Profs Victor Axiak, Profs Alfred Vella, and Ms Mary Gaerty have been awaded this year’s prestigious Buonamico Award.

The Buonamico Award is a yearly award-giving ceremony held under the patronage of H.E. President of Malta which distinguishes individuals whose actions and achievements benefited our biodiversity and the environment.

This prestigious award has been inspired Malta’s first naturalist, Giovanni Francesco Buonamico, who had recognized the importance of our natural environment in the 17th century. His varied intellectual interests resulted in the writing of at least four important manuscripts on natural history including the first flora of the Maltese Islands, the so-called “Brevis Notitia” manuscripts which acted as the basis for today’s modern reference books.

Buonamico’s role was pivotal for an environmental regulator’s perspective, with scientific evidence based work as the basis of all decision taking measures, to assure correct implementation to safeguard the Environment from a legislative perspective.

This year, 3 distinguished members of the public have been chosen for their direct impacts on our natural environment and biodiversity.

Professor Victor Axiak has been a Professor in Biology at the University of Malta for almost four decades, where he has held various administrative posts including Head of Department, Dean of Science, and then Deputy Dean of Science.

During this time, he was actively involved in environmental matters and conducted research in marine pollution and the application of a wide range of ecotoxicological tools to evaluate local marine quality, ranging from molecular biomarkers to satellite remote sensing. Such research included the first use of imposex as a biomonitoring tool for antifouling agents in the Mediterranean, and the first surveys of microplastics in local sandy beaches. During the 1980s he coordinated the first monitoring and research of jellyfish blooms both locally and in the Mediterranean. He has lectured on environmental matters in several foreign universities including that of Dalhousie (Halifax, Canada) and of Barcelona and lectured in international postgraduate courses on environment in the Mediterranean.

He has been a member of various national bodies on environment and sustainable development. He was a Board member of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, and subsequently of the Planning Authority. Since its inception in 2016, he had chaired the Environment and Resources Authority until January 2023. During the early 2000s he was instrumental in the setting up of the Interdiocesan Environment Commission of the Church in Malta where he acted as chairperson for 10 years until 2013. For several years, he acted as an environmental consultant to various local and international agencies, departments and private companies. He has published and/or co-edited numerous books various scientific papers and reports.

Profs. Alfred J. Vella served as Head of Chemistry, Dean of the Faculty of Science, Pro-Rector for Academic Affairs and Rector of the University of Malta. For over 30 years, Vella’s outreach commitments extended beyond University walls serving; the Magistrates Court as forensic expert in judicial inquiries on fires, explosion and chemical accidents; consultancy services to state and non-state entities including acting as environmental advisor to Deputy Prime Minister Dr George Vella as vice-chair of the Consultative and Advisory Board for the Environment (CABE) (1996-1998). Vella was a Board member of the Planning Authority, the board of governors of the Malta Council for Science and Technology and Heritage Malta and most recently was an ERA board member for 7 years until February 2023.

Over a period of over 50 years, Professor Vella has effectively contributed to the environment through his work, both as a researcher and as a trainer. He has trained hundreds of students, many of whom today work in the environmental field, including scientists, University academics, in regulatory agencies, manufacturing industries and teachers of science in schools and colleges. Vella’s research on the quality of Malta’s environmental resources include years of work on the contamination of coastal seawater, marine biota and sediments by tributyltin then used in ship antifouling paint: this contaminant was shown to be pervasive and even present in settled outdoor and indoor dust.

Professor Vella was instrumental in pushing into national focus awareness and discussion of issues like nitrates in tap and bottled water; black dust deposition; benzene in air; particulate dust pollution from the construction and ship repair industries and widespread and persistent pollution by toxic metals and perchlorate from fireworks.

Mary Gaerty is the co-founder and chairperson of Green Skip Services Ltd, a waste management and consultancy company. Understanding the potential long-term environmental impacts of waste management in the context of the limited knowhow available in Malta at the time, she opted to prioritise education and training. She took the initiative to take the discussion to the relative authorities, raising awareness and highlighting the importance of personal safety for staff, for proper packaging and for safe disposal subsequently successfully obtaining certification in numerous other areas of waste management, including packaging, export, categorisation and safety.

Mary Gaerty focused on education which was at the forefront of her efforts from the outset, including through school visits aimed at communicating to children the importance of environmental protection and of reusing, reducing and recycling, at a time when these notions were still years away from being incorporated into the national curriculum, mentoring numerous students working on their theses in areas related to her competence. Ms Gaerty remained active in this area and beyond becoming a Full Member of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management in 2016, President of the National Council of Women (NCW) chairing the Council’s Environment Committee, leading entrepreneurship projects, lobbying for more opportunities for women to enter the labour market, and raising awareness on domestic violence and human trafficking, amongst other issues.

Throughout her career, she has been involved in numerous consultation meetings dealing with the environment, particularly in the waste management sector, including issues linked with recycling options and circular economy.

The Scout Association of Malta and the Malta Girl Guides where also honoured and awarded the Buonamico Special Recognition Award for their sterling work in the envirnomental domain.

Both the President of Malta, His Excellency Dr George Vella, and ERA’s Chairman, Perit Dr Vincent Cassar, congratulated the winners and their families, whilst thanking them for their priceless efforts towards the environment and for bravely spearheading initiatives that started to bring about societal change within Malta and amongst the Maltese.

4 November 2023