<< | overview | >>

EUROSION: Case Study: Xemxija - Ghajn Tuffieha (Malta)

Type of Entry: Case Study

The Maltese Islands are almost entirely made up of sedimentary rock deposited in a marine environment during the Oligo-Miocene period. These limestones and clays form a series of stratigraphic layers of varying composition and hardness. The case study areas of Xemxija and Ghajn Tuffieha are located within the Pwales graben, which is defined by two faults. The beach material comprises sand with a varying admixture of silt and some clay. The sea bed in Ghajn Tuffieha is relatively shallow in the embayment. In contrast to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, the seabed in Xemxija is marked by a gentle slope where depths reach 25m at the mouth of St. Paul’s Bay. The sandy beach at Ghajn Tuffieha occupies half of the bayhead in the form of a wedge-shaped belt, approximately 150m long and 25m wide, tapering gradually towards the south where it turns into a narrow, 100m long sand/cobble beach. Geological formation of the Xemxija area in the absence of significant clay exposures, suggests limited material availability. With a total land area of 316 km2 and a total population of 378,132 (Census, 1995) the Maltese Islands have one of the highest population densities in the world. Due to its small size the economy depends heavily of foreign trade and the Islands rely substantially on imports for energy, industrial supplies and consumer goods.

Tourism is a significant contributor to the local economy. Southern coast, dominated by cliffs has been dominated by agriculture development. Evidence from aerial photography suggests that the sandy beach at Xemxija Bay (although relatively small) has eroded in a period of almost 4 decades, as a result of measures to artificially realign the coastline. The aerial photos indicate that erosion is predominant in the areas where human intervention took place, primarily on the clay slopes with more debris accumulating at the base of the cliff.

In the absence of information with respect to coastal erosion in the Maltese Islands, measures to address this issue have been practically negligible. For this area can be identified as the do-nothing and limited intervention approach. An afforestation project was carried out along the clay slopes at Ghajn Tuffieha, in the late 1960s. It is assumed that such a project was undertaken to stabilise the slopes. It is evident that throughout the development of Xemxija and provision of infrastructure, no consideration has been given to coastal erosion issues. In the absence of any policy measure, the shoreline has been subjected to considerable changes that have led to the loss of the sandy beach and the saline marshland behind it as well. The legal protection afforded to Ghajn Tuffieha has slowed down the process if not eradicated completely the source of coastal erosion.

Keywords: Beach protection, Tools and techniques for beach management
EUROSION Case Study: Xemxija - Ghajn Tuffieha (Malta) (487.211 Bytes)
Contact: Michelle Borg
Malta Environment and Planning Authority
Telephone: +35 622 901 511 / +35 622 902 290