Responsible divers in Malta have long pressed for Cirkewwa to be declared, with legislative backing, a marine sanctuary. Antonio Anastasi, one of Malta’s foremost divers and an ardent campaigner for the sanctuary, explains here why we can’t wait for two years of red tape before the legal process kicks in if we want to preserve the area’s unique marine life. If you’re a user of Malta’s seas, do read this. If you care for Malta’s marine life, please support the Cirkewwa Voluntary Marine Sanctuary and join the action group on Facebook.
Going through MEPA (Malta Environment & Planning Authority) means that at least two years will pass before Cirkewwa is protected. By launching a Voluntary Marine Sanctuary we hope to start a grassroot movement, getting everybody to do their bit to protect the area. If this works then we may not need statutory legislation. After trying to have Cirkewwa declared a marine sanctuary, and following a meeting with various representatives from MEPA, MTA (Malta Tourism Authority), Fisheries Department, and the PDSA (Professional Dive Schools Association), we decided that while there was a consensus of protecting Cirkewwa, we’d be facing anything up to two years of EU red tape before we could get legislative backing.
That is far too long for a dive site that is constantly under threat from illegal fishing. We felt that action had to be taken and taken as soon as possible.
At the Federation Of Underwater Activities annual general meeting in mid December 2010, the DECLARE CIRKEWWA A VOLUNTARY MARINE SANCTUARY NOW!, group, together with the local diving community, took the first steps to declare Cirkewwa a Voluntary Marine reserve.
A Voluntary Marine Reserve (VMR) would require users, in this case divers, fishermen, anglers and boat users, to agree to tailored Code of Conducts with the intention of preserving and protecting the marine environment while allowing each user group to use the area in a sustainable manner.
We have already put forward the divers’ code of conduct and over the year will be meeting with other users to consolidate similar guidelines.
To divers, as of the 14th December, 2010, Cirkewwa is considered a VMR, with the Code of Conduct being distributed through Facebook and the Malta Sub Aqua Club online newsletter.
Divers’ Code of Practice:
Cirkewwa offers a rich and diverse range of marine life; your cooperation in protecting this area for future enjoyment would be extremely valuable.
Please adopt responsible dive practices to avoid damaging marine life by:
- Ensuring that you are in good control of your buoyancy at all times, and avoid using rocks as ballast as they are living reefs
- Avoiding excessive finning in close proximity to the reef as it can dislodge and damage life.
- Keeping your equipment secured and streamlined
Please adopt a respectful and passive approach to marine life:
- Do not harass flora or fauna
- Do not collect souvenirs (dead or alive)
- Whenever possible avoid swimming under overhangs as bubbles can damage delicate coral growth, including star corals (Astroides calycularis) which are a protected species.
- Avoid entering areas of wrecks where squid eggs hang as bad buoyancy or bubbles can dislodge these
Do not remove octopus from their dens as they may be protecting eggs
- When swimming over sand take care to not stir up the environment as sand are living habitats
- Dive boats should try to not anchor too close to wrecks as they may damage unique sea grass beds, or on Posidonia Meadows as they are akeystone species in housing ecosystems and are also a protected species.
- Do not damage urchins, as the rock sea urchin and the Needle-Spined Urchin (Cetrostephanus longispinus) are protected species
- Do not spearfish, especially with aqua lung as it is illegal
- Do not leave any litter in the sea or surrounding area, please use bins provided
In order to promote farther the VMR, we will be placing placards adjacent to the area with the aim of educating divers not only about the Code of Conduct, but also on the many protected species that can be found at Cirkewwa.
Supporting this effort are ATLAM, The Federation Of Underwater Activities (MALTA), the Calypso British Subaqua Club, Amphibians, these together with the Facebook group DECLARE CIRKEWWA A MARINE SANCTUARY NOW are the founder members of the VMR. Also supporting us are the Professional Diving Schools Association (PDSA), Nature Trust (Malta).
Further details on the Group’s Facebook page.
Photo: Courtesy, Mike Barrett