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Mole National Park - Ghana.


Abena

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I traveled to Ghana in October 2014 and while there, I visited Mole National Park for three days. I’d been very keen to visit Mole since my first trip to Ghana in 2011. It’s the most well developed national park in the country, and the website states that they have many animal species, including elephant, hippo, buffalo, various antelope species, baboon, several monkey species, and others.

 

In 1958 the park’s lands were set aside as a wildlife refuge and in 1971 the remaining small human population was relocated and the area was designated as a national park. The park occupies an area of approximately 4840 square kilometers. Poaching is a problem, with poachers going 50 km within the park boundaries. The government does not adequately fund the park and there are not enough rangers to patrol the area.

 

As an example, the Wikipedia page on Mole, updated in April 2014, states that the elephant herd numbers 800. However, the ranger that led the safari tour I took stated that the most recent count was 440 elephants.

The website for the Mole Motel states there are also leopards and lions within the park; while this may be true, there have not been any sightings of these species in over ten years, according to the ranger.

 

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Mole is located in the Gonja region of Northern Ghana, the nearest town being Larabanga, and the nearest place to get public transportation to the park being Tamale (about 146 km away). The main visitor area and hotel are on an escarpment that overlooks one of the large watering holes.

 

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My partner and I stayed in the Mole Motel, which is the only lodging option available at this time. There is also a campsite if you want to brave the baboons. An American owned company is in process of building an eco-lodge within the park boundaries; this will be a private concession and will no doubt be much nicer accommodations than the government-run Mole Motel. Sadly, the Mole Motel looks like it hasn’t been maintained in decades. The workers were bemoaning the fact that the new eco-lodge will take away business.

The Mole Motel prices are rather steep for what you get as well. We paid 150 cedis for an air conditioned room (larger than what we needed but the only one available) – about 50 USD per night. Personally I kind of like “funky” lodging and this was pretty “funky” – the water was turned off at dusk (there were three large containers of water for flushing the toilet); the curtains were rotting away from lack of washing, the air conditioning kept going off and on due to the rolling blackouts in the whole country.

 

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Speaking of baboons, one night we were awoken by loud footsteps running on the roof and the door being shaken back and forth – a group of baboons (a congress? A troop?) was trying to break in to the room! It was a little freaky. Then the next day, baboons attacked a lady right outside the hotel – she wasn’t hurt but was pretty shaken up. They also apparently break into the hotel kitchen from time to time and steal food.

 

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There were also monkeys hanging around the hotel, looking for ways to break into vehicles…

 

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We saw Patas and Green monkeys; the Patas monkeys were more common and gregarious and the Green monkeys stayed back in the bush and were not so easy to see.

 

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There were also lots of warthogs, both close to the hotel/visitor area, and out in the bush. I had never seen a warthog close up and I found the way they kneel down and scuffle along on their knees to eat quite endearing.

 

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We were at Mole at the tail end of the rainy season, which means that the animals can easily get water out in the bush, so they are less likely to use the watering holes in open areas where they can be seen.

 

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If you want to see elephants, the best time to go is during the dry season (November through March) when the elephants sometimes come right into the visitor’s center. I didn’t see any elephants when was there. However, the group that took the afternoon safari saw one elephant. According to the guide, the herd of 440 elephants travels back and forth between Mole Park and southern Burkina Faso. I was not able to find out the subspecies of elephant making up the herd (Savannah or Forest African Elephant).

 

The most prominent animals were several species of antelope – kob, roan, waterbuck, and bushbuck.

 

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According to Wikipedia, Mole is a primary reserve area for antelope species.

 

We saw numerous species of birds; unfortunately I don’t have any good photos. The largest bird we saw was a saddle-billed stork; quite an impressive bird!

 

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There are several ways you can view wildlife at Mole. There’s a lovely viewing area overlooking one of the large watering holes and an open expanse of grassland in the visitor’s center complex. You can take a guided hike on a couple of different trails, each of which cover several miles out into the bush and the open grasslands. Or, you can go on a safari vehicle that will drive out onto roads that cut through the bush.

