A diver has been caught in the act of spearfishing illegally at Malta's popular diving location Cirkewwa marine park by the HPF (Heritage Parks Federation) Ranger Unit, which said that it had been alerted by another scuba diver. After gathering video footage the rangers say they reported the incident to the police, “who swiftly acted on the matter”.
Spearfishing and the use of any fishing-gear is prohibited in the conservation zone within the Cirkewwa site in the north of Malta. The area includes the popular Rozi tug and P29 patrol-boat wrecks.
The voluntary marine reserve was established 13 years ago, but the rangers say that a number of such violations have been reported, with the divers responsible fined according to a tariff set by Transport Malta.
“It would only go to court if they don’t admit [the charge],” commented ranger Pierre Galea. “We have full footage with enough evidence, meaning few would choose to fight that in court.”
Witnesses to contraventions of marine-reserve guidelines are asked to alert the HPF Ranger Unit or the Malta Ranger Unit, which covers other dive-sites, using 79378118 on WhatsApp.
Meanwhile an opinion piece in the Times of Malta, which has a record of holding the islands’ authorities to account on diving-related matters, has described government strategy announced in May 2022 to attract overseas divers as progressing “at a glacial pace, if at all”.
“People within the diving industry have been critical of the lethargy with which the actions related to each one of the strategy’s five objectives are being implemented,” write David Agius of the local website divinginfo.mt and technical diver and lecturer Daniel Xerri.
The first stated objective had been to upgrade essential dive-site infrastructure such as signage, CCTV, kitting-up facilities, toilets, pathways and mooring buoys at boat-dive sites. The divers recognise the work of the Professional Diving Schools Association (PDSA), which they say had installed access ladders and hand-rails at certain sites on Malta on the tourism authority’s behalf, whereas the EcoGozo authority had failed to do the same on the neighbouring island of Gozo.
The second objective involved eight specific actions designed to boost protection and management of dive-sites and resources but limited progress had been made – and on only three of these eight actions, say Agius and Xerri.
A draft management plan for Cirkewwa Marine Park had been produced in January 2023 but the lack of major updates since then suggested “unwillingness to proceed to the next step of legally formalising the park's status”. This was said to make it impossible to ensure year-round availability of infrastructure for safely entering and exiting the water.
The divers also recognised that while the diving community as represented by the PDSA placed wreck marker buoys at around 10 sites each year, again on behalf of the tourism authority, this process did not appear to have been extended, while protracted works at two departure sites had restricted dive-boats to using three non-dedicated jetties.
No progress had been made in developing a code of practice and standard operating procedures for the dive industry and local divers, and a bid to raise awareness of existing regulations at shore-dive sites using social media had made little impact, according to the divers.
The last three of the strategy’s five objectives – to “improve, support and diversify” – were said to have seen “minimal or no action”, leaving it difficult, for example, to safeguard conservation areas.
A plan to install underwater CCTV at shore sites such as the Rozi wreck had proved “short-lived”, while a proposed working document on how to develop the significant technical-diving market had yet to appear. Divers interested in Malta diving can read the whole Times of Malta article.