MUNTAKA CHASANT
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Atidza Climate Change Densu Delta Densu River Mangroves in Ghana

Fishing in Ghana: Atidza, Mangroves, and the Densu Delta Ecosystems

Tidal river fishermen have decimated the mangrove forest cover around the Densu Delta for traditional fish traps — with only around 16 red mangrove trees left standing. Mangrove biomass is critical for mangrove fish assemblages, which the fishers depend on. This habitat degradation has led to a loss of biodiversity in the area — leading to a decline in fish stock in the Densu intertidal zone. The video below explores this problem with some amazing aerial landscape views.

October 7, 2020

October 7, 2020

14 Min read time

Urban poor fisherman harvests his Atidza trap. Copyright © 2020 Muntaka Chasant

Tidal river fishermen have decimated the mangrove forest cover around the Densu Delta for traditional fish traps — with only around 16 red mangrove trees left standing. Mangrove biomass is critical for mangrove fish assemblages, which the fishers depend on. This habitat degradation has led to a loss of biodiversity in the area — leading to a decline in fish stock in the Densu intertidal zone. The video below explores this problem with some amazing aerial landscape views.

Intertidal habitats are harsh environments for wildlife.

The daily onslaught of saltwater means only a limited number of species have the capacity to inhabit salt marshes and tideland muds.

An even much tougher environment for plants.

But mangrove forests have appeared naturally in areas where indigenous people did not plant them — to keep watch.

We did not understand them very well in the past. Now we do.

Adapted to harsh environments on the edge of tropical and subtropical seas, mangroves are an important link between land and ocean.

Mangrove forests stabilize shorelines, reduce erosion, and provide essential habitats for a variety of animals, including threatened and endangered species.

But these critical habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate in the tropics, including Ghana.

We have lost 50% of the world’s mangroves in the past 50 years, says the Global Mangrove Alliance1.

More than 40% of the total global area of mangroves is in just 4 countries: Indonesia (19%), Brazil (9%), Nigeria (7%), and Mexico (6%).2

The video below explores the realities of the impacts of fisheries and human activities on a critical coastal ecosystem — a deltaic wetland in Accra, Ghana’s capital city.

It’s a short story about the changing environment and its effects on the people who depends on it as a source of jobs and food.

There are now only around 16 red mangrove (Rhizophora racemosa) trees left around the Densu Delta. There were thousands of them in the past. The video explains why:

No Fish to Catch, Fisherman is Going into Commercial Driving After 25 years of Fishing

“We have cut them [mangrove trees] all down — for fish traps and fuelwood.”

“There were many many red mangrove trees around here,” said David Kpaligah, a fisherman around the Densu Delta. “They are all gone now. We have cut them all down — for fish traps and fuelwood.”

David has an everyday experience with mangrove trees. He has been fishing around the Densu River since 1995.

But there are now no more fish for him to catch.

Compared with marine fisheries, Ghana’s collapsing inland fisheries have received little to no attention at all.

“The environment has changed. I now want to stop fishing and become a commercial driver because there’s nothing left for me to catch,” David added, with a hint of regret in his voice.

At almost 50 years of age and after 25 years of fishing, David wants to start taking driving lessons — to take care of his family of 10 children and a wife.

David is indeed aware (as you can see in the video) of the key role, for instance, red mangroves play in mangrove fish assemblages.

Cutting down mangrove trees seems to have been a mainstay of the area’s economy, dating back to the early 80s.

According to David, red mangroves colonized the Densu Delta area before Ghana’s 1983 famine3 4.

People trooped in from nearby areas, including Tsokomey, Bortianor, and Faanaa, to cut down the red mangrove trees for fuelwood during the famine.

Cutting down the black mangrove trees (Avicennia germinans) intensified from 2012 after a different group of people took over ‘ownership’ of some parts of the area, David told me.

The 80s famine period was probably the golden age of cutting down mangrove trees around the Densu Delta.

What Are The Ecological Benefits of Mangrove Trees?

Mangroves are transitional ecosystems, especially near the Densu Delta, where freshwater, land, and the ocean meet.

Mangroves ensure the sustainability of coastal ecosystems. For instance, many fish species around the Densu Delta rely on mangrove biomass for productivity.

Support for wildlife — including monkeys, crocodiles, migrating songbirds, and many shorebirds species.

Mangroves serve as breeding and nursery habitats for many fish species, including blackchin tilapia, grey snapper, mosquito fish, and leatherjacket fish5 6. Many fish species and crustaceans rely on mangrove ecosystems.

Wetland ecosystems teem with life.

Fiddler crabs claw-dance to mark their territory and attract females. You can see this in the video. Though they don’t engage in violence at all times, they also use the claws as weapons during duels.

The Densu Delta intertidal area hosts a large population of reed cormorants. Also known as long-tailed cormorants, they spend their time diving and swimming underwater with their webbed feet to snatch fish for a meal.

Degradation and habitat loss from the cutting down of mangrove trees put pressure on bird species around the delta.

As a source of jobs and food. Populations living near the coast depend on mangroves for their livelihoods. Some harvest them for house construction. Others use and sell them for fuel, and their antibacterial7 properties.

As you can see on this page, it also helps the fishermen to construct brush parks. The urban poor also relies on fish from these artificial habitats as a source of food and livelihoods.

The urban poor who rely on trading the fish caught in the lagoon and tidal areas are now on the brink of extreme poverty due to declining fish catch.

