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Dwejra rock surface damaged but biodiversity not impacted

Extensive damage was recorded on the fossils in Dwejra, however, the bulk of it could not be “definitely linked” to filming last summer. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Extensive damage was recorded on the fossils in Dwejra, however, the bulk of it could not be “definitely linked” to filming last summer. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The rock surface at Dwejra has been permanently damaged during filming last summer, a report commissioned by the planning authority concluded.

The producers laid sand over the rocky surface of the Gozitan Natura 2000 site without using an impermeable layer. Matters were exacerbated when heavy machinery was used to clean up the layer, damaging the rocky surface.

When it rained in November, the layer of construction material solidified, turning into a second hard surface, over the one already there.

The report, written by a team headed by Louis Cassar, says pinnacles on the rock surface were broken off recently, which damage was “likely to have been caused by the use of heavy mechanical machinery”, probably the one used initially during the clean up before being stopped by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

The aggregate material used, which was not removed during the clean-up operation, seeped into the pits of the rock, which, the report notes, will take time to be washed away. The report also speaks of permanent, heavy damage to the fossils in the site, some of which appeared to be highly fragmented.

However, the assessment “cannot definitively link any observed damage to the specific activities carried out in connection with the filming of Game of Thrones” because the presence of many visitors, fossil theft and the passage of vehicles over such fossils could have played a part.

That said, “the assessment does confirm that some of the damage observed is of recent origin, as evidenced from freshly fractured fossils and damaged (fossils)... beneath seemingly fresh heavy vehicle tyre tracks.”

It was also concluded that the lasting impact on the landscape would be minimal.

The report, in some ways, vindicates Mepa’s claims that the site’s biodiversity was not compromised because the area was, as the planning authority’s environment director, Martin Seychell, infamously put it, is “just bare rock”.

However, they noted: “The damage to irreplaceable fossil and ichnofossil features (whether such damage was caused by filming and ancillary activities or by unrelated visitor pressures or by both) constitutes a clear threat to the integrity of the site’s geological, geomorphological and palaeontological heritage; similarly, the observed damage to karstic features also works against the overall integrity of the protected area”.

Salt production, which is carried out in a rock pool in the south-western reaches of the area, is likely to be affected by sediment which gathered therein and would be affected further if it rains between March and the late summer salt harvests.

The report recommends there be no further cleaning of the rocky surface, which, however, still has a red sheen thanks to the aggregate.

The Mepa board, after being presented with the report earlier yesterday by Dr Cassar, directed the environment and planning directorates and the legal counsel to draw up its recommendation on what action, if any, should be taken against the film producer for not adhering to the permit conditions and the damage caused at Dwejra.

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