BY KWEKU DARKO ANKRAH
Globally, coastal tourism is currently one of the fastest growing sub-sectors in the tourism industry. In Ghana, this is evidenced in the rapid pace of the development of resorts and vacation homes along the country’s 550-kilometre long coastline. The development of infrastructure, coupled with availability of beaches and great tidal waves, has offered Ghana a rare opportunity to host the Africa Surf Series 2015. The event will attract surfers from Africa and dispersed surf communities across the globe to enjoy the thrill Ghana`s beautiful, expansive and wavy coast offers.
Coastal tourism is based on a unique resource combination at the interface of land and sea which offers amenities such as water, beaches, scenic beauty, rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity, diversified cultural and historic heritage and healthy food. It includes a diversity of activities that take place on the coastline and coastal waters, and involves the development of tourism facilities like hotels, beach resorts and restaurants; and support infrastructure such as ports, marinas, fishing and diving shops and other facilities. Besides physical conditions, the development of tourism in coastal areas is related to socio-economic features of the receiving environment such as local community interests, health and security conditions, political factors including unpredictable crises, and traditional models of tourism. Coastal tourism is strongly dependent on natural (climate, landscape, ecosystems) and cultural (historic, heritage, arts and crafts, traditions, etc.) resources.
Despite Ghana`s ranking as third in hotel development in sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, with more than 1, 400 hotel rooms under development, the country`s beaches face serious sanitation problems and environmental degradation. The state of sanitation of many of the country`s beaches is so appalling that they are not attractive to tourists. The lukewarm attitude towards sanitation at the beaches was captured by a Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) report that the recent third National Sanitation Day left the beaches out in its clean-up campaign. Nevertheless, the government, through the coastal districts in partnership with Zoomlion Ghana Limited, is trying to make some beaches clean.
A cursory look at the country’s beaches portrays reprehensible squalor. Many people use the beaches as defecation ground and for dumping garbage. This causes poor sanitation on the beaches, leading to massive environmental pollution. This affects the overall effectiveness of harnessing the coast for ecotourism. Tidal waves also bring mountainous heaps of plastic waste and debris in the form of decomposing carcass, discarded fabrics, logs and unwanted electronic parts. Thus the beaches are replete with repugnant scents that make it impossible for visitors to enjoy quietude and fresh breeze. These appalling spectacles cast a slur on the nation`s lower middle income status and impede efforts aimed at promoting public health, ensuring environmental sustainability and eventually catapulting the country to an upper middle income status.
Coastal habitats provide breeding grounds and nurseries for fishes, have strong biodiversity values, provide blue carbon and offer opportunities for sustainable uses such as ecotourism. Apart from the fact that the pollution of the beach leads to the contamination of the sea breeze, it seriously affects the ocean’s acidic level. The increment in the ocean`s acidity affects a number of organisms and ecosystems by lowering the concentration or the availability of carbonate ion for plankton and shelled species that fix calcium carbonate.
The dumping of refuse at the beaches and its concomitant pollution of the sea and other marine sources such as estuaries, lagoons and mangroves has led to massive loss of marine biodiversity in the country. According to Dr Kwasi Appeaning Addo, an Oceanographer at University of Ghana, the trend of biodiversity loss is accelerating on a global scale and coastal habitats are under pressure. Yet Dr Addo said coral reefs, sea-grass beds, sand dunes, estuaries, mangrove forests and other wetlands provide valuable services for humanity.
Sand winning at the beaches for constructional and mineral exploitation purposes has not been checked over the years, and has resulted in the destruction of ecosystems along with severe impacts on coastal protection, preservation and tourism. Marine and oceanography experts aver that sand mining leads to the destruction of beaches and the ecosystems they protect (e.g. dunes, wetlands); habitat loss for globally important species (e.g. turtles, shorebirds); destruction of marine ecosystems; increased shoreline erosion rate; reduced protection from storms, tsunamis and waves; and economic losses through tourist abandonment and diminished coastal aesthetics.
Sand winning and mining at the beaches by some constructors, fishermen and individuals are causing sea erosion and other serious environmental degradation. This blots the beauty of the beaches. The threats posed by sand mining are made even more critical given the significant rise in global sea level in the coming decades. While sand winners and miners are making money, beach-front facility owners have to spend huge sums of their income on ad-hoc sea defence projects, lest they lose their entire investments.
In a recently-acclaimed research titled ‘Managing Shoreline Change Under Increasing Sea-Level Rise in Ghana,’ Dr Addo observed that a highly populated community in central Accra will be inundated by 2065, while the Riviera Beach Resort will be eroded in 2035. Furthermore, a natural fish landing site in Osu (suburb of Accra) will be lost by 2045. He further stated that coastal erosion, which is a natural geomorphic process, becomes a hazard when it poses or is perceived to pose a threat to life and property. Coastal erosion affects the socio-economic life of the local population; threatens cultural heritage and hinders the development of coastal tourism.
Well, coastal retreat has eroded natural fish landing sites and degraded the coastal environment. In response to the grave degradation of parts of Ghana’s coastline, the government decided to embark on a costly and controversial project: the building of the 68-million euro 30-kilometre Ada Sea Defence Wall to “salvage the people in the area from the ravages of the sea.” The project may do better when it protects turtles in Ada to attract tourists. Currently, there is a massive watching of turtles at night near the Ada estuary. The country is implementing the Integrated Eco-tourist Destination Planning and Management programme for the Ada estuary under the Collaborative Actions for Sustainable Tourism (COAST) project to ensure the sustenance of the sighting of the nocturnal reptiles.
