Gambians are accusing a Chinese company of destroying their coastline

Protecting the sea.
Protecting the sea.
Image: Reuters/Luc Gnago
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Villagers in the Gambia are accusing a Chinese company of polluting a local wildlife reserve. According to local media and environmentalists, a Chinese fish meal producer called Golden Leaf has been dumping waste and rotten fish into the waters of the Bolong Fenyo Community Wildlife Reserve along Gambia’s coast in the southwest, turning the water red and leaving scores of fish to wash up dead on the shore.

The Chinese embassy in Gambia did not respond to a request for comment, but local activists say that the factory has agreed to remove pipes that dump their waste into the water.

Environmentalists frequently criticize China, which has the world’s biggest fleet of deep-sea fishing vessels, for overfishing in West Africa. The region loses as much as $2.3 billion to illegal fishing, according to Greenpeace.

The allegations don’t bode well for the future of relations between China and Gambia, which only resumed diplomatic ties last March. For almost two decades, Gambia had recognized Beijing’s rival Taiwan until it severed ties in 2013. Since the ouster of the country’s longtime president Yahya Jammeh late last year, Gambia has been courting Chinese investors to help plug its infrastructure gaps.

Still, a petition accusing the company of overfishing and “turning our beaches into a cemetery”, and calling for Gambia’s new president Adama Barrow to intervene, has reached more than 1,000 signatures. One Facebook group, “How can we stop the Chinese companies from destroying everything in the Gambia,” is broadening its criticisms to other Chinese firms in the country.

The administrator for the group wrote, “When the Chinese are ready with their looting and destroying, they will leave, but we will still be there.”