Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 June 2021:
Sierra Leone’s oceans and marine ecosystems have recently become a focus of intense media attention, following widespread national and international reports of a $55 million secret deal between the governments of Sierra Leone and China, involving an alleged sale of hundreds of acres of coastal lands by the Bio-led government to a Chinese company, for the construction of a fish meal factory which environmentalists say could seriously damage the country’s ecosystem and local economy.
The government of Sierra Leone has denied the allegation but failed to publish documents regarding the deal, despite freedom of information requests and protests by the media and rights groups.
Yesterday, United States Ambassador to Sierra Leone – David Reimer, speaking in a video celebrating June 8, World Ocean Day, called for the protection of Sierra Leone’s marine natural resources, after touring ecologically sensitive coastal areas around the Banana Islands with local environmental advocate Joseph Rahall, director of Green Scenery.
“A healthy, productive and resilient ocean which provides sustainable marine resources is important for economic growth and prosperity, food security, health and well-being,” stated Ambassador Reimer in the video, released by the U.S. Embassy.
“The United States works with partners around the globe to protect the ocean and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. These incredibly rich marine ecosystems must be preserved not only to protect today’s lives and livelihoods, but for future generations of Sierra Leoneans,” Reimer said.
The coastal marine ecosystems provide numerous benefits to Sierra Leone. The nation’s waters are home to large fishing grounds for shrimp, tuna, snapper, mackerel, lobster, and crab.
Numerous Sierra Leoneans rely on these fish stocks for their livelihoods, and to feed their families. Fish supplies nearly 80% of the animal protein in the diets of Sierra Leoneans, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. (Photo: Ambassador Reimer).
“In the case of illegal fishing, trawlers will come very close, inside the EEZ Zone, the prohibited zone, and they can fish – especially where countries do not have the capacity to monitor like ours,” noted Mr. Rahall.
“And these trawlers will come very close and enter and compete with artisanal fishermen…. Often, because the catches are taken by the trawlers very close, the fishermen have to risk again their own lives to go further into the sea to make a living,” Rahall said.
The natural beauty of Sierra Leone’s beaches, and the diverse wildlife observed in coastal environments, are also critical to the developing tourism industry.
The estuaries and mangroves are home to unique birds and aquatic mammals including the endangered African manatee. Coral reefs provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife popular with divers.
Several species of whales pass through Sierra Leone’s waters during their annual migration. These natural treasures have potential to attract millions of dollars of tourism to the country.
“The U.S. Embassy in Freetown provides essential training to Maritime Wing personnel as they protect Sierra Leone’s oceans and territorial fishing grounds,” noted Ambassador Reimer.
“Through USAID, we have supported climate adaptation and mangrove restoration in coastal communities. We are proud to stand with Sierra Leone to preserve these critical natural resources,” Reimer said.
The World Ocean Day video can be viewed on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sierraleone.usembassy/.