If you reside in any part of Ghana’s coastal areas, particularly in what is referred to as the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA), then you must be familiar with the popular ‘Homowo’ festival of the indigenous Ga people, celebrated annually amid abundance of corn and bumper fish harvests from July to September. This is evident in all the various markets in Accra.
And if you are very observant, you would have realised that for several years now, the nature of plentiful and assorted fishes that usually characterised the associated festivities has changed drastically, with fish mongers displaying few types of fishes for sale in the markets during the season.
What has happened?
Now most of the artisanal or local fishermen responsible for sustaining this local fish industry, are technically unemployed currently, as there are days they hardly make any catches.
Economic analysts attribute the situation to illegal activities of large trawlers, while scientists blame it on series of happenings including the impacts of global warming on the sea and fishes suffering from stress. Traditionalists are likely to blame the anger of the gods. But the most observant individuals will appreciate that the massive removal of mangroves for fuel wood and reclamation of mangrove ecosystems mostly for residential buildings, have highly contributed to the collapse of the local fisheries industry that once upon a time thrived in the coastal communities based on the lagoons and estuaries.
This sad turn of events that has somehow impacted the celebration of one of Ghana’s historical festivals, could have been one of the reasons which possibly informed the focus of the celebration in Ghana of this year’s International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on Tuesday, 26th July. The national focus was and is: ‘Trends in the Degradation of Mangroves in Ghana and Concerns for Conservation’.
The International Mangrove Day
This year’s celebration marks the 7th anniversary of the day’s adoption by UNESCO to raise awareness of the significance of the mangrove ecosystem as unique, special and vulnerable, and among the most productive and complex constituents of natural ecosystems. The occasion was also used to promote solutions for the sustainable management, conservation and uses of mangroves.
Growing in places where ocean, freshwater, and land meet, mangroves thrive in salty and brackish conditions in which most other plants cannot survive. Mangroves can be mainly recognised by their dense tangle of prop roots that make the trees appear to be standing on stilts above the water. This feature allows the trees to handle the daily rise and fall of tides and slow the movement of tidal waters. And by their nature, mangroves fulfill important functions such as coastal protection, provision of habitat, spawning grounds and nutrients for a variety of fish and shellfish, salt production and fuel wood.
IUCN Ghana spearheaded the national commemoration in collaboration with the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission (FC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local communities within the Keta Lagoon Complex Ramsar Site in the Volta Region. The climax activities were community engagement to build capacity on mangrove restoration; community mangrove planting; and schools education on the importance of mangroves and the need to restore them.
Other awareness-raising activities were radio and television discussions that highlighted the urgent need to replant depleted mangrove forests and to conserve existing ones through community initiatives and ownership, development of mangrove specific protection policies and enforcement of relevant regulations.
Statements from concerned conservationists
In commemoration of the day, representatives of various conservation-focused organisations made some salient remarks. The Project Coordinator at IUCN Ghana Project Office, Mrs. Saadia Bobtoya Amofa, stated:
“Mangroves are a life line to safeguarding our costal resources, as well as our livelihoods. Therefore, it is very important that we all put in efforts to conserve and use them sustainably for current generations, but most importantly for future generations as well.”
IUCN’s mangrove project site covers the whole of the Keta Lagoon Complex Ramsar Site. Active communities involved include: Anyanui, Bomingo, Dzita, Galotse, Galosota, Salo and Sota.
The Executive Director of the Ghana Wildlife Society (GWS), David Kpelle, noted that: “Mangroves vegetation are part of the five global eco-regions of Ghana covering a total area of 42.6 km2, representing 0.2 percent of the global eco-regions in Ghana. They are largely located within the Volta estuary and the Amansuri Wetlands. Unfortunately, despite their importance as fish spawning grounds, carbon sequestration and protection against coastal erosion, they are not represented in our IUCN designated protected areas network. Therefore the Government of Ghana needs to take steps to expand the existing 16 wildlife protected areas by including the mangrove areas in the protected areas network of Ghana in order to preserve their global ecological importance.”
The GWS was instrumental in developing the Amansuri Wetlands Area and its tourism potential in the Western Region.
The Director of Conservation Alliance International (CAi), Dr. Yaw Osei Wusu, emphasised the importance of mangrove conservation:
“Mangrove conservation is too important to be left in the hands of political actors alone. Some coastal communities describe mangroves as the gateway to marine environment. Mangroves provides safeguard measures for sustaining fish populations, community livelihoods and ecosystem services within coastal environment. The value of mangroves have not yet been fully appreciated and documented within the country and were considered as swampy wastelands. This perhaps largely explains the continuing threats they face, which, if unchecked, will have dire consequences for the health of coastal zone. Mangroves collaborate with seagrass beds, and coral reefs to trap sediment and pollutants that would otherwise flow out to sea. Without such a partnership, this incredibly productive ecosystem would collapse.
CAI, in collaboration with partners through its Coastal and Marine Resilience Programme (COMARP), is promoting sustainable practices such as conservation and restoration of some degraded mangrove ecosystems in Ghana’s coastal areas like the Songor Ramsar/UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Saving Mangroves is saving humanity and it is the Responsibility of ALL.”
Threats to mangroves in Ghana, and efforts to address them
In Ghana, threats to mangroves are in diverse forms. The major ones include unsustainable exploitation of mangroves, inadequate management measures to protect the remnant species, degradation of mangrove habitats, population and economic pressure, poverty within mangrove communities, inadequate alternative livelihood options and poor governance measures at all levels. Other threats are inadequate public education and awareness, emerging developments such as petroleum and gas exploration, exploitation activities including illegal mining (galamsey) and climate change.
Over the years, several efforts have been made to address the threats to Ghana’s mangrove resources. For instance, from 1993 to 1999 under the Ecological Restoration Programme of the World Bank-funded Coastal Wetlands Management Project, the Ramsar Sites were delineated. The aim was to conserve and protect wetlands of international importance in Ghana. The Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission is mandated with the management of these Ramsar Sites, which encompasses all of Ghana’s mangrove forest areas. Subsequently, the Division and various NGOs/CSOs have been assisting communities to reforest degraded mangrove areas. However, most of these efforts have been stalled.
A recent effort is the introduction of the ‘Management of Mangrove forests from Senegal to Benin: The PAPBio C1-MANGROVES’ project. The four-year project being funded by the EU, with IUCN as the lead implementing institution in partnership with Wetlands International Africa and the Collectif 5Deltas team – comprising Untied Purpose, Eclosio, GRDR and KINOME.
The project is expected to enhance mangrove ecosystems resilience to climate change through strengthening management of mangroves in both protected and unprotected sites. The aim is to link governance and production systems with mangrove conservation structures at the territorial level.
Additionally, Mangrove National Management Platforms have been formed to provide strategic directions toward implementing the mangrove project activities in Ghana.