‘We’ll end up eating plastic’: diver Raniero Borg longs to restore Maltese waters to their former glory

At 62, clean-up activist Raniero Borg hopes to restore Maltese waters to their former glory with his regular underwater clean-ups

Clean-up hero: Raniero Borg and his haul of debris from the sea in one of his diving expeditions
Clean-up hero: Raniero Borg and his haul of debris from the sea in one of his diving expeditions

Since the age of 20, avid diver Raniero Borg started clocking the fast rise of plastic waste in Maltese waters. Today at 62, the businessman with a passion for the environment rues the deterioration of the once-clear Maltese sea teeming with fauna. “In the last ten years I have noticed a drastic decrease in marine life,” he says, complaining about how plastic waste affects the diffusion of sunlight that is necessary to sustain the flora and fauna of the marine world.

In the past weeks, his Facebook page – aptly named Raniero’s Adventures – took a break from his usual scuba-diving clean-ups, to discover a metal gate barring access to Fomm ir-Riħ, the secluded Bahrija beach where Borg was planning to clean up debris washed in from the sea. The estate, recently acquired by construction lobby boss Sandro Chetcuti, had locked access to the public despite a government deed guaranteeing perpetual passage to the foreshore and the sea.

Like this unfortunate discovery, Borg’s underwater clean-ups, which he films together with his diving mates, reveals a host of offensive materials. “We have removed cars, tyres, plastic bottles and metal parts from machines out of the sea,” Borg says of the egregious discoveries that never cease to amaze him.

Clearly, for Borg this underwater experience has a personal and sentimental bond. “I would want to leave the sea as I found it when I started diving some 40 years ago. It was full of life, with large schools of fish and volumes of marine animals, which have now decreased due to the destruction we have caused.”

His Facebook page has amassed a considerable following from those interested in helping out. “I want everyone to be encouraged to pick up waste on the side of the road because everyone can help out,” he says.

“Many of my followers are not divers, and so I give them a clear picture of what is in our Maltese seas. Ever since we changed from glass to plastic, it seems that the plastic always made its way to the sea,” Borg says of Malta’s pre-EU switch from reusable glass bottle containers to plastic bottles.

Indeed last week Nature Trust made yet another appeal to the public to dispose of plastic waste appropriately after discovering a dead juvenile loggerhead turtle, found entangled in marine debris from head to back. The NGO said the public should be urged to reduce single-use plastic, even that which is still in the market, since dumping it usually sees it making its way down to the sea.

Borg says he targets many areas which he says are in need of attention. “I then take videos showing the disaster and post them to social media, followed by the media and local councils. Some of my videos have even reached international media. After all, this is what it’s all about – raising awareness.”

The 62-year-old brought to public attention the recent barring of access to the Fomm ir-Rih bay in Bahrija
The 62-year-old brought to public attention the recent barring of access to the Fomm ir-Rih bay in Bahrija

Borg says he wants the public to understand that if nothing is done about the increased waste in locations such as Paradise Bay, Fomm in-Riħ, Sirens Bay, Xemxija, St George’s Bay, Marsaxlokk and Marsaskala, it can only continue to pile up to the detriment of the natural surroundings.

“The waste would find its way out of the ocean, and become part of the coastal areas. If we do not organise clean-ups, especially in these areas mentioned, it will only continue to gather and gather. Ultimately, everyone needs to notice that all the waste materials will somehow still end up in our food chain... we could, down the line, end up eating plastic. Do not forget the harm caused to the marine environment – and then climate change is another important story,” Borg says of the imminent challenges facing the earth.

Borg believes the majority of people on the island love the environment just like him, but he complains that some simply cannot be bothered about the smallest of efforts to prevent waste from being disposed of in nature.

“It could be a simple cigarette butt, and there would be one today and thousands at the end of life – waste just piling up.

“The horrible thing is that we actually have great services in Malta with regards to waste management and collection, but others simply do not care and discard of it illegally,” Borg says.

Ultimately, Borg thinks he could only prescribe a hefty penalty for those who keep disposing of large bulky waste illegally. “They should be fined appropriately,” he says, suggesting a minimum €5,000 on abusive dumpers who take bulky waste out to the sea or the countryside.

“And should they be caught in action by a bystander, then that bystander should receive a reward – I’d say 20% of the fine – for reporting and showing evidence: that cycle could go on until eventually we have cleaner and safe outdoors. And I think even the motor vehicle of those found guilty should be confiscated!” Borg says.

All those who want to support Borg in his clean-up journey are invited to check out his Go Fund Me page