Opinions Wed, 26 Oct 2016

‘Winning the sand and losing fisheries’-a growing coastal belt problem in Ghana

By Samuel Hinneh

Courtesy: USAID Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project Reporting Grant

For decades sand wining and gravel extraction have become prevalent along the coast, where fishing is predominant. The combined effect of the sand winning and stone extraction is resulting in the degradation of vast farmlands and accordingly putting pressure on poor rural farmers who are already vulnerable.

Eventually the practice results in floods, and destruction of turtles’ nestling grounds which is unfriendly to fishing and tourism, together with destruction of landing bases thereby reducing communities’ economic avenues and district assemblies’ revenue potential and ecosystem along the river banks.

As a result, the depth of rivers or sea reduce(s) drastically over the years due to silt which has incapacitated its water holding ability. Fisherfolks have complained about the problem, which affect their livelihoods.

Interacting with some fish processors at Kokrobite revealed that the problem persists and getting out of hand. Many of them have complained to the appropriate authority at the local level, via the district assembly but measures adopted by the assembly seem not solve the address.

The perpetrators of the act according to the women, usually do this at night when no one is available to guard the sea or even see them. Some of the women says many of them have tripped as a result of the act sustaining various injuries. In addition, the women complained about the disappearance of sea turtles, which they linked to the activities of sand winning.

A District President for the National Fish Processors and Traders Association (NAFPTA), Grace Bondzie says sand winning has come down drastically, adding, these days it is hard to find people doing that.

"We did campaign on sand winning by informing people if they are seen doing it, they will be arrested by the police and that fear has led to the low patronage. If we can have that on consistent basis it will lead to disappearance of sand winning,” Bondzie states.

She laments that another problem confronting the beach is pollution which manifests in the form of plastics, faecal, among others that is posing serious health concern to marine biodiversity.

The legal or institutional framework under which sand winning takes place in Ghana and the Ga districts in particular is defined by the following laws--the Minerals and Mining Law PNDCL 153, as amended by Act 475, Small Scale Mining Law PNDCL 218, Sand Winning and Stone Quarrying Bye-Laws and Environmental Assessment Regulations Law LI 1652. Four main organizations, the Minerals Commission, the Mines Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the District Assemblies are tasked with the enforcement and monitoring of these laws through different roles they play in the districts.

Sand winning or mining will not directly affect fish stock unless it is somehow affecting unique habitat and causing erosion, destruction of mangroves, nursery grounds, and reproduction grounds essential for fish, says Brian Crawford, the Chief of Party of the USAID/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP).

"One of the biggest problems of sand mining is the increment of coastal erosion that we have seen along Ghana's coast line, like Ada, Keta, regions and at the mouth of the Volta River where many places along the beach are eroding rather than accruing.

"Along the coastal belt, a lot of the coastal lines are being lost to shore lines, while at the same time the shore line is retreating inland. In addition, many of the shore line is getting further of the shore,” he states.

According to Crawford, whenever people along the coast engage in sand mining that paves way for sediments to be carried along the shore line through wave action eventually leading to erosion of beaches in the country.

He says that even though sand can be carried from places where excess sand abounds, to places which are experiencing deficits that also comes with its associated problems.

"When sand budgeting is done to correct the problem of sand mining in an effort to maintain beaches, it also leaves room for less sand at some point which worsen coastal erosion in areas that are already naturally eroding the coast lines.

"So that is why there is lots of concern that sand mining should be either banned or regulated in a way that is not impacting on coastal erosion particularly in rivers and along the beaches where eroding shore lines are going to be eroding faster which puts public infrastructure at risk, ” Crawford explains.

What happens is that whenever storm waves associated with high tides occurs, that results in significant flooding which brings about loss of lives and property, leading to huge financial burden on individuals, families and the government.

So one of the things that the SFMP is doing particularly in the western and central regions is working with town and country planning department to incorporate into their spatial planning elements that look at the unique dynamics of the coastal zone--that these are not stable shorelines, they move, some grow and some gets less over time.

