We have some of the best coastlines in West Africa. As compared to other West African countries, Ghana has long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches that have attracted tourists all over the world for the last couple of decades. However, we stand on the brink of losing our picturesque sandy beaches and a potential decline in tourism revenue due in part to our own actions.
Coastlines all over the world have been known to be retreating. Ghana’s coastline is no different. Some of these changes are natural, coming about due to the normal processes that exist between the sea and the coast, climate change and global warming leading to sea level rise and so on.
However, the changes that are occurring and affecting most of our entire coastline stretch are clearly not due to only natural phenomena. It has been established and been accepted by coastal scientist the world over that human activities are responsible for the accelerated coastal erosion and degradation of most coastlines. For the Ghanaian coastline, current predictions on the contribution of natural factors to erosion stand at only a few millimetres per year. Hence, the annual rates of erosion of 1.13m identified for the Accra area by Appeaning Addo and others in 2008 and 1.10m identified by Jonah and others (unpublished) for the Moree, Cape Coast and Elmina area could only have resulted through human activities accelerating the natural factors.
The major human activities include building too close to the beach, sand mining and coastal defence construction. It is clear that if the first two factors are controlled, there would not be need to construct some of the coastal defence ventures that have been undertaken over the last few decades.
- Beach Sand Mining: Sand mining occurs when people scoop sand from the beaches to be used mainly for construction purposes. It is ‘supposedly’ illegal; however, people have persisted in this venture dating back to the 1970s. This activity has been identified to be widespread across the country, taking place in all four coastal regions.The miners use a variety of vehicles including large cargo vans, tipper trucks, kia trucks, pick-ups and push trucks depending on the scale to which the activity is undertaken. Along the Moree to Elmina stretch of coastline, almost every sandy stretch is mined by commercial contractors or by groups of individuals who either pack them in backs before transporting them or mould blocks on the beaches for sale. Currently up to eight tipper truck-based sand mining sites exists along the 25km Moree, Cape Coast and Elmina coastline, with some of these sites recording in excess of 70 trucks of sand being mined daily.
Coasts perform important regulatory, ecological, and economic functions. One such regulatory function of the coast is the natural protection and armour for coastal properties against storm surges and the full force of waves. When sand is taken from the coast, coastal communities especially those in low-lying areas are made vulnerable to flooding. Currently, several coastal communities across the country experience the intrusion of the sea in their homes during storms and especially the rainy season.
At these current rates of sand mining, several more communities are going to be made more vulnerable to flooding in the years to come. The central government will then be called upon to salvage the situation. It just does not make practical and economic sense to spend huge amounts of monies on coastal defence projects without eliminating the major causal factors.
In Cape Coast and its surrounding coastal communities, where tourism is a major part of the local economy, sand miners have contributed to the degradation that is evident on most of the beaches. It is often surprising, disheartening and even embarrassing to see people scooping sand on the same beaches when tourists and holidayers may be spending them. People travel across the globe to Ghana because they may have heard of how beautiful it is. In a conversation I had with an tourism investor in the area, he described how he was drawn to come back to Ghana to invest in tourism, after a few years, there is a hint of disappointment in him, since, the most of the wild beauty he first saw has know been destroyed through the activities of sand miners.
The coast is a dynamic system which is closely linked with the sea, rivers and coastal dunes through the exchange of sand and nutrients. This mechanism allows the coast to maintain equilibrium even after large volumes of sand have been taken. This natural process have been perceived by most sand miners as meaning that there is an infinite amount of sand available on the beach, since hours after they create large hollows on the beaches they are again filled with sand.
However, this natural balancing action of the coast has repercussions on adjacent beaches.
The truth of the matter is that those put in positions are unable to deal with the situation. Upon interacting with representatives of the two main institutions who have the legal mandate to deal with the issue in the Central Region, it seemed to me they have given up. They allude to the fact that if people are unwilling to change their mindsets, what can they do? I do not think enforcing the law against illegalities and ensuring the safety and preservation of national assets should be too much to ask.
I do not see the sense in being signatories to all sorts of international agreements on the environment and the simple task of executing these agreements becomes difficult to undertake. Our leaders know the right things to do, but seems afraid to act.
Together with other likeminded young Ghanaians, we do not think we should just sit idle whilst our ‘leaders’ look on unconcerned while there is such wanton destruction of our physical environments going on. After all, the present crop of national leaders are only taking care of these resources on our behalf. When it is our time to lead, it is only fair that we are not saddled with the mess created by our predecessors.
For this reasons, I am throwing a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ghana Police Service to exercise their authority and show us that they can do the job that has been entrusted to them. Not only when people are looking, so that they relax when we look away.