7 January 2013
Last updated at 01:31
Once synonymous with a brutal civil war, Sierra Leone was forecast to be one of the world's fastest growing countries in 2012. On the back of the rapid economic growth, it is enjoying a construction boom, with new roads and buildings springing up in and around the major towns.
But the construction brings with it increasing demand for sand, an essential building material, and much of this sand is coming from the country's beautiful beaches.
The coast, stripped of its natural protection, is now being eroded at a rate of up to 6m (yards) per year in places, according to Kolleh Bangura, director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the village of Lakka on the Freetown peninsular, crumbling ruins dot the shoreline. This building was destroyed by coastal erosion in 2004, a year after the village's pristine golden beach became the site of intensive sand mining operations.
On Hamilton beach the scale of the operation is staggering. Sand is mined here two days a week, during which up to 40 trucks can be working simultaneously, each with a team of diggers.
Above the crumbling sandy cliff behind Hamilton beach, Imma Mansaray knows her home will eventually become another victim of coastal erosion. "I am very worried about my house but I can’t afford to move anywhere else," she says.
More than a decade after the long civil war ended, Sierra Leone is finally hoping to bring back the tourists who once flocked in their thousands to the spectacular beaches around Freetown. Sand mining is seen as a serious threat to the area’s tourism potential.
The mining is supposed to be restricted to just one beach as part of a rotation system designed to make the practice more sustainable, yet the ban is widely ignored, with intensive mining occurring in broad daylight on other beaches. Even when local bans are enforced, the mining simply goes ahead at night.
Coastal communities are divided over the issue, as sand mining is an attractive and lucrative option for the local workforce, bringing in much-needed income.
In a country with a youth unemployment rate of around 70%, the miners say that the onus is on the government to provide them with jobs, otherwise they will have to continue digging sand.