Bathers decry fish farms in vicinity of popular beaches

Fish farm slime is no new occurrence, but bathers all over the island have reported increased incidences of the goo ruining a perfect day at the beach

Fish farm sludge in St. Paul's Bay
Fish farm sludge in St. Paul's Bay

Perhaps it was the period of rest typical of this period of summer, but bathers have recently launched something of an attack against fish farms which have bloomed off the Maltese coasts in recent years. Indeed the proximity of these installations becoming something of an eyesore is no news, but this year, their effects seem to be more pronounced.

Indeed bathers reported on various occasions a strange oily substance being swept into popular beaches bringing with them both an unpleasant sensation for anyone who inadvertently drifts into one such patch, as well as a pungent smell that would deter even the most eager visitors.

Although uncomfortable and particularly obstinate to scrub off the skin, reports so far had suggested that the substance is mostly innocuous. However some readers have suggested that the slime, believed to be caused by the bait and feed used in fish farms, might also end up being the perfect breeding ground for skin, ear and eye infections.

Kevin Cassar, a technician from Tarxien got in touch with the newsroom about his concerns following a day at Kalanka beach in Dellimara on Sunday 21st August.

“I haven’t been to the beach in 17 years, but little seems to have changed as the bay has remained as popular as ever,” he said, adding however that the family’s fun day in the sun was cut short due to the unsightly and unpleasant oily patches drifting close to the shore around the evening.

Cassar added that although he was out of the water when these substances made their way closer to the shore, their nine-year-old daughter had been in the water a while before they noticed it.

“On Monday evening her eyes were very swollen and red, and she was in quite a bit of pain,” Cassar said, adding that a visit to the Clinic had confirmed that her eyes had become infected. The following day, Cassar’s daughter developed an even more painful infection in her ears, one which kept her up and crying all night. Cassar explained that doctors at the clinic had told him that the infection was probably a result of contact with pool or sea-water, and that the slime could indeed have aggravated the condition.

Contacted for comment the health ministry explained that although they weren’t in a position to have any data about the incidence of such infections in recent months, infections were a common occurrence during the summer months regardless of the presence of the gunge.

"The Environmental Health Department did recieve complaints from the general public about the presence of slime in certain bathing areas,  and all the complaints were investigated and the competent authority was informed accordingly," the ministry said. It added that the Environmental Health Department as well as the Infectious Diseases Control Unit had not however, recieved any reports of skin, ear or eye infections directly related to this.

Cassar added that whatever the explanation, he was adamant that such installations should be placed further away from the shore, if nothing else, because the unpleasant wafts were sure to deter visitors and tourists alike.

“I was further incensed after I contacted the Environmental Health Directorate, where I was informed that the beach was not listed a recommended one for swimming,” he said.

He pointed out that if this were indeed the case then there ought to be fewer ladders and more signs erected to warn of these possible dangers.

“My main point however is that these beautiful beaches ought not be compromised due to the vicinity of fish farms,” he said, stressing that the fish farms in question also had an impact on another popular beach; St. Peter’s Pool.