Clear as day the beach is being destroyed, the fresh water lagoon is being compromised by the encroaching sea, the trees are literally toppling over without a base to support them and more and more rocks are becoming exposed as the sand is simply being carted out in the back of trucks en route to Freetown to support the development boom. As for the ecology, the sea turtles have not returned this year to nest and who knows what other species has been forced to move on.
The social degradation is more subtle however..... Here at John Obey the tension runs high and could be cut with a knife. A serious rift has formed between the people getting rich from the sand and the smaller pockets of people who disapprove or who's livelihood has been destroyed by the mining. Our mission to end the sand mining here at Tribewanted has created hostility between the workers here and the rest of the pro mining community. Neighboring villages are also upset by the destruction happening at John Obey and threats of violence from angry youth groups very real.
The local boys here at John Obey no longer shovel the sand, a crew of 40 - 50 boys from the provinces have heard of the fast, easy money to be earned and have set-up temporary shacks on the beach and work 12 hours a day shoveling only to hand over at least 50% of their earnings to their 'sponsor' in the community. Their 'sponsor' allows them the privilege to work on the beach in return for a hefty sum. This new revelation explains the disheartening comments that I have been hearing - EVERYONE is earning from sand mining and that is why it will not stop. Given this fact, of course the leadership in the community will not stop selling their future, they simply do not have that foresight - this is where the government need to step up and see the long term economic value of protecting one of the most sustainable assets this beautiful country has to offer!
Of course people need to earn, people need to eat...but what happens when the sand runs out? It is not a sustainable source of income, tourism on the other hand has the potential to provide livelihoods for a much wider spectrum of the population for the foreseeable future.
Tourism has not yet taken off in this gem of a country as is currently reserved for the more adventurous traveler. In the 70's and 80's Sierra Leone was the tourist destination for the rich and famous. The Africana hotel at Tokeh has a helipad - soon to reopen - which would receive the elite from around the world that came to enjoy the natural beauty of rainforest and white sand beaches. The war destroyed that market but over 10 years later, peace has well and truly been restored and the doors are opening again for the world to come and enjoy the rich culture and serene beauty of this country.
The potential employment and investment opportunities tourism can provide are immense and will last a great deal longer than the concrete buildings made form high saline sand throughout the peninsula. Successful community based tourism at Tribewanted, River #2 and Bureh are living proof of the power tourism has to improve lives.
As a result of increased awareness and lobbying the government have recently put restrictions on the two beaches open for sand mining. Hamilton, already destroyed with houses and orphanages falling into the sea, will be open 2 days a week and John Obey, a beach that could potentially be saved if action is taken soon, is open for business 6 days a week from 6am - 7pm, although we still hear the trucks coming throughout the night.
I appeal to you to take a minute to sign the petition below and share with your networks. Once we reach 1,000 signatures this will be presented to the president Ernest Bai Koroma to appeal for a change in legislation to save the habitat for the people of Sierra Leone.