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MALTATODAY 17 July 2022

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4 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 17 JULY 2022 NEWS 'Stupid idea', says Zammit Tabona on Blue Lagoon cap LUKE VELLA AS tourism pressures threat- en the pristine environment at Comino's picturesque Blue Lagoon, one voice from the lu- crative tourist market is raising his objection against a plan to cap the number of visitors that throng the island. Expectedly, Captain Morgan Cruises' owner and co-director Michael Zammit Tabona, the most prominent boat operator to Comino, is vehemently opposed to the idea of visitor capping in Comino. The 2016 Natura 2000 Man- agement Plan for Comino had established that tourism at the Blue Lagoon must be controlled efficiently in order to ensure that it is "in harmony with the site's conservation needs". Zammit Tabona however claims that a capping system is not feasible. "This is a stupid idea, as such a system is impossible to administer. To whom would you give preference, if you are cap- ping the number of boats that could berth at Comino?" Zammit Tabona asked. "Every ten years or so some idiot brings up such an idea. Similarly, why don't we also cap the num- ber of visitors at the Blue Grotto, St Julian's or Valletta? We can't run this island as a semi-com- munist state. No one should be restricted from visiting this gem. "I will definitely never accept any type of capping. What would I do with my workers? Should I lay them off?" Comino is Malta's latest envi- ronmental battlefront after Mov- iment Graffitti took direct action at the Blue Lagoon in June, by removing unoccupied deckchairs and umbrellas from the sandy beach and the jetty area that are abusively lining up the beaches before the arrival of tourists. Activists returned to Comino last weekend and published foot- age proving that the deckchairs were still being set up all over the jetty and the other sandy areas before any tourists arrived. And the sheer commercialisa- tion of the area and the frequency of boat trips to the island contin- ues unabated. "After a couple of hours of relative tranquillity, the large boats begin arriving and depositing hundreds of tourists onto the island. Moviment Graf- fitti is calling for these big boats to be banned from Comino," the group said. The 2017 document "Manage- ment Measures for Comino" pre- sented to the State by a working party of government entities, in- cluding the Malta Tourism Au- thority, had proposed capping the number of boats and tourists visiting Comino to conserve the island better. Around 4,000 visitors thronged the island in the summer of 2016 using organised cruises, and an- other 1,000 through water tax- is from Ċirkewwa, Mġarr and Sliema. Asked about the effects of visi- tors on the ecological sensitivity of Comino, Zammit Tabona was unwilling to consider the ecolog- ical impact of intensive tourism on the island. "That argument doesn't make sense, as Comino has been packed for years and it has never deteriorated. The Blue Lagoon is self-cleaning, thanks to the currents in the area," Zammit Tabona said. He added that it was the private boats, and not the commercial ones, that polluted the bay, be- cause they were not equipped with sewage tanks. And Zammit Tabona also said that he wished to see proper restaurants instead of mobile kiosks currently set up on the island. "The bins in Comino are nowhere near enough and are al- most overflowing with rubbish, making the place look disgust- ing. There should be continuous cleaning, day and night. This is elementary." With current activity in Comi- no still far off from pre-pandemic levels, Zammit Tabona is augur- ing for a return to 'normality' as tourism picks up. "We should not limit the visits and let's pray to God that tourists keep arriving. The country can't survive with- out tourism," Zammit Tabona said. Tourism tycoon: Michael Zammit Tabona (left) is arguably one of the biggest beneficiaries of the seafaring trade to Comino, with his Captain Morgan cruises active since the 1970s Inset: A nature management plan for Comino recommends capping the annual number of visitors, as the pristine island risks turning into another over-saturated beach destination Top: Moviment Graffitti captured the nation's attention when it stormed the Comino beach to remove abusively set- up deckchairs lining the coastline

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