 

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The weather when we were at Mole was very hot and humid (in the 90s F) and a real bonus was being able to relax in the swimming pool in the afternoons.

 

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The food at the hotel restaurant was pretty basic and also rather pricey for the quality. They did a decent job with typical Ghanaian fare. One of the highlights of the visit to Mole was our hiking guide inviting us to have dinner at the staff canteen (his wife was the cook). Two of our companions were vegetarian and they ordered what must have sounded rather strange to the ranger’s wife (beans and boiled eggs) – but she cooked it very well and we all enjoyed it!

 

As previously mentioned, it is possible to get to Mole by public transportation (taxi or tro-tro – a tro-tro being essentially a terribly overcrowded minivan) that could be accessed from Tamale. You can fly from Accra (the capital) to Tamale. So potentially you could get to the park even if you didn’t have a vehicle to drive. To drive to Mole from Accra is a pretty straight shot north through Kumasi (the second largest city in the country). The roads are a bit rough in places but the roads leading into the park from Larabanga are quite good. My partner has made the trip into Mole numerous times and said that it’s only been recently that the roads are being graded and paved; in the past the short distance into the park took many hours of slowly dodging potholes.

 

The area of Ghana in which the park is located is interesting to visit from a cultural perspective also. Larabanga’s claim to fame is the oldest mosque in Ghana, built in the 1400s and still used for worship. There’s also a “witch village” not too far away – a sort of concentration camp to which people accused of witchcraft are banished. The villages in the northern part of the country are the traditional round mud and thatched roof buildings and are very picturesque.

 

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All in all I think Mole National Park is a place worth visiting. I would definitely go there during the dry season though, when the animals are more visible.

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twaffle

Thank you for posting this, I'm sure many of us are unfamiliar with this park.

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Treepol

Thank you for posting a trip report from this little known park.

 

Good to hear something of West African safaris and National Parks.

Edited by Treepol
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@@Abena

Thank you for posting your report about an interesting park - I had not heard of it before. The baboons must have been scary!

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Game Warden

@@Abena Thanks very much for this report: so you self drove to the park and once there arranged accomodation and game drives/walks? Or was this pre booked? What did local people have to say about the ebola reporting?

 

I'd love to know more about the whole trip, are you involved with an in country NGO?

 

Matt.

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wilddog

Really interesting report; thanks for sharing.

 

That mosque is quite something.

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graceland

Very interesting, thanks for posting a real adventure at the Mole Hotel and surrounds!

 

Did you make it to the Witch Village? Oldest Mosque; quite something.

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inyathi

@@Abena

 

I haven’t been to Ghana yet so it’s great to see a report on Mole, I don’t know what the situation with leopards in the park might be but I think it’s now pretty clear from surveys carried out in recent years that lions are extinct. I read sometime back that a Tanzanian company called Moivaro was going to be taking over the Mole Motel but I guess this hasn’t happened, so I’m interested to hear that a new lodge is being built. If it’s going to be offering a better standard of accommodation then it presumably will be somewhat more expensive and not exactly aimed at the budget traveller market. I would think that the fact that there are no longer any lions would be significant disadvantage if you’re catering for people who can easily afford to go on safari in Eastern or Southern Africa instead. It will be interesting to see what happens but a new lodge has to be a positive development for Mole

 

It’s interesting seeing that mosque at Labaranga like others in the region it would be made entirely of wood, reeds and mud so I'm guessing local people would have had to be constantly re-plastering it with fresh mud for nearly 600yrs which is a fairly amazing thought. At least if it’s anything like the rather larger Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali which is re-plastered every year in a special ceremony, another place I haven’t been to and won’t likely visit for a while.

