Birzebbuga's Saint George's Bay next in line for ‘Balluta’ sand re-nourishment

Consultants warn against raising expectations that reclaimed beach can be permanent

Saint George's Bay in Triq iz-zejtun
Saint George's Bay in Triq iz-zejtun

The complete disappearance of the re-nourished Balluta beach in February is not discouraging the Malta Tourism Authority from repeating the same experience in other beaches. But environmental consultants are advising the authorities to carefully explain the project to the public and the media, and make it clear that the temporarily enlarged beach will disappear over time.

A project development statement submitted by the MTA’s consultants ADI said the overall experience and the knowledge gained from the Balluta experience was “useful” and that the MTA intends to put this new knowledge to good use at other locations like St George’s Bay in Birzebbuga.

Other locations where similar interventions are planned include il-Fajtata in St Thomas Bay, and Ghar Ahmar in Marsaxlokk, apart from “a repeat of the re-nourishment project at Balluta Bay”.

In fact, the Balluta beach extension, which cost taxpayers €110,000, was never intended to be a permanent feature but an experiment to understand whether dredging sand from the seabed could be a more feasible option than importing foreign sand to extend beaches.

It was also meant to assess the extent of stability exhibited by such a re-nourished beach without intervening on the coastal system “through hard defensive structures”.

Indeed studies published before the dredging works were undertaken had already indicated that the beach would only survive for one summer.

The beach proved to be very popular in a short span of time but heavy storms at the end of summer resulted in heavy run-off flowing into the beach from the existing rainwater pipes, which formed gullies in the re-nourished sand.

Despite this loss, the beach survived and the waves and currents soon levelled it out again.

But this experience underlined “the importance of intervening on the landside infrastructure to divert existing culverts and pipes away from the areas of re-nourishment.”

Monitoring of the beach after it was completed at the end of July showed that the beach remained relatively stable all the way to the end of February when the Maltese islands were battered “by gale force winds and huge storms, which wreaked havoc along most of the coastline.” This major storm eliminated the re-nourished sand, “returning the beach to the state it was before the start of re-nourishment.”

This was still considered a significant set-back by MTA after the beach had held well throughout winter. “The extent of the storm was unprecedented… and it is also not surprising that a re-nourished beach would not withstand the kind of onslaught experienced on 24 February 2019.”

The MTA is proposing to increase the width of the sandy beach at Birzebbugia by recovering sand from the seabed inside the bay itself. “Such a beach, if created, would not be a permanent feature, and it is likely that it would slowly be eroded over a number of months under the action of waves and currents and rainwater run-off from land,” the PDS stated.

The MTA consultants insist that to avoid high expectations, the project should be “carefully explained to the public and the media” to make it clear that it is aimed at providing a temporarily enlarged beach for the summer months, and that the beach is expected to disappear over a period of time unless the re-nourishment exercise is repeated in subsequent years, depending on the extent of sand loss.

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