Dwejra without its majestic Azure Window is still a colossal monument on its own, writes Nicholas Barbara, conservation manager at Birdlife Malta.

Dwejra’s rock formations witness the passage of time, from the thousands of ocean-dwelling organisms immortalised as fossils to its unique array of caves, Inland Sea and a rock islet which stands isolated, harbouring to this very day unique life forms.

Fungus Rock has its very own lizard subspecies, confined to nothing more than an area less than 7,000 square metres and found nowhere else on Earth. The Knights of St John at the time did not even recognise it, yet they did their best to protect the islet for what they thought was a fungus that cured sexual problems and grew only there. A case of mistaken identity, as the fungus turned out to be a parasitic plant not just confined to the rock.

However, little did the Knights know that their actions in protecting the rock probably ensured us the survival of the Fungus Rock wall lizard, a species that has taken far longer to evolve than the time taken for the formation and disappearance of the Azure Window.

It truly puts into perspective how valuable our actions are in preserving something unique over time for the next generation.

Many of us are simply angry for having lost the Azure Window without the possibility of intervening and keeping it for posterity. We simply could not do anything, and we have to accept that.

We do not need any international initiatives to make the place great: it still is

How important is it then that we preserve our natural heritage from our own damaging actions.

Dwejra is a protected site in all its imaginable forms. The land area is designated as a Natura 2000 site for its fauna, flora and habitats. It comprises a bird sanctuary, an area of ecological importance, a site of scientific importance and a tree protection area.

The seas around Dwejra are also protected – one of our very first Natura 2000 sites at sea was designated here to protect its marine habitats. Yet beyond these titles, the place is far from being preserved in its pristine condition.

We’ve all read what’s at stake. Last year someone tried using explosives at the Inland Sea inlet to enlarge the passage and allow for more boat traffic. Illegal boathouses have for years mushroomed in the area, some removed while others were sanctioned. Illegal off-roading by jeeps and motorbikes lay waste to waterways, while operators of bird trapping sites within metres of the Azure Window spread herbicide to clear vegetation along the cliffs.

Divers keep encountering nets from illegal fishing. Events, parties and film sets have been orga­nised insensitively, causing irreparable damage to the fossilised rock strata. How long will this place sustain the pressure before we face another Azure outcry?

Our natural heritage is not just a rock formation that stands for a few hundred years before it gets eroded away. It came into being over a longer time span. Yet it only takes a little to lose it forever.

We do not need any international initiatives to make the place great: it still is. All we need is to pull up our own sleeves and protect what we are lucky to still have. Just head down to the slipway next to Fungus Rock on a summer’s night, quietly and without using any lights, and see for yourself how the place livens up at night with the calls of our Scopoli’s shearwaters coming in to feed their chicks. Just a lit-up fancy kiosk at night or a boat party there can make them all go away forever.

You can make a whole difference. Respect the site, report illegalities to authorities, speak to your politicians or support an environmental NGO.

http://birdlifemalta.org/become-member/

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