 

I imagine that tourist numbers in Ghana must be well down because of the Ebola crisis, even though they haven’t had a single case and the country is separated from Liberia and Guinea by Ivory Coast and from Mali by Burkina Faso. In Mole and most of the rest of Ghana you would be over 400 miles away from the nearest confirmed case but that would not be far enough for some people. So it’s very good to know that some people are going did the subject come up while you were there at all?

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Hi everyone and thanks for the questions and comments - I'll reply to all of you soon!!

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Excellent, a Ghana report! I very nearly visited Mole with a college group in 2008. It looks incredibly lush and green. Looking forward to hearing more and seeing any more photos you may have.

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Abena, you wouldn't happen to be doing a paper on mango allergies in Ghana?

Edited by ovenbird
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@@ovenbird - nope, I'm not doing a paper on mango allergies - and thankfully I don't have one LOL

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@@Game Warden - we didn't book in advance. As it was the slow season at the park for wildlife viewing, we didn't think it would be necessary. Also we were sort of wandering the country gypsy style so we didn't know where we would be when. I would recommend if you have your itinerary set, make reservations in advance. As to the hikes and car tours - I don't think there's a mechanism in place to book in advance; you just sort of show up at the time of the tour you want to take. There were lots of rangers and guides sitting around waiting for customers so I think it would be no problem to get on any tour you wanted at any time of the year.

 

As to Ebola.... the country is on high alert for Ebola and there are numerous venues of educational efforts - infomercials, posters, billboards, radio announcements, etc. Personally I wasn't all that concerned. I mean seriously, anyone at any time would avoid people that are obviously ill with a communicable disease of any kind.... I was more concerned about malaria than Ebola. When I arrived at the airport in Ghana we were all temperature-screened and cleared before going through customs - on the way out likewise, everyone leaving the country was temperature-screened. When I went through customs in NYC - there was not even a mention of Ebola, which struck me as really odd, given that there had been several cases of people from West Africa entering the U.S. with Ebola during the time I was away.

 

The kinda scary thing regarding Ebola is that the health system in Ghana cannot in any stretch of imagination support an outbreak such as what Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have experienced, even given that their health system is probably more advanced than that of other W. African countries.

 

I'm not dismissing the seriousness and truly tragic proportions of this disease, but there's a lot of hype around it in the U.S. in my opinion.

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@@graceland - We went to one of the four witch villages that exist in Northern Ghana. The one we went to is the smallest of the four - it was established maybe 50 years ago. I believe there are around 70 residences in the village but there seemed to be more than one person living in them. Interestingly, the witch village is right next to a "non-witch" village and the people interact and nobody seemed too bothered by the so-called witches (who are both male and female, by the way).

 

When people are accused of witchcraft/sorcery in their home village they are banished from the village and from their families, and forced to walk to one of the witch villages. When they arrive, a divination is performed by the fetish priest to determine if they are in fact, a witch/sorcerer. No matter the outcome, they have to stay there, because if they return to their village they can be killed or maimed. The witch villages are a kind of safe haven for people accused of sorcery. A belief in witchcraft (in other words, the use of spiritual means to harm others) is deeply embedded in the culture of Ghana and while these witch villages have become a target of human rights campaigns and are somewhat of an embarrassment to the federal government, it's unlikely that there are going to be many changes regarding how accused witches are treated. There have been some "repatriation" efforts by the fetish priest of the village we visited - in other words, accused witches can be eventually returned to their villages if they don't cause trouble.

 

It was a slow time, tourist wise, so I got to meet the fetish priest and sit with him and a bunch of men who were husking dried corn - I was able to talk through an interpreter and ask him some questions. He seemed really interested to find out if in the U.S. we have a belief in witchcraft and how we deal with things like sudden infant death, or unexplained deaths.

 

I didn't wander amongst all 70 of the huts; to me it feels too much like voyeurism and I'm not comfortable with people's homes becoming a tourist destination... the people live in incredible poverty, and in some respects I felt like there's an aspect of coercion to encourage tourists to give them money (which undoubtedly, they need), but personally it didn't sit well with me for whatever reason.