The COAST project seeks to implement activities that enhance coastal environmental conservation, health and sanitation, species and habitat conservation and promote sustainable coastal tourism practices. The Ada estuary has a number of important tourist attractions ranging from remnant enclaves/sanctuaries for wildlife, sunny beaches, sacred groves, mangrove swamps, among others.
The area boasts of varied biodiversity, with turtle nesting sites, wide-ranging species of birds, reptiles (turtles, monitor lizards, pythons) and mammals (manatees, monkeys). The area is a fragile ecosystem haven with immense touristic potential.
Most unfortunately, poor sanitary conditions and human activities such as sand winning and mining have a negative impact on traditional lives caused by pollution which affects the quality of life, traditional association with the ocean and coastal areas, human health as well as tourism and fisheries.
According to the 2011 joint paper, ‘A Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability,’ by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Maritime Organisation and United Nations Development Programme, more than 40 per cent of the world’s 2.8 billion population live within 100 kilometres of the coast. The paper revealed that rapid urbanisation will lead to more coastal mega-cities containing 10 million or more people. It further states that 13 of the world’s 20 mega-cities lie along coasts and nearly 700 million people live in low lying coastal areas less than 10 metres above sea level. “In West Africa, the 500 kilometres of coastline between Accra (Ghana) and the Niger delta (Nigeria) is expected to become a continuous urban megalopolis of more than 50 million inhabitants by 2020,”the paper disclosed. It is estimated that by 2050, adverse effects associated with global climate change will result in the displacement of between 50 and 200 million people globally.
It is against this background that a serious institutional response must be adequately devised in Ghana, especially on the high seas and beaches that are currently bombarded by rubbish and sand. This must start with enactment and enforcement of laws and regulations, and institution of permits and licences to monitor polluters. These regulatory instruments must be used to punish individuals and groups who dump garbage and defecate on beaches; building contractors and mining prospectors who engage in beach sand winning and mining as well as communities that destroy their coastal habitat through the combination of the factors earlier discussed.
Practical actions or mechanisms in the form of voluntary ways and means that do not require substantial public expenditure should also be implemented. This can be done by developing information and interpretive programmes that can be utilised to educate the public about appropriate behaviours with respect to good beach sanitation, and how it aids marine conservation and health and safety measures. Means like the proactive observation of the National Environmental Day and National Sanitation Day in coastal towns and villages will create awareness for the people to value their beaches and know how their degradation affects their own lives and livelihoods.
It is also recommended that the government should create a specific agency for ensuring the cleanliness and preservation of coastal towns and beaches. The agency must be adequately resourced with direct government support to achieve concrete outcomes, including the establishment of protected areas such as national marine parks. Ecosystem services, with specific reference to the marine environment, are of crucial importance for food security and poverty alleviation as well as the sectors currently driving the economies of coastal countries.
There should be public private partnerships (PPPs) in coastal tourism development to provide beaches with resorts, hotels and water sports facilities for surfing, swimming, boating, kayaking and vessel-cruising. This can be achieved when the government gives financial incentives in the form of subsidies, grants, loans and withholding taxes or tax holidays. Already, the PPPs have culminated in the creation of beach facilities like Labadi Beach Hotel and the Golden Beach Hotels Group which include La Palm Royal Beach Hotel, Elmina Beach Resort and Busua Resort.
Ghana can also take a leaf from the United Nations Environment and Social Commission for Asia and the Paciﬁc’s five-point policy document that encourages sustainable forms of coastal development in that region. The document calls, inter alia, for:
- Good coastal management practices (particularly regarding proper siting of tourism infrastructure and the provision of public access);
- Clean water and air, and healthy coastal ecosystems;
- Maintaining a safe and secure recreational environment through the management of coastal hazards (such as erosion, storms, ﬂoods); and the provision of adequate levels of safety for boaters, surfers, swimmers and other sea-water users;
- Beach restoration eﬀorts that maintain the recreational and amenity values of beaches; and
- Sound policies for coastal wildlife and habitat protection.
Coastal tourism is growing rapidly in Ghana with both foreign and local tourists visiting the beaches and the resorts. This demands adequate maintenance of sanitation and environment at the coast and ocean. For example, the ocean, once thought to be a vast, resilient expanse capable of absorbing practically unlimited waste and withstanding increasing human intrusion, fishing and shipping pressures, is fast becoming vulnerable. Sixty per cent of the world’s major marine ecosystems that underpin livelihoods have been degraded or are being used unsustainably.
Maintaining the quality of life that beaches and oceans provide to humankind while sustaining the integrity of ocean ecosystems require changes in how stakeholders view, manage, govern and use ocean and coastal resources. We must understand that the coastal areas and ocean provide many benefits for sustenance, including economic, environmental, social and cultural services. The benefits do not exclude sectors such as fisheries, energy, tourism and transportation, as well as ‘non-market’ benefits: climate regulation, carbon sequestration, sustainable habitat and biodiversity. In fact, coastal tourism has many advantages. It offers huge socio-economic opportunities. Ghana must, therefore, take serious steps to develop and improve its dirty beaches for gain.