A few days back our government welcomed plans for the development of a new American University at Zonqor point, north of Marsaskala. The site should eventually cover around 90,000 square metres.
While we from ADŻ Malta Green Youth welcome such an investment which will be beneficial to the economy, we encourage sustainable development. However, this project cannot be sustainable for many reasons.
Firstly we have the impact on land use and the landscape. The fields in the area will be transformed into concrete. Keeping in mind that the area around the proposed development site is defined as an area of scientific and ecological importance, the project won’t be sustainable. Finding areas which are already developed and which include abandoned buildings which can be demolished would be a better alternative when compared to the grabbing of semi-natural or agricultural land.
Secondly, the location and accessibility must also be discussed. This area is relatively ‘isolated’ in the sense that when compared to other parts of Malta, such as the central part of the island, this area tends to be less accessible. This, in turn, will lead to an improved infrastructure, in other words new road networks. Increasing traffic in an area which was originally relatively quiet is also not sustainable, given the corresponding increase in noise and air pollution.
Thirdly, we also have the residents. Before any development takes place residents should be included in the decision making process, just like NGOs, government and contractors alike. The residents of Marsaskala will likely be unhappy to have a massive new construction site at their doorstep.
Finally, we also have the ecological aspect. Due to different habitats, which include coastal, garrigue and agricultural areas, the site earmarked for the project has a very characteristic ecology. In fact it is home to several species of flora and fauna.
The area is also a good site for birds, especially in spring. Personal observations include many Swallows, House Martins, Swifts, Bee-eaters, Yellow Wagtails, Quails and Turtle Doves which feed on insects as well as various seeds. Several carob trees in the area are also used as perching sites by Golden Orioles and Woodchat Shrikes. The area is ideal for raptors including Honey Buzzards, Marsh Harriers and several falcon species. These birds hunt for small mammals and insects in the area, but they also roost in trees or in fields. In fact every spring the area is filled with Marsh Harriers searching for prey or seeking a roosting place. Hence developing this site will substantially impact birds, which in turn will also impact hunters in the area, who will eventually end up catching less birds.
Due to the above-mentioned factors, the development of the new university at Zonqor point cannot be sustainable. Preferably, an alternative site should be found, such as Fort Ricasoli or any other abandoned place, since we have already destroyed large tracts of our natural heritage and we cannot afford to lose more. This cost is much greater than any other economic cost, since once we lose our heritage, we cannot bring it back.
Pascal Aloisio (ADŻ Malta Green Youth Executive Member)