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24 April 2014

Dwejra Damage assessment report fails to understand site’s geological importance

 - Sunday, 16 January 2011, 00:00

Annaliza Borg

The Dwejra damage report commissioned by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (Mepa), which was published on Friday, completely fails to record or understand the geological importance of the site, the shadow minister for Environment Leo Brincat said in comments to The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The report on why the dumping of the quarry waste material was so damaging to the site remains somewhat flawed, Mr Brincat added.

Drawn up by Dr Louis F. Cassar together with a team of specialists, the report highlights that the fossils at Dwejra were impacted. The deposited material also left a reddish residue on the rock, but the marine ecology was not affected. 

Given that the fossils and ichnofossils in the entire Dwejra area are impacted on by the continuous trampling of visitors on a regular basis, dive-support vehicles being driven over the area in the past, and known instances of fossil theft, the present assessment cannot definitively link any observed damage to the specific activities carried out in connection with the filming of Game of Thrones, the report said. 

However, some of the damage observed is of recent origin, as evidenced from freshly fractured fossils and damaged ichnofossils of thalassinoidean burrow in-fills beneath seemingly fresh heavy vehicle tyre tracks.

While failing to say what the deposited material actually was, the report said its composition, which was derived from a variety of sources, was also a factor in its solidification and persistence.

“Without questioning the technical competence of the people involved in this report, I would have expected that at least there should have been geologists involved, especially since the geological aspect of the site was also emphasized,” said Mr Brincat in further comments.

He added that to his “surprise”, the people involved (in drawing up the report) − or at least publicly quoted − are biologists, marine environmentalists and planners.

“The report completely fails to record or understand the geological importance of the site and why the dumping of the quarry waste materials was so damaging. It also failed to mention that just a few metres away from this site, there exists Malta’s most complete stable isotope.

“The dumping of foreign material contaminates such sites. This is why the quarry waste (it is not quarry sand) should have never been allowed to be placed there. Highlighting that matter might have embarrassed the perpetrators of such action further,” Mr Brincat said.

The report, he noted, comes at a time when the Prime Minister still has some very delicate questions to reply to on the matter, particularly on why no appropriate assessment was carried out beforehand on a Natura 2000 site as should have been the case with the Mistra saga − a sharp observation previously made in that instance, by the Mepa auditor.

Meanwhile, Mr Brincat is looking forward to the Mepa auditor report, which still has to come out, as well as what concrete action will be taken by Mepa itself to remedy the prevalent shortcomings throughout this process, before reaching final conclusions on the whole saga.

“My main interest is to determine whether the now reformed Mepa facilitated the damage or not, as well as who is going to shoulder responsibility − including political responsibility − for all that went wrong,” he said.

This report was commissioned by Mepa on 26 November and was to be concluded within three weeks.

An article in our daily sister paper one month later, said Mepa was evaluating the findings and conclusions of the independent assessment. However, a statement accompanying the report on Friday said the Mepa board directed its Environment and Planning Directorates, together with its legal counsel, to draw up its recommendation on what action, if any, should be taken against the film producer for not adhering to the permit conditions and the damage caused at Dwejra.

Contacted for an explanation, a Mepa spokesperson said the Mepa chairman was presented with the report in December and had reviewed it, but the Mepa board, headed by the same chairman, was only presented with Dr Cassar’s report on Friday.

On Wednesday evening, a report requesting stricter conditions for filming permits, drawn up by Prof. Kevin Aquilina and Dr Simone Borg and commissioned by the government, was published. This spoke among others, about the need for environmental NGOs to be more involved in the monitoring of sensitive sites and the urgency to have management plans drawn up for Natura 2000 sites.

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