The islands of Malta and Gozo have been invaded by different human races for almost 7,000 years, beginning from Sicilian farmers who moved here to pastures new and culminating in the British until Malta’s Independence in 1964 and the eventual declaration of Republic status in 1979 and the appointment of a new Maltese Head of State.
However, the invasions have not always been human and natural history has also played a great part and is currently also playing a great part. To continue its history of invasions the Islands have been invaded by nature in the past, are now also being invaded by alien species and the outlook indicates even further natural invasions!
And the drive behind these invasions is of course, climate change.
Latest reports are stating that unless there is an imminent stop in climate change – obviously, most unlikely – the Mediterranean Sea will turn into a tropical sea, which is not necessarily a bad thing but will mean many, many changes to marine life and marine fauna.
Malta’s expert marine biologist, Professor Alan Deidun, has stated that in recent years because of warmer seas around Malta a number of crab species have appeared including the Ghost Crab which is normally found in the east of the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal region and the Red Sea. This Ghost Crab had been seen in years previously but then disappeared but is however, back.
However, the continual addition of marine life and fauna is becoming very evident and he has urged fisherfolk to report alien findings to bolster two of his campaigns, “Spot the Alien” and “Spot the Alien Fish”.
The invasions of nature have not only been attributed to marine invasions but have taken place also on land.
A classic example is that of a weed known as “Il-Qarsu” (‘The Bitter One’) but is also known as “The English Weed”. This grows wild and was introduced 200 years ago by an English lady who had lived in South Africa. In no time at all it totally infested the Maltese Islands and today is found everywhere.
I well remember in my boyhood where there was much, much less pollution, less traffic and less development, we would cut bunches of this weed and suck on the bitter stem to quench thirst and hence its being known as “Il-Qarsu”.
This is usually the time of year when the much sought-after lampuka fish (Dolphin Fish) gears up to go into full swing. However, not this year with fisherfolk reporting it is shaping up to be one of the poorest years for catches. This is mainly a surface fish – so what may be the cause; perhaps overfishing and unauthorised incursions by Sicilian and Tunisian fisherfolk; floating pools of oil or maybe large stretches of floating plastic?
Another highly invasive species is the Spaghetti Frond (Zoobotryon Verticillatum) native to the Caribbean Sea and is unpalatable to most fish species and therefore not a food source for them. It is fouling up bays, marinas and harbours. Trying to clear it causes fragmentation and therefore spreads rather than diminishes it.
As Deidun explained, the warmer the sea becomes, the more it will attract alien species, particularly fish. The fault of this is man-made because with the advent of the Suez Canal, species normally found in the Red Sea, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean have swam their way into the Mediterranean and the warmer it gets the more will they come.
Other invasions are from the Puffer Fish which is highly poisonous to humans eating it. The Lion Fish eats everything but is inedible but has not as yet invaded but is expected to do so soon and the Blue Swimmer Crab which eats everything but is at least edible for humans. These all thrive on fish endemic to the Mediterranean and around the Maltese Islands.
Again, a man-made hazard has been the dumping of crayfish and the fresh water lobster into Malta’s few fresh water pools and catchments and these devour ethnic species that used to thrive there. Frequent appeals are made for people to desist but unfortunately – as with many others things – fall on deaf ears.
New species of jellyfish have appeared including the curious fried egg jellyfish that really looks like a fried egg! However, this does not sting. There is also the limited presence of the Mauve Stinger. It has been notable that jellyfish normally give birth between December and January but this year it was from March onward. Jellyfish have been thriving for over 700 million years and therefore preceded the dinosaur era!
According to an IPCC report, the world’s temperatures could increase by more than 3°C by the end of the century if no changes are made.
Limiting that increase to 1.5°C would have massive impacts on containing the negative effects of climate change.
But to stay within that limit, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would need to fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach “net zero” by mid-century – far beyond current emission reduction targets. Any additional emissions would require removing CO2 from the air.
All wishful thinking? I fear so.
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“Like a whore in an outing”
In the past whores were associated with being loud-mouthed, raucous and a general nuisance, particularly at some kind of celebration such as an outing to the seaside.