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Biodiversity Loss and Pollution of Ghana’s Ecosystems

The country has lost about 80% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2018. The University of Maryland estimates that there was a 60% increase in Ghana’s primary rainforest loss in 2018 compared to 2017, the world’s highest.

Ghana, located in West Africa, is blessed with a remarkable natural asset: the River Ankobra. This iconic river not only adds to Ghana’s diverse ecosystem, but also serves as a significant water resource for the surrounding communities. However, the River Ankobra, like many other water bodies in Ghana, faces several environmental challenges that threaten its ecological integrity. The need to protect and restore the River Ankobra has become paramount to ensure the preservation of Ghana’s natural heritage.

Biodiversity Loss in Ghana’s Savanna and Rainforest

The Tropical Rainforest, once a thriving expanse throughout Ghana, has sadly become fragmented, primarily confined to the southeastern and southwestern regions. This fragmentation has resulted in severe consequences for the many plant and animal species that rely on this rich ecosystem for their survival.

Meanwhile, in the northern regions of Ghana, the iconic Savanna Grassland, renowned for its abundant wildlife, is gradually succumbing to the encroachment of desertification. This transformation in vegetation poses a grave threat to the delicate equilibrium of the ecosystem, leading to a decline in biodiversity and the potential loss of unique species that call the Savanna their home.

The preservation and restoration of both the Tropical Rainforest and Savanna Grassland are crucial to safeguard Ghana’s remarkable terrestrial biodiversity. Efforts must be undertaken to address habitat fragmentation in the rainforest regions and combat desertification in the Savanna, ensuring the protection of these invaluable ecosystems and the preservation of the diverse array of species that depend on them. By prioritizing conservation measures, Ghana can strive to maintain the ecological balance and safeguard its terrestrial biodiversity for future generations.

Pollution of Water Resources in Ghana

The pollution of Ghana’s water resources poses a significant threat not only to its terrestrial ecosystems but also to its aquatic ecosystems. In addition to the Ankobra River, several other water bodies in the country are grappling with similar challenges. The pollution, habitat destruction, and unsustainable utilization of resources have led to a decline in water quality and a loss of aquatic biodiversity.

The Volta River, a vital water resource in Ghana, is also experiencing the detrimental effects of pollution and human activities. Additionally, the coastal areas, including the Gulf of Guinea, face pollution from industrial and urban sources, impacting the marine ecosystems and the diverse species that inhabit them.

Efforts must be made to address these environmental issues and protect Ghana’s water resources. Implementing stringent pollution control measures, promoting sustainable practices, and raising awareness about the importance of preserving aquatic ecosystems are crucial steps towards ensuring the conservation and restoration of the country’s valuable water resources.

By safeguarding the Ankobra River, Volta River, coastal areas, and other water bodies, Ghana can mitigate the adverse impacts of pollution, restore water quality, and preserve the rich aquatic biodiversity that plays a vital role in sustaining both the ecosystems and the livelihoods of local communities.

Causes of Biodiversity Loss in Ghana

The loss of biodiversity in Ghana can be attributed to various causes, with deforestation being a prominent factor.


Deforestation, driven by mining activities and the expansion of agricultural land, has had a profound impact on the country’s ecosystems. Unregulated mining practices and widespread land clearing have led to the destruction of critical habitats and the displacement of numerous plant and animal species.

In addition to deforestation, other factors contributing to biodiversity loss in Ghana include:

Habitat Fragmentation

The fragmentation of habitats due to human activities, such as infrastructure development and land conversion, disrupts the connectivity between ecosystems. This fragmentation hinders the movement and gene flow of species, making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Pollution of Water Resources

Industrial pollution, untreated wastewater discharge, and agricultural runoff contaminate Ghana’s water bodies, harming aquatic ecosystems and threatening the survival of aquatic species.

Overexploitation of Natural Resources

Unsustainable practices, such as overfishing, illegal wildlife trade, and the extraction of timber and non-timber forest products, deplete populations of vulnerable species and disrupt the ecological balance.

Climate Change

Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events associated with climate change impact Ghana’s ecosystems and disrupt the distribution and behavior of species, leading to biodiversity loss.

Invasive Species

The introduction of non-native species, intentionally or unintentionally, can disrupt native ecosystems and outcompete indigenous species, leading to their decline or extinction.

Consequence of Illegal Mining in Ghana

Illegal mining, commonly known as ‘Galamsey,’ poses the greatest threat to Ghana’s biodiversity and conservation efforts, leading to extensive environmental damage. The government estimates that it will require a staggering US$29 billion to restore the affected areas. In response to this crisis, a ban on small-scale mining has been implemented.

Galamsey is predominantly carried out by individuals and small companies that lack the necessary industrial and infrastructural capacity for responsible large-scale mining operations. When practiced by those who do not prioritize conservation, small-scale mining can have harmful consequences. Improper disposal of heavy metals such as mercury, commonly used in the mining process, poses significant risks to both human health and the overall quality of life.

