Ghana's Marine Environment Under Threat

The country’s marine environment is under threat as whales and other marine mammals continue to be washed ashore in the Western and Greater Accra regions since the oil and gas exploration activities began in 2008. This is the fifth dead whale that was washed ashore last night in Sekondi within a space of three days in the two regions. Interestingly, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done by the Jubilee oil partners, before the commencement of the exploratory activities, stated that the oil activities would have an impact on marine mammals including whales. The partners then proposed in their report that they would put measures in place to minimise the impact on the whales, which was one of the condition for their environmental permit and the companies were supposed to be monitored by the EPA. From the beginning of the exploratory activities in 2008, to November, 2011, according to the Fisheries Commission statistics, seven dead whales have been washed ashore and several turtles crushed to death since the oil discovery and production in the Western Region. In August, 2012, as many as four whales were found dead at the shores of the Jomoro and Ellembelle districts of the Western Region, bringing the total number of dead whales to 11. Last Saturday, two were found dead at Kikam, Ankobrah and Santa communities in the Ellembelle District. The next day, two were found dead at Kokrobite in Accra and another one in Sekondi on Monday evening, bringing the total number to 16. The scoping report by the Jubilee Partners indicated that there would be impacts on marine mammals and turtles from vessel collision and marine debris and that due to the increased marine vessel traffic between the Jubilee field and Takoradi Port, the animals are at risk of being adversely affected by the collisions. The scooping report indicated that the increased risk of collision was considered to be low, given the relatively low volume of project related traffic and the speed of the vessel typically moving at less than 12 knots. The partners also identified that the marine mammals and marine turtles were most sensitive in areas with fast moving vessels which frequently changed direction and were more able to avoid the large, relatively slow moving support vessels associated with the project. The partners also realised in their report that disposal of solid waste in to the sea would not occur from the FPSO, and support vessels, with the exception of treated kitchen waste and treated sewerage, which would be macerated. In the same report in section 5.4, the report indicated that there would be a potential seafloor disturbance which would result in damage to marine habitats. “The positioning of subsea infrastructure, in particular flow lines will result in the loss of or damage to seabed habitats and associated communities. The total area of seabed that will be directly affected by the physical presence of subsea infrastructure is relatively small at approximately 2.3096 ha (23,096 m2),” the report said. The mitigation measures in the report, however, did not indicate any serious measure to address the continuous loss of the country’s marine mammals. It indicated some measures aimed at mitigating potential impacts on the seabed from the installation and long-term presence of subsea infrastructure. It said the layout of the subsea infrastructure would be designed to avoid seabed features considered to be geo-hazards and that it would also protect areas with potentially more diverse habitats and species. Pre-installation side-scan sonar and remote vehicles surveys will determine if there are significant seabed features that should be avoided where possible. However, more than six years after the exploration and production and the increase in exploratory companies, the country is yet to be briefed on expected impact. By law, the international oil companies (IOCs) are supposed to carry out Fisheries Impact Assessment (FIA) aside from the EIA, which would spell out issues regarding the marine life and protection of these animals. But as it is now, none of these financially resourced oil companies has done the FIA and yet they are allowed to carry on with the exploration and production. The Deputy Western Regional Fisheries Director, Mr Emmanuel Ohene-Marfo, confirmed the total of dead whales as 16, since the oil and gas exploration activities commenced in 2008. He also confirmed none of the IOCs had submitted to it the FIA , which was one of the requirement under the Fisheries Act 1625 before exploration. Mr Ohene-Marfo said the FIA, if carried out, would provide the scientific basis for arriving at the solution and now exactly what was causing the problem. “The whales are one of the mammals that help in the reduction of global warming. It is estimated that around 400,000 ton of carbon is removed every year by the whales and also as a tourist attraction,” he said.