All eyes on Mgarr for new Gozo marina

With Hondoq ir-Rummien already excluded, only land reclamation at Mgarr can guarantee a 500-berth yacht marina as well as a new cruise liner terminal on Gozo.

The Mgarr marina, which is the terminal for the Gozo Channel.
The Mgarr marina, which is the terminal for the Gozo Channel.

Environmentalists beware: the most probable location on the Gozitan coastline for both the cruise terminal and the 500-berth yacht marina, envisioned in Labour's electoral programme, remains the already congested Mgarr harbour, which may have to be extended by means of land reclamation.

But the previous government's proposal for a cruise terminal on the same site has already been shot down by MEPA's Environmental Protection Department, as it would entail the destruction of the EU-protected poseidonia (seaweed) meadows in the area.

Labour's intentions on this front were made clear in the electoral campaign. In June 2012 during a visit to Fort Chambray, Muscat spoke about the need for a yacht marina, adding that Mgarr Harbour could be extended to take another 500 yacht berths.

The same idea was echoed in August 2012 by Chambray developer Michael Caruana in an article where he proposed a yacht marina based just outside Mġarr Harbour.

"Ideally the marina should have between 500 and 800 berths since there is a big market for it and it should also offer berthing for super yachts," he wrote in an article called "Transforming Gozo in to the Monte Carlo of the Mediterranean".

Muscat had also excluded a yacht marina at Hondoq ir-Rummien on the Qala coast even if Labour has not excluded any residential development in the former quarry site.

During a visit to Gozo during the electoral campaign Joseph Muscat declared that a new Labour government party stands opposed to the Hondoq ir-Rummien yacht marina and hotel project. 

The director of Gozo Prestige Holidays, Joe Cassar, who proposed a marina at Hondoq ir-Rummien, was guarded about the Prime Minister's announcement for a new marina.

"Whatever politicians say, if somebody does not take the burning decisions, people will not come to Gozo if there is something here that attracts them, and there won't be work for Gozitans eithers," Cassar said.

Cassar's proposal for a holiday village and accompanying marina were turned down by MEPA. A revised proposal, without the marina, is currently at the appeals stage.

"Hondoq is an ideal site for tourist development. But if there isn't somebody who decides where things happen, nothing gets done. Now MEPA wants us to file a new application," Cassar said, complaining that a considerable amount of money was spent in 16 copies of a six-volume study.

"We researched the feasibility of 12 sites for the marina, and it turned out that Hondoq was the ideal place. If the government wants to do the marina at Mgarr, then I welcome it. After all, my interest in the marina project is for Gozo to have a national project that provides it with income. My application has been unresolved for 11 years," Cassar said.

Plans to extend Gozo's Mġarr Harbour pontoons to accommodate more boats, presented by the previous government, are currently pending at the planning authority.

The proposal is to install additional pontoons and a floating breakwater to berth yachts at the marina, according to the project description statement. 

But this is a far cry from what was proposed by Muscat and Caruana, as the project will provide 45 new berthing spaces.

Space for such a marina in the Mgarr harbour is very limited and would probably require land reclamation and development on the rest of its pristine coastline.

During a meeting with Din l-Art Helwa before the election Muscat had also declared that a new Labour government will consider the construction of a yacht marina through land reclamation but failed to indicate a site for this development

It would also likely cause great damage to the marine ecosystems there.

The impact of a cruise terminal

MEPA's Environment Protection Department has already deemed the proposal for the development of a cruise liner berth at Mgarr Harbour to be 'objectionable in principle' because of the threat posed by dredging works to the protected Posidonia Meadows and other protected species like the lesser Neptune grass.

The project envisaged the construction of a new berthing facility within the port consisting of a platform 80 metres long and 15 metres wide positioned on concrete piles.  The platform was to be connected to the shore via a 100-meter long access bridge.

But studies carried out on site revealed that the project would have a negative impact on the poseidenia meadows, a priority natural habitat under the EU Habitat Directive.

A preliminary environment impact study indicated that almost half of the continuous posidonia beds in the area would be directly lost as a result of dredging.

The increased turbidity levels due to the manoeuvring of large vessels during the operations of the cruise terminal would also jeopardise any remaining posidonia beds.

