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Blue Grotto, Malta: Unique Places around the World

This locale gets its name from the intensely blue color of its waters, but it is in severe danger today due to climate change.

5. Description

The Blue Grotto is a system of seven sea caverns, located on the outskirts of the southern town of Żurrieq, on the small Mediterranean island nation of Malta. The area should not be confused with its namesake, the Blue Grotto in Capri, Italy. The caverns are themselves unique limestone formations, with stunning views of water, flora, and fauna. The largest and most popular cavern is commonly referred to as the ‘Blue Grotto’ Cavern.

4. Tourism

The grotto is popular among visitors to Malta, which is easy to navigate because its area spans only 17 by 9 miles at its extents. Malta is easily accessible by plane, within three hours from many major European cities, and from them connections to the UK, North Africa, and the Middle East. There is ferry access to Sicily, Italy, from the port in Pozzallo. Getting to the grotto from Żurrieq involves travelling around 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) west to the harbor of Wied iż-Żurrieq, and hiring a "dgñajsa", a water taxi, for around €8 ($8.67 USD). In addition to regular boat tours, there are also rock climbing, scuba diving and snorkeling tours for those so inclined.

3. Uniqueness

Blue Grotto features a 140-foot arch, Il-Hnejja. The arch is a unique byproduct of the local coralline limestone, which tends to fracture and erode from the constantly pounding waves. The grotto is also widely recognized for its ultra-clear water, which appears as stunning shades of cobalt blue when sunlight hits the white sand at the bottom of the caves, and reflects against the colors of plants, sea creatures, and minerals in the limestone. Filmmakers favor the area for its inimitable natural aesthetics.

2. Habitat

The limestone of the grotto contains marine fossils, because the entire island of Malta was submerged millions of years ago. Plants and animals are visible through the water in the caverns, and divers can see barracudas, jacks, octopus, and morays in the water itself. The caverns also offer a view of Fiflia, an inlet uninhabited by humans, which is home to endemic species, such as the Maltese wall lizard. As one would expect, culinary fish and seafood are available throughout Malta. Local delicacies include sea urchin and octopus, as well as lampuka fish, which is the main ingredient in Maltese lampuki pie.

1. Threats

Malta has a good reputation as a very safe destination, and a trip to Blue Grotto can be made safely with the assistance of experienced tour guides. It is not possible to touch the floor of the sea, so access to life jackets is crucial, especially for children and those who are not proficient swimmers. The waves, and their tendency to erode the rocks, can be dangerous, especially in stormy conditions. Even when the weather is calm, boat guides carefully time entrance to the caves in relation to the rhythm of the waves. Unfortunately, the natural infrastructure of the Blue Grotto, and all of Malta, is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Rising temperatures provoke devastating invasions of local ecosystems by non-native wildlife as well. Malta has made climate change a serious priority, in part because its only significant natural resources are said to be its mild climate and limestone. Increasingly, tourists are encouraged to see the Blue Grotto less as an idyllic blue water paradise, and more in terms of its rich heritage and as a hot spot for eco-tourism.

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