Sierra Leone has agreed to sell 250 acres of pristine beach and rainforest to China in a $55 million deal that would see an industrial fishing harbor built on the site.
The move has sparked outrage from conservationists, human rights and animal welfare groups and local landowners, who have said the project would “destroy pristine rainforest, plunder fish stocks, pollute the marine environment and five individual eco systems that are fish breeding grounds and support endangered bird and wildlife species.”
The details of the deal, first reported by the U.K.’s The Guardian newspaper, remain hazy. Local public policy research organizations the Institute for Legal Research and Advocacy for Justice (ILRAJ) and Namati Sierra Leone have written to the government requesting information on “plans to establish a fish harbour and carry out waste management operations at Black Johnson in the Western Area peninsula, a project funded by the Government of China.”
The groups are requesting copies of legally-mandated environmental and social impact assessments, along with the grant agreement between China and the Sierra Leonean government.
Both the Chinese and Sierra Leonean embassies in London and the Sierra Leonean state house were unavailable for comment when contacted by CNBC.
Black Johnson’s waters are rich in fish and local fishermen supply a substantial portion of the domestic market. Meanwhile, the Western Area Peninsula national park houses many endangered species.
A press release from Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources Emma Kowa-Jalloh on Monday contends that “the facility to be constructed is a Fish Harbour and not a Fish Mill as portrayed by the social media writers.”
“The objective of the Fish Harbour is to centralise all fishing activities. The government of Sierra Leone has been yearning for a Fish Harbour since the early 1970s, but could not actualise it due to the huge amount of money that is required,” Kowa-Jalloh said.
“With the new shift in government policy for the development of the fisheries sector, the Chinese government has given a grant of US$55m to build this platform.”
The release also asserts that Black Johnson was “the most suitable place for the construction of the facility in terms of bathymetry, social safeguards (minimum resettlement cost) and environmental issues.”
Kowa-Jalloh said the Ministry of Finance had set aside a compensation package of 13.76 billion leones (around $1.34 million) for landowners, and insisted that the sale of the land was intended to “ensure the regular supply of fish” to the local market.
Sierra Leone’s agreement to sell 250 acres of pristine beach and rainforest to China in a $55 million deal has sparked outrage from conservationists, human rights and animal welfare groups and local landowners, who have said the project would “destroy pristine rainforest, plunder fish stocks, pollute the marine environment