The Worrying State of the Sakumo Ramsar Site
Coastal wetlands are transition zones between terrestrial marine and aquatic habitats; consequently, they exhibit relatively unique habitat and species diversity. They are among the world’s most economically valuable ecosystems. Ghana’s coastline that stretches for about 550 km has some beautiful scenery of estuaries and lagoons. Unfortunately, only one inland wetland and five coastal lagoons and their catchment were designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), of which the Sakumo lagoon is one. This designation was done some two decades ago, even though those sites were proposed for protection since 1987, by which time about a third of the area originally proposed for designation had been taken up by settlement development, involving several housing estates. The five Ramsar sites in Ghana, including the Sakumo lagoon, are protected under the Wetland Management (Ramsar sites) Regulations, 1999 (L.I. 1659). The Sakumo lagoon and its catchment is recognised as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA): a site contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity. About 70 species of waterbirds have been recorded at the Sakumo site with an estimated population of some 30,000 birds.
The Sakumo lagoon, even though, protected under the laws of Ghana has for several years seen little or no protection from the relevant authorities. Currently, the Sakumo Ramsar Site exists in pockets, covering just a fraction of its original form. This is due to the encroachment of the lagoon’s catchment by estate developers and the high-class people in society for plush buildings. The lagoon is also heavily polluted by industries in the areas as well as the disposal of solid waste and municipal sewerage. There is also some sort of agricultural activities that goes on within the catchment of the lagoon. Satellite imagery of the Sakumo Ramsar Site shows that the wetland is losing significant areas, even though it was prioritised for protection more than a decade ago.
Wetlands are unique ecosystems and provide certain benefits to man. However, despite growing awareness that wetlands serve multiple important roles, they are continuing to disappear. They can help solve several environmental problems: wetlands act as purifiers for polluted water, absorb carbon from the atmosphere and provide a home to threatened birds. They are excellent ecosystems for biodiversity that provide habitats for animals and plants that can only survive in this ecology. The Sakumo wetland, for instance, is a spawning nursery ground and feeding site for marine species. Wetlands provide a range of environmental services, including water filtration and storage, erosion control, a buffer against flooding, nutrient recycling and biodiversity maintenance.
Wetlands are sensitive systems which are affected by human activity. They need to be protected because they play a critical role in the ecosystem. There is, therefore, the need to secure and safeguard this incredible habitat and other wetlands in Ghana. One of the main problems associated with the Sakumo Ramsar site and other sites is the issue of encroachment along its boundaries. Hence, the need to, as a matter of urgency, establish a buffer zone around them. Even though Ghana has a Riparian Buffer Zone Policy, there is no law to strengthen its enforcement and deter people from disturbing such ecological sensitive zones. The Forestry Commission of Ghana needs to create more awareness programs to educate people, especially those living around the wetland, of its importance to environment sustainability.