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Watch: Foam in the sea linked to natural phenomena

This is not related to any fish farming activity in Malta, producers say

The sea at Baħar ic-Cagħaq is hardly inviting. Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Last updated 6.40pm - Dreaded sea slime which plagued local shores last summer appears to be back with a vengeance, but the Environment Authority said this afternoon that it could be a natural phenomena which has also been noted in other parts of the Mediterranean. Fishfarms also insisted it could not stem from their activities.

Photos sent to the Times of Malta show patches of foamy white slime at St Julian's, Baħar ic-Cagħaq, Qawra, Marsascala and even Valletta, bringing with it fears that last summer's environmental debacle will be repeated. 

One reader who contacted Times of Malta said they had spotted white sludge all along the Baħar ic-Cagħaq coastline, while others working in Portomaso were quick to whip out their smartphone cameras as foam drifted towards the shore.

"This is a disaster," wrote one reader who sent in a photo of slime at Qawra's blue flag beach. 

A 'natural foam'?

Similar reports of slime last March were dismissed by then parliamentary secretary Roderick Galdes, who told parliament that preliminary studies by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) indicated that the slime was a form of natural foam caused by strong winds and high seas. 

Plenty of foam in the sea around Portomaso in St Julian's. Photo: Kriston RenshawPlenty of foam in the sea around Portomaso in St Julian's. Photo: Kriston Renshaw
Slime made an appearance in Marsascala. Photo: Noel BrincatSlime made an appearance in Marsascala. Photo: Noel Brincat
 

In a statement, this afternoon ERA said the occurrence of this foam had also been observed elsewhere in the Mediterranean and it was being linked to natural phenomena including sea conditions, coupled with bio-agents.

"ERA is in contact with other national authorities about this phenomenon. Investigations are still underway and thus ERA is not in a position to comment any further until conclusive results that provide more information on this occurrence are available. 

The Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers said that while the phenomenon was not yet fully understood "we can safely conclude that it is not related to any fish farming activity in Malta."

Feeding has not yet commenced since this year’s catch has yet to be brought to Malta, the federation said, while pointing out that the fishfarms have relocated offshore.

"There are a number of different factors, all unrelated to fish farming, that could give rise to these conditions. Only a properly organised and resourced scientific
investigation can tell us exactly what is happening. We invite the authorities in Malta to work with us towards organising the necessary studies," the federation said. 

Last year's slime

Repeated reports of the sticky, foamy slime last year had prompted outrage among locals, who blamed fish farm operators for the residue. As anger mounted, authorities stepped in and operators eventually acknowledged that the slime was caused by a new fish feed that had a higher fat content than regular feed. 

Sludge also featured in seas just off the coast of Qawra.Sludge also featured in seas just off the coast of Qawra.
The sea by Wignacourt Tower in St Paul's Bay was hardly crystal-clear. Photo: Victoria PaceThe sea by Wignacourt Tower in St Paul's Bay was hardly crystal-clear. Photo: Victoria Pace

Last September, the Planning Authority revoked permits for four operators, in part over the negative environmental impact, which breached permit conditions, as well as other continuing illegalities.

Affected operators moved their various pens offshore by the May 31 deadline imposed on them. An application to move two pens off Comino to a new site was fast-tracked for approval by the PA earlier this month. The move is intended as a stop-gap solution until an official offshore aquaculture zone is set up.

Readers also spotted slime at Balluta Bay. Photo: Joe SalibaReaders also spotted slime at Balluta Bay. Photo: Joe Saliba
An online webcam trained on Valletta's Marsamxett side also showed a ribbon of foam. Screenshot: Skyline WebcamsAn online webcam trained on Valletta's Marsamxett side also showed a ribbon of foam. Screenshot: Skyline Webcams
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