Activists issue recommendations for preservation of Sikka l-Bajda reef

Environmental activists have called for an end to the destruction of the Sikka l-Bajda reef situated three kilometres off St. Paul’s Islands, identifying “four major human activities which are destroying marine life on this reef” and including recommendations for its preservation.

Activists Mark Gatt and Raniero Borg, seasoned divers who have seen “the destruction of the Sikka l-Bajda” reef since they started diving 40 years ago, penned a document recommending changes and the introduction of policies which would help preserve the reef’s natural environment.

Speaking to journalists from The Shift, the activists described how the reef has been negatively affected by the overuse and discarding of unmarked fishing traps, the anchoring of refuelling ships at the reef, nearby extensive fish farming and an overabundance of sea traffic above.

Borg, the man behind the popular Raniero’s Adventures Facebook page, has been campaigning against the destruction of the reef for years along with Gatt, who was one of the activists behind the Stop the Slime campaign advocating for the relocation of fish farms discharging sea slime into the sea.

A map showing the extensive size of the Sikka l-Bajda plateau, home to the reef – Photo: ERA

In their letter, they describe how octopus trapping at the reef has taken on a commercial scale, with the handful of traps observable decades ago now mushrooming into “lines of 50 traps or more encircling the reef.”

The unmarked traps are often abandoned, capturing fish apart from the intended octopi and leading to the degradation of marine life at the reef.

Gatt and Borg propose an update to the Fishery Regulations (SL425.01), limiting the use of the currently unregulated traps to licensed fishermen, setting a 15-trap limit, and requiring their demarcation through a surface buoy. They also called for a reporting system by which the Environment and Resources Authority can confiscate abandoned traps.

The letter went on to identify bunkering, the anchoring of ships for refuelling at the reef, as another cause for the reef’s degradation. Borg told The Shift how the ships anchor at some of the shallowest parts of the plateau on which the reef sites, dragging their anchors through biodiversity and destroying it.

The open letter called for maritime authorities to prohibit anchoring on the Sikka l-Bajda plateau’s shallowest and most biodiverse areas and to implement mooring points for ship bunkering away from the reef.

Linear scars at the Sikka l-Bajda reef caused by overheads bunkering ships dragging their anchors – Photo: Mark Gatt

Borg and Gatt also highlighted the impact of the Azzopardi Fisheries tuna farms in the vicinity of the reef, referencing a 2018 Environmental Impact Assessment, which found that the farm was releasing 6.6 tonnes of fish oil each day, resulting in fish slime, “a reduction in bottom water transparency” and “a deterioration in water quality due to increased nutrient loads”.

The Shift has reported how the 12 fish farm pens, which the EIA study was based on, were expanded to 24. Azzopardi Fisheries illegally increased the number of farms before the EIA studying them was concluded and before any permits for their expansion.

Last week, The Shift reported how sea slime from the Azzopardi Fisheries farms remains a problem for residents of nearby coastal towns and marine life. Gatt described how fish farms the size of a “village” create “sewage dumps” out at sea with far-ranging effects.

The activist’s letter identified boating above the shallower reef areas as the final factor in its degradation. They called Transport Malta to implement visible buoys and issue mariner’s notices for boats sailing away from the reef, safeguarding its marine life.

Borg and Gatt concluded their recommendation document with a call for action, saying they “would like to save this once rich breeding ground for future generations”.

Mark Gatt and Raniero Borg’s recommendations can be read in full here.


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5 months ago

A raging disaster.

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