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Friends of the Earth Malta is hoping to breathe new life into Comino’s old bakery to help ease the tourist pressures plaguing the tiny island.

The bakery, located close to Santa Marija bay, once provided bread for Comino’s resident community but fell into disrepair as the population dwindled to nothing.

Now, Friends of the Earth Malta are making arrangements for the place to be given new life as an interpretation centre for Comino, promoting sustainable and eco-friendly tourism on the Natura 2000 site.

“Most tourists are just dropped at the Blue Lagoon and have no idea what else the island has to offer,” Friends of the Earth Malta director Martin Galea De Giovanni told the Times of Malta.

“The centre would present an alternative and ease some of the pressure on the Blue Lagoon while offering environmentally conscious activities.

“Our initial areas of work will be related to renewable energy, environmental building, energy efficiency, organic farming, alternative waste management and eco-tourism.

“In the future, this could be extended to protecting and rehabilitating the land surrounding the centre,” he said.

Friends of the Earth aims to use the centre to help the authorities enforce regulations and to control activities harmful to the area’s ecology

The renovated bakery will serve as a centre for education and awareness-raising about the island, its natural environment and conservation status while demonstrating ecological technologies and sustainable lifestyles.

Plans for the dilapidated building, which already have Planning Authority approval, will see the bakery reconstructed on the footprint it used to occupy, using original material from the collapsed sections wherever possible.

The interpretation centre will be open to the public and for visits from organisations interested in environmental sustainability, as well  school visits, ecological talks and walks around the island.

It will also house a small number of people for longer stays in simple, low-impact accommodation, opening the site for national and international conferences, scientific research and seminars.

Friends of the Earth Malta, which is a non-profit organisation, also aims to use the centre as a base to help the authorities with enforcing regulations and controlling activities that are harmful to the area’s ecology.

All income from the planned activities will be reinvested into the centre, with the eventual goal of self-sufficiency.

The plans, which have been in the works for a number of years, come against the backdrop of a summer of rising tensions over the large number of tourists flocking to the Blue Lagoon, with the authorities stepping in to clamp down on abuse by profiteering deckchair hawkers.

The Malta Tourism Authority said it had imposed more than €12,000 in fines so far as part of the enforcement drive.

The need for an assessment of the carrying capacity for tourists at the world-famous beach was highlighted in the Natura 2000 management plan for the island, alongside calls for recommendations for a more holistic approach to tourism.

While Friends of the Earth Malta already has planning permission for the interpretation centre, it is still negotiating an agreement with the Land Department to acquire guardianship of the site.

The group is also exploring EU funding options, among others, to cover the costs, expected to reach at least €600,000.

This article first appeared as a Times of Malta article on 31st August 2016

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