Sierra Leone – learn more & get involved!

I gave a talk on the nation of Sierra Leone this week – stories of pirate fishing, fishing communities and the groups trying to improve the marine sustainability of the area. I told folks I’d post ways to learn more & get involved – so here’s an ever-growing list!

First Catch of Barracuda


- A long way gone – Ishmeal Beah
- The Memory of Love and others by Aminatta Forna
- Brandt Travel Guide to Sierra Leone

Nearfar – ethical and fair trade fashion from Sierra Leone. I have some bags from this line, they are beautiful!

Environmental Justice Foundation - is a registered charity established in 2000 to empower people who suffer most from environmental abuses to find peaceful ways of preventing them. They help communities patrol local waters for illegal fishing activity. They helped me greatly in my research in the area, can’t say enough good things about them!

Orphund - a volunteer based organisation helping abandoned, orphaned and vulnerable children around the world, regardless of race or religion. I’ve sponsored a child in Sierra Leone and they were incredibly responsive. Friends have volunteered on the projects and speak highly of their work.

Craig Bellamy Foundation – is a charity that offers children in Sierra Leone the chance to achieve their potential through sport and education. They do this by running a football academy and a unique youth football league. A friend of mine, Johnny, is running a marathon to raise money for the CBF right now! I’ve visited the academy – it’s an amazing environment for those children to become great athletes, scholars, and leaders.

Tribewanted - their mission is to build sustainable communities in amazing places that benefit locals and visiting members; inspiring positive change within and far beyond the village. I’ve spent several months of my life at Tribewanted, it’s a second home. Don’t hesitate – visit now!

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary - the overall aim of the SL Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Programme is to provide a safe home for orphaned & endangered chimpanzees.

The Collective Sierra Leone - They are a not-for-profit organisation placing and supporting talented and enthusiastic volunteers in challenging projects around Sierra Leone. They partner with development organisations in Sierra Leone who provide us with projects that require the expertise and enthusiasm of skilled volunteers.

Pirates Beyond the Breakers

Today we took the new Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) vessel to the area where the river meets the ocean. This is where they stay on the lookout for pirate vessels – illegal trawlers fishing too close to shore. There is a large sandbar with big breakers that makes the crossing very dangerous, but Amara handled the boat with skill in the large waves today. These illegal vessels are a problem. EJF has tracked a few successfully but they can’t catch them all. If these large vessels are catching the same fish as the canoes, and catching the larger and older ones, they are likely wiping out the reproductive part of the population. That’s a problem if the canoes in the river are catching the smaller and younger fish – the fish populations are being harvested in both life stages. I’ve been told there’s a paper on the catches of these trawlers; I hope that it will give insight into the fishing pressure on the populations by the these industrial boats.

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Bonthe Fish Sampling

In the Sherbro River area the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is working with the local communities to create a co-managed MPA. The government already has restrictions about the net size that can be used when fishing in Sierra Leone (the mesh can’t be less than 2 finger width) and in the estuary only non-mechanized boats can fish. Even though there are restrictions in place, my few days looking at fish here have given me surprising results. The catches here are small – sometimes only 1-5kg of fish for every haul of the net. We saw a fisherman today who set 550 hooks and caught only 3 catfish. (In contrast, the catches are much larger in John Obey, which fishes on the ocean, but also fishes with sometimes smaller mesh.) It’s a great step forward that the councils and chiefs here are cracking down on the net size enforcement and it’s a step in the right direction to help fish populations recover.

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Side trip to Bonthe

On Thursday the fishing village caught some big fish – a stingray that
was probably 4 feet long and wide and a fish they call Spanish that
weighed more than 50 lbs. After seeing these fish I started traveling
South to Bonthe Island to work with the Environmental Justice
Foundation (EJF) for several days. I tagged along with our shopping
crew on their truck ride to Waterloo market then hopped into the EJF
4×4 and we drove to Yaboi. It was some rough road that was flooded in
parts, as the wet season has just ended. It was an adventure and a
great way to see the country. We then hopped into EJF’s brand new
patrol boat to cross over to Bonthe Island. It was an entire day of
travel, but it’s a nice change of pace here in Bonthe. Later today I’m
heading out to York Island to observe their fish catches and see how
we can bring some logbook and community science to this region, to
help inform the marine protected areas that are going into place. I
went to the fish market this morning in Bonthe and was happy to see
the same fish as those in John Obey, as I’ve learned almost 50 local
fish names now and those will hold true here as well.

freetown/bonthe island

Photo by Google Maps

Night of the Turtle

One night this week we had a representative from the Conservation
Society come to check on a turtle nest a villager had discovered on
the beach in John Obey. Sierra Leone has green, hawsbill, olive
Ridley, leatherback, and loggerhead turtles and may have 2 other
species in its water as well. They confirmed it was a green turtle
nest by counting the plates on the shell of a hatchling turtle.  That
night the turtles were given a little help to crawl out of the nest,
and at least 1 made it to the sea. The others were most likely eaten
by crabs, as egg shells were in the nest but turtles were not. We all
took a moment on the beach at midnight to reflect on the beauty and
sadness of that moment with only one confirmed making it to the sea,
but the mood turned hopeful for the second nest that is on our beach,
and has been there 30 days. We’ve heard the turtles should hatch
between 40-60 days, we’re all hoping it’s before we leave.


Thanks to Meredith for this great photo!

Fish, nets and more turtles!

Yesterday started with my alarm going off at 7am to go check the first
catches of the day. The boats weren’t in yet so Perfet and Ali showed
us how to mend the holes in their fishing nets. By the end I got the
hang of it and I can now add net-mending to my beach skill set. I went
to Waterloo after breakfast to buy a cell phone for my work in Bonthe
in a few days, which took most of the day, so very little fish work
happened yesterday.

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A Visitor from the Sea on Day 1

This morning we were met with a wonderful surprise. Around the corner
from the fishing village, a fisherman carried a turtle over to us. He
said it had been caught in a net and needed to be released, as it was
not legal to keepTurtle. The turtle was placed on the beach for the ultimate photo-op, then I put him into the sea and he swam away. A fantastic start to a vacation for anyone, especially a marine scientist.

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