Nothing beats being out at sea to experience the night sky. You get away from the mainland light pollution, but you need a solid platform like a rock to capture or observe it properly.
Filfoletta was the perfect spot!
Its position in the South West coast of the Islands makes it ideal to observe the Milky Way, 5 km away from Malta. My goal was to capture a night panorama with the iconic Filfla rock.
"I was surprised how close Malta still was, and this made me start thinking about the outcome of the planned panorama. Light pollution from Malta would still be very strong and inevitable."
Being a protected area, I got in touch with a research group which agreed to drop my partner and me on Filfoletta on their next field trip to Filfla. These islets are roughly 3.5 miles out from Wied iż-Żurrieq and it took us quite a while to reach by a small boat.
Landing on Filfoletta was not easy, since there are no docks or sheltered inlets. There is a shallow coastline on one side, but it’s dangerous to approach by boat. Our only option was the high rocky shoreline facing Malta, where the water drops deep right at the edge, making it possible to manoeuvre the boat close enough for us to jump out and transfer the equipment. The boat-man truly showed his mastery in controlling a fully loaded boat with a little outboard, still able to keep a smile on his face.
Once settled, I was surprised how close Malta still was, and this made me start thinking about the outcome of the planned panorama. Light pollution from Malta would still be very strong and inevitable. Apart from the mainland as a whole, the biggest issue would be the the Freeport and Ħal-Far Ind. zone, which although covered and far away, both lie behind Filfla. Another let-down was discovering that the parked offshore oil platform was still visible from my angle of view. Apart for being an eyesore to the spectacular Wied-iż-Żurrieq and Qrendi coastline, I learned also that these parked platforms are also disturbing shearwaters returning to nest. They need the dark, the light makes it hard for them to settle at Ħal-Far cliffs. Also their young get disoriented by the strong light when attempting to leave the nest for their first flight in Summer.
Apart from what I had planned, there was not much more to shoot on Filfoletta. We spent the evening exploring the rock which is quite small, not more then a 100m long. We could notice patches of rust encased in cracks, which most probably were the remains of splinters from the practice bombing the British use the islets for up till the 70s. It was a hot night with almost no breeze. Sleeping was impossible as sea slaters where allover the rock. As night falls, these tiny creatures are out on their nightly routine of scavenging around for food. They were everywhere! And we couldn’t even complain as technically we were the invaders.
Although tired, we filled up the time observing and capturing the night sky till the break of dawn. For the first time I could clearly distinguish the nebulas and clusters of the Milky Way with the naked eye. In the morning we couldn’t wait to be back home and we were eagerly waiting for the boat to pick us up. The sea was stronger than the previous evening, which along with rocks slippery from dew, made our transfer to the boat even harder.
Back at Wied-iż-Żurrieq we where welcomed by a group of elderly men, already up for their daily morning swim/chat, and I will never forget the stream of cold fresh air flowing down the valley, welcoming us as we entered the still calm, natural port — a refreshing finish to our little adventure.
Filfla at the break of dawn