Coasts, conflicts and intangible heritage
The coastal areas likely to be hardest hit by climate change are the ones where people have the least choice of livelihood. Yet, the strong ties of Mediterranean society with its natural setting may yet prove valuable in combating environmental degradation.
An initiative between Malta, Greece, Cyprus and Italy has produced a book entitled Coasts and Conflicts, which aims to harmonise integration in the Mediterranean region.
A response to a call issued by the EU inter-regional funding mechanism saw the birth of ECONET-COHAST, an ecological network to bring conservation strategies in line to save coastal habitats, which are recognised as valuable on a European scale.
Coastal habitats of high ecological value bordering the Mediterranean Sea are under great strain, as much from tourism development as from lack of political commitment. Poor co-operation between different sectors governing the coasts takes a portion of the blame. In this new management guide some blockages are pinpointed where existing regulations are not being applied to the full.
Only a holistic approach, which combines environmental, economic, social and governance sectors, can tackle problems on coasts since the trouble may be traceable to insensitive inland practices. The search for common tools and methods for long-term conservation management includes awareness where existing management tactics have failed because they were not applied across the board. Decision-making aids, provided in the book as part of a toolkit for managers of coasts, are designed to reverse the declining health of coastal systems. The outlook need not be bleak once due attention is paid to the importance of integrated management with collaborative approaches involving all who affect, or are affected by, the future of coastal zones.
Coasts and Conflicts cites the economically and politically-motivated flow of people from North Africa to Europe. Authors Elisabeth Conrad and Louis Cassar say: "It is hard to argue the case for conservation funding in a context where people lack basic amenities and live in fear of their lives." Rather than dividing nations, the Mediterranean links cultures in other geographic regions sharing a similar mindset. Countries are both formed and united by their relationship to the sea.
In a separate project supporting culture as an environment for peace, a model for identity was set by six Mediterranean islands. Corsica, Cyprus, Naxos, Sicily, Majorca and Malta have been sharing the discovery of similarities while celebrating the differences.
In an age when old skills and crafts are swept away by modern technology the islands have been collaborating to look for inter-linking features, a process aimed at encouraging dialogue which brings social stability.
Cultural heritage is identified as "intangible space" worthy of protection. The Local Councils Association has been very active organising events surrounding this concept. At a seminar held last month, exchanges of experience between researchers from the islands took place as part of a MEDINS project through Mediterranean universities.
A whiff of the complex uses of plants for dyes, seasoning or medicines which criss-crossed the enclosed sea can still be sensed in the bazaars of Istanbul and the souks of Marrakech. Spanish trading archives in Valencia tell us something about the cargos of medieval traders.
An olive press under excavation, on a site now occupied by the Żejtun Junior Lyceum, dates to Roman times, showing the importance of the industry in the island's history. Maltese olive groves were later cut down to make way for cotton trees which were planted to supply sail-makers under the Order of the Knights of St John.
Wild olives have been collected since Neolithic times in the Mediterranean. Crete is widely believed to be the starting point for the first cultivated olives around 4000 BC.
Once a supplier of wheat to the Maltese islands, Sicily exported fine grain preferred by the upper classes while common folk made use of a mixture of grains known as Tal-Maħlul for their daily bread.
The cycle of the grain harvest has long been linked to religious feasts such as Santa Maria in August. The threshing was accompanied by much song and socialising. Grinding of the grain took place in the 25 windmills around Malta. Across the Gozo channel, another five mills provided flour for Gozitans.
The technology of windmills was introduced under Grandmaster Cottoner, who originated from Mallorca where mills driven by sails have been in use since the 14th century. Recent research has uncovered a link between some Maltese and Mallorcan terms for technical words related to milling and grinding.
Restoration of buildings and promotion of skills and tools related to the traditional making of bread, oil and wine help to build up a heritage which is intangible but no less alive. Several local councils, including Burmarrad, Żejtun, Qormi and Nadur, have held events encouraging consumption of these products.
Intangible heritage can be a colour, taste, smell, or sound. Rather than buildings, which can be found on the protected list, it is what takes place in the space within and around these structures. One example is the design, sewing and painting of Carnival costumes, floats and masks.
Compared with other regions, our costumes, which combine human and animal, are uniquely characteristic of the Maltese Carnival to the point that tails often get in the way of the dance.
One recommended change which might refine the quality of the Carnival is a toning down of the fluorescent colours introduced in the 1980s. Dedicated researchers of the local Carnival hope that the future will see a return of trained artisans in a more adequate Carnival workshop facility which could offer courses to the public.