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.
What kinds of pollutants from the country's highlands end up in the river estuaries? What is the effect of these on the coastal ecology and populations?
About 95 per cent of all industries in the country are located in Freetown (oil refinery, brewery, Whitex, distilleries, paint factory). Industrialization consumes resources heavily and
generates huge quantities of waste. Effluents from these factories are discharged directly into the estuaries. There is also major mining activity in the south of the country which may discharge toxic substances into estuaries that may also result in fish kills.
How does Sierra Leone's Environment Protection Act of 2000 apply to polluters of the marine and coastal environments? Who has the power to apply the law and what kind of punishment is reserved for violators?
SLEPA has the power to apply the polluter pay principle. Punishment deals particularly with the withdrawal of license and recently the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has imposed a fine of 5 million leones [about US $1,250] on poachers. Five per cent of this money goes to the reporters of the offence.
How adequate is the level of funding for SLEPA to carry out its function and prosecute violators?
The level of funding needs to be greatly improved to enable SLEPA monitor the entire coastline.
What is SLEPA or others doing to ensure the environmental quality of coastal habitats and marine ecosystems?
It issues environmental permits/licenses and pollution abatement notices for controlling the volume, types, constituents and effects of waste discharges, emissions, deposits or other sources of pollution and of substances which are hazardous or potentially dangerous to the quality of the coastal habitats, marine ecosystems, environment or any segment of the environment.
Environmental permits/licenses have, as a prerequisite, action plans for the rehabilitation and restoration of degraded habitats and these are closely monitored. The licensing system by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources takes into consideration also the conservation issues of the marine environment.
What systems are in place to enable environmental monitoring of coastal and marine areas, and resources?
The Environment Protection Agency is charged with the responsibility to coordinate and monitor all environmentally related activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government, Councils, NGOs and CBOs.
- There are NGOs that are working in the field of environmental management and have components of coastal and marine protection and conservation in their work plan. … There are also a number of CBOs that are working in their localities to protect their environment and conserve the resources in their environment. The Sierra Leone Fishermen's Union may fall under this category.
- The Fisheries Ministry deploys Fish Monitors/Observers on board every industrial vessel registered in the country providing fisheries data/statistics on species caught and production levels and reporting on all fishing activities.
- The Sierra Leone Maritime Administration has set-up a National Ballast Water Task Force for the management of Ballast Water since it is now considered a major threat to our oceans.
- The Sierra Leone Maritime/Naval Wing conducts regular patrols along our waters checking on piracy, security and illegal fishing by industrial vessels in our territorial waters.
- The Forestry Department, in collaboration with NGO partners, are involved in census, surveys and monitoring of water birds and marine mammal species.
- The African Development Bank funded project in Sierra Leone for artisanal fisheries development and monitoring.
- The European Union-funded project, Institutional Support for Fisheries Management, under European Union's 9th European Development Fund Programme for Sierra Leone aims to foster sustainable fisheries management through prudent use of resources for economic growth and sustainable development. The expected outcomes of the project are to establish the status of current fish resource biomass and exploitation patterns, preparation of realistic policy statement, development conservation measures and management plans and institutional strengthening. A major component is the evaluation of the current fisheries resources biomass by conducting fisheries research surveys. Six surveys are to be carried twice annually over the next three years of the project.
- SLEPA continues to monitor mining companies implementation of their Environmental and Social Mitigation Projects, particularly, the rutile and bauxite mines that make use of the water resources of the River Jong, a major river in the country, the Addax – Bio Energy Project from sugar cane to ethanol that makes use of the waters of the Rokel River and the Iron Ore Mines (London Mining and African Minerals) that makes use of the waters of the Rokel River downstream.
- Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, an NGO, is involved in conservation and management of species through censusing, surveys and monitoring of water birds and marine mammals, and coastal ecosystem.
- PRCM has provided financial and technical support to the Government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas in Sierra Leone using the Integrated Management Approach in Coastal Zone Management.
- Forestry and Wildlife Department are implementing a PRCM Project on the West African Mangrove Initiative. The project is been implemented along around Yawri Bay, a major fish and salt production area where mangrove exploitation has become alarming.
