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Gaia Foundation and Ramla l-Ħamra

The Gaia Foundation has been managing Ramla, Gozo, under contract with the various ministries responsible for the environment and with Mepa since 2000. Over the years it has observed that sand is blown away from the area beneath the Belancourt Battery to the other side of the beach in a South Westerly direction by the prevailing North Westerlies.

This sand is usually replaced by sand washed ashore with the current with the North Easterly winds. When these North Easterlies do not blow often, this part of the beach remains denuded of sand. Owing to the collapse of the sea wall constructed by the Knights that ran across the bay for defensive purposes, many of these stones are washed ashore to create a layer of stones following the movement of sand in the said South Easterly direction.

Over the 2012/2013 winter, with frequent and strong North Westerlies and very few North Easterlies, the sand beneath the Belancourt Battery was totally blown across the beach, to the point where some remains of antiquity that were not even recorded became exposed. Further away a large amount of stones from the said sea wall that degraded over 2011/12 were washed ashore forming a layer of stones over one metre high in an area previously covered by sand and pebbles.

Furthermore a large number of limestone blocks that had been used over the years to lay various sinkers for swimmers zone lines and boat lanes were also washed ashore. Any works carried out to cover up the antiquities and to remove the said limestone blocks and stones that had replaced the sand beneath the Belancourt Battery with a layer of sand, requires the approval of Mepa and the consent of the Superintendance of Cultural Heritage as the competent authorities. The position taken by The Gaia Foundation, as an Integrated Coastal Zone Manager, over the past years has been the following:

1. It is paramount that the sand dunes are not touched in any way by mechanical means, or trampled on, since these constitute the most ecologically sensitive part of the site, with a number of rare species endemic to the dunes, and with the formation and development of the dune system through increased growth of said species.

2. It is also paramount that any antiquities are protected either through specific intervention by the competent authorities or by ensuring that they remain covered up in order to afford them protection.

3. Material forming part of the nature of the site, like sand, pebbles etc should remain in situ, that is, on site, so as not to interference with Nature’s cycles.

4. If any such material is moved it should be moved to an area on the beach which respects as much as possible the beach’s natural cycles.

5. In the case of any excess stones being washed ashore as a result of the collapsed sea wall and the prevailing winds, as long as these priorities are met, the Foundation does not see a problem in principle in moving these stones to to another part of the beach. It did suggest that if such works were carried out, the best place located for such stones would be in the area where the water course runs.

This is because such an area is in a constant state of seasonal change, with sand and stones being washed down to the sea with the rush of water, and then filled in again with sand and stones that are either washed ashore or blown from under the Belancourt Battery. Another reason for choosing this location is that the said stones could easily find their way back into the eco system.

6. Any long term solutions for work carried out in the coming years would require a more detailed impact assessment. However one should be mindful that solutions that are most compatible with nature may be ones that would require regular intervention, as the one that took place last week, rather than one drastic intervention that may seek to prevent the need for more regular interventions.

7. Any stones that do not naturally form part of the site, like limestone blocks used for sinkers, should be removed permanently from the site.

8. While in some years the pebbles washed ashore were minimal and may have been left where they were or moved by hand, the large amount of stones that washed ashore this last winter, with the record North Westerlies over the winter and spring, from the collapsed sea wall constructed by the Knights, bringing foreign material onto the beach, could only be removed by mechanical means.

9. If such stones were not moved and/or removed, the integrity of the site may have been compromised, and the services offered to the public would have suffered, with the large number of foreign stones along this part of the shore that would have made it next to impossible for bathers.

With regard to the works carried out on June 7, The Gaia Foundation, which oversaw the works, confirmed that absolutely no intervention took place on the sand dunes. Stones extraneous to the site were removed while excess amount of pebbles were placed along the water course, to remain within the natural eco system.

It is of the opinion that the works carried out did not affect the ecological integrity of the site, but restored the normal state of the beach that was disturbed by the denuding of sand beneath the Belancourt battery and the presence of the said stones extraneous to the natural elements of the beach.

Rudolf Ragonesi is the chief executive officer of The Gaia Foundation.

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