Big picture: Sandgrains, by Francesca Tosarelli

Destruction of the beaches and overfishing has brought drastic environmental consequences to Cape Verde

The beach in Ribeira da Barca, a village in the Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa, used to be a vast stretch of black, volcanic sand. Kids played football and their fathers hauled in the day's catch in their small, weathered fishing boats.

Today, the sand has gone, collected by local people and sold to build houses to feed the island's construction boom. The locals have no choice – the fish have disappeared, and with them the islanders' livelihoods. The reason for this can be seen bobbing out at sea: giant European trawlers that are legally allowed to fish the waters, according to an EU treaty ratified by the Cape Verdean government, but they often exceed their quotas.

Illegal overfishing alters the ocean's food chain, too. If major predators such as sharks decrease, smaller fish are no longer obliged to live near the coast and move off – out of reach of local boats. The result is that, some days, the local fishermen still trying to make a living come home without a single catch.

Collecting sand is hard, dangerous work. With the beach already harvested of all its sand, men have to wade into the choppy sea and shovel it up from the sea bed. They fill buckets carried by women who must sprint back to shore to avoid being smashed by the breakers, dropping their loads and being cut and bruised. It's illegal, but the authorities seem to turn a blind eye. The pay is poor, too – the truckers who buy the sand sell it on at three times the price.

The destruction of the beaches also has drastic environmental consequences. If the ocean has no physical barrier, seawater contaminates the groundwater with salt and damages crops. Although they are doing it to survive, the Cape Verdeans depleting their beaches of sand are doing more harm than good.

• More information at francescatosarelli.com/galleries/projects/sandgrains and sandgrains.matchboxmedia.org

Contributor

Hannah Booth

The GuardianTramp

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