Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Ecotourism in Practice

The Farmers Market - a showcase of culinary richnesses
This term has been around for quite some time but still it hasn't grown its roots here in Malta. Statistics and other related information about what happens in Malta is limited. Before starting off Merill Eco Tours, I read many books about this topic and accessed a lot of views and methods through social media. Travelers want to have a say before and after their trip. This is positive to us since we are very much focussed to create experiences rather than tours!  

So how can we put Ecotourism into practice? First of all we need to understand the real meaning of Ecotourism. It's principles are clear and well spelt out. Minimizing impact on the environment is on top of the list. Malta is a small island with limited resources. Conservation of our few natural resources such as land (including soil), water and biodiversity should be on top of the agenda of all tourism operators. Then comes the aspect of awareness. I meet many people who are scepticle about Malta and Gozo's potential for eco and agri-tourism acitivities. Wake  up people...we are in the middle of the Mediterranean, surrounded by beautiful beaches, our eco-cultural landscape is varied, local people are charming...the "only" thing we need is to build sustainable bridges amongst industries. Let's say, if a restaurant chooses to purchase local foods, then catering industry is embracing the agriculture industry thus supporting rural life and biodiversity. Who will take care of the fields, and thus the landscape, if all the farmers are gone, or all Malta is built up!? Another example is of having nature being featured on images representing Malta.

Eco is now a buzz word that many use, but how much eco is there in photos of Malta? If one googles Malta, many images of Valletta, Comino and beaches show up. This is fine, but we have much more to offer. I met a couple of Gozitans last week who were really disappointed when Dwejra is the only place mentioned in many brochures promoting tourism in Gozo. Gozo is still very rural and can showcase farming, nature and village life style.

What to see and what to do in Malta, Gozo and Comino needs to be change in order have a more sustainable tourism industry. Having thousands of people visiting Valletta and Mdina is fine. The historical aspect in these locations are fantastic. Shifting of the activities to rural areas can reduce the pressures onto historical sites, beaches and other popular areas. There again, let's all be careful as not to invade the quite rural areas, and respect the local people. Noise and traffic can disturb rural villages so it needs to be slow and controlled. 

What is Ecotourism? - Alternative and sustainable Tourism

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Il-Merill "Tweet Tweet"!

The Blue Rock Thrush - Photo taken by Mr. Michael Sammut

Here is a lovely photo taken very recently by a keen local birder - Mr. Michael Sammut. Since we started up Merill Eco Tours many locals told us..."I have never seen one!". Well, it's a pity that many Maltese people have never seen our National bird. Others recall the popular children's song which goes....Il-Merill "Tweet Tweet"! And no, it's got nothing to do with Twitter... :)

Our mascot, the Blue Rock Thrush is not that rare in Malta an is not that difficult to spot it close to the cliffs around Malta, Gozo and also Comino. Before spotting it you might actually hear its lovely melodious call!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Majestic Sunset - Storks fly over Malta

More than 300 storks fly over Malta - Photo taken at Chadwick Lakes by Jeanette Borg

Yesterday's sunset was surely one of the best I've ever witnessed here in Malta. It's common to see such large flocks of birds in countries like Holland and Norway but in Malta such events are rarer. While driving across the Mdina Bypass, I spotted a huge black cloud coming closer. I kept on driving and realised that a flock of birds were flying quite fast and it would have been tricky to follow them. When I turned left towards Chadwick lakes the birds got so close that I jumped out of the car and started taking photos with my phone. They mush have been flying no more than 150 meters above my head. The guy that was driving behind me had to wait until I was done with the photos :) It was only till I contacted my expert bird ID friends that I confirmed these were White Storks. Ciconia species do not breed in Malta and their sitings are considered to be rare by keen Maltese birdwatchers. Their association with fidelity and fertility may have led to the popular image we often see...that is of storks delivering babies!

