Saving Manoel Island From Ourselves

We couldn't enjoy it, but at least we couldn't ruin it.

Manoel Island Feature

It was nice being able to visit Manoel Island over these past few days. I discovered a part of Malta which was a total mystery to me, and for that I am grateful to Kamp Emergenza Ambjient (KEA), Gzira’s Mayor... and even to MIDI.

I am appreciative to KEA and to the Mayor of Gzira (Conrad Borg Manche) for having had the collective balls to break through the gates. It might have involved breaking a law or two, and the fact that these ordinary citizens were willing to disobey the law in pursuit of justice is actually rather significant.

Many of us feel that in this world, there is all too often one law for regular people and another law for those with power – be it financial, political, physical, and so on.

Manoel Island 2

Photo: Nick Scicluna

"Many of us feel that in this world, there is all too often one law for regular people and another law for those with power."

Though conventional wisdom supports the idea that obeying law is good and disobeying law is bad – might there be circumstances where it is actually morally advisable to break the law, and morally inadvisable to uphold it?

The answer to that question is obviously “yes”, and so what we must quibble about is how to recognise such circumstances. I believe that KEA and the Mayor correctly identified a scenario where the rules (and a couple of padlocks) should have been broken. If we look around us, we will see lots of other situations where opposing authority’s viewpoint might also be the virtuous thing to do. 

Some of us must look no further than the ends of our noses. Laws are important and chaos is undesirable – but not everything that is official or legal is necessarily a good idea. Here’s the part where I explain why I am grateful to MIDI. MIDI has some sort of a multi-million contract with the government to develop Manoel Island. Although they may have done some restoration work on the inside of the Fort, the great majority of the island appears totally untouched.

Manoel Island 4

Photo: Nick Scicluna

If you walk along the path along Manoel Island’s south coast, and look to your right you will see a mixture of the sea, the Ta Xbiex harbour and the bastions of Valletta. If you look to your left, you will see huge, dilapidated buildings with broken doorways and archways. If you peer through the doorways and archways of these buildings you will see the largest and most ingenious caper plants you’ve ever seen in your life. They have managed to grow down the limestone stairwells in the central courts as if they were frozen, green waterfalls. 

"[This place] is like King Louis’ temple in the Jungle Book. It is a beautiful old building almost totally taken over by nature."

There are trees growing through rooms and traversing archways, and balconies completely draped in creepers – the only thing I can liken the place to is King Louis’ temple in the Jungle Book. It is a beautiful old building almost totally taken over by nature.  I needn’t describe the Fort; it is obviously magnificent. The walk towards it is equally as stunning – if you take pleasure in seeing massive aloe vera plants, carob and Judas trees, and much more. I was amazed by the diversity and the size of the flora, and I know that MIDI has allowed it to flourish by protecting it from ourselves. This is a lesson we must learn. Obviously MIDI’s intentions weren't particularly  virtuous: they did not intend to preserve Manoel Island’s nature, it is simply a side effect of them keeping their secret development to themselves. 

Anybody who managed to visit Manoel Island during the few days it was open ought to agree that it would make a fine nature park. Granted, there is a large degree of neglect and dilapidation, but by and large the delight of the nature outshines the dereliction. My point here is that sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing. 

Sometimes, no development whatsoever is overall more positive than the alternative. So thank you to MIDI for preserving Manoel Island’s botany so nicely, thank you to KEA and Conrad Borg Manche for allowing the public in for a couple of days, and thank you to the public who visited Manoel Island and respected what they saw. For a place to remain full of nature, it must be deeply respected by the people that interact with it.

"Laws are important and chaos is undesirable – but not everything that is official or legal is necessarily a good idea."

Manoel Island 5

Photo: Nick Scicluna

Manoel Island 3

Photo: Nick Scicluna

"Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing. Sometimes, no development whatsoever is overall more positive than the alternative."

Anybody who managed to visit Manoel Island during the few days it was open ought to agree that it would make a fine nature park. Granted, there is a large degree of neglect and dilapidation (it's unclear what  MIDI is actually doing) but by and large the delight of the nature outshines the dereliction. My point here is that sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing. Sometimes, no development whatsoever is overall more positive than the alternative.

So thank you to MIDI for preserving Manoel Island’s botany so nicely, thank you to KEA and Conrad Borg Manche for allowing the public in for a couple of days, and thank you to the public who visited Manoel Island and respected what they saw. For a place to remain full of nature, it must be deeply respected by the people that interact with it.

All photos by Nick Scicluna. Special thanks to Daniel Fenech for taking us around the island.

READ NEXT: Why I Broke Into Manoel Island

Written By

Alex Clayman

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