Monday, August 2, 2010

It has to be wrecks

It has been announced that the government and the Malta Planning Authority are in discussions over the scuttling of a new wreck which is set to become a diving attraction.
No details have been given of where the planned site is to be, or which wreck is to be scuttled – but so far, so good. An Environmental Impact Assessment is due to be carried out and this is imperative.
While the authorities need to look at diversification in the scuttling of wrecks, so as to maximize Malta’s diving portfolio, this can never be done without conducting a serious study of the underwater environment. 
Many people think that underwater simply means green slime, sea grass and rocks. While this is part of the description, there is so much more and it is all intertwined into complex bio-systems. The decision was announced along with a measure to protect four sub-marine environments, with particular attention to be paid to the seabed posedonia fields. Again, many look at the plant with disgust – the alka that Maltese people love to hate, whether it is in the water or whether it is preventing beach erosion, lack of understanding makes people look at the plant as a pest of some sort.
Not only does posedonia encourage fish and other sea life to feed and breed around Malta, but as mentioned, it is essential in preventing sandy beach erosion and sustaining life. Ignorance is a dangerous thing.
In scuttling a new wreck, the authorities will be giving the diving industry another boost. We have one of the best diving products around – probably the best in Europe. The season can go on for almost 12 months of the year, given our mild climate and we do have a diverse marine environment – a far cry from the ‘dead Med’ which is a saying amongst the international diving community.
Malta is blessed with ‘natural’ wrecks such as the Blenheim bomber, the Beaufighter, the HMS Stubborn submarine and the Polynesian. But these wrecks (among many others) are located in very deep water which requires specialist training and equipment. To complement them, there are other natural wrecks in shallow water such as the HMS Maori and the Carolita, but by far, the mainstream of tourists head to the artificial wrecks which were scuttled specifically to become underwater attractions. These, apart from the botched MV Xlendi, are all brilliant sites in 30-40 metres of water and are accessible to most diving tourists.
The bulk of them are situated in the North – the P29, the P-31, the Rozie. All are shore dives and all are very popular. But the authorities do run the risk of congestion. There might be two schools of thought, but most divers agree that if the dive site is overcrowded, it does take something away from the enjoyment of the kitting up process and the dive itself. Perhaps a good site would be Zurrieq, to complement the gem of a diving site which is the Um el Faroud. The authorities should steer away from scuttling the new wreck in harbor waters. 
Visibility is not good and overhead traffic always poses a danger to scuba divers. A dive entry point need not be a beach. All that is required is a good solid handrail (or a platform to jump off) and a good ladder to get back up. The site which is chosen could be anywhere at all – as long as it is safe, accessible and does not cause harm to the underwater environment. There are also a couple more pointers which the authorities should consider – a shaded area and the provision of fresh water to wash kit on the spot.
 One can guarantee that divers would pay to use the water service – salt wreaks havoc on kit – the quicker it is cleaned the better.

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