Save the Marsalforn road trees | Dawn Adrienne Saliba

‘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’

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

Despite assurances from Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri to preserve the road's character, Din l-Art Ħelwa Għawdex estimates this project will result in the uprooting of at least 200 trees, including two glorious 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 how it would not only destroy fertile agricultural lands, 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 Tarac, Ltd. and Prax Concrete, Ltd – entities linked to developer Joseph Portelli and his associates.

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

On 19 March, 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 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.

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.