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@@Marks - yes, it's really beautiful! Even though there weren't as many animals as there are at other times of the years, the surrounding landscape is worth a trip in itself.

 

I had to remind myself that when I've been to National Parks in the U.S., it's unusual to see wildlife, it's more about being in a place of natural beauty.

 

Too bad you missed Mole when you visited Ghana - at least now you could get there more easily :rolleyes:

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I'm returning to Ghana in January - I've started a small business and I'm working with an NGO outside of Accra - and I'm also planning to move there in 2015 to focus on business development and to be with my partner there. SO... you will most likely be seeing more trip reports about wildlife areas in Ghana because I'm sure we'll be exploring whatever is out there. My partner is a tour operator and has been to every corner of the country and most of West Africa, but he hasn't been to the national parks in years (his tours mostly focus on cultural stuff). However, he's interested to visit some of the other parks and wildlife refuges again so we'll see what they have to offer.

 

My experience so far has been that the places that are listed as eco-tourism destinations are poorly maintained and understaffed - and the locals don't have the same sort of concern for the environment that most "Westerners" have. For instance, we went on a nature walk in a stunningly beautiful rainforest/waterfall region of the country, and the waterfall area was littered with trash when there was a trash receptacle right there. I think that with more patrolling as well as public relations campaigns, this sort of situation could shift. This particular area brings in a lot of tourists which contributes to the local economy of the little village.... if people could be convinced that keeping the environment well maintained and clean would enhance the area and bring in more money, perhaps they would take more ownership of the site.

 

One of the parks that really interests me (and which I will want to visit next) is Bui National Park in the western part of Ghana. They have a hippo population, which I read has sadly been diminished due to the building of a dam on the river... There is also a hippo sanctuary in western Ghana that seems worthy of a visit.

 

There's a system of wildlife sanctuaries that are funded by USAID and other organizations where the development and maintenance of the sanctuary is turned over to the local village. This in turn supports their economy as well as their traditional ways, in which the wildlife is held sacred and can be protected from poaching, loss of habitat and so on. There's some information about a few of these sanctuaries on the internet but by and large, websites do not seem to be very well maintained or updated - a frustration in trip planning. On one website I saw that there was supposed to be a travel guide to eco-tourism sites in Ghana but I didn't see it being sold anywhere.

 

When we were driving through the country, it was amazing to see the number of large and fancy hotels springing up all over the place. This is apparently due to the incoming oil and gas industry workers. The country is planning for an influx of tourism - personally, I still can't believe they will come close to filling these hotels but....

 

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out over time. Regarding the oil and gas industry - it's mainly oil deposits in the interior of the country that are being developed and the complex being built by Halliburton is HUGE. I truly fear for the environment and the wellbeing of the local people - entire villages will most likely be displaced to make room for development.

 

Happy to answer any more questions!

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Game Warden

@@Abena It will be great to have a Ghana expert on the ground :) Let's help push West Africa. I think there might be other members going there next year.

 

More photos please :)

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@@Abena These are incredibly fascinating cultural details that you've shared. It also sounds like there are many wildlife destinations that could be developed in the future. Hopefully this is the beginning of some interest being stirred up! I actually missed Ghana completely (ended up travelling in India that year instead) but have maintained an interest in the country, so I'm very interested in seeing your posts in the future. :)

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@@Marks - I'll be posting another segment to this trip report soon. I'm so happy that there's interest in Ghana and West Africa. I have a (perhaps naïve) belief that Nature and economics can co-exist and support each other, and I can see a future in the development of eco-tourism in Ghana.

