The Comino Regeneration project works by the Environment Ministry resumed in the past months in preparation for the restoration of three abandoned agricultural fields and planting of an additional 3,000 plants, theJournal.mt is informed.
The works conducted included the upgrading of the irrigation system and the collection of seeds from local species for propagation in Ambjent Malta’s nursery.
This year, particular attention was also given to the Santa Marija Marshland. This site has been used as an unofficial campsite over the years however a stop and compliance notice was issued by ERA in 2018 to forbid incompatible activities within this area to avoid the damage that was being caused to the particular habitat.
Ambjent Malta commenced the rehabilitation of the site with the aim to re-create a marshland habitat and potentially attract migrating birds passing through the central Mediterranean migratory route between Africa and Europe.
Works included the removal of invasive and non-native plants such as the Tree of Heaven, Acacia and Prickly Pear; the restoration of dilapidated rubble walls, transplantation of olive trees away from the site as these do not form part of the marshland’s habitat composition; and the dredging of material for the re-creation of saline water ponds. Following the creation of the first pond, a monitoring strategy will be implemented to inform Ambjent Malta and ERA on future interventions in the site.
Other measures were also implemented on other parts of the island to improve its landscape value. Cordoning was installed in the Blue Lagoon area to limit trampling on garrigue. Numerous pathways around Comino were closed off to limit fragmentation of habitats and allow natural regeneration. A new wooden gate was installed at Tal-Ful campsite together with a CCTV camera to ensure better enforcement.
General clean-ups were also carried out where 20 tonnes of construction waste, 5 tonnes of scrap metal, 3 tonnes of mixed waste material including plastic, over 500 metres of unused metal water pipes and 5 dilapidated electricity poles were removed. Furthermore, a marine clean-up around Comino was organised with the eNGO #Zibel where approximately 100kg of waste was removed included plastic materials and fishing nets.
In fact, Ambjent Malta and the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) are implementing several actions to improve Comino’s environmental status and its habitats which are of national and international significance. Comino and the surrounding islets have been designated as Natura 2000 sites and hence, form part of a European network that benefit from protection at a European level due to their habitats and species.
In the past, Comino has been extensively used for agricultural purposes, as evidenced by the ubiquitous presence of rubble walls and abandoned fields.
Agricultural activity on the island has seen a gradual decline over the years, which led to abandoned fields with only a small section of the land being used for this purpose. Most of the previously used agricultural land has now flourished with native vegetation.
The island is also rich in biodiversity, supporting various rare and endangered species, such as the Maltese pyramid orchid, Maltese Toad Flax and the Maltese spider orchid, amongst others.
Comino is also protected because of the breeding of Yelkouan Shearwater and Scopoli’s Shearwater seabird populations located along the cliffs as well as other breeding species such as the Short-toed Lark which are ground nesting birds. The island is also popular with both tourists and locals, especially during the summer months where the Blue Lagoon and Santa Marija bay are the main attractions. A campsite, known as Tal-Ful, is also found in Comino, located in the vicinity of the Blue Lagoon area.
Since 2018, Ambjent Malta and the ERA planted 13,000 indigenous trees and shrubs. This ongoing project consists of landscape-level restoration, based on the notion of restoration ecology of abandoned and degraded sites to create potential stepping-stones for local flora and fauna. Over 14 different species of native vegetation were planted according to the site-specific characteristics of the area, including phytosociology i.e. the concept that ascertains certain groups of plant species are usually found together in a specific territory. Other interventions included the setting up of the Tal-Ful campsite to provide visitors with an alternative site for camping and the organisation of general clean-ups.