You can sense the pain of Victoria Governor in the video. I felt deeply for her.

They were very appreciative of the little money I donated to them the last time I was there. They can use some help right now, especially as the pandemic is projected to plunge more than 70 million8 people into extreme poverty.

I will be going back soon to support them with whatever money I have managed to gather on my own.

Provide coastal protection. You may not even know it, but mangroves could be protecting your property from flooding if you live near the coast.

Mangroves play important roles in defending coastlines against erosions9 by trapping sediments. They reduce risks from strong winds, wave attacks, and also act as a buffer against storm surges10.

Carbon sequestration. As natural carbon sinks, mangroves sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their biomass over long periods11They do this even more effectively than rainforests12. This helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Despite the many ecological benefits, these trees are being decimated at an alarming rate around the Densu. The red mangroves are gone. So those are out of the question.

The remaining black mangrove stands are also on their way out.

These photographs where within 5 minutes part.

Saw this one:

Turned around a few minutes later and saw this:

These trees have well-arranged themselves on tideland mud. They are inundated at least twice every day with seawater. They already have a tough life.

Densu Delta fishers are indeed aware of the key roles of mangroves in fish assemblages. You can see David explain this in the video above.

Why do they still cut them down?

Why Do Coastal Populations Still Cut Down the Incredibly Important Mangrove Trees?

Densu Delta’s intertidal habitats support livelihoods and provide essential food, including blackchin tilapia, blue crabs, and oysters. They also serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for a wide variety of species. Mangroves play an important role in this.

Despite its support for fish assemblages, mangroves in the area have been decimated in recent years for Atidza brush parks.

Atidza Brush Park Method of Fishing in Ghana

You probably saw the environmental footprints of the Atidza method of fishing [in Ghana] in the video.

Atidza around the Densu River involves sinking mangrove brush bundles to the bottom of the water to create artificial habitats. Blackchin tilapia takes refuge in the shelters, form schools, and spawn there. They also serve as nursery habitats for juvenile fish. The fish populations thinking they are safe, the fishermen wait several weeks and then harvest them.

They use a net to surround the shelter and gradually remove the submerged branches and debris until the net is drawn together to entrap the fish.

A new habitat is rebuilt simultaneously with the old mangrove bundles.

This method of fishing is actually practiced in many parts of West Africa, including Benin and Nigeria.

I have filmed the Atidza process in the video above. Do see it if you haven’t.

What Are The Downsides of Atidza?

Atidza supports countless livelihoods, yes, but it is clearly not a sustainable practice around the Densu Delta.

Overfishing has led to a decline in fish catch around the area. As a result, a lot of the fishermen are having to expand by creating more Atidza traps.

The longer the wait, the more fish are caught, but they cannot wait for several weeks to harvest just one trap. Having a few of these traps means they can harvest one or two every week.

David has nine of these traps, rotating almost every week.

This frustration has led to the fishers regularly cutting down the mangrove trees to use them for the Atidza traps.

Aside from the impacts of Atidza on mangrove vegetation, this method of fishing also put pressure on fish populations in the area, including pre-spawning fish.

Disappearing Salt Marshes

Salt marshes reduce flooding, filter runoffs, and protect coastlines from erosion.

Sea level rise and the Weija Reservoir spillage have resulted in significant salt marsh biomass loss around the Densu Delta.

Vast swaths of the deltaic marshes in the area have drowned and transforming into tidal flats.

Tides are coming farther inland. As you saw in the video, ocean tides now cover the lower marsh areas — squeezing the rest against drier land.

Home for several species, they are disappearing along with the life systems they support.

There probably wouldn’t be much left of the marshes by the end of the decade.

For Landscape and Nature Photography lovers

A few photographs for landscape and nature photography lovers:

What is the way forward?

The trends on this page are having a serious impact on mangrove fish assemblages, distribution, and abundance of mangroves around the Densu Delta.

Restoring these coastal wetlands and mangroves would require sustained efforts and commitments.

It would also require engaging the populations who rely on these ecosystems as a source of jobs.

In the video, David has admitted that they have been the architects of their own doom. He has even requested for help to restore the disappearing Densu Delta wetland ecosystems.

Ghanaian authorities may or may not be aware of this problem. If they are and have ignored it, then that’s a problem. If they are not aware — well, that’s even a much bigger problem.

Making alternative livelihoods accessible to coastal communities could help to sustain these disappearing ecosystems.

Copyrights © 2020 Muntaka Chasant

Sources

  1. https://www.mangrovealliance.org
  2. http://www.fao.org/publications/card/en/c/CA8642EN/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/1983/06/07/world/famine-in-africa-is-called-worst-in-a-decade.html
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9493.1986.tb00176.x
  5. https://www.iucn.org/news/forests/201708/mangroves-nurseries-world%E2%80%99s-seafood-supply
  6. https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v318/p1-18/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3630730/
  8. https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/updated-estimates-impact-covid-19-global-poverty
  9. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-020-01637-2
  10. http://www.fao.org/3/AG127E11.htm
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274116107_Carbon_sequestration_in_mangrove_forests
  12. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110404173247.htm

October 7, 2020

14 Min read time

Comments (1):

  1. Henry Adjei Anderson

    October 7, 2020at 5:52 pm

    I’ve enjoyed reading this article and I think we have to protect our environment. The government or chiefs of the area should educate the fishermen on the effect these Atidza is causing climate change in the world.

    Reply

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