Mepa director Martin Seychell changes ‘ecosystem’ comment

Mepa director Martin Seychell changes ‘ecosystem’ comment

Cleaning should be complete by Monday

The planning authority’s environment director, Martin Seychell has taken back his claim that there is no ecosystem on the area in Dwejra, which was covered with sand-like construction material for on location filming.

Questioned during an onsite press conference yesterday about the fact that there were plants and insects being unearthed by the cleanup operation, Mr Seychell said: “First of all, no one ever said there were no plants. Natura 2000 sites are protected because of certain species and plants, which have communitarian importance. If you keep stretching this argument, you’re going to find plants everywhere.” He insisted later: “I’m not saying this area we’re in is not of a certain significance but it does not have any species or plants, which earned the site Natura 2000 status”.

In an interview with The Times on Thursday, Mr Seychell had described the area as bare rock, adding “there is no ecosystem on bare rock”. In that interview, he was replying to charges by the former assistant environmental director at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, Alfred Baldacchino that a whole ecosystem of the area had been destroyed.

Following a visit to the site yesterday morning, before the press conference by Mepa, Mr Baldacchino said he was even more convinced of that statement. But Mr Seychell insisted Mr Baldachino’s comments were exaggerated, pointing out the affected area was not one of the zones indicated as valuable according to the habitat maps submitted to the EU in 2003, when Malta was applying for the site to be given Natura 2000 status.

“If you look around, you will find that the important habitats are intact,” he insisted.

“The area we are talking about is rock. I’m not saying the site is not of a certain importance but it’s more important from a geological than an ecological perspective.”

This last point was shored up by Mepa scientist Darrin Stevens, who said that even though the environs were home to the Gozo sempreviva plant, which is unique to the world, this area in particular was not biologically significant, and the “integrity of the (whole Dwejra) site has not been compromised”.

The press conference, which was open to environmental organisations, was the latest move by the environment and planning watchdog to address a public outcry that erupted after the first images were published of sand strewn on the fossil-rich rocky area in Dwejra by the producers of a US film series who shot on location around the island over the past weeks.

Since the story broke, an investigation was initiated by Mepa’s audit office and Mario de Marco, the parliamentary secretary responsible for Mepa, asked for an independent review into how permits are issued for filming in sensitive areas.

Mr Seychell said the cleaning of the site should be finished by Monday.

He defended himself from charges by Giovanni Zammit, from Wirt Għawdex, that there was no monitoring by Mepa, insisting the producers were bound but failed to inform the regulator when the work started at the site. “It’s not realistic to be monitoring the site day and night,” he insisted. When it was put to him that this was not any site, he retorted that responsibility always lay with the permit holder.

“If the conditions had been observed, no one would have known that there had been a film set by this time.”

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