Amazing to see so many beauties flying so close - Photo taken at Chadwick Lakes by Jeanette Borg

Monday, 16 May 2011

Insightful tasters of Nature Walks in Dingli

Yesterdays Agrarian and Traditions fair was visited by thousands of locals and tourists. A large number of stands, folk music, and exhibitions gave the fair a varied perspective of what can a rural village offer. The Dingli Local Council organised this event with the aim to involve the local people in activities that keep traditions alive.  

Both the stand and mini tours gave a taster of how nature walks can be informative and fun. During the short walks, the Verdala Palace surrounded by Buskett could be viewed from a distance. The guests following the tours asked lots of interesting questions, especially about the tale of the two tailed lizard living on the uninhabited island of Filfla. We're proud about the level of awareness being created. The richnesses that our tiny islands offer are to be proud of. 

What's next? Temperatures are rising and more exciting eco-tours are being planned. For more updates about Nature Tours in Malta contact us on info@merillecotours.com.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Nature Walks in Dingli - next Sunday 15th May 2011

Verdala Palace as seen from Dingli Cliffs
The preparations for the yearly Agricultural Fair at Dingli are almost ready. People from Dingli (in Maltese "Dinglin") are proud of their rural village and promote it's beauty amongst locals and foreigners alike. This event, organised by the Dingli Local Council, and will feature the very best of agriculture practices, produce and traditions. The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene will be the landmark for this activity, as it's parvis and surrounding area will be all nicely set up with stands, livestock and exhibitions. We are glad that this year we're part of this initiative. 

An information stand will be present all day long and we're looking forward to meet visitors and provide them with information about the variety of places of interest within Dingli. At around 1.00pm short nature tours will start. Small groups will be accompanied by one of our knowledgeable licensed guides to areas close by. Items such as geology, biodiversity and archaeological sites in Dingli will be explained. 

Other items that are not to be missed are: 

- Milking of sheep and goats
- Sheep sheering
- Demonstrations showing the making of cheeslets
- Renactments
- Band and Parade of Dingli Scouts
- Antiques show
- Local wine tasting
- Fruit and vegetable displays
- Traditional local food and pastries
- Tombola and other local games

Thumbs up to the Dingli Local Council for taking such an initiative and investing in the promotion of local nature, culture and tradition!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Maltese Ox - Gendus

Geographic isolation of the Maltese islands has been a key factor in give rise to a rich biodiversity. Agricultural biodiversity has evolved over centuries giving rise to a rich and unique range of livestock species and plant varieties most of which have been lost throughout the years, although a few examples of such species still exist. 

The Maltese Ox breed better known as "Il-Baqra Maltija" is Maltese, is a critically endangered indigenous breed and in dire need of conservation owing to the small number of remaining specimens. In fact it is listed in the FAO’s World Watch list for Domestic Animal Diversity for the year 2000 prepared by Beate D. Scherf. 

This breed of Maltese Ox was utilised solely as a working animal. A few decades ago, the ox was a common farm animal however, with the introduction of mechanisation, its rearing has decreased dramatically and only a few animals survive. 

Unfortunately no specimen left is 100% pure. What's the next step? Learn the lessons from the past and do anything that's possible to protect our biodiversity...even those species that might not be as important as they used to be in the past.

Reference: Rural Development Plan for Malta 2004-2006, MRRA

Last pure Maltese Ox preserved - Times of Malta

Every drop of water counts!

Malta's drinking water is desalinated sea water added to ground water (Malta's only natural source of fresh water). As an island that classifies as semi-arid according to FAO standards, it is imperative to take all necessary measures to reduce water consumption.

Tips for tourists: Bottled water is recommended for drinking.

To help us save our scarce water resource we would appreciate if you take these simple measures:

- An average bath at 10 cm deep uses about 80 litres of water. Take short showers. A 4-minute shower uses about 24 litres of water.

- Don't leave the water running while washing hands, brushing teeth or shaving.

- If you notice a leaking tap, report it to the management of the hotel/residence immediately.

Thank you for saving water with us.

Some interesting information; Water scarcity in Malta - Martin Sapiano 

Saturday, 7 May 2011

What's so special about Diving in Malta?

