The first time I came across the Tanzanian Environmental Policy, I was moved to tears. Not that Ghana does not have an environmental policy, outmoded and irrelevant as it is, but the Preamble to their Policy read “resources that belong to everyone easily falls in the care of no one”, thus they have accepted the shortcomings in natural resources governance and have attempted to ameliorate or control the fallouts.
Some of us may say that “whales have died, so what? There are important issues for us to concern ourselves with”. Well I dare say that we are completely missing the point. From where I sit the whale beaching issue is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ with a whole range of underlying issues yet to surface.
The coastal marine environments are unique systems that we must strive as a nation to preserve. The importance of this zone can easily be identified through the multiplicity of use. Though it is the least understood environment, not just in Ghana but even in the most advanced of countries, we should take steps to protect this area as has been done elsewhere. With the multiplicity of use, a Coastal Marine Policy with prescribed monitoring and surveillance programs (actually undertaken) would have been an ideal mechanism to manage this area. Clearly the 1991 National Environmental Policy that is still in use has been ineffective and does not address the current trend of usage of the zone. Even the EPA has accepted this fact and has admitted this in several of their publications in recent years.
Of course there are several adverse effects that will arise from operating an oil rig in the sea; clearly this is an invasion of a natural marine ecosystem. Blaming the EPA for poorly undertaking their legal mandate of monitoring the operations of these Oil Companies may not be far from the truth. Their defence of the Oil companies’ complicity in whale beaching without any empirical evidence has clearly been the wrong approach and has rather intensified speculations that some high level EPA officers are in the pay of these companies, taking into accounts the recent history of spilling of chemical wastes by these companies, and the hush-hush approach adopted. Personally, I do not expect the EPA to really be able to undertake any serious marine surveys or monitoring, since their record in handling land-based environmental issues has been quite poor.
The idea that whale beaching is a global phenomenon, as has been suggested by the Deputy Public Affairs Director of the EPA, does not make it an acceptable one. The beaching of six dead whales in a week is disconcerting to say the least and should raise some eyebrows.
A recent study in the USA identified that about 67% of 750 whale deaths from 1970 to 2009 were caused by human activities. Regardless of the cause, the recent frequent beaching of dead whales on the Ghanaian shore is indicative that there is something not normal in our waters. Studies indicate that when whales die in the open ocean, they are scavenged and decomposed enough to sink to the bottom of the ocean and hence do not get to the coast. This also suggests that when they die close to land, where winds and currents are stronger they can easily be dragged to shore. Other studies suggest that the health of an ecosystem can be determined by the health (population and distribution) of various biological indicators. And I dare say that whales can qualify as biological indicators.
In the last two decades, we have witnessed a consistent decline in the marine fishery output in our seas. Since, whales have a diverse diet, ranging from small crustaceans to large fishes and other mammals in the sea, their health could signify a bigger problem in our seas. I believe it is time to be proactive and put our money where our mouth is. We cannot continue to build our country based on speculations and studies done elsewhere.
I still like to believe the EPA as an institution would like to do a great job for Ghanaians. Several EPA reports in recent years reiterate the fact that they lack capacity and personnel to undertake environmental monitoring programs. Instead of defending the actions of others, the EPA should be interested in obtaining equipments and requisite personnel to undertake continuous studies and surveys in our seas.
Moreover, we can simply make use of our universities especially for research support. After all, a major aim of research is to shape national policy. University of Ghana and University of Cape Coast both have departments interested in marine and coastal affairs, it will be best to equip them to a standard where they will be able to undertake independent and continuous studies in our coastal marine environments.