Sierra Leone has some of the finest beaches in the world, but many around the capital are now clogged with foul-smelling seaweed that threatens the tourism and fishing sectors.
At Lumley Beach West of Freetown, a putrid brownish-yellow carpet began covering the white sands a week ago, prompting and fishermen to don face masks to ward off the stench.
A local environmentalist estimated that there are now more than four tonnes of seaweed deposited over the sparkling sands, with the capital's 14 other beaches also badly affected.
Veteran beachcomber Salifu Deen told AFP while strolling near the shore, "the seaweed is back in volumes and the stench is unbearable."
"Most locals and particularly tourists will be put off by the smell," he said.
Tourism minister Sidi Yahya Tunis told AFP on Saturdaay that a clean-up operation had begun.
"We have undertaken a massive mechanism for a daily clearing exercise using dredgers. The weeds are taking over the beaches and this is unfortunate," he said.
Professor Percival Showers of the Institute of Marine Biology and Oceanography, Fourah Bay College, said the seaweed had come from the Sargasso Sea, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, carried by unusual weather patterns.
Hardest hit by the deposits are fishermen and fishmongers who depend on the daily catch to supply local markets and nearby hotel chains.
"It is difficult for me to face my family as I can see the disappointment on the faces of my wife and four children when I return home in the evening without a catch. We cannot even cast our nets as all we fish out are seaweeds with tormenting smells," said fisherman Mustapha Koroma.
Fishmonger Mariatu Bundu was equally despondent.
"For many days now, we have gone to the various beaches and returned empty handed. I am worried that I would soon lose my customers as some have said they would rather eat meat instead," she said.