The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has raised red-flag over the increasing death of whales along the coast, saying Ghana risks oil sanctions if adequate measures are not instituted to curb the trend.
It said there has been a remarkable increase in the incidence of the beaching of whales and dolphins on the coast of Ghana from 2009 and 2014 — recording 24 deaths with 20 occurring in the Western Region, three in Greater Accra and one in the Central Region.
Professor P.K. Ofori Danso, Chairman of a nine-member committee constituted by the EPA to investigate the incidence of dying whales and dolphins on the beaches, told journalists at the weekend that there is direct take of cetaceans as baits for catching sharks, which is also on the increase, and this could aggravate the mortality rate of the cetaceans if not addressed urgently.
He said the highest number of mortalities was reported in 2013, recording 12, of which 11 occurred in the Western Region and one in Greater Accra.
Prof. Danso said Ghana has enacted a number of legislations and signed international conventions and treaties intended to conserve biodiversity and protect the environment, and is therefore required to fulfil its obligations.
He noted that government failure to carry out legal reforms and put in place effective management systems along the coast to halt deaths of cetaceans could provoke international sanctions on Ghana’s oil.
The committee, which undertook a field survey in February this year, cited possible causes of the mammals’ death as ship-strikes, entanglement with fishing gear and ingestion of marine debris (polyethylene).
Prof. Danso explained that lack of adequate data and the fact that most of the cetaceans beached in Ghana were noticeably rotten and did not afford definite conclusions about specific causative factors.
He said: “Most of the cetaceans that beached in Ghana were in a highly decomposed state and it is possible that some of the carcasses could have drifted from neighbouring countries into Ghanaian waters.
“This is because the phenomenon of beaching of dead cetaceans has been reported in other countries along the Gulf of Guinea.”
He said there is therefore a need for sub regional collaboration in protecting the animals.
He said the committee established there were institutional weaknesses in enforcing provisions of existing legislations, and called for the strengthening of capacity for the existing institutions as well as streamlining legislative roles and gaps.
Prof. Danso called for appropriate measures to be instituted to recover ghost nets from the sea; effective management of urban waste in coastal communities; a satellite sighting and reporting system of cetaceans for ships installed; efficient management of maritime vessel traffic to reduce ship strikes; and improved collaboration among relevant institutions.
He urged government to embark on comprehensive legislative reforms by amending the Wild Animal Preservation Act, 1961 (Act 43) to include (whales and dolphins) in the list of animals to be protected, as well as amending regulations under the maritime transport regime to ensure protection of cetaceans from ship-strikes.
He said the Fisheries Act, 2002 (Act 625) ought to be enforced to stop the usage of dolphins as bait in the shark-finning industry, and legislation requiring installation of pingers and weights on nets by fishermen to reduce entanglement of mammals in fishing nets.
Prof. Danso also noted the need to carry out studies into the effects of low frequency sounds, and monitoring and control studies to investigate the effects of noise and vessel traffic.
He expressed sadness that Ghana is not taking advantage of the situation to promote whale-watching eco-tourism, which is a flourishing business in other nations.
Mr. Daniel S. Amlalo, Executive Director of EPA, said protection of the environment is a collective responsibility and asked Ghanaians to join the struggle in protecting the environment for posterity.
He said the EPA has acquired a vessel and also enrolled some of its officers in the study of prosecution as an effort to strengthen existing structures to adequately protect the environment.
Last year government said there was no scientific basis to establish that the spate of whales being washed ashore was due to the offshore exploration of oil and gas in the Western Region.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, the Fisheries Commission and the EPA in a statement explained that the washing ashore of dead whales could be due to some other cause than the oil and gas exploration.
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