MEPA can only approve a project which is clearly in breach of EU directives in the event that it must be carried out for reasons of overriding public interest. But if this is the case the EPD warns that Malta will have to inform the European Commission and to compensate for the loss of habitat. 

Following discussions with Transport Malta, an alternative consisting of a mooring buoy was being considered.

The appropriate assessment includes maps showing the distribution of posidonia meadows around the Maltese islands.  The area between Malta and Gozo, through which a tunnel linking Malta and Gozo was proposed, is also particularly rich in posidonia meadows.  The presence of posidonia meadows along most of Malta's eastern coast also limits any prospects of land reclamation.

The development of the Mgarr harbour was also an ongoing promise of different Nationalist administrations which failed to take ground.

The elusive yacht marina

A study by the Transport Malta published in 2009 concluded that Gozo lacks harbours and bays where at a reasonable cost a permanent yacht marina can be set up.  The study proposes "good temporary yacht marinas" aimed at short stays.

The only site identified for this purpose in Gozo was Mgarr, which could accommodate 148 berths.

The study also considered 3 other sites in Gozo; namely Marsalforn. Dwejra and Xlendi.

Marsalforn was excluded "as it is not adequately protected from the prevailing winds to provide the required shelter" for a marina.

Dwejra was excluded because of its ecological value while Xlendi was considered as being "too exposed" to weather conditions.

The Gozo and Comino local plan approved by a Nationalist government in 2006 identifies a number of places for destination ports in Gozo.

The candidate sites include Marsalforn and Hondoq ir-Rummien, together with San Niklaw and the Blue Lagoon area on Comino.  

But the term "destination port" does not necessarily mean a full-fledged marina. 

In fact the local plan refers to seasonal moorings, whose "infrastructure can be stored away in winter."

The aim of these facilities is to eliminate the need for individual anchoring by boats, thereby protecting the seabed.

But the local plan also refers to linking these "destination ports" to existing commercial establishments that would provide the necessary services such as onshore toilet facilities and garbage disposal.

Moreover, the local plan states that proposals for the extension of existing jetties in these sites shall only be considered by MEPA following submission of a detailed justification on the need for additional berthing space for essential operations and subject to the findings of a detailed technical report assessing the impacts of the proposed extensions on the wave dynamics and currents in the area.

A yachting development study by MEPA published in 1996 described a permanent yacht marina in Mgarr, as "a less viable location because, being on Gozo its demand will be seasonal in nature.

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Stiking the balance is never easy and which ever side any desicion is reached upon there will always be a negative side to it, however taking into consideration the pros and cons one must take into consideration the life of all those depending on work generated through such a project. PM go for it!
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As with everything in life one has to find a balance between protecting the environment and creating much needed jobs in Gozo. I hope that this article is not being written to scare investment from Gozo for some ulterior motive. The projects are feasible and any minimal damage to the environment is more than justly compensated by the revenue that it will create for a lot of people. out of this revenue a small percentage can go back into the environment to compensate for any damage caused.
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MEPA can only approve a project which is clearly in breach of EU directives in the event that it must be carried out for reasons of overriding public interest. But if this is the case the EPD warns that Malta will have to inform the European Commission and to compensate for the loss of habitat. All three conditions can be met, 1 there is an overriding public interest, employment 2 The EC will be informed and 3. the loss of habitate can be compensated for by building artificial reefs, within a few years recolonisation with marine life will occur but not with poseidonia.
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How pathetic. I am an environmentalist but will not go totally overboard like suggesting the protection of poseidonia (seaweed) meadows rather than create opportunities for job creation in Gozo to extend economic activity that is so much vital for one and all on the tiny island. I would expect input from environmentalist not to stop projects that are viable and sustainable but to propose ways how the damage could be limited to the least possible. Let us move forward.
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Allura dear James, the EU protects only the posedonia seaweed in Malta but not in Sicily, Italy, France, Greece, Cyprusm Spain where boat marinas are sprouting by the hundreds? U min huma dawn l-esperti tal-Mepa? Qatt hargu barra minn Malta, ghax ports u development qed isir kullumkien fil -Med : Tunisia Libya, Egypt Israel Turkey etc! New marinas are a must for Gozo unless you want the Gozitans to remain without employment and decent living standards!