Cape Verdeans try to clean up their 'postcard island'

The Movement Against Pollution in Cape Verde publishes environmental alerts accompanied by photos on its Facebook page. Photos: Movimento Contra a Poluição em Cabo Verde / Facebook.
The Movement Against Pollution in Cape Verde publishes environmental alerts accompanied by photos on its Facebook page. Photos: Movimento Contra a Poluição em Cabo Verde / Facebook.

Cape Verde – a small island nation off the shore of Senegal – is often depicted in guidebooks as a paradise on earth: photos abound of white sand beaches and crystal clear water. However, on the ground, activists are documenting a startling trend that could put the island’s image in peril. Rubbish, especially plastic, is building up on once-pristine shores and tourism is leaving its mark.

On the island of Boa Vista, which is one of the most popular destinations for tourists flocking to Cape Verde, people are using old rusty shipping containers as makeshift bins. On the Facebook page of the Movement Against Pollution in Cape Verde, photos show plastic bottles filling these rusty containers, which often sit just a few metres from the ocean and Sal Rei port.

In the caption of the photo below, the group explains that these abandoned containers have become both public toilets and dumpsters where fishermen dump the plastic bottles that they use to make ice. "We’re inviting […] the Minister of Maritime Economy, the Minister of the Environment and the city government of Boa Vista to come and see,” the post reads.

In this post the group complains about the containers abandoned on the coast that are now being used as bins and “public toilets” .


The Movement Against Pollution in Cape Verde publishes posts like this several times a week on its Facebook page and in its Facebook group. In every post, they call out the authorities responsible by name.


Activists found plastic rubbish on the Ribeira da Barca beach on Santiago island. They ask the authorities to carry out awareness campaigns in fishing villages.

“In Boa Vista, part of the population lives in shacks known as 'barracas', which don’t have sanitation systems”

The founder of the Facebook page is 42-year-old César Freitas. This champion of the environment saw the archipelago transform as the economy and tourism industry developed. He thinks that there needs to be a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of conserving Cape Verde’s natural heritage.

I grew up by the ocean, immersed in the island’s coastal culture. Unfortunately, I constantly see people disrespecting our natural environment. For example, many locals leave their rubbish on the beach. There are also places that have essentially become "marine landfills”, where residents dump their rubbish and waste water.

People act in this way because of a lack of awareness and education. Most residents don’t know the consequences that their behaviour might have.

In this post the group decries a beautiful sea view ruined by rubbish. This is where residents discard their rubbish and their wastewater, a "tradition" that will be hard to end as residents say they’ve always used this site as a dump. The environmental group is asking the authorities to ban the practice.


The development of the tourism industry can also have a negative impact on the environment. For example, we published a post on the stones piled up by tourists on Sal island. Tourists often build little stone towers as a way to say, “I was here.” But in some places there are so many that the area looks like a lunar landscape.

Sal city authorities picked up this thread and posted on social media about the negative impact the towers can have on the ecosystem [Editor’s note: City officials said that the practice pulls the moisture from the ground, eliminates vegetation, destroys the habitats of animals and insects, and alters the landscape]. So our posts are having an impact.

We’ve witnessed several problems arising from the development of tourism on Boa Vista. With all the hotels and restaurants that were built, it has become an island where there is lots of work. But many workers aren’t from Boa Vista and can’t travel back to their homes every day. They also can’t afford decent housing in Boa Vista. So many live in "barracas", which are shacks without proper sanitation systems. Many residents don’t have access to toilets and will defecate along the coast or in old rusted containers [Editor’s note: In 2017, only 57.7% of the population of Boa Vista had access to a toilet, according to the local press].

Near the port in Boa Vista, old abandoned containers are used as toilets. Plastic waste is scattered on the ground.


We also let authorities know of specific zones that are being neglected and ignored. For example, on the island of Santiago, Achada Baleia is one of the rare beaches that still has sand. Soldiers were actually stationed there to make sure that people were not removing it. Now, however, the beach has no monitoring system.


"This is one of the rare beaches in Santiago that still has sand. Before, soldiers made sure that people weren’t collecting and transporting sand and that the turtles who live there were protected [...]".


Disappearing sand is a major problem on the island. Many people make a living collecting and selling it, most often to the construction sector. But there are serious environmental consequences to this practice [Editor’s note: among other problems, it causes salt water to seep into the ground, harming agricultural production].

In light of these problems, I started organising clean-up campaigns last October.

Clean-up campaign by César Freitas and other volunteers on Aguas Belas beach, Santiago island.


Rubbish from 25 different countries on one beach

On November 27, another environmental group, Biosfera Cabo Verde, posted striking images of rubbish on the Achados beach on the island of Santa Luzia, where many sea turtles lay their eggs. In the video, activists showed that the rubbish, which had been washed up on the beach by the ocean, came from at least 25 different countries.


Last June, on World Oceans Day, the Cape Verdean minister for the marine economy posted a video on Facebook that showed customers at a restaurant being served not fish but plastic.

"According to estimates, in 2025, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean,” the video asserts.


Cape Verde invested €1.5 million into waste management plans in 2017. The year before, a law was enacted to ban all plastic bags except those made with biodegradable plastic.

This article was written by Maëva Poulet (@maevaplt).