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Underwater caves pose threat to planned wind farm

The discovery of two large underwater ‘caves' on the reef where the government plans to build an offshore wind farm, could pose a threat to the project.

The reef off Mellieħa was chosen as the site of Malta's first offshore wind farm because it is the only area of the seabed around the islands that is shallow enough to cater for today's technology. But if the reef turns out to be unstable or hollow in some areas, it would be extremely difficult, expensive or even dangerous to drill into the seabed to install the wind turbines.

Oxford graduate and marine geologist from the University of Malta, Aaron Micallef, 29, conducted a study of the Mellieħa reef known as Sikka l-Bajda, as part of a research project. What they found was surprising: two large perfectly circular sinkholes (or dolines). These were probably formed during an ice age, when the reef was above the sea level.

"The problem is that there may be more where these came from. It is likely that along the reef there are other caves that have not yet collapsed. And this may create problems for the wind farm project.

"The reef is full of fractures, probably because it is made of upper coralline limestone overlying a layer of blue clay, causing the limestone to slip along the softer clay, as happens in various parts of Malta's cliffy coast. Dr Micallef said:

"I don't want to be alarmist. For all I know these could be the only caves and we would be able to work around them. Further studies would obviously have to be carried out. But at least we know beforehand that we could encounter difficulties."

Full story in The Sunday Times.

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