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African Minerals Sierra Leone

After many months I finally got the Consultants (ERM) on board and managed the kick off meeting for the ESIA, required for the next expansion phase Pepel 35/Phase 2. This presented a suitable milestone for me to move on to a fresh challenge after over 3 years on the project as General Manager, Environment with African Minerals, based in Sierra Leone.

In particular the CEO and his new senior management have no clue about working in West Africa; the Canadian Environmental guy informed me with enthusiasm he was ‘bringing mechanised agriculture to Tonkolili’ – an upland rain forest area – Totally inappropriate and doomed to failure. I had seen enough. I was not surprised to see some time later that the whole project and company had been run into the ground and was taken over. You reap what you sow I always say.
When I first came to Sierra Leone, Pepel was deserted, the old hospital medical facilities were intact with equipment lying on the operating tables; trees had grown up holding the abandoned trains onto the rail track and there was one drill rig at Tonkolili. What has been achieved subsequently has been nothing short of phenomenal and I applaud my colleagues and project partners for creating this huge positive asset for the benefit of the country.
It certainly was no walk in the park; there was no Environmental Department or resources and back at the start of 2010 construction commenced across the entire footprint and I began the mad race around the work sites to advise on project standards and procedures to be followed. I smile now at the conditions of near zero telecomms, hopeless cars, rough tracks and facilities that were not established to cater for something they had not experienced before.
My work has to date found rare animals and fish and 5 plant species new to science and I was successful in officially naming the tree species after the project – Gilbertiodendron tonkolili, a fitting legacy for me that started life as a Botanist. I routed the road/rail around a group of chimpanzee way back and we continue to work with the communities there, where we provided latrines, tree nursery and other support. We have just completed the facility at Pepel which will host the environmental education programme for school children I designed, to help the next generation be aware of the environment.
I feel very comfortable that I am leaving behind a positive legacy for someone to deliver steady state compliance.
I have worked in many countries from Russia, to Asia, South America to Africa and there will always be expats like me who think nothing of jumping on a plane to visit a new chunk of the planet and sample a new group within our Global society. However, this project was special – Sierra Leone. From the hand-less peddlers in Freetown to the one-legged footballers on Lumley beach, the tenacity and ambition of Sierra Leoneans can only be admired and is very humbling, even to a well-seasoned traveller like me. When I first came, even those who were forward looking didn’t really dare to believe that something good was going to happen, they had been disappointed so many times before. I literally met people who did not believe we actually had a railway and thought it all propaganda. I say to Sierra Leoneans – grab this thing with both hands, squeeze it and make it happen! these are your mineral resources; go forward and prosper.
I take away a collection of interesting experiences from here and have enjoyed meeting a bunch of characters and made some good friends. My favourite phrase from SL – Have a Blessed Day.

Tagrin to Freetown Ferry

Always an interesting journey across the sea between Tagrin and Freetown. A colourful crush of passengers, fruit and fish vendors, trucks and cars.

The crush and the colour begins

Plenty of room mate - move along

There told you so

Un soldiers

Plain sailing

Looks like a tight squeeze - oops bounced off the other boat

Sargassum, Sierra Leone

Hundreds of tonnes of Sargassum are either buried or partially buried in sand along the beaches of Freetown peninsula, especially along Lumley area in Aberdeen. The algae is rotting producing hydrogen sulphide gas and a smelly organic ooze that continues to run down to the water line. More weed is arriving sporadically. One wonders what the local effects of this organic enrichment are on the marine ecosystem.

Rotting Sargassum

Organic ooze

The weed certainly does not help the look of the beach, as it traps the huge quantities of garbage that wash into the sea throughout Freetown and beyond, due to there being no waste management systems in the country by enlarge.
Garbage trapped in the weed

Calabash Tree

Huge hard fruits of the Calabash Tree

Saw an unusual tree at the top of the beach at Lakka, on the Freetown Peninsula, it was a Calabash Tree. I don’t know how widespread they are in Sierra Leone, that is the first fruiting one i have seen.
Calabash tree, (Crescentia cujete), tree of the family Bignoniaceae, 6 to 12 metres (20 to 40 feet) tall, that grows in Central and South America, the West Indies, and extreme southern Florida. It is often grown as an ornamental. The calabash tree produces large spherical fruits, up to 50 cm (20 inches) in diameter, the hard shells of which are useful as bowls, cups, and other water containers when hollowed out. The fruit’s shell encloses a whitish pulp and thin, dark brown seeds. The calabash tree’s flowers have five petals fused in a funnel shape; they are light green and purple-streaked in colour. The tree may flower and fruit at any time of the year. The branches of the calabash are long and spread outward horizontally with almost no secondary branching. The evergreen leaves are about 5–15 cm long, are lance-shaped, and taper at the base. Fruits of the unrelated bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria, family Cucurbitaceae) are also known as calabashes.


