They say you don’t appreciate what you had until it’s gone. I thought of this yesterday as I visited Paradise Bay and realised it lost the charm that once made it worthy of its name.
The last time I swam there might have been more than five years ago. A small but pretty stretch of golden sand made for a perfect bed from which to gaze at Gozo in the distance. The sea was fresh and clear. Nature’s battle with the surrounding cliff face was laid bare in all its glory. And I remember a quaint shack-cum-beachside-restobar providing refreshments to those who ventured to Malta’s northernmost point for a swim.
Today the once ample beach has been replaced by offensive man-made terraces and concrete structures. The golden sand has been replaced by rugged pebbles and small boulders that make getting into the water a treacherous manoeuvre. The whole space has been covered by ugly plastic deckchairs and tacky umbrellas. One of the white umbrella bases was labelled ‘paradyse bay’ - a suitable corruption, I thought.
The quaint bar has turned into a structure bigger than the entire beach, encroaching on every bit of land possible. Where there aren’t sunbeds, there are unused kayaks presumably to entice visitors who would probably rather be lying on the sand instead of the kayaks.
And if there’s a patch of land that is vacant of sunbeds, umbrellas or tourists (the locals have practically disappeared), you will undoubtedly find some form of plastic trash dumped there with the same disregard as the rest of the place seems to have been given.
You won’t know this unless you visit of course. In photos, it still looks fantastic. Instagram masks the reality from us because with a beautiful body and the right crop, filter and tilt shift, anything can look paradisic. From the right angle, you won’t realise that half the beach is not sand but a sand-coloured concrete terrace. You won’t realise that people have been forced to lay their towels on the soil at the topmost part of the beach because it is softer than the rugged sand that has taken over. You won’t realise that the once crystal clear water comparable to the Blue Lagoon is now a murky shade of grey that feels oily on the skin in the way polluted water often does.
Maybe it was just a bad day. Maybe the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. Maybe there were too many people and the beach hadn’t yet been cleaned. Maybe the restaurant owners who for a quarter of a century have been given this beach to monetise deserve some credit since they also provide visitors access to a toilet and a shower (at €1 per use).
Or maybe this is a sign of what’s to come. Maybe it only takes 25 years for a millennia-old Natura 2000 site to be almost fully replaced by concrete and plastic - and a few old bamboo sticks for effect - soon also to be replaced.
There are small signs of hope. A group of inspirational young people are going there this weekend to pick up trash and raise awareness about the dismal state of the natural environment. And maybe the recent efforts being made to enforce deckchair rules will soon reach this bay too. But that’s like giving a morbidly obese person two days of healthy eating in a year full of excess.
What is really needed is a realisation that we have gone too far and the beauty we once had is slowly disappearing. In some places, it’s already gone for good.