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 and


Hannah Booth

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Big picture: Floods, by Gideon Mendel

Gideon Mendel's photographs of the floods in Nigeria have gone some way towards addressing international indifference to a disaster that has affect around 7m people, says Hannah Booth

Hannah Booth

04, Jan, 2013 @10:59 PM

Article image
Big picture: Ostrich, by Magdalena Solé
An ostrich on an abandoned Japanese street – what's the story, wonders Hannah Booth

Hannah Booth

08, Jun, 2012 @9:59 PM

Article image
Big picture: Umbrella, by Kieran Doherty

This Liberian girl, even though she was wading through filthy water, was aware of the style statement she was making. By Hannah Booth

Hannah Booth

16, Nov, 2012 @10:59 PM

Picture of the week: Cape Coral, Florida, 2012, by Edward Burtynsky
Water is the latest project in Edward Burtynsky’s portfolio, which, he tells Abigail Radnor, has been motivated by the same driving force since 1981

Abigail Radnor

05, Sep, 2014 @3:30 PM

Article image
Cape Verde’s ‘fish detectives’ try to keep extinction at bay
As boats from bigger islands flock to fish off Maio, locals take turns to safeguard their pristine waters

Annika Hammerschlag in Cape Verde

21, Sep, 2021 @5:30 AM

Article image
Boom time for Cape Verde’s sea turtles as conservation pays off
The number of nesting sites on the archipelago has risen dramatically, but global heating sees male population plummet

Annika Hammerschlag

26, Oct, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Big picture: The Wealthy Roma Of Buzescu, by Ivan Kashinsky
The Roma in this small Romanian town may have found wealth from dealing in scrap metal since the fall of communism, but photographer Ivan Kashinsky's work questions whether they've found happiness. By Hannah Booth

Hannah Booth

15, Feb, 2013 @4:30 PM

Article image
Picture of the week: Crisis wedding, Greece, by Nick Hannes

In austerity-torn Greece, a Belgian photographer found people adapting to their country's straitened circumstances

Hannah Booth

18, Oct, 2013 @3:30 PM

Article image
Picture of the week: The Aral Sea I, Kazakhstan 2011, by Nadav Kander

When Nadav Kander heard about Russian science towns built specifically for developing atomic bombs and ballistic missile testing, his interest was immediately piqued

Abigail Radnor

18, Jul, 2014 @3:30 PM

Article image
Picture of the week: Syrian Refugees In Lebanon, by Liam Maloney

A million Syrian children have now been forced to flee their homes - like three-year-old Khaled

Hannah Booth

30, Aug, 2013 @3:30 PM