Increasing exploitation of the Songor and the Anlo-Keta Lagoons and its resources including the mangrove forest has resulted in their degradation and raised concerns about the long-term sustainability of these invaluable ecosystems.

The Songor lagoon located along the eastern portion of Ghana’s sandy coast just outside the major town of Ada and to the west of the Volta River estuary, was designated as a Ramsar conservation site in August 1992. This means that, the wetland is considered to be of international importance under the Convention on Wetlands (known as the Ramsar Convention), an international environmental treaty established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Songor site is an area of swamps and is home to several species of globally threatened turtles (leatherback turtle, olive turtle, and green turtles).

The Songhor lagoon. Photo credit: Marco VINACCIA

The Keta Lagoon on the other hand is located on the delta of the Volta River in the Volta Region of Ghana, covering a length of 126 km and is the largest lagoon in Ghana. The area of the lagoon enjoys seasonal inflow of seawater during high tide from the Gulf of Guinea and regular inflow of rivers. Together with the surrounding wetlands, they form the Keta Lagoon Complex Ramsar Site. The Anlo-Keta site is part of the Volta estuary and it is surrounded by a complex of lagoons which include the lagoons of Avu, Keta, Nogui, Logui and Angaw.

The keta lagoon

For many years, the two lagoons have been intensively used by a large population of people for a variety of purposes like fishing, cutting reeds for thatch and weaving, harvesting salt, and irrigating vegetable crops.

According to the Project Officer of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Ghana, Mrs Dorcas Owusuaa Agyei, the exploitation of the two lagoons, which remain key habitat for aquatic and wetland animals and species, has led to the degrading of the mangroves and depletion of the landscape.

“The IUCN is therefore implementing a four-year project from 2019-2022 titled ‘Management of Mangroves Forest from Senegal to Benin’ and funded by the European Union to help restore these mangroves”, she said this at the Mangroves Project inception/stakeholder’s consultation workshop held in Accra.

The Project Officer revealed that, the people living around the lagoons depend on the mangrove for their livelihood and it cannot be restored without targeting their livelihood. “So, the livelihood aspect is one area that we are going to target to ensure that they have additional source of livelihood to sustain their income so that the pressure on the mangroves will be curtailed”, she added.

About the Project PAPBIO

The “Management of Mangroves Forest from Senegal to Benin” also known as Project PAPBIO is implemented in partnership with Wetlands International Africa, Eclosio and IUCN in four priority conservation landscapes and they are the Grand Saloum: Senegal and Gambia, Rios do Sul: Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Guinea, Grand Mano: Sierra Leone and Liberia and Mono Volta: Ghana, Benin and Togo).

The project shall be executed under IUCN’s Coastal and Marine programme (MACO), based in Dakar, Senegal, with day-to-day supervision of the activities in Ghana by the IUCN Ghana Project Office, Accra.

According to the Regional Programme manager at IUCN, Senegal, Mr Renaud Bailleux, the goal of the project is to strengthen the management of protected areas and unprotected mangrove sites through linkages between governance and production systems with mangrove conservation structures for integrated protection of Mangrove's diversity and ecosystems in West Africa and their enhanced resilience to climate change.

“Many countries are now building concrete protection against coastal erosion because of climate change and water rising, but mangrove is just a natural protection and if mangrove was protected and conserved, it is very good at protecting the coastal zones. Also, because of climate change, there is all these talk of market for carbons and mangroves absorbs three times more than the forest so it is very valuable and unique ecosystem that need the attention of all to protect it”, he explained.

He said, the specific objective of the project is therefore to strengthen the management of protected areas and unprotected mangrove sites. The aim, he said, is to link governance and production systems with mangrove conservation structures at the territorial level.

“These links will be created through exchanges between actors in decision-making on the use of spaces and best practices, to set up or strengthen the platforms for dialogue within the landscapes and to make available grants to support management and conservation actions, based on competitive calls for proposals”, he added.

Image showing the spatial coverage of the Keta Lagoon. Source: Google image.
The Expected Results of the Project

The expected results of the project are that, the socio-economic and sectoral activities in landscapes are coordinated in an integrated way. Here, the action will identify and deepen the opportunities and issues related to the territories of intervention, that is, the state of ecosystems, evolution, restoration issues, prospects for the exploitation of natural resources and identification of conflicts of interest and use.

Another expected result is that, effective protected area management systems are developed and for protected sites. The action will therefore facilitate the development and implementation of management plans through technical assistance or financial means through small subsidies on competitive calls for proposals.

There is also the expectation that, coastal populations benefit sustainably from Protected Areas and are more resilient to climate change. Targeted populations in this case are those that depend on the resources and services provided by mangrove landscapes for their survival and resilience to climate change. The action will therefore facilitate the diagnosis of the channels and then support users in the adoption of best practices and finance investments to improve the valuation of these sectors through small grants based on competitive calls for proposals.

Stakeholders inputs to the project
Participants at the workshop in Accra.

As part of measures to make the project successful, a diagnostic study was carried out in the selected two lagoons by consultant from the Institute for Environmental and Sanitation Studies of the University of Ghana and the report was presented at the workshop which enabled stakeholders to make inputs based on the outcome of the study.

Key issues highlighted by the study include issues of exploitation and high dependency on mangroves by people living around the lagoons.

Some of the strategic directions and inputs made by stakeholders towards a successful implementation of the project include resourcing and using a working structure like the Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission of Ghana to manage the project.

Alternative sources of improved cooking stoves were also suggested to discourage the use of mangroves as firewood, after it was discovered that, mangroves are being used as firewood to smoke fish around the two lagoons.

Key among the stakeholders are representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency, Wildlife division of the Ghana Forestry Commission, traditional leaders and representatives of environmental NGOs and Civil Society Organisations among others.

By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda-Accra