Crawford points out that it is crucial for any spatial planning being done to take into consideration sediments and public infrastructure, thus areas which records high erosion rates need to be as designated as no build zones to protect lives and property.

"If you don't do this what happens is that then government being asked to build costly shoreline protection works by putting up rocks on the shore line or other techniques to stop coastal erosion by spending millions of dollars and even more in terms cedis,” he states. #

"These problems are going to get worse in the future because of sea level rise being caused by global warming and as the planet warms up the ocean warms up, and as water warms up, it expands,” Crawford adds.

The sea level rise will continue and might even get worse as a result of carbon emission and greenhouses gases, the burning of forests, fossil fuels at levels that are unprecedented in the history of the world.

There are a lot of mangrove destruction which people use it for fire wood, and building purposes, which is also a concern.

Mangrove serves as carbon sink to global warming, that is another reason it will be important to maintain mangrove because that helps to sequester carbon in the ground, keep it in the wood and not in the atmosphere and that ultimately help prevent greater global warming.

The mangrove are central fish habitat and one thing people often think is they are breeding ground, but the mangrove are generally nursery grounds where a lot of small baby fish reside and provides a lot of protection because of the roots and mangrove provide a lot of food and protection for the juvenile fish.

"So as they grow up and gets bigger a lot of the juvenile fish that live in the estuaries, lagoons, and rivers around the mangrove areas get bigger.

"Some of them will stay in the estuary area, while many will then migrate into the ocean. So it is very important that we try to maintain those mangrove because that helps to protect the juvenile fishes for them to grow up and reproduce and provide the next generation,” he adds.

Adult sea turtles spend all their lives at sea and come unto shore to lay eggs in the sand along the beaches.

"So if erosion is occurring and we are losing sandy beaches that are central habitat to maintain sea turtles population then it becomes a problem to sea turtles to lay eggs.

"If there are not any sandy beaches that has the characteristics that are needed then they can't lay their eggs and if they can't lay their eggs, there is no next generation of sea turtles that we can find in the ocean. Sand wining can also have some significance in their natural habitat or nursing grounds for sea turtles,” Crawford says.

Women groups, fishermen can play a role by not engaging in sand winning themselves and if they see that occurring they need to contact local authorities who should be taking enforcement actions against those who are doing it which is probably illegal in the first place.

"The question is, do they have permit and if they don't have permit they shouldn't be sand winning. If permits are being provided we should make sure that permits are not provided for sand winning in areas where it will increase coastal erosion problems, because you make money from the permits in the short term but then you are going to spend greatly in the long term to protect the shoreline,” he emphasises.

The project manager of the DAA, Mr Abraham Asare, says sand winning is one of the biggest problem in most of the landing sites or fishing communities in Ghana.

According to him, most of the people in the communities such as Kokrobite fetch the sand to make concrete blocks.

"In communities where the chiefs and people have ban the practice, you still have people doing this in the night, by fetching with bucket and trucks to make blocks for construction of houses. It is not a good practice, but because they fetch it in bit, they don't see the effects of it,” said Mr Asare.

Mr Asare states that any sand fetched has an effect on the landing site or beach, where the sea gradually starts eroding and becomes a problem and it is not only in Kokrobite but across all coastal belts of Ghana.

"The number of blocks that has been manufactured and still packed at the landing beaches, was huge upon a visit to Apam recently.

"Through interactions with the local people it was revealed that people contract others to fetch the sand for them and lay the blocks right at the landing beaches. I could count about 200,000 sandcrete blocks for buildings packed along the beach in Apam alone.

"It appears they do not see any problem with what they are doing and I have been told that the chief fishermen have ban such practice but the enforcement is a problem,” he notes.

The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Ms Sherry Ayittey, also says local government officials are the ones that give the permit for people to engage in sand winning.

"Apart from that it is being done illegally by the fishermen themselves. In the night trucks come and collect the sand. The local government are the ones to implement the buffer policy that says there should be no activity within 50 metres from the water to protect the beach,” the minister notes.
Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel