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Let’s protect our mangroves

BY: Daily Graphic
File Photo
File Photo

An ecological disaster stares us in the face due to uncontrolled exploitation of the country’s mangroves for firewood, water pollution, construction and related developments.

Mangroves provide erosion control, trap pollutants, provide biomass for the food chain, help regulate the climate, absorb carbon five times higher than tropical upland forests and are habitats to some endangered species, such as the grey parrot, colobus and Roloway monkeys.

Mangroves are a group of tropical plants or shrubs that grow in dense thickets or forests along tidal estuaries, with exposed roots that serve as a buffer between marine and native communities, thereby protecting shorelines from damaging winds, waves and floods.

These places are popularly referred to as marshy areas, but, unfortunately, due to ignorance of the benefits of such ecological areas, which are also home to crabs, black snails and other fauna species, developers and individuals tend to reclaim or fill and build in them.

These important resources in the country, which are common in our coastal areas, have come under severe attack over the past years and experts warn of an ecological doom if their destruction is not stopped immediately.

Already, studies conducted by the Marine and Fisheries Sciences Department of the University of Ghana in 2014 found that Ghana's mangrove cover had reduced from 137 square kilometres (km2) in 2006 to an estimated 72.4 km2 as of 2014.

Prior to that, the country had lost about 24 per cent of its mangroves between 1980 and 2006.

The shrinking mangrove, the study found, was one of the major reasons for the depleting fisheries resources in the country.

While we do not dispute the fact that mangroves, aside from helping to regenerate the fisheries stock, also serve as a source of livelihood for residents of communities where they are present, we must remember that they also serve as spawning areas for fish, habitat for some wildlife species and a buffer to prevent flooding, particularly in coastal and low-lying areas, hence the need to protect them from further destruction.

The destruction of our mangroves has contributed immensely to the annual flooding we have experienced in the country, especially in coastal areas.

Ghana is home to six out of the 80 mangrove species known globally, with the red mangrove, scientifically known as Rhizo-phora, and the black mangrove or Avicennia, as well as the grey mangrove, being the commonest.

Apart from providing ecological protection, the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) has established that the roots of the red mangrove are used with palm oil as an ointment for boils, while the extract from its bark is used for fungal infections of the skin, the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery in children, leprosy and sore throat.

In addition, the bark of the black mangrove, in the powdered form and mixed with palm oil, is used for the treatment of lice, ringworm and mange, a skin disease that affects both domestic and wild mammals.

These benefits, among many others, show that we are better off protecting what is remaining of our mangroves, instead of destroying them through unbridled exploitation in the name of trying to make ends meet.

Our laws governing the exploitation of our resources must be activated to forestall the looming disaster. It is common to see mangroves being carted on our roads to construction sites and no one questions where they are from or whether those carting them have the requisite permits.

We need to put our act together to immediately stop the wanton destruction of our mangroves. We urge all stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Forestry Commission, the Wildlife Department, the IESS, NGOs involved in habitat and wildlife protection, as well as the security agencies, to help check the rape of what is left of our mangroves.

Mangroves need blackish water to thrive, which is blocked by developers and industries involved in salt production, mining and tourism, as well as hydrological diversions such as the creation of dams, thereby causing their ‘death’. We urge such developers to work scientifically in order not to destroy the mangroves.

Indeed, as the Project Manager in charge of Coastal Landscapes and Aquatic Systems Dynamics of Hen Mpoano, a non-governmental organisation, Daniel Doku Nii Nortey, told the Daily Graphic during a recent media tour of some mangrove sites in the Western Region: “If we don’t do anything to protect the mangroves, we may lose the entire ecosystem and the livelihoods of the people who depend on it.”