The Malta Gozo tunnel is a planned development between the islands of Malta and Gozo, which are currently linked by the trans-European transport network run by the Gozo Channel Company, which links Cirkewwa in Malta to Mgarr in Gozo.
The public in general is split about the decision to dig an underwater tunnel. The people of the island of Gozo who will be mostly affected by the decision to go ahead with the tunnel, have mixed feelings about this project. While an easier quicker access to the mainland of Malta makes this project look more inviting, the short and long term of the environmental impact on the island is causing concern for the inhabitants of this charming island of Gozo. Are many of the problems that this tunnel will cause, being overshadowed by the sole fact that it will become an easier way for people to travel from one island to the other? And here are some of the questions we need to voice?
Fig.1. Ref. timesofmalta.com/articles/view/malta_g
What if an accident takes place? This is a major concern as it is proposed that the tunnel will be a two lane tunnel ( one in each direction) which would leave no space for any emergency lanes or alternative routes in case of an accident. Another major concern is the geological formation of our islands. The geological report has not seen the light yet. Geographers and environmentalists are very concerned about two main issues. We lie in between two tectonic plates, the African and Eurasian plate which contribute to frequent tremors in our seas. Will the tunnel be able to withstand any tremors that might take place? The environmentalists are on the other hand worried about the underwater ecosystems. As younger generations are being more cautious about how to protect and conserve the environment we feel like this is a major setback as such a massive project will surely effect the natural habitats and the biodiversity that live in the sea itself and the land in the entrance and exit areas of the tunnel. The construction of the tunnel, with the vibrations of the digging, rubble waste and the dust created on site will affect the land and marine life for both a short term and long term period.
Tourism in Malta and Gozo is the goose that lays the golden egg. Will we be killing the goose? The channel crossing between the islands is part of a unique experience. When a person is visiting Gozo it adds value to the experience of the boat trip to visit the sister island and many times highlights to the feeling of ‘leaving everything behind’. Even for locals this neighbouring island would no longer be an escape and will become an extension of mainland Malta. Tourists and locals alike enjoy visiting Gozo due to the fact that has a natural charm and offers a serenity that will be compromised if both islands are linked by the underwater channel and the possibility that Gozo would become a busy and hectic island.
Fig.2 - Gozo- The serene island. Source – Peter Mohr Photography.
Another probability is that if the channel is built, the Gozo Channel line that provides the boat service might eventually run out of business and that means that many workers will lose their job. The Gozo channel provides jobs such as, sailors, captains, ticket booth workers, security officers, Malta Transport workers and canteen workers amongst many others. With this new tunnel no such jobs are required. As much as we love Gozo and respect it, the economic and environmental costs of such a project doesn’t justify disturbing the lives of Gozitans. Instead of spending huge sums of money for such a project, in the process of trying to turn Gozo into another Malta, the government should invest more of its funds and efforts into improving the infrastructure of this gem in the Mediterranean. The Gozitans themselves should all be given a say to decide if this project is worth remaining on the agenda or not. One of the island’s leading environmentalists, Mr. Arnold Cassola said that the construction of the tunnel will leave a long lasting impact on the environment, and to quote his words he said “so now that they have started to experience first-hand the opposition of Gozitans themselves they are resorting to bypass people’s opinion”. So listen to the heartbeat of all concerned and give everyone a voice. A referendum perhaps? Can it be more democratic than that?
Elena Castaldi Paris.
San Anton School.