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For years, the achievement of “progress” consisting of more and more building construction on precious land, indifferent dumping of toxic and other rubbish, and the “money, money first” craze have been working against the interests of a number of natural species, rendering them to probable extinction.
Some years back when Malta began to assert its independent no-longer-colonial status, five different species were declared to be national species. Unfortunately, many years later, today most of these are under threat of extinction from the Maltese Islands.
The five species are:
- “Il-Qabru” freshwater crab (Potamon Fluviatile)
- “Widnet il-Bahar” (Maltese Rock-Centaury)
- “Il-Merill” (Blue Rock Thrush)
- “Is-siġra tal-għarar” (The Juniper Tree)
- “Il-Buzaqq” (Killfish – Aphanius fasciatus)
Among those most in danger of extinction is this freshwater crab. A team of researchers from Malta University has declared that unless something is urgently done, this crab will soon become extinct.
This is the only species of freshwater crab in Europe and is found in countries bordering the Mediterranean region where it lives in the peripheral part of lakes and rivers and is regarded as a tasty food crab.
However, as there are no lakes or rivers in Malta it lives in areas where there are year-long springs and luckily it has never been regarded as a food delicacy. It is found in a few valleys and localities such as Bahrija, Bingemma, San Martin, and Gnejna and the Annunciation Valley in Gozo.
These crabs excavate burrows in clayey soil, with each crab having its own burrow. The males are extremely aggressive and protective of their territory. At its lower end they excavate the deeper part of the burrow which is always half-flooded because of the clay soil and is particularly necessary for the breeding season as the crabs are marine creatures.
Development encroachment, illegal dumping of rubbish in valleys and general environmental pollution has put the species in grave danger of extinction.
Known as the Maltese Rock-Centaury this is an endemic and very rare species that is ONLY found growing wild in the Maltese Islands and nowhere else throughout the world. Known also as “the caterpillar plant” because of its great attraction to caterpillars, it is found in cliff areas such as Dingli Cliffs but also along southern cliffs.
It flowers between May and July and it flowers can be seen now. In 1971 it was declared to be Malta’s National Plant but sadly it is also under threat because of the destruction of its natural habitat, mainly because of quarrying and bulk dumping of quarry debris by uncaring developers.
The Blue Rock Thrush is the country’s National Bird. The bird is well-known for its melodious chirping, mainly males perched on electricity poles and wires as well as stone walls, it singing starting in February and stopping at the end of May.
The male’s body is all blue with black wings and tail while the female is less colourful and is just dark brown. Unlike the other species listed in this article its population is a strong one and is mainly on cliffs around the northern and western coasts of Malta. It also resides and breeds in cliffs around Gozo and Comino and is resident all the year round rather than being migratory.
The Blue Rock Thrush starts its breeding season between March and April and ends between May and June with the carriage of twigs to build nests. A female may lay between three and six eggs and during one season a pair may have two broods.
It mainly feeds on worms, grasshoppers, lizards and skinks.
“IS-SIGRA TAL- GHARGHAR”
This is the Juniper Tree which was declared as a national species on 16th January, 1992. This is a coniferous tree from the Cypress family and is therefore evergreen. In centuries past this could be found in great abundance but has also suffered the plague of “development”. Its name was in fact reflected in the naming of the Gharghur village (as with all the others, no longer a village nowadays) and San Gwann tal-Gharghur (St John of Gharghur).
Sadly enough only a handful can be found today scattered in various areas. This is not a large tree and rarely grows longer than six metres and its growth is very slow. Its leaves are very small, more like fruit rind and are between 1mm and 8mm in length and between 1mm and 1.5mm in width.
It produces both male and female cones of about 3mm in length which eventually become enveloped in a shroud of powder which is very sensitive and can be blown off in the lightest of breezes. The cones may take eight months to develop and eventually sprout very small leaves that act as wings and are eventually scattered by the wind.
This is a small and endangered fish and is found throughout the Mediterranean region where there are marshlands and brackish water. It lives in very limited channels in Malta and feeds on small invertebrates and aquatic plants.
Contrastingly, despite its small and highly unassuming size and the food it eats it is known as The Killfish (scientific name Aphanius fasciatus), possibly because of its tiger-like stripes.
It’s continued existence is so precarious that a Killifish Conservation Project had to be launched by Nature Trust Malta (NTM) and the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre (MARC) within the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, with the support of Bank of Valletta, the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
Although it is common around the Mediterranean region, each species in the region develops differently and therefore the local Malta population is truly unique.
As with all the others listed here, its situation is highly precarious because of the continual deterioration of its habitat. In Malta it is found in the south eastern regions of the island in small inland canals on the seashore that border between sea water and rain water.
In conclusion, this is the price that has had to be paid as a result of “development” that has resulted in a massive proliferation of building and the continual gradual encroachment of free and open land.
“A step forward and two backward”
An ironic remark that what is perceived as being a step forward is in fact a regression and not a step forward at all.