Towards the end of June 2011, huge amounts of Sargassum started to wash ashore all along the beaches of Sierra Leone. The species looks like Sargassum fluitans which is one of the species that makes up the Sargasso Sea – in the Med there is more commonly S vulgare or S. hornschuci; but identification is not confirmed. People speculated about its origin, as local people had never seen anything like it before. There have been recent reports of huge casts like this from Half-Moon Bay and other sites in Antigua in the Caribbean. Some of them are seriously affecting resorts there.
I personally returned 9 stranded baby turtles back to the surf, as of course floating rafts of Sargassum can be an important shelter for baby turtles and other juvenile sea life.
The shores were fairly weed free for 6 weeks or so and then an even bigger quantity came in mid August 2011.

Sargassum on Lumley Beach, Aberdeen, Sierra Leone

Close up of Sargassum in Sierra Leone

The extract below comes from where more info can be found.
Over recent weeks, scientists and resource managers in such diverse places as Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Sierra Leone have been reporting unusual incidents of seaweed washing ashore in massive quantities. The seaweed is a type of brown algae known as Sargassum, which commonly drifts on ocean currents of the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. This algae is well-known for washing up en masse on beaches in places such as Florida, Texas and Bermuda. What’s different this year is not so much the quantities, but the geography. The islands of the Lesser Antilles report never having seen this much of the seaweed before (although it is normally present in their waters), while the country of Sierra Leone has never known it under any quantity.

Sierra Leone Sights & Sounds – Rice Farming, Bunce Island, Street Dance

Rice has become a commodity of strategic significance across much of Africa.
Driven by changing food preferences in the urban and rural areas and compounded by high population growth rates and rapid urbanization, rice consumption in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 6% per annum between 1961 and 1992, more than double the rate of population growth, with consumption and production spreading well beyond their traditional centres in West Africa and Madagascar. West Africa has become a significant player in world rice markets precisely because of its increasingly significant share of world rice imports,
The slow growth in domestic rice production has been attributed to the very low yield being achieved by West African rice farmers. The major rice production systems are upland, hydromorphic and rainfed lowland which together occupy more than 74% of area cultivated.
Whilst I was in the Freetown Port recently, I watched a vessel from Chittagong Bangladesh, where I worked and lived for 2 years, unloading huge quantities of rice from Bangladesh and India. To me this is an unfortunate set of circumstances, as Sierra Leone has huge potential for efficient rice farming and imports such as this would seem to use much needed foreign exchange.
rice farming video
rice farming

Bunce Island
Bunce Island was the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa. Founded around 1670, it exported tens of thousands of African captives to North America and the West Indies until the British Parliament finally closed it down in 1808. During its long and tragic history, Bunce Island was operated by four London-based companies: the Gambia Adventurers; the Royal African Company of England (which had official recognition from the British Crown); and the private firms of Grant, Oswald & Company and John & Alexander Anderson.

During the 1750s Richard Oswald, Bunce Island’s principal owner, forged a strong business and personal relationship with Henry Laurens, one of the richest rice planters and slave dealers in the Colony of South Carolina. Rice planters in coastal South Carolina and Georgia were willing to pay high prices for people brought from the Rice Coast of West Africa where farmers had been growing rice for hundreds of years and were experts at its cultivation.

African rice-growing know-how was essential to the prosperity of the American rice industry. Henry Laurens acted as Bunce Island’s business agent in Charleston, receiving the castle’s human cargoes from Sierra Leone and advertising and selling the African captives at auction. Laurens took a 10% commission on each sale, returning the profits to Oswald in London, often in the form of rice paid by South Carolina planters.

Bunce Island’s history illustrates the complex economic relationship between the West African Rice Coast and Great Britain’s Southern Colonies. Its records show that Henry Laurens sent his own ships directly to Bunce Island to obtain slaves for his newly opened rice plantations in coastal Georgia, paying for them with ship-building supplies made from Carolina pine. The Bunce Island’s records also show that Henry Laurens helped his British business partner, Richard Oswald, open up new plantations near St. Augustine, and that Oswald dispatched a number of his skilled African workers directly from Bunce Island to build his plantations in Florida.

