The Ecologist

Digging up sand
More articles about
Related Articles

Atlantic Rising: Sand extraction and coastal erosion in Sierra Leone

Tim Bromfield

9th January, 2010

Unregulated sand extraction in Sierra Leone is good for business but wreaks havoc on the coastal environment

It is Saturday morning and Sugar Land beach in Sierra Leone’s Freetown Peninsula is heaving with activity. 

However, the scene is not of families enjoying a weekend outside the capital, but of hundreds of workers shovelling sand into lorries.

Artisanal sand extraction provides the building blocks for Sierra Leone’s construction industry. The sand is extracted by locals, paid by construction companies, who receive sand direct to their building sites. 

This lucrative business provides crucial employment in a country bereft of jobs but is largely unregulated and wreaks havoc on the coastal environment.

Coastal erosion

Professor Strasser-King, Presidential Advisor in Sierra Leone, recently presented a paper warning that coastal sand extraction deprives beaches of replenishment making the coastline more vulnerable to erosion and shoreline retreat.

Other consequences are the collapse of dunes and the destruction of coastal property and road infrastructure.
The irony is that this infrastructure was most likely built using sand from Sierra Leone’s beaches, as will be the roads and buildings that replace those claimed by the sea. The situation at Sugar Land is typical of a wider trend taking place across the country and in much of coastal West Africa.

Dr. Johnson, Coordinator for the National Adaption Programme of Action (NAPA), observes that coastal erosion has reached rates of up to 6 metres a year in some parts of Sierra Leone, including beaches along the Freetown Peninsula.

This will only increase with rising sea levels.

Engineering solutions

The Ministry of Tourism has begun to worry about the threat to some of the most valuable land in the country and is considering hard engineering solutions to the problem.

Many people believe there is an infinite amount of sand and fail to make the connection between sand extraction and coastal erosion; a point of view which perhaps extends to the upper echelons of government.

Strasser-King is on a mission to change this perception and to establish more rigorous building codes and extraction management practices.

But unless alternative extraction sites and employment for the coastal population can be found, Sierra Leone’s construction industry will continue to build with one hand and take away with the other.

Useful links

Atlantic Rising

Add to StumbleUpon
Atlantic Rising: Why Sierra Leone will be screwed at COP15
The costs associated with sending delegates to a conference like Copenhagen are prohibitive for many countries
Atlantic Rising: energy-efficient cooking in Guinea Bissau
Children are learning to use stoves made from cow dung and termite mud in a battle to reduce consumption of timber for fuel
Atlantic Rising: Gambia’s national clean-up day
Gambia needs serious adaption policies rather than monthly clean-up days to cope with rising sea levels and drainage problems
Atlantic Rising: first slavery, then climate change in Gambia
When your island goes from slave staging-post to an outpost on the frontier of rising seas, fate has truly dealt you a poor hand...
Atlantic Rising: rebuilding beaches in Gambia
In Gambia's coastal towns one of the country's chief assets - pristine beaches - is being steadily eroded. In a move to make King Cnut proud, the government is shipping in sand...


Previous Articles...


Using this website means you agree to us using simple cookies.

More information here...




Help us keep the Ecologist platform going

Since 2012, the Ecologist has been owned and published by a small UK-based charity called the Resurgence Trust. We work hard to support the kind of independent journalism and comment that we know Ecologist readers enjoy but we need your help to keep going. We do all this on a very small budget with a very small editorial team and so joining the Trust or making a donation will show us you value our work and support the platform which is currently offered as a free service.

Join The Resurgence TrustDonate to support the Resurgence Trust