 

If anyone is interested in traveling to Ghana, Togo, Benin or Burkina Faso and would like a competent and professional guide, my partner Godfried Agbezudor has been a tour operator for 28 years and owns his own tour company, Continent Explorer. He can work with you to develop an itinerary and make all lodging arrangements along the way. If you want to go into other West African countries he is very knowledgeable about the political situation/safety concerns and can make sure your trip is as safe as possible. He's also a wealth of knowledge about West African culture and history. Please take a look at his website: www.continentexplorer.com I'm happy to answer any questions, or find out the answer for you if I don't know :rolleyes:

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michael-ibk

Thanks for this most interesting report, great reading about parts of African wildlife so rarely featured here. I do hope there´s more to come. :)

 

My father visited Mole NP two years back btw, I think around January. He did see several elephants then, but "not much" else. (According to him, he´s got no real interest in wildlife. So he could have seen dozens of Pangolins and Aardvarks and they would have been "nothing" to him. :))

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Onward to the Volta Region B)

 

Volta Region, Eastern Ghana

 

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After visiting the northern part of Ghana and Mole National Park, we headed east and then south through the incredibly beautiful mountainous rainforest region along the Volta River and Lake Volta, in eastern Ghana. The Volta Region is my favorite part of the country. The natural beauty is just outstanding, and the tribe that is predominant in the Volta Region (Ewe) are known for their tidiness. Hence, most villages we traveled through were clean and neat and devoid of the piles of garbage that beleaguer many parts of the country. I actually saw women out sweeping the dirt in their family compounds. This region of the country has its own cultural significance as the homeland of the Voodoo religion in Ghana. The Volta Region shares a mountain range with the western border of Togo.

 

A tiny bit of history here…. Lake Volta is the largest human-made lake in the world, and was formed by the damming of the Volta River to create a hydroelectric plant. This hydroelectric plant provides electricity to Ghana as well as surrounding countries. The creation of the lake (in the early 1960s) flooded out innumerable communities and displaced something like 80,000 people. Operating the hydroelectric plant is dependent upon the water level in the lake and for the past several years the lake level has dropped because of a lack of sufficient rainfall. Hence the rolling blackouts I mentioned in the post on Mole Park.

 

We went back to a place we’d visited in 2011, the small town of Wli, the location of the Agumatsa Wildlife Sanctuary and the highest waterfalls in West Africa.

 

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The cliffs around the falls are the home of a large colony of fruit bats. Other than the bats, and various invertebrates, there didn’t seem to be much by way of wildlife. Indeed, I wondered about the designation as a “wildlife sanctuary” given that as we were walking on the nature trail, we encountered a man carrying a rifle, on his way to hunt bats…. Never mind about Ebola and the constant media messages to stop eating bats and other bushmeat….

 

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The nature trail to the lower falls goes through the rainforest, along a rushing river. The forest is lush, green, and just so beautiful. Surprisingly, it’s not hot or buggy – of course, it’s very humid.

 

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We saw many beautiful butterflies and managed to get a good photo of this sparkly dragonfly.

 

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The falls are just spectacular.

 

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Sadly, the area of land at the end of the trail around the falls is not maintained and is a mess of plastic bottles, wrappers, and other trash left there by picnickers. There’s a large receptacle clearly marked as a rubbish bin and goodness only knows why people can’t walk five feet to use it rather than dropping their stuff on the ground. Sometimes I think Ghana is a little like the U.S. in the 60s before media campaigns on behalf of the environment that changed the way most people care for the land around them….

 

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One thing I learned on this trip was, if given a choice, hire a young boy as a hiking guide. They are much more patient and don’t mind their customers stopping to take loads of pictures. This little boy was adorable and so thrilled to be showing us the way, and he got so excited to earn a few Cedis for his time.

 

Due to my partner having injured his ankle earlier in the trip, we didn’t continue on to the upper falls. In 2011 we made the rather torturous climb up a very steep and slippery trail to the upper falls. At that time we had an adult man guiding us, who clearly wanted us to hurry so he could take another group later in the day. I remember this being a little frustrating.

 

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Above, a photo showing the town of Wli far below the trail that leads to the upper falls.