Bunce Island also illustrates the slave trade’s political impact in North America. During the American Revolutionary War the French, jealous of Bunce Island’s commercial success, took the opportunity of their alliance with the American colonists to attack and destroy the castle in 1779. Thus, a battle of the American Revolution was actually fought on Bunce Island. But even more important, Henry Laurens, who had grown rich from the trade in African slave labor, became President of the Continental Congress and later US envoy to Holland. Captured by the British and imprisoned in the Tower of London, he was bailed out of jail by his friend Richard Oswald. Later, Laurens and Oswald sat across the table from one another at the Paris negotiations that led to American independence. Thus, US independence was negotiated, in part, between Bunce Island’s British owner and his long-time agent for the sale of Rice Coast Africans in South Carolina.

Bunce Island also illustrates the enduring family ties between the Gullah people — African Americans living today in coastal South Carolina and Georgia — and their Rice Coast cousins. In recent years Gullah people have made two well-publicized pilgrimages to Bunce Island. In 1989, Emory Campbell, Director of Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, led a group of Gullahs to Bunce Island in a tearful journey memorably recorded in the PBS documentary “Family Across the Sea.” In 1997, Mary Moran and her family from Harris Neck, Georgia visited Bunce Island on their trip to Sierra Leone to meet the Mende people who share an ancient African song they have retained in their family for generations here in America. Mrs. Moran’s visit is recorded in the documentary, “The Language You Cry In.”

bunce island sl

Street Dancing
street dancing

Like many other developing countries, Sierra Leone struggles with the conflict surrounding natural resource exploitation and issues like greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity conservation and eco-tourism potential. Huge areas of the original rich rain forest habitat have been removed or severely damaged by slash and burn, however there are some examples of habitat conservation, such as the Gola Forest.

A rainforest in Sierra Leone has won protection from the country’s government for an indefinite period in a move heralded as one of the first examples of a state using forest conservation to cut its carbon emissions.

The news came as the UN climate change conference in Bali enters its critical final week. Thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries are attending the summit, to discuss how to cut greenhouse gas emissions after current Kyoto protocol targets expire in 2012. So far, progress has been slow, with the US remaining the only developed country to have refused to ratify the treaty.

President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone is expected today to back the plans to make the 185,000-acre Gola Forest, about half the size of London, the nation’s second national park. This will protect at least 50 species of mammal, 2,000 different plants and 274 species of bird, 14 of which are close to extinction.

It is hoped that Gola, close to the Liberian border in the south-east of the west African country, will become the flagship site in a network of national parks planned by the President. Six more are due to be established in the future, to develop the country’s tourist industry as it recovers from the civil war that tore it apart in the 1990s.

The Gola project is being jointly funded by the European Commission, the French government, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the United States-based Conservation International.

Alistair Gammell, the international director of the RSPB, said: “We are helping the government turn a logging forest into a protected forest. Huge amounts of carbon will be saved and the site is an excellent example to those now involved in climate talks in Bali. It is showing how richer countries can help poorer countries protect wildlife, support local communities and tackle climate change.”

More than 100,000 people from local communities will be paid annually to replace earlier royalties linked to logging and diamond mining in the forest, and scientists will be encouraged to study Gola’s wildlife in the hope of creating a hub for the increasingly popular practice of eco-tourism.

The European Commission and the French government are contributing more than 3m towards the project, training hundreds of staff to patrol the forest’s boundaries, monitor wildlife and run education programmes. A 6m trust fund is also being established to cover the park’s running costs and the annual payments to local communities.

Gola is part of the Upper Guinea Forest, which once spread itself across five countries. Less than 30 per cent of it remains, following hundreds of years of aggressive deforestation for the sake of timber, agriculture and charcoal. The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone launched a project to save the forest 15 years ago, but during the civil war, from 1991 to 2002, work was suspended and the government became powerless to protect it. The forest is home to leopards, chimpanzees and forest elephants, as well as hundreds of rare species of bird.

Meanwhile, the President of Guyana, in South America, recently proposed placing his country’s entire 50 million-acre forest, almost the combined size of England and Scotland, under a British-led international body in return for securing aid for sustainable development and technical assistance in switching to green industries.

Sierra Leone Wildlife

Amongst the hussle and bussle of Freetown or scouring the road for an oncoming pudapuda or taxi crabbing at you, it is easy to miss some of the beautiful animals in this colourful place.
I love these lizards, the Agama agama, which are everywhere and are real characters, from scurrying out to catch a fallen insect to the push ups the males do whilst posing.

