Sierra Leone is a small country nestled on the western bulge of Africa, but one endowed with abundant natural resources on and offshore. Yet, like the 15 other countries making up the Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem (GCLME), it is battling against marine pollution, resource overexploitation and the destruction of its coastal habitats.
At stake is the health of the nation’s fishing industry. Fishing nets the country 142,000 tons of fish annually (120,000 tons by the artisanal sector and 20,000 tons by the industrial sector). Combined, both sectors employ 300,000 to 400,000 workers, fishermen, processors and marketers. Despite its much smaller annual catch, the industrial fishing sector, which operated 88 recorded vessels by December 2008, is causing damage to the environment through habitat destruction, discards and pollution.
Oversight rests with the Sierra Leone Environment Protection Agency (SLEPA) and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. SLEPA coordinates and monitors all environmentally-related activities of government ministries, departments and agencies; councils, non-governmental(NGO) and community-based organizations (CBO). SLEPA advises the minister of lands, country planning and the environment in the formulation of policies on all aspects of the environment. Management of the fisheries is within the remit of the ministry.
On 5 October, the Regional Coordination Unit of the Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem project interviewed the SLEPA Board chairperson, Hadijatou Jallow, on the problems bedeviling the country’s marine environment. Here is an excerpt of that interview.
QUESTION: What are the dominant marine environmental problems facing Sierra Leone?
ANSWER: Trawling destroys both topography and the biota, especially of suspension feeders and fish. The seabed topography and integrity are altered. Bad fishing methods (channel fishing, use of poisons, explosives, monofilament nets), increased shrimping activities and the incursion of trawlers into the Inshore Exclusive Zone have led to major perturbations in the state of exploited fish stocks with regards to changes in species composition, decline in abundance in certain fish stocks and an overexploitation of some species, including endangered species such as turtles and mammals.
There are] ballast water problems, pollution from land-based sources – Kingtom Dumpsite and Granville Brook, and waste dumped directly into the Sierra Leone River estuaries.