 

And the upper falls themselves, below:

 

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The trail continues beyond the upper falls to the spring that’s the source of these powerful waterfalls. There’s a little village at the top of the mountain where the springs are located. The people who live in this village have no access to services other than walking up and down the trail, and have to stand at the apex of the mountain, sitting on each other’s shoulders, to get a cell phone signal. When a woman is in labor, she is carried down the mountain in a stretcher to Wli, to deliver the baby. I’d like to hike all the way up there sometime, just to see the village! The locals are in great shape and climb the trail like it’s nothing… I’m sure it would take me all day.

 

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We spent a few days in Wli, which is a nice little town right on the border to Togo. The waterfalls are a big tourist attraction, and there are at least five decent lodges where one can find inexpensive rooms. While there, we got a cultural treat – the visit of the new chief of a neighboring village – with much fanfare and welcome by the residents of Wli. We wandered in to check out the festivities. After we left (the speeches were still going on), a rainbow appeared in the sky. Godfried said “oh, that means he will be a successful chief.” Unfortunately only moments after the gathering dispersed, fighting broke out, probably related to the overconsumption of alcohol….

 

We continued our journey south through the Volta Region, and spent a night in the town of Ho, where I bought a bunch of batiks made by an organization that trains street kids in the art of batik.

 

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As we traveled along the lakeside, we stopped in a little fishing village not far from the Akosombo Dam. Apparently this was a thriving, picturesque village in years past, but now there is not much remaining there but a few boats. The lake levels have dropped significantly – the former boat dock is now ten feet above the level of the lake on dry land.

 

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The tour boats are just sitting there with no passengers and the few people remaining in the village don’t seem to have a lot to do. We noticed that the catch of fish being displayed in the small market was made up of mostly very small fish – which may indicate that the fish are being harvested before they can grow to adulthood. All in all, not a happy scene for the people living there.

 

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A bit further south is the Keta Lagoon. The lagoon is over 125 km in length (it’s huge). The water is brackish – fed by the ocean at the southern end, and various rivers and streams. There are mangrove swamps and estuaries where many species of birds can be seen – it’s also an overwintering location for migratory birds. This is a location I hope to spend a lot more time at in the future – fortunately my partner’s extended family of hundreds live all around the lagoon in Keta, Adina and other villages and towns in the area. The Keta Lagoon is a Ramsar protected site but there are threats from over fishing, cutting of the mangroves for firewood, pollution, etc.

 

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The lagoon is separated from the ocean by a long sandbar, and the beach on the ocean side is beautiful and clean.

 

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Quite alarmingly, many other beaches in Ghana are horribly polluted with plastics that get caught in the currents and wash up at high tide. Below, another beach not far down the road:

 

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Another feature of this whole stretch of coastline is the ongoing building of a huge seawall all along the main highway. This is a major construction project, and clearly the government is extremely concerned about the rise of ocean levels and potential flooding of this road in the not too distant future.

 

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Sea levels have risen significantly over the past 40-50 years, such that the homes on the ocean side of the village of Adina are protected from high tide by only a small and not well constructed sea wall – my partner showed me where the sea is now coming within a few yards of his aunt’s compound – whereas when he was a child, it was a mile from the compound to the beach. The alarming and potentially catastrophic effects of global climate change coming home….

 

I think that the entire Volta Region could be much more developed for eco-tourism. In my 2011 post on Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary and the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, I mentioned that a system of wildlife sanctuaries is developing throughout the country that show a lot of promise as means of economic improvement for local communities, who then have the financial incentive to protect wildlife populations from poaching. I hope this trend will continue in Ghana.

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And OH FUDGE I thought I was following Matt's instructions about the photo posting - @@Game Warden - HELP!! Sorry folks, I'm sure Matt will get the photos where they're supposed to be...

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Your words paint a vivid picture by themselves! Though I'm curious whether the photos will match the scene in my head.

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Game Warden

@@Abena - I've edited in the photos. Really great shots. The image of the plastic waste on the beach is such as shame. Perhaps with increasing tourism efforts will be made to clean this?

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twaffle

Absolutely fascinating report

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