Sierra Leone Snakes

Despite huge areas of forest habitat loss each year due to slash and burn agricultural practices, some species are able to adapt, such as chimpanzee and also many snake species. Here are some photos of snakes caught recently in Tonkolili District.

olive whip snake

Closer look at the Olive whip snake

The Olive whip snake looks very much like a black mamba from first glance, but has backward facing fangs, slightly more shiny skin and is nowhere near as deadly.

The colourful Gaboon Viper

The Gaboon Viper feeds on small mammals (particularly rodents), birds and amphibians such as frogs. Their excellent camouflage allows them to hide in leaves on the forest floor while waiting for prey. The Gaboon is a venomous snake and its bite can be very harmful and possibly fatal to humans.The average length of an adult Gaboon Viper can range from 4 – 6 feet. The Gaboon is a heavy snake with a weight of 15 – 18 pounds. The Gaboon Viper’s fangs can be from 1 – 2 inches in length. The Gaboon has excellent camouflage with angular brown shapes on its back and a tan head that is shaped like a leaf.
The western green mamba or West African green mamba (Dendroaspis viridis) is a long, thin venomous arboreal snake native to West Africa, including Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. It has large green scales outlined in black, and grows up to two meters in length. The scales on its long tail are yellow and edged in black. It is mostly diurnal, but may be active at night as well. Its habitat is the rainforest. Its natural prey includes birds, lizards, and mammals. Two very close relatives of the Western green mamba are the Eastern green mamba, and the Black mamba.

The striking Western Green mamba

Sierra Leone slash and burn

Typical landscape in Northern Sierra Leone; widespread deforestation with some trees only retained near the village

Like so many other areas in West Africa the practice of slash and burn agriculture continues to impact on the natural forest and its biodiversity. The Guinean Forests of West Africa are one of the most critically endangered regions on the planet and also one of the most fragmented habitats.
With a total land area of 71,325 km2, it is one of the smallest countries in coastal West Africa. Only 93,047 km², or 15 percent, of its original forest cover remains, with most of the remaining forest exploited for timber or threatened by hunting and therefore not representative of intact habitat.
The natural vegetation includes lowland moist and semi-deciduous forests, which constitute the westernmost extent of West Africa’s Upper Guinea ecosystem, as well as inland valley swamps, bolilands and wooded savannah. Ten major rivers form the drainage systems, flowing southwest and roughly parallel, from the northern uplands to the extensive mangrove swamps along the coast. The wildlife is typical of the Upper Guinea ecosystem with a few locally endemic species, but with numerous species that find their westernmost range in Sierra Leone. Most of the forested land in the country now is in forest reserves. In the 1500s, large areas of moist tropical lowland forest covered about half of Sierra Leone, when it is likely that that population densities were very low, and that most people practicing slash-and-burn agriculture would have had only limited and localized impact on the forest. Large scale agricultural change only began following the first wave of European colonization in the mid-sixteenth century, where demand for ship building stimulated logging of larger specimen trees.
The practice of clearing, cultivating and then letting land lie fallow is widespread is the major source of livelihood for the rural population. With human population increase, fallow periods are becoming shorter and the demand for richer soils provided by the remaining ‘virgin’ forested land continues to rise.
The net result of slash and burn is massive depletion of biomass, soil erosion and production of a sandy-type soil, that is drought prone and non water retentive as the heat of the scorching fires incinerates the thin organic matter, as well as the majority of the native seed bank. The rich forests that supported high biodiversity of plants and animals is replaced by a species poor swathe of species such as elephant grass, whilst the animals are increasingly targeted for bush meat, further reducing the biodiversity value of the land.
Bushmeat hunting is an important source of protein for rural West Africa and yet also one of the greatest threats to the region’s fauna. Growing urban populations, improved road networks, and increased access to forests have created a huge commercialized trading system for it both nationally and internationally.
Threats to biodiversity in the region are inextricably linked to poverty, which drives urgent short-term needs that often eliminate long-term opportunities.


Managed to get out fishing for a couple of hours for the first time. Barracuda and jack – very tasty.

Always pays to keep clear of these teeth

Took 35 minutes to get this on board, very tasty steaks, like fillet beef steak done in the wok.

Short time on the water

Sierra Leone

Vast array of colour to see in the country

Fishermen hauling the nets, Pepel area

Fishermen hauling the nets, Pepel area

Head full of fresh fish, Lungi

Head full of fresh fish, Lungi

Slippery silvers

Slippery silvers

Life is ok until someone disturbs your fun

Life is ok until someone disturbs your fun

Experienced hand at work

Experienced hand at work

Smiling faces

Smiling faces

Yellow fin Tuna for tea

Yellow fin Tuna for tea