I have always been fascinated by crabs because of their menacing appearance, the use of their pincers and their courageous approach or defence when threatened.
Sadly, on reflection as a boy I regret I scrambled over rocks lapped by the sea to catch as many one inch sea crabs as possible and eat them raw – relishing the crunch of their flesh and the taste of the sea. At the time I did not comprehend the significance of cruelty.
I am by no means a vegan and I relish a tasty piece of meat but nowadays always with a tinge of remorse that a living animal had to be slaughtered to satisfy my palate and my vitamin needs.
I love eating grey snails cooked in garlic and some chilli. However, a few weeks ago I nearly fainted with regret while cooking these. Snails have to be cooked alive in initially boiling water. When I put them in a pan and doused them with boiling water they began to scream and squelch and my thought was “you cruel bastard”.
Which brings me round to the freshwater crab in Malta, known as cthe “Q” letter in Maltese Semitic/Arabic is difficult to pronounce in the English tongue and the faint equivalent is “Kawbru”… such as in Qawra (place name) and Qamar (moon).
The “Qabru” is a crustacean decapod (meaning it has ten legs) and can grow to a width of three inches. It is greenish-grey with some occasional orange-yellow patches, and an overall purple hue on the legs.
My first reconnoitre was not with the crab at all but with a restaurant owner at Xemxija (the Maltese “X” is pronounced as “sh” and the “j” as “y” and hence “Shemshiya”.) He was known as “Il-Qobru” – maybe because he sauntered sideways!
This was one of my father’s favourite restaurants and every week he would take us there for a relaxed and lovely evening meal of typical Maltese food.
Back to the crab; this thrives in free running fresh water throughout the year but also lives in pools and running springs in such localities as its man haunts which are in Mtaħleb, Bahrija, Għajn Żejtuna in Mellieħa and San Martin in Malta and in the Annunciation Valley in Gozo – all in the north of the islands, as well as the Chadwick Lakes known as Wied il-Qlejgħa.
When threatened, the crab takes shelter by hiding under rocks or stones in the water and among vegetation, or by entering the burrows it digs. These burrows are dug in mud or clay and can be more than 50 cm deep and part of the burrow is normally flooded.
Fortuitously, heavy rainfalls over the last two weeks have provided a new lease of life to the Qabru as well as to the endemic Buzaqq fish that inhabits small canals in the south of Malta, canals leading to the sea in which freshwater and seawater mingle and produce a brackish appearance.
All freshwater areas have been swamped by rainfall and surrounding agricultural fields will also experience the benefits in a normally bone dry territory.
Meanwhile, the restoration and regeneration project of Wied il-Qlejgħa, also known as The Chadwick Lakes, has been completed.
The project was commenced in the 2019 summer and included the removal of 55,000 square metres of rubble that had accumulated over 60 years and was blocking the flow of various channels.
In addition to this, 35 million litres of fresh water have been added to be able to be used by farmers in the surrounding area for irrigation while stone walls have been restored and a system of passages stretching over two kilometres for water to flow from Triq il-Fiddien to below the former RN hospital at Mtarfa.
The place is a recreation area for families to enable them to relax in a natural environment in a place that is unique to Malta because of amount of fresh water in the locality.
Currently there is a focus on 12 species, five as originally identified, as well as others including annual plants from time to time. This work has to continue over the next three or four years to ensure its positive effect. While some alien plants are being phased out, these are being replaced by ethnic plants of which there are eight types of freshwater plants.
The overall identity will thus become that of a valley area of a wood of trees and fresh water. The various water courses will be under the scrutiny of security cameras to prevent the dumping of rubbish and acts of vandalism – shamefully the greatest threats to the national environment.
Sadly, one major threat to the “lakes” is that of people dumping unwanted aquarium fish into the water. Although this is a humane alternative to causing their death, it is also an environmental threat to ethnic species, flora and fauna.
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“He better smell under his own armpits first”
Said of a person who is quick to criticise others and expose their shortcomings and abuses without first acknowledging his own. Very much the equivalent of “people in glass houses should not throw stones”.