EPA begins investigations into sea weeds phenomenon at Ghana’s coastline

The Environmental Protection Agency EPA, says it has taken seriously reports of the influx of sea weeds on the country’s shores.

The phenomenon is said to  be affecting the livelihood of local inhabitants, especially fisher-folks, whose lives depend mainly on fishing activities.

In a statement signed by the Chief Programme Officer-Public Affairs Department Mrs Angelina Ama Tutuah Mensah, the EPA said it has initiated scientific investigations into the occurrence.

“The EPA is also studying other mitigation measures such as the potential uses of the weed,|” the statement assured.

The following is the full statement;

In recent times, the shores of Ghana has been experiencing an unprecedented increase in the beaching of a type of macro algae (sea weed) identified to be Sargassum sp., and commonly called brown algae particularly in the Western Region, in addition to an already existing phenomenon of annual bloom of green algae. This has been reported to be affecting the livelihood of local inhabitants, largely fisher-folks, whose lives depend mainly on fishing activities.

The seaweed, Sargassum vulgare has been reported in the maritime waters of Ghana since the early 1960s. These seaweeds usually get attached to sub-tidal rocks and occasionally when the waves break pieces from the main strand drift them along. The algae reported then have never been known to be invasive.

From January 2014 up to date, the coastal dwellers have been witnessing the increasing presence of Sargassum, in our maritime waters.  A similar influx was experienced between January and October 2012 and it appears to be expanding rapidly.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) monitoring of the situation showed that the spread of the brown algae is from the west (Newton/Half Assini) towards the east and is fouling all the beaches as far as Aflao and beyond.

International dimension
Suffice to say, in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean from about lat. 20°N to lat. 35°N, there is an oblong region called the Sargasso Sea, it derives its name basically from the Sargassum weed due to its abundance and large accumulation in that region. The weed is reported to collect on beaches in the Caribbean in small quantities every year between May and September when regional currents and winds transport the floating algae to the islands and perhaps to the West Coast of Africa.

Indeed, since June 2011, there has been a frequent report of very large quantities of the weed accumulating on beaches in the Caribbean; at places such as the Bermuda, Anguilla, Tobago and Antigua, that is extraordinary in volume and geographic scope.

The New York Times of 13th October, 2011 reported that in Antigua, a $600-a-night hotel was forced to close for the month of September 2011 while it removed 10,000 tons of the seaweed from its beaches. The seaweed had completely filled the bay on which the hotel sits and was said to have created piles as high as five feet on the pristine shore. Similar situations have been encountered in Bermuda as well as the West indies.

Theories and Findings
According to the Executive Director of the EPA, Mr. Daniel S Amlalo, the recent recurrence of the influx of the weed in Ghana does not appear to reflect local growth of the weed. He added that, EPA’s inquiry with counterparts in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote D’Ivoire have confirmed the influx of the weed in their waters as well.

Again, Biological oceanographers believe that the influx of the weed may be originating from the Sargasso Sea and is being carried by the general ocean circulation to locations bounding the Atlantic Ocean; although studies are not yet conclusive.  They believe that it is likely to be a reflection of changes in the general ocean circulation in a way that brings more eddy currents closer to shore.

In addition to the above, a marine expert at the EPA Mr. Carl Fiati, believes “a set of natural and manmade factors such as indiscriminate and improper domestic waste disposal in our water bodies probably came together to trigger this”

Impacts on livelihoods and recreation
However, in Ghana, the major cause of concern is the impact it has on the fishing industry, especially the artisanal fisheries, as well as coastal recreation.

Between January and April 2012, beach seine fishermen in the west were forced to suspend fishing when the weed densities became too high. Coastal Tourism industry was not spared either; and as carried by the Daily Graphic of 23rd April 2014 “Aquatic weeds take over Cape Coast beaches” preventing revelers who normally climax their Easter festivities with beach activities from swimming in the sea.

The bright side is that the seaweed however dries up or decays quite rapidly in a few weeks if deposition is not continuous. Though the decaying mass emits hydrides of sulphur, which generally have very repulsive odour, there are no direct health risks being reported of Sargassum. However, the sulphides emitted can induce allergy in some sensitive people.

Management options
A few options may be considered in managing the Sargassum menace for the meantime. First, a do-nothing approach can be adopted where the weed is allowed to remain on the beach to rot depending on the activities undertaken on the particular beach because, research has shown this action  serve as a means of minimizing sea wave impact on sandy beaches depending on the quantities. The process also re-mineralizes the beach soil, provide habitat and protect some shore marine fauna; thus serving as an important ecological resource.

Secondly, the weed may be harvested and used as fertilizer as it has been proven by its use in Bermuda and China to be an effective source of nutrient for the soil.

The EPA is kindly advising the affected District Assemblies to take measures to regularly clean up the beaches to prevent decomposition of the weed on the beach where it could increase discomfort to the communities.

The Agency is also appealing to those who have knowledge in composting to make use of the weed as compost for agricultural purposes.

EPA is therefore calling on the affected communities to manage their waste wisely and also, it is seeking the cooperation of the general public in the protection of the marine environment.

In conclusion
The Agency on its parts has taken the influx of the weed seriously and has initiated scientific investigations into the occurrence. The EPA is also studying other mitigation measures such as the potential uses of the weed.

Angelina Ama Tutuah Mensah (Mrs.)
Chief Programme Officer-Public Affairs Department

Email: [email protected] mailto:[email protected]

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