Water plays a crucial role in ore processing, but the aftermath of this process presents significant challenges. Discharged mine effluents, seepage from tailings, and waste rock impoundments often find their way into freshwater bodies, leading to further contamination and ecological damage.

The implications of Galamsey extend far beyond immediate environmental concerns. It jeopardizes the delicate balance of Ghana’s ecosystems, impacting biodiversity and the long-term sustainability of its natural resources. Additionally, the livelihoods and well-being of local communities dependent on these ecosystems are severely affected.

Addressing the issue of illegal mining requires a multi-faceted approach. Alongside the ban on small-scale mining, stringent regulations and enforcement are necessary to curb illicit mining activities. Education and awareness campaigns should be conducted to highlight the importance of responsible mining practices and the conservation of Ghana’s natural resources.

Furthermore, efforts should be made to provide alternative livelihood options for those engaged in illegal mining, ensuring sustainable economic opportunities that align with environmental preservation. Collaboration between government agencies, civil society organizations, and local communities is vital to combat the pervasive issue of Galamsey effectively.

Preserving Ghana’s biodiversity and protecting its natural heritage is a collective responsibility. By taking decisive action against illegal mining and promoting sustainable practices, Ghana can safeguard its precious ecosystems, secure the well-being of its people, and pave the way for a sustainable future.

Pollution of the River Ankobra

The Ankobra River, originating northeast of Wiawso, spans approximately 190 kilometers (120 miles) as it flows southward to the Gulf of Guinea. Its main tributary is the Nini River. While small ships can navigate up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) inland, the upper reaches of the river are characterized by fast-flowing and unstable conditions.

Unfortunately, the Ankobra River has experienced significant devastation, raising concerns among conservation scientists and environmentalists about the deteriorating state of Ghana’s biodiversity and conservation efforts. The river holds immense importance as a water source for numerous communities situated along its banks. Many families depend on the river for their daily sustenance, particularly through fish farming activities.

The environmental degradation caused by illegal mining, including the harmful practices associated with Galamsey, has had a profound impact on the Ankobra River. Discharged mine effluents, tailings, and waste rock seep into the river, polluting its waters and posing serious threats to aquatic life and ecosystems. The accumulation of pollutants further exacerbates the challenges faced by communities relying on the river for their livelihoods.

The consequences of this degradation extend beyond immediate environmental concerns. The declining health and quality of the Ankobra River directly affect the well-being and economic stability of the communities it sustains. It highlights the urgent need for sustainable practices and effective measures to safeguard Ghana’s water resources and promote responsible mining activities.

Conservationists and environmental organizations are actively working to raise awareness about the importance of preserving the Ankobra River and advocating for stronger regulations and enforcement against illegal mining practices. Efforts are underway to restore the river’s health, promote sustainable fishing practices, and support alternative livelihood options for affected communities.

The first image portrays the present condition of the Ankobra River, highlighting the alarming changes that have occurred. In contrast, the subsequent images capture the natural state of the Ankobra River less than 5 years ago. However, the detrimental impacts of illegal mining and pollution have since become apparent.

These activities have had severe consequences on the river’s ecosystem, particularly on aquatic life. The oxygen levels in the water have significantly decreased, leading to a detrimental impact on the survival of important fauna. Additionally, the accumulation of toxic chemicals in the river has further exacerbated the situation, resulting in the death of various aquatic species.

The images serve as a stark reminder of the environmental degradation caused by illegal mining and pollution in the Ankobra River. They highlight the urgent need for conservation efforts and sustainable practices to restore the river’s health and protect its delicate ecosystem.

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Atewa Forest

Video Credit: AROCHA Ghana

 A part of the 23,000-hectare Atewa Forest Reserve in Ghana’s Eastern Region, home to some rare ecological populations, has been given out for mining. The forest has been included in a $2 billion barter deal with China.  China will mine bauxite in the forest and in exchange, Ghana will receive roads, hospitals, etc. Atewa is home to more than 1100 known plant species. More than 56 species are endangered. The forest also has a great diversity in butterfly populations.There are more than 70 butterfly species at Atewa. The species Mylothis atewa and Anthene helpsi are only know to habituate only at Atewa.

Interesting to Read: Hungry Bumblebees Trigger Early Flowering In Plants

Ghana’s Forest Cover Loss

According to the Government of Ghana’s Forest Commision, the country has lost about 80% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2018. The University of Maryland estimates that there was a 60% increase in Ghana’s primary rainforest loss in 2018 compared to 2017, the world’s highest. Ghana’s western neigbour, Ivory Coast came second with a 28% loss in its forest cover. Clearing for cocoa farming is the leading cause of deforestation in Ghana. Ghana and Ivory Coast are the top 2 producers of cocoa worldwide with a combined output of 60% of the world’s cocoa. In the northern part of the country, constant bush burning and the production of charcoal has depleted large swathes of the Savanna.

Renewable natural resources are essential in the sustainable development of every nation. It is essential that nations protect their ecological resources as a top priority. and maintain balance in the environment. Ghana’s journey to sustainable development is incomplete if the most important ecological resources are not part of the plan.

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