[WATCH] Politicians stick to the ‘comfort zone’ on environmental issues

Politicians are put on the spot by three veteran environmentalists in a frank discussion on TVM’s Xtra Sajf

(From left) Xtra Sajf host Saviour Balzan with Alan Deidun, Mark Sultana and Vince Attard
(From left) Xtra Sajf host Saviour Balzan with Alan Deidun, Mark Sultana and Vince Attard

Politicians and the environment only go hand in hand as long as the issue at stake does not threaten votes, according to a leading environmentalist.

Marine biologist Alan Deidun accused politicians of sticking to the “comfort zone” by mentioning fashionable issues like climate change and electric cars but ignoring the stickier subjects.

“I have never heard a politician say he does not agree with more development in ODZ areas whatever the case… they do not venture outside the comfort zone out of fear they will lose votes,” Deidun said in a frank discussion with two fellow veteran environmentalists on TVM’s Xtra Sajf hosted by Saviour Balzan.

The other guests were Nature Trust President Vince Attard and BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana.

Politicians were also put on the spot for failing to ensure proper enforcement of environment legislation.

Attard said enforcement has always been weak but feels it is getting worse.

“Malta has enough good laws to serve as a case study for Europe but laws are on paper and not enforced. Police take a long time to come when reports are lodged and the Environment and Resources Authority takes even longer,” Attard said. “This creates frustration among people who report illegal things but see no action being taken.”

All three called for greater awareness on the impact of human activity on nature and the need to respect the natural environment.

Sultana insisted that economic gain was much more than monetary gain and required authorities to make decisions that benefitted the wellbeing of the environment, human health, jobs as well as financial gain.

“Governments have a social responsibility to take care of the environment which is a form of social leisure,” Sultana said.

Attard raised the issue of biodiversity and how it was missing from the language of Maltese politicians.

He mentioned the importance of protecting bees and sharks both of which played an integral part in the cycle of life. “Bees are pollinators needed to produce our food and help plants regenerate, while sharks are important predators in the ocean’s food chain. But they almost laugh at you when you speak about bees and sharks,” Attard said.

He called for greater awareness and education on biodiversity and the need to protect natural areas.

All three agreed that as life slowed down over the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, nature found its reprieve.

Attard noted that less sound and light pollution on beaches, and reduced human activity in the sea contributed to the seven turtle nesting events last year.

This year no turtles have yet ventured ashore on Maltese beaches to lay their eggs and one incident of a turtle reported at Ħondoq ir-Rummien is still being ascertained.

“While last year was a record, this summer we are witnessing the flipside since beaches are full of people, swimming and partying with fireworks and all. Sicily’s southern shores this year have witnessed 10 turtle nesting events against the two of last year,” Attard said.

Nature Trust cares for turtle nesting sites and amasses an army of volunteers to watch over them. Each nesting site requires some 130 volunteers to keep watch day and night.

Attard said that population density is a problem but education and proper controls could mitigate the impact on natural environments.

“Whenever we had a turtle nesting site we never closed a beach completely. We allowed swimmers to continue enjoying the sea but with controls on noise and light pollution,” he added.

According to Deidun, the pandemic helped raise environmental consciousness as people ventured out more into the countryside and appreciate open spaces. But he fears this could be short-lived.

“I fear the renaissance in environmental consciousness will disappear when we get back to normal… the renaissance happened because COVID gave us the opportunity to slow down and reflect,” Deidun said.

As for his advice to boaters enjoying the summer months on their sea craft, Deidun urged them to have fun but respect nature. “Wherever possible throw your anchor on sandy bottoms not in areas inhabited by seagrass, which serve as important feeding and breeding grounds for marine animals. Another word of advice is not to take anything from the sea and not to throw anything into the sea,” he said.