Updated | BirdLife concerned about massive firework to be let off at sea near Filfla

The giant firework known as the ‘shell of shells’ will be let off from a distance of 3.5km from the small island and could impact up to three protected areas • An assessment of the project has however found that it would not leave any significant impact on the surrounding environment

The massive firework was originally intended to be set off during the Pageant of the Seas Festival back in June
The massive firework was originally intended to be set off during the Pageant of the Seas Festival back in June

BirdLife Malta has raised concerns about plans for a massive firework to be let off from a location in the sea between Filfla and iz-Zurrieq.

The firework, known as the ‘shell of shells’, was originally meant to be let off during the Valletta Pageant of the Seas festival in the Grand Harbour back in June, but was postponed due to unfavourable weather conditions.

It was manufactured by the Zurrieq St Catherine’s fireworks factory and has a diameter of 135cm. The previous national record for a firework sphere was 96.5cm. The Valletta 2018 Foundation announced yesterday that the firework would be let off tomorrow, during the feast of St Catherine in Zurrieq.

In a post on Facebook, BirdLife said that letting of the firework would result in “a considerable amount of petards within 3.3Km” of Filfla.

It said the “activity is being held within two protected areas at sea, and which will impact at least three different Natura 2000 sites”.

Natura 2000 sites are a network of protected areas giving a haven to Europe’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

“Seabirds inhabiting Filfla, which are currently during their nesting periods (namely Scopoli’s Shearwater and the Mediterranean Storm-petrel) are very sensitive to both light and noise pollution, to the point that even fireworks or light along the south-west coast of Malta already have an effect on this seabird haven,” read the NGO’s post.

The island of Filfla is home to a number of seabird species
The island of Filfla is home to a number of seabird species

Speaking to MaltaToday, BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana said that in addition to sound and light impacting birds breeding on Filfla, the fact that it was going to be let off from the sea also meant that a considerable amount of debris would fall into the sea, endangering sea life like fish and turtles. Moreover, he pointed out that the Mediterranean Storm-petrel population on Filfla is the biggest colony in the region.

Sultana said that in order for the firework to be let off, the applicants would have had to commission an Appropriate Assessment however this had only been made available to the NGO today, after BirdLife uploaded its post. An ERA spokeswoman confirmed to MaltaToday that the assessment report had been handed over the BirdLife today.

“Despite our repeated requests to the Environment & Resources Authority (ERA), to publicise the Appropriate Assessment (AA), which should conclude on the impacts this activity will have on the protected areas at sea and the seabird colonies of Filfla, to date ERA has not released this document, and appears to have permitted this activity which will impact these Natura 2000 sites,” read the NGO's original post.

After recieving a copy of the report, Sultana told MaltaToday that while the assessment had concluded that the fireworks could be let off, he could not understand why the V18 Foundation was insisting on letting the firework there, when there were other areas that it could be let off from that would leave less of an environmental impact. 

The NGO appealed to Environment minister Jose Herrera to intervene and to ensure that the AA is published as soon as possible.

MaltaToday has reached out to the Environment ministry for comment and is currently awaiting replies.

Firework’s impact similar to thunderstorm

According to the Appropriate Assessment the “one-time firework blast may alarm or frighten seabird species, but given its short duration, it will not disorient fledglings and feeding behaviour of adult seabirds”.

“The impact is similar to a thunderstorm or lightning strike. The proposed firework is expected to generate insignificant impacts on the seabird colonies through the dispersion of firework particulate debris, chemical dispersion into the air and sea, light and sound pollution.”

The assessment notes however that the event should not be allowed to take place if wind conditions exceed Force 4.

Moreover, it said that any debris floating on the sea will be “collected by the logistics team to reduce the possibility of ingestion by seabirds and other marine fauna.”

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