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Saturday, December 10, 2022

How are Ghana’s mangrove forests doing?

Ghana’s wealth of biodiversity resources includes mangroves. Both red and white mangroves are found along the coasts and estuaries throughout the country’s coastal stretch from the eastern coast to the western coast, cutting across Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions including the southernmost part of Ghana.

Aunty Celestine Somi
Aunty Celestine Somi at the Agbatsivi market for mangrove fuelwood

Mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem providing habitat for a wide range of aquatic species including different types of fishes and shell fishes as well as feeding grounds for migratory birds. Mangroves support the livelihoods of coastal communities and contribute significantly to the nation’s fisheries sector.

However, mangroves are threatened through unsustainable exploitation, pollution, reclamation for residential construction, poverty within mangrove communities, inadequate alternative livelihood options, illegal mining or galamsey, invasive species as well as climate change.

To ascertain the actual status of mangroves in Ghana, IUCN in collaboration with the Media Platform on Environment and Climate Change (MPEC), organised a media tour of prominent mangrove sites in Ghana. This was part of activities marking the celebration of this year’s International Mangrove Day on July 26. The day was instituted in 2015 by UNESCO to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem” and to promote solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses.

From the tour, the status of Ghana’s mangrove forests can be described as a mosaic with one side featuring a hitherto flourishing renewable natural resource that is being rapidly depleted, degraded, polluted and facing a bleak future because of sole dependency on natural regeneration. These are particularly evident in the Anologa District of the Volta Region where intensive harvesting of mangrove for fuel wood is the order of the day.

The use of mangroves particularly “red mangroves” for fuel wood, has an intriguing history that relates to satisfying man’s craving for palatable food.

“Using red mangrove to smoke fish, makes fish testy, gives fish an appealing colour and makes fish last longer,” says Aunty Celestine Somi, a fish monger who buys fuelwood from the Agbatsivi mangrove fuelwood market site near the tributary of the Anghor Lagoon. She also doubles as a trader in mangrove wood and supplies to fishmongers in other towns like Denu, Keta, Ada Foah, Tema and beyond.

In the Greater Accra Region, pollution and reclamation have decimated the once well stocked mangroves that inhabited the now dead Korle and Kpeshie lagoons. Many years ago, they supported thriving local fishing industries in their catchment communities.

Central Region’s Mankwoadze and Worabeba coastal communities and Western Region’s Cape Three Points Township present a sad spectacle of mangroves that have become refuse dumps and serve as places of convenience for residents, because they have no toilet facilities.

But the flip side of the mosaic presents scenes of the possibility of restoring the health and functional integrity of degraded mangrove ecosystems through commitment and intensive replanting.

Anyanzinli in the Ellembele District of the Western Region showcases a beautiful story of a successful rehabilitation of a totally destroyed mangrove ecosystem. Residents say the resource was leased to a charcoal producer from outside the community, who recklessly harvested the mangroves, leaving the area bare, till Hen Mpoano went to the rescue.

“This happened because at that time, we didn’t realise the importance of mangroves and the linkage between the ecosystem’s health and our livelihoods, till it was too late,” Matthew Ngame of the Anyanzili Community Conservation Committee, admitted.

Through the Hen Mpoano Project, mangrove ecosystems at both Anyanzili and Sawoma near the Ankrobra River, are now restored and teeming with aquatic life.  “This success story started in 2014 and was made possible with support from the US Forest Service,” says Hen Mpoano’s Project Manager in-charge of Coastal Landscape and Aquatic System Dynamics, Daniel Doku Nii Nortey.

Central Region’s Sankor Mangrove Forest is a wide stretch of mangroves replenished through replanting by the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission and community members under the World Bank funded Coastal Wetlands Management Project from 1995 to 1999. The area is part of the Muni Pomadze Ramsar Site that encompasses the entire Winneba Township.

The Site Manager, Ms. Vivian Aye-Addo, expressed her gratitude to community members for observing the ban on harvesting mangroves in the restored ecosystem to ensure the sustainability of their socio-economic livelihoods. She also commended A ROCHA Ghana for its mangrove restoration activity in the site.

The Obane community near Big Ada also shares a success story of how community appreciation and willingness, together with commitment from the Wildlife Division and support from Global Environment Facility and UNDP have restored portions of the area’s mangrove forests that have become a land mark for Ada fishermen. The original mangrove forest was destroyed as a result of climate change impact and blockage of the creek that hampered the tidal flow that watered the area.

The Chairman for the Obane Mangrov Palnting Committee, Victor Amanewo, appealed for assistance to clear other creeks that are blocked, so that more degraded mangrove sites can be restored to boost their now dwindled fishing business.  

In the Volta Region, mangrove restoration activities are on-going in diverse areas. For instance, SNV has supported the Galo Sota community to stop harvesting its mangrove resources that had become severely depleted to allow concentrated natural regeneration. Meanwhile, IUCN is supporting A ROCHA Ghana to replant mangrove in another degraded site.

Additionally, staff of the Keta Lagoon Complex Ramsar Site under the Wildlife Division, has embarked on mangrove ecosystem restoration as one of its strategic activities. The Site Manager, Lawerence Kisseh Tetteh-Ocloo, urged the nation to consider mangrove restoration in its efforts to effectively address climate change. “This is because mangrove sequesters carbon 50 times more than ordinary plants,” he explained, adding, “So if you plant one mangrove, it’s equal to planting 50 trees.”

The Densu Delta, presents a beautiful blend of synergy among the salt industry, community livelihood and nature at work that has preserved the health of the estuary, wetland and community livelihood. Though the mangrove population here is few, it is in good health.

The Wetlands Operations Manager of the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, Dickson Agyeman, says: “The site typifies a healthy and active estuary and local fishing is permitted in the core zone as it is compatible with conservation principles, focused on wise use of resources.” 

While the tour established the dependency of local community members on mangroves as a critical livelihood source, it also revealed the urgent need for education and sensitisation of communities’ as well as support for them to engage in mangrove replanting as a sure means of sustaining their livelihoods.

IUCN Ghana Project Office’s Mangrove Project Assistant, Anthony Adeea Mba, emphasised the need for a national Mangrove Policy and Regulations for the management and protection of mangroves nationwide. “This,” he noted “is necessary because even though the Wildlife Division plays some mangrove protection functions, it is restricted to the Ramsar sites only.”

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang

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