- In May 2009, the Ministry of Fisheries burnt close to 800 nets that were not acceptable mesh sizes. With this there is now public outcry in Freetown and the regions about the drop in table size fishes which the ordinary man can afford. They are not conscious of the fact that this is a measure of conservation that would help the resource depletion which is the current trend.
Restrictions on beach sand extraction and beach face constructions.
- Industrial and artisanal Vessel monitoring system in place.
- Immigration monitoring system in place for smuggling of goods and animals.
- Environmental monitoring and research activities of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and the Institute of Marine biology and Oceanography [is] in place.
What naval assets are available to Sierra Leone to monitor and protect the coastal and marine areas?
Setting up of the Joint Maritime Committee is a step in the right direction. The current surveillance capability drive that includes the establishment of a Maritime Rescue Co-ordinating Centre and the installation of coastal radar at cape light house under the JMC sets the stage for an effective Early Warning System in SL. These equipments will be jointly operated at the JMC Command Centre with operators at designated coastal stations outside Freetown who will monitor maritime threats and report back to the JMC Command Centre. The JMC COMCEN will be manned 24/7 with trained personnel who will respond at short notice to all forms of maritime disasters.
The Sierra Leone Navy has one range patrol boat and small inshore patrol crafts for monitoring the waters.
What programmes exist in Sierra Leone for the identification and study of flora, fauna and economic resources of coastal and marine ecosystems?
[The] National Biodiversity and Action Plan has been developed by Sierra Leone.
A number of programmes detailed in this document are currently been undertaken. The World Bank, under the West Africa Regional Programme, is implementing major fisheries projects in these directions.
How much in money does the country earn yearly from its marine and estuary resources?
Recently the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources announced a figure of 11 billion leones [about $275,000] as contribution to the government's revenue which was about 11 per cent to Gross Domestic Product.
Who is responsible for ensuring that coastal and marine fisheries resources are exploited only on a sustainable basis? What are the results of such efforts, so far?
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is responsible for the management of fisheries resources and related habitats in a manner which would maximize benefit in terms of fish catch now and in the future. It is expected to develop fisheries resources and to devise methods of enhancing current production e.g. by means of aquaculture and more effective exploitation.
The ministry issues licenses for offshore trawling and monitors small-scale inshore and offshore large-scale fishing. It is also responsible for enforcing laws on fishing activities and concerns itself with pollution and other environmental problems which affect water quality and fisheries resources.
There has been a decline in the reported level of incursions by fish trawlers into the prohibited areas and reduction in the level of bad fishing practices by artisanal fishers.
Climate change, adaptation; coastal resource management.
What are the potential risks to Sierra Leone's coastal ecosystems, communities and infrastructure due to climate change?
Coastal erosion, flooding, sea level rise, mangrove deforestation, disappearance of coastal settlements.
What technologies, adaptation strategies, and national policies (land tenure, for example) are available to Sierra Leone for the sustainable management of coastal resources and coastal communities?
There is no overall legal framework for the coastal and marine environment policy. However, there are several existing natural resource utilization frameworks, and there are ongoing attempts to have management plans developed, i.e. Coastal Zone Management Plan, Fisheries Management Plan, National Action Plan to combat fisheries depletion and coastal area degradation.
Further, some measures have been taken over the past few years to protect the coastal and marine environment, taking cognizance of safety and security. These steps were geared towards the maintenance of sustained fishery development, coastal and marine environmental protection, safety and security at sea, maintaining the quality and integrity of the coastal and marine ecosystems for other socio-economic uses. These measures include restrictions on beach sand extraction, banning of environmentally unfriendly fishing methods, mangrove re-afforestation programmes, establishment of reserves, designation of Ramsar Protected Sites and restrictions on beach face constructions.
[Other measures include:]
- Licensing of fishing trawlers continues with a view to restricting the number of fishing vessels to meet the potential exploitable biomass.
- Licensing of fishing trawlers continues with a view to restricting the number of fishing vessels to meet the potential exploitable biomass.
- There is the 1994 Fisheries Management and Development Act and the 1995 Fisheries Regulations (all being reviewed now).
