Times of Malta

Let us save the Gozo trees

- DAWN ADRIENNE SALIBA Dawn Adrienne Saliba is president of Malta-Arch.

Afierce debate is now brewing in the heart of Gozo. The proposed widening of Marsalforn Road has sparked a significan­t outcry from NGOs, environmen­talists and local residents, igniting deep anxieties surroundin­g the degradatio­n of our island’s nature and the destructio­n of Gozo’s beauty.

Despite assurances from Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri that the road’s character would be preserved, Din lArt Ħelwa Għawdex estimates this project will result in the uprooting of at least 200 trees, including two ash trees, 19 African tamarisk trees, 29 olive trees, two pomegranat­e trees, two carob trees, five almond trees, two poplars, and one nettle tree.

It would also uproot several Aleppo pines, Italian cypresses and eucalyptus trees.

This proposal to widen a rarely congested road has puzzled many. Activist Daniel Cilia notes that in the 55 years he has lived near this road, he has never once witnessed a traffic jam, a sentiment that other Gozo residents, myself included, agree with. I can see the road from my balcony and have never once noticed a problem with traffic.

The damage this project would cause is inconceiva­ble. Botanist Timothy J. Tabone emphasises it would not only destroy fertile agricultur­al land but would also erase unique biodiversi­ty and threaten endangered species.

Near the road is Wied tal-Grazzja, where a freshwater valley-bed stream supports a fragile ecosystem.

This area serves as a sanctuary for rare and special plants, including the denseflowe­r knotweed, sea clubrush and southern cattail.

Moreover, it is the current breeding ground for a pair of beautiful moorhen water-birds currently nesting beneath the valley’s towering qasab reeds. Given that there are only approximat­ely 60 pairs of moorhens remaining in the entire country, fostering the reproducti­on of these birds is an ecological imperative. Widening this road would completely obliterate their habitat.

This distressin­g project carries a price tag of €9 million. Unsurprisi­ngly, the funds have been awarded by the Gozo ministry to Gatt Tarmac Ltd and Prax Concrete Ltd, entities linked to developer Joseph Portelli and his associates.

There is a passionate outcry against this developmen­t. Scores of Gozitans, several NGOs and politician­s from all of Malta’s major parties have united against this injustice.

On March 19, Din l-Art Ħelwa led over 100 protestors down Marsalforn Road, as they tied black ribbons around the trees slated for demise. The galvanisin­g march inspired many to plan further protests to protect these trees. Many young protestors are even threatenin­g to blockade the works if they start.

Protecting our trees, our plants and our birds is more important than lining the pockets of Prax Concrete Ltd. We urge the government to embrace a path of genuine dialogue with its citizens and to protect what remains of our majestic island’s environmen­t.

Widening this road and destroying our beloved trees will cause great heartache. It will also ignite and unleash visceral anger towards Gozo’s current administra­tion.

The government needs to work for the people, not against us. Safeguardi­ng our natural environmen­t is not only morally correct, it is a sacred duty.

Nature and sustainabl­e progress can coexist for the benefit of us all – it is time for those in positions of power to take their responsibi­lity seriously and figure out how to balance essential developmen­t with thoughtful environmen­tal stewardshi­p.

The damage this project would cause is inconceiva­ble*

 ?? PHOTO: JONATHAN BORG ?? A close-up of a sunflower offers the photograph­er a surprising array of colours.
PHOTO: JONATHAN BORG A close-up of a sunflower offers the photograph­er a surprising array of colours.
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