Conservationists warn Sierra Leone’s recent decision to sell a strip of protected beach to Beijing so the Chinese government may build an industrial fishing harbor in the country may cause “a catastrophic human and ecological disaster,” the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.
The Chinese government recently purchased 250 acres of beach and protected rainforest in the Black Johnson area of Sierra Leone from the country’s government for $55 million. Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources seemingly confirmed the deal in an undated statement circulated on social media earlier this month.
A conservationist organization based in Sierra Leone called the Black Johnson Land Owners Group sent a petition to Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio in early May “urging him to cancel the deal, which they said would destroy pristine rainforests and ecosystems as well as deplete fish stocks,” according to the Post.
“We appeal for your immediate intervention and leadership to prevent a catastrophic human and ecological disaster … The government of Sierra Leone has sold off 250 acres of protected rainforest and beach land to the Chinese. The proposed use is for fish meal production,” the statement read.
“What this means is that vast quantities of fish are ground down to make fish meal pellets for export. Industrial fish meal production is hugely damaging to the environment. Fish meal factories discharge toxic chemicals,” the group added.
Du Zijun, the economic and commercial counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone, issued a statement on May 20 dismissing what he called “false reports” from “local and foreign media” on the Sierra Leone industrial harbor project. Du described the planned harbor as “an assistance project that the government of Sierra Leone has requested the Chinese government to help construct for the purpose of promoting the development of Sierra Leone’s own fishery sector.”
Du said that contrary to “unfounded social media news [reports]” and “groundless speculations, attacks and smear” the industrial harbor project does not include plans for a “fish meat mill.”
“The accusation about Sierra Leonean side selling 250 acres of land to China is totally groundless,” Du claimed.
“The accusations of not paying attention to environmental protection and destroying the ecological environment are completely sensational and hypothetical,” he added.
Environmental researchers say China’s interest in establishing fishing harbors and fleets in foreign waters, such as its planned project in Sierra Leone, indicates that it may have depleted its own fish stocks in waters off of China. Illegal Chinese fishing fleets have increasingly been spotted by local coast guards in waters off West Africa, South America, South Korea, and Japan in recent years.