The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

On wheels, keels and... wings?

Mark Said Sunday, 8 May 2022, 07:43 Last update: about 3 months ago

In spite of pockets of financial and well-being inequalities, Malta is undoubtedly an affluent society. Affluence gives rise to heavy consumerism which in turn unintentionally gives rise to heavy pollutants. The problem takes on a greater dimension in such a small country as ours.

Two daily visible signs of this above-average wealth generated by the greater part of the Maltese population are the ever-increasing number of cars on our roads and pleasure seacraft on our waters. Malta could soon have more cars than people if new figures are anything to go by. The unstoppable increase in car ownership is one of the major reasons for the island’s traffic jam nightmare and it seems that moves to encourage drivers to switch from petrol to electric cars are yet to catch on in Malta.

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The country has a car ownership rate of 766 motor vehicles per 1,000 people. As of March last, the number of registered cars amounted to 414,669, giving close to a world record of automobile density per km². Short-term measures to this major problem have been giving up virgin land to widen roads and build new ones, underground tunnels and flyovers along the lines of the Marsa Junction, the Central Link Pass and the Santa Lucija underpass system. Wealth is blinding people as to the harmful environmental impacts of their high-consumption, high-waste lifestyles. While technological improvements have helped to reduce emissions and other environmental impacts, the growth in affluence has consistently outpaced these gains. Passenger vehicles are a major pollution contributor on our islands, producing significant amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and other pollution. Besides this deadly pollution, there is also that other problem of more people buying even unnecessary larger vehicles that occupy more precious space and are merely meant to show off one’s wealth.

As the country becomes more developed, with public spaces becoming scarcer, people are understandably becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of a number of government projects on their well-being. I am not only referring to the uprooting of innumerable trees, the transformation of arable land and natural landscapes into concrete and tarmac jungles but now, even to the imminent threat to the clarity, cleanliness and natural beauty of our coastal waters. Frequent feuds, between residents and civil society organisations on one side and the government and businesses on the other, about any proposed yacht marina in any part of Malta, are becoming typical whenever such projects are proposed. We all remember the stand-off when the Marsascala yacht marina was initially proposed as well as the concerns aired when the Portomaso Marina, the Mgarr Marina, the Marina di Valletta and the Manoel Island Project were first mentioned. Ferry berthing issues also seem to become problematic and controversial as time goes on.

It is the intention of the Maltese government to provide adequate facilities for the yachting industry to grow and prosper. It is struggling to identify sites that can be considered for new permanent marinas and sites for seasonal or temporary marinas. This will obviously entail less bathing space for swimmers, more congested waters and, most worrying of all, the threat of having our clear, blue and uncontaminated coastal waters turned into one single polluted cesspit. The Malta Ship Registry has experienced growth of 98% over the last few years with some 800 superyachts already registered in Malta not taking into account the thousands of other smaller pleasure boats owned by a large section of the Maltese population. We have already been struggling to control the spread of  plastic pollution in our seas and bays.

We will need to have in place stronger and more effective management measures to protect coastal waters from sources of nonpoint pollution from marinas and recreational boating including measures to address the discharge of sanitary waste from vessels. New marinas must be designed to include pump-out stations and other facilities to handle sanitary waste from marine toilets. The growth of recreational boating, along with the growth of coastal development in general, must lead to a growing awareness of the need to protect our beaches and bays. Lack of protection may pose a threat to the health of aquatic systems and may pose other environmental hazards. Pollutants discharged from boats, the physical alteration or destruction of wetlands and of shellfish and other bottom communities during the construction of marinas, ramps and related facilities and pollutants generated from boat maintenance activities on land and in the water are some of the adverse environmental impacts that may result from the sources of pollution associated with marinas and recreational boating.

Many factors influence the long-term impact a marina will have on water quality within the immediate vicinity of the marina and the adjacent area. Initial marina site selection is the most important factor. Selection of a site that has favourable hydrographic characteristics and requires the least amount of modification can reduce potential impacts. In addition, a separate and broader clean energy policy will eventually have to be adopted for the marine sector.

At the rate we are going it will not be long before we will start having a growing number of people owning and operating leisure aircraft by burning Avgas. Already, there is a growing number of people owing and operating drones of various sizes and for various purposes, not least for pleasure. They tend to violate private airspaces, privacy, peaceful and quiet environments, not to mention those dreadful moments when one is startled with their unannounced and unexpected appearance. When looking at used aircraft values, it is pretty apparent that most of them hold their value and makes them significantly better investments than luxurious cars or yachts for which a good number of Maltese are getting renowned. Cessnas and Piper Lances might soon become within the affordable range for a good number of wealthy people out there.

When that time comes most probably water and air, the two essential elements on which all our life depends, will have become overflowing garbage cans.

 

Dr Mark Said is an advocate

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