The diving community in Gozo has joined the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) in strongly objecting to a proposal for the creation of new salt pans at Xwejni Bay, on the north-eastern coast of the island.
The applicant, Tereża Refalo, through her architect, Saviour Micallef, applied for a permit to create salt pans, construct an ancillary storeroom and cut into the rock to form an open reservoir and a store on a ‘vacant plot’ outside the development zone on the coastal area of Il-Ponta Ta’ Reqqa, limits of Żebbuġ.
The surrounding coastal area is characterised by a number of existing salt pans, some of which may be disused.
The site is within a level 2 area of ecological importance. It also lies within an area of high landscape value in view of the coastal and rural landscape and enjoys protection. A similar application filed last year was refused.
Several NGOs, including Archaeological Society Malta, Nature Trust Malta, Moviment Graffitti and Din l-Art Ħelwa, also objected to the proposed development. The environment watchdog said in its objection to the proposal that any human intervention in the area, given its sensitivity, is “not desirable”.
It said that, given the presence of a considerable number of salt pans within the area, there is no justification for further intensification of development on site.
It said it would create “irreversible damage and adverse impacts to the coast” and the proposal ran counter to several planning policies, including those designed to protect the landscape of coastal areas, safeguard geology and geomorphology and prevent coastal erosion.
The ERA further stated that the site is of “considerable scenic value” and that the development application was objectionable from an environmental point of view.
The diving community rallied behind the Professional Diving Schools Association, which represents 53 dive centres making up 85 per cent of the total on the Maltese islands, together employing about 300 people.
It said the diving industry accounted for nine per cent of all incoming tourism to Malta and 20 per cent for Gozo.
The association and other diving centres that objected on their own behalf, insisted the proposal was at Għar il-Qamħ, which is the main access route allowing them to reach the coastal entry point for two famed and unique dive locations, renowned for their unique underwater topography – Għar il-Qamħ and Cathedral cave.
The dive centres said they have had restricted access to the site, making it very difficult for them to transport their heavy equipment as close to the foreshore as possible.
More salt pans will only aggravate this situation. The centres are also legally obliged to keep emergency oxygen therapy units within close range in case of an emergency.
“Our industry cannot afford to lose two main shore dive sites in Gozo, especially such important ones as these. [The Malta Tourism Authority] and our members spend large amount of funds on advertising ‘The Gozo Diving Product’ overseas. This will have gone to waste if we now lose two of Gozo’s most unique dive sites, images of which have consistently been shared with the international diving community for the many years. Losing the north of Gozo dive sites is comparable to [people] no longer having access to the Blue Lagoon on Comino,” the association wrote.
Following the heavy objections to the proposal, the architect wrote to the Planning Authority asking for the screening process to be suspended.
As per Times of Malta, 6 June 2022