- The Fisheries Ministry, through its Statistics unit continues to monitor fish production through daily reports sent in by Fisheries Observers placed on board industrial fishing vessels or fisheries dock observers in the artisanal fisheries industry.
Surveillance of the Inshore Exclusive Zone.
- The capacity of the navy has recently been enhanced with the provision of one surveillance boat by the Chinese Government for distance water and three (3) cutters from the United States Government.
- The Joint Maritime Committee was established with a view to managing maritime affairs which include fisheries, surveillance, sea transport, customs etc. the composition of this Authority includes: Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (chair), Navy/Maritime Wing, British International Military Assistance and Training Team, Marine Police, Ports Authority, Sierra Leone Maritime Authority, Ministry of Defense and Office of National Security in the President's Office.
- Fisheries research survey was carried out within the territorial waters of Sierra Leone under the auspices of the GCLME project. The objective of the survey was largely to determine the distribution and abundance of demersal and pelagic fish resources.
- Aquaculture Development - With regards to aquaculture development, little has been done due to limited resources. However, the Ministry benefited from the Chinese government by way of building the capacity of senior and middle level professional staff in aquaculture development as well as other management disciplines.
- The Disaster Management Department in the Office of National Security, State House commissioned a risk assessment study in 2005 to look at the various types of disasters both natural and manmade disasters. The inventory that was compiled was on hazards rather than disasters.
- Proposal for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas - Scarcies River Estuary, Yawri Bay and Creeks, Sherbro River Estuary and Islands.
- At present the Disaster Management Unit in the Office of National Security is developing a national Disaster Policy and Management Plan. The Department is working in close collaboration with key government line ministries and NGOs to build a disaster resilient Sierra Leone.
What is the population of the country's coastal communities?
The population of Sierra Leone was reported at 4.9 million in the latest 2004 National Population and Housing Census, with an average growth rate of 2.6 per cent, per annum. Quite a large percentage of the population is found in the coastal area of Sierra Leone. The 2004 census reported 2,316,621 as total population for the coastal districts. This accounts for 46.2 per cent of the total population. This is nearly half the national population, and that they make substantial use of the coastal resources, need not be overstated. As the coastal population continue to grow, these resources correspondingly experience an increasing stress. However, the degree of coastal resources exploitation is to a large extent influenced by the population of the entire country and by the coastal population in particular.
What evidence exists of increasing salination of the country's rivers as a result of rising sea level? What kind of activity is affected and where?
Rice farming within our mangrove systems is being affected.
For decades we have been seeing rural to urban migration such that the majority of African peoples in the Guinea current region now live in coastal areas. Given the rise of sea level as a result of climate change, is there evidence of, or is there likely to be, a reverse migration of the coastal population? If there is a reverse migration, what new kinds of environmental problems might arise?
As the effects of sea level rise is not yet prominent, although we cannot rule this out, there is the possibility that a reverse of the population dynamics might occur in the event of sea level rise. If this occurs, we expect land ownership conflicts, increase in population pressure on the arable land and eventually social pressures.
What kinds of marine debris appear along Sierra Leone's shorelines and in its coastal waters and estuaries?
Plastics, domestic waste, hospital and clinical waste, industrial effluents.
What measures can be taken to stop waste disposal into the sea and along the beaches?
Policy and regulatory measures put in place, physical actions, monitoring systems, NGO intervention.
What is the degree of public awareness of environmental issues, in general, and marine environmental problems in particular?
Low, and more outreach programmes are needed.
What outreach and education programmes are being undertaken (and by whom) to inform the public about the value of marine resources, the impact of trash on these resources and human health, and the benefits of segregating wastes and recycling?
An Artisanal Fisheries Development Programme – an ADB Funded Project – has been working in this area for the last five years organizing workshops and developing environmental training manuals for fisher folk in the five axis – Goderich, Tombo, Bonthe, Shenge. These are all within the Yawri Bay, major fishing hotspots in West Africa.
SLEPA [conducts] environmental sensitization and awareness raising programmes in the whole country.
SLEPA's Sustainable Land Management Project is currently managing two mangrove sites in the country – one along the Sierra Leone River Estuary and the other in the woodland savanna areas in the northern region.