Barracudas [photo by Ms. Sonya Silvio]
The Maltese Islands offer amazing diving sites for experienced divers and beginners. The rich and varied marine ecosystems are excellent to explore. Sea water is characterized with deep drop offs and visibility is clear. Outstanding topography and rock caves formations as well as many sea- wrecks make diving an experience not to be missed. Qualified instructors provide courses and guided dives around Malta, Gozo and Comino offering the latest equipment and information during every dive. Diving is an all-year round activity. Diving in winter offers the advantage that many species of fish move inshore to shallower, slightly warmer waters which are not disturbed by swimmers in winter. This offers divers a much better opportunity to observe and photograph marine life. On the other hand, waters are warmer in summer thus making it possible for divers to wear a light 3mm diving suit.

Information provided by Ms. Sonya Silvio

Qormi the bread making village Malta will be entering the Guinness book of Records very soon!

Proud to be from Qormi!

Qormi bakers preparing world's biggest loaf - Times of Malta

Maltese Bread - European Cuisines

Breaking Bread - Malta Inside Out

A loaf affair in Qormi - Times of Malta

View of Valletta from Tigne Point

Tourism and Social Media - Showing the Beauty of Malta, Gozo and Comino

I strongly believe that by sharing information on social media is excellent to disseminate environmental information, while create awareness amongst locals and foreigners.

Like our fan page on Facebook :) Merill Eco Tours Fan Page

The Taming of the Shrew...The Etruscan Shrew of Malta and Gozo

Scientific name: Suncus etruscus
English: Etruscan shrew
Maltese: Buggedum zghir or Gurdien Geddumu twil 

Photo and information by Mr. Arnold Sciberras

Information:  This species is the smallest known mammal by mass, weighing only about 1.8 grams on average. Because of their high ratio of surface area to body volume, the Etruscan shrew have an extremely fast metabolism and have to eat 1.5–2 times their body weight in food per day. They feed up to 25 times per day, mostly on various invertebrates (insects, their larvae, earthworms, etc.) as well as small vertebrates (young frogs, lizards and rodents), and can hunt prey of nearly the same body size as themselves. They prefer species with a soft and thin exoskeleton and for this reason avoid ants when given a choice. They kill large prey by a bite to the head and eat them immediately, whereas they take small insects back to their nest. When hunting, the Etruscan shrews mostly rely on their sense of touch rather than vision and may even run into their food at night. The Etruscan shrew might play important role in controlling the insect population. Unfortunately although protected by law, this is the fate of many as when they enter houses to feed on pests they are mistaken for mice instead of being welcomed. In Gozo an endemic species occurs.

Etruscan Shrew [photo by Arnold Sciberras]

Malta is heading towards Summer - it's already feeling nice and warm

A cloudless blue sky and warm temperature will characterise the weather for the next days...or months!

Malta is an ideal destination for those who want to escape the cold weather that still persists in many parts of the world!

Here are some activities that one can enjoy during this month;

- nature walks
- agri-tourism experiences
- evening chill out dinners
- horse riding
- diving

Our excursions are eco-friendly and we suggest you follow this guide to help us preserve our lovely island - Eco-friendly Guide for Tourists visiting Malta

5 day weather forecast as at 7/5/2011

Thursday, 5 May 2011

With a Pinch of Salt

Salt Pans in Malta
The harvesting of salt in Malta dates back to centuries ago. Being an island in the centre of the Mediterranean, shipments used to stop for replenishment thus taking with them essential items such as salt. Salt pans (in Maltese: 'Salini') are found in various areas around Malta and Gozo, most of which are unfortunately inactive. It is a tough job to harvest salt and the skill is being lost in time.

I feel there is still some hope left for this tradition. At Merill Eco Tours we created a tour that focuses on traditions such as salt production. During such a tour, salt pans are visited and a demonstration is given to our guests. Hands-on salt harvesting experiences can be organised upon request between May and September. Crispy Hobz biz-Zejt (local bread and olive oil) is served during the excursion as a snack in summer... obviously with a pinch of salt!

Here is a very good article about Salt Production in the Maltese Islands by Mr. Martin Morana - History of Salt Production in the Maltese Islands

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