promoting the niche of eco-tourism.”

Neither did it spell out what the laws stated and whether they were being breached.

The ministry and its tourism watchdog had previously cryptically stated that “no permits for sunbed operators have been issued this year” when asked about the situation on Comino.

But they had never clarified what that meant and if enforcement was required and was being carried out.

It has been viewed in the UK, Malta’s biggest tourist market, four times more than in Malta itself

Questions on who is responsible for Comino’s Blue Lagoon and whether the fees of operators on the island had been waived for the second consecutive year were also ignored by the Gozo Ministry.

Meanwhile, the viral video captures the age-old and illegal practice of occupying beaches around the island and blocking access to the foreshore when deckchairs and sunbeds should only be dispensed on request.

The story generated more than 3,300 comments on Times of Malta’s Facebook page alone, with the vast majority being critical of the abusive situation.

The crammed set-up on Comino is a familiar sight that has characterised the scene for years, with deckchairs spilling into the shallow water and sprawling onto surrounding high rocks and the protected garigue of the Natura 2000 site.

They are packed tightly, with no means to social distance during COVID-19 as the gap bet­ween them is the width of an umbrella base.

While the Tourism Ministry shifted its focus onto “other natural attractions”, environment NGO Friends of the Earth pointed out that the abuse of public land and foreshore was not the only issue the ecological site faced.

It has been in the spotlight also because of illegal works by the government on a controversial dust road leading to the Blue Lagoon, which involved the building of service culverts.

Although the illegalities had been unearthed and then highlighted by the ombudsman and the commissioner for environment and planning, and reported to parliament and the prime minister, the resurfacing works had continued and no action was taken.

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