Research & Conservation

A call for Malta to up its game in the war against plastic

The summer months have brought with them their thousands of smiles, fun days, longer evenings and an endless amounts of events, parties, beach days, sailing trips and all the fun things we all love to do on our beautiful Maltese Islands.

No doubt, you’ve been to the beach many times already, but how many times have you actually stopped, bent over and picked up a piece of plastic to take to the bins? One may not be significant, but if we all do our little part, the beach and our seas will be a much cleaner place by the end of this summer.

Our challenge to you is to ensure that on each visit, pick up at least three pieces. A personal effort from me, your writer, is that I tend to carry around one plastic bag each time I go for a swim. When I get my things ready to leave i whip it out and fill it up as I walk to leave the beach.

One thing I have noticed is that by the end of the day the bins which the government have set out are often full, so I do take the bag with me, to throw away at home or in another bin. That way I have taken responsibility for the full cycle of my garbage. If I just leave it lying around in the bag, who knows where is might end up? Back to the sea would be my top guess.

As we do our part, the Times of Malta last month issued an article highlighting that “Malta is one of Europe’s worst offenders for plastic waste”. Reading that felt like an arrow to my heart and I am sure no one is proud of that fact and when journalist Ivan Martin highlighted the details, my heart sank further.

The European Environment Agency published a 10-year review of plastic waste management, from 2007-2017. Sadly for us, Malta placed fifth from bottom when it came to reducing the amount of plastic waste being generated. Slovakia, Estonia, Poland and Hungary fared worse, but that is an unacceptable ranking for the islands.

The economic growth on the islands during that spell did not help as our population has soared and tourism continues to do so well, which is all well and good, but we do need to make fundamental changes to plastic creation, reuse and recycling.

Pick me up please…

One healthy change is already in place as last May, the government announced plans to ban single-use plastic, a topic we often discuss in this blog. We will also see our shops ban plastic bags entirely and non-biodegradable products will be restricted. In the next few years a lot of change will be felt on the islands and we do look ahead to a greener future.

We also have to issue praise to various band-clubs around the islands, including the San Giljan band club who have banned balloons entirely. This is significant due to the high amount, an incalculable one, of balloons used during the yearly Festa. A band club typically uses 1000 balloons on their Sunday march during the week of the Festa, so kudos to those supporting the ban.

The Times of Malta article: Key figures

“In 2017, the demand for plastics in the 28 EU member states stood at almost 52 million tonnes, up from 46 million tonnes in 2010. Global production of plastics reached 348 million tonnes in 2017, an extra 13 million tonnes compared with the year before.

Figures released by the National Statistics Office show that in 2016, a total of 8,714 tonnes of plastic waste were generated, of which 7,915 tonnes were recovered and treated. However, rewind to just a few years earlier and the figure shrinks to just a fraction.”

The war on plastic starts with education

We believe that while we entrust the EU and our governing bodies and parties to do their part, the war starts with education amongst our little humans – the future of this wonderful world.

Your child can have fun learning at the Malta National Aquarium

Our efforts at the Malta National Aquarium have always been clear for all to see. We hold many workshops, clean up and educational lessons on the importance of our environment and this summer has been extra special so far.

This year we have seen over 6300 kids visit our centre to take part in our programs and we have partnered with summer schools all over the island to keep the kids engaged and open their eyes.

One of our own initiatives which invites people to drop off plastic bottle caps has now managed to collect over 60,000 caps and we are not even close to the end of summer! Well done to ALL involved, it truly is fantastic seeing you care so much for your environment, keep coming to swap your plastic caps for entrance tickets to see our amazing species!

New species alert!

One of our newest species in our tanks is the SIlver Cheeked Toad FIsh, Lagocephalus scleratus, a fish, a fish we are currently acclimatizing as it is now being listed as an invasive species to our shores. This fish is similar to the more commonly known Puffer Fish and they have swarmed our shores from the Suez Canal, and are thriving here due to our sheltered coves and underwater caves and nooks.

These fish have a remarkable ability to puff outward and expand their bodies outwards when they face danger. Some have sharp and pointy spines to warn off their predators and as they look bigger they often win their battle, scaring off their hungry seekers. These fish come with a warning: they can be poisonous to humans, so the good old “you can look but you can touch” rule applies to these guys. There is enough poison to kill 30 adult humans, so we can not be stricter in our warning.

Sharks are the only species immune to a puffer fish’s poison and they can eat them without any harm whatsoever. There are over 120 types of pufferfish, mostly found in the tropical and subtropical environments. They mainly feed on invertebrates and algae, and as they are now an invasive species, they are finding lots of prey and little predators here in the Mediterranean Sea – the perfect recipe for an invasion.

This little fella may look innocent and harmless, but when he bloats up you are better off swimming away!