The World Bank/WBIs CBNRM Initiative

Case Received: February 17, 1998

Author: Isaac Baah Olesu and

     Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu, Ghana Wildlife Society

Telephone: +233 21 665197

Fax: +233 21 777098



The conservation of Wildlife resources in Ghana has been restricted to the management of protected areas since the early 1900s. These protected areas include National parks, game production reserves and strict nature reserves. Until the early part of the 1990s protected area management focused on the protection of terrestrial ecosystems and habitats. The coastal zone of Ghana therefore received little or no attention over the period in spite of the over-exploitation and mismanagement of valuable natural resources that exist in the area. These resources include the mangrove forest, marine turtles, fisheries, as well as resident and migratory bird species.

However, the environmental action plan of Ghana identified the coastal wetlands of Ghana as one of the key areas requiring conservation action. Consequently, the Coastal Wetlands Management Project (CWMP) which started in 1993 was developed to conserve five major lagoon sites designated as Ramsar sites in Ghana. The Coastal Wetlands Management Project seeks to protect the ecological integrity of the wetlands as well as and to enhance the benefits derived by the local communities. The CWMP is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the World Bank and is implemented by the Wildlife Department in partnership with the Ghana Wildlife Society, an NGO which is handling the education component of the project and assist in the implementation of the project by mobilising community support and participation in the project.


Identification of the Case The Ghana coast supports significant breeding and developmental populations of at least three species of marine turtles - Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, Olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea, and Green turtles Chelonia mydas. The marine turtle conservation project was initiated by the Ghana Wildlife Society in 1995 as its contribution towards the achievement of the over-all national goal of sustainable management of coastal resources and wetland habitats in Ghana. The objective of the project is to promote the socio-economic development of coastal communities through marine turtle conservation.

The project at the moment focuses on the coastal stretch between the Volta estuary and Prampram near Accra, which covers a distance of about 80 km. This zone represents a concentrated breeding area for turtles nesting along the beaches of Ghana. The zone largely falls within the Songor Ramsar Site which is one of the five sites being managed under the coastal wetlands management project. The Society is involved and works with the coastal communities in the zone to create awareness about the turtle problem and to mobilise the communities for their support and participation in the project.

The Initial Situation

The populations of all seven species of marine turtles are declining and have been listed on the IUCN's Red Data list. In Ghana, marine turtles are protected by the Wildlife Conservation Regulation, L.I 680, 1971 and their hunting, capturing or destruction are absolutely prohibited. These wildlife regulations notwithstanding, marine turtles continue to face various forms of threat which are responsible for the increased mortality rate on the Ghanaian beaches. Past studies reported the occurrence of five species of marine turtles on the Ghana coast (Toth and Toth, 1974). These were: The Leatherback, the Green, Olive ridley, Hawksbill and the Loggerhead. But a more recent study carried out in 1994 by the Coastal Wetlands Management Project did not record the hawksbill and the loggerhead.

The major threat to marine turtle population in Ghana is predation on eggs and juveniles by domestic animals especially pigs and dogs. Of the total 359 nests recorded in the 1994 survey, 56.5% had been attacked by domestic animals (Carr, 1994). Human exploitation also contributes significantly to the decline in turtle population in Ghana. Female turtles which come to the beaches to lay eggs are normally ambushed and killed as soon as they start laying because they become weak and hence easy to capture. Where the female succeeds to complete laying the eggs the local people follow on at dawn to look for the tracks and dig up the eggs. Special fishing nets are also used for trapping the turtles by local fishermen. The turtle meat and eggs are eaten or traded for cash income

Other threats are coastal erosion and beach development, which together have destroyed some good turtle nesting habitats. The dumping of rubbish on the beaches has also contributed to the mortality of turtles. Of particular concern are the plastic materials which are often mistaken for jellyfish and swallowed by the turtles leading to their death in most cases.

It is expected that if the above factors continue to threaten the marine turtles on the Ghana beaches, their population will further decline and lead to a possible extinction in the near future. The extinction of turtle, apart from the ecological effects will also have social, economic and cultural impacts on the local communities. The communities can no longer depend on turtles as a source of food and income. Reliance on turtle products for various uses will also be affected: For example turtle fat and oil are used for treating asthma, convulsion, skin diseases and body pains; the shells for home decoration and carapace for holding food for domestic animals. The cultural and religious practices such as those of the Ningo people who worship the turtle will also be disrupted.

The Change Process

The initiative by the Ghana Wildlife Society to adopt a strategy which actively involves the local coastal communities in the conservation of marine turtles emerged from the fact that the past policies which excluded local communities in the management of wildlife resources were ineffective. These past approaches generated antagonism and often resulted in conflicts between the local people and wildlife officers. Traditional and religious beliefs which helped to conserve biodiversity in the past are also no longer as effective due to western education, civilisation, christianity and immigration of people from other ethnic groups who may not believe in the tradition of a particular area (Ntiamoa-Baidu, 1991). Although a recent wildlife policy (1994) recognises the important role communities can play in the sustainable management of the nations resources, there has been little conscious effort to integrate this with existing wildlife conservation strategies. The involvement of communities in the conservation of marine turtles is a unique and practical demonstration of the community participation approach advocated by the current wildlife policy of 1994.

The community participation process in the conservation of marine turtles started with a national workshop in the capital of Accra in November, 1995. The objective of the workshop, which was organised by the Ghana Wildlife society, was to involve all identifiable stakeholders in developing a strategy for the conservation of marine turtles in Ghana. The workshop brought together chiefs, representatives of communities living along the coast, scientists and conservationists from the universities and relevant government departments. Some of the important recommendations from this workshop, among others were that:

Immediately after the workshop, the Ghana Wildlife Society started consulting and working with the communities to form the Turtle Conservation Task Force. The communities, through the chiefs, assemblymen and other opinion leaders nominated two members from each of the 17 main communities in the project area for inclusion in the Task Force. The 34 member task force was formally inaugurated in June, 1996.

The role of the community turtle task forces include:

  1. Educate the communities about the status of marine turtles in the country and the need to stop the killing and egg collection.

  2. Report killing and egg collection to the chief in the first instance

  3. Identify important nesting sites and protect any nests found from predators and natural hazards such as erosion to ensure successful hatching of the eggs.

  4. Liaise with fishermen to release any turtles caught accidentally in fishing nets.

  5. Assist in the collection of scientific data needed for the management of turtles

  6. Serve as a link between the coastal communities and the Ghana Wildlife Society.

  7. Play a lead role in mobilising the people in community projects initiated by the Society aimed to enhance marine resources conservation.

A series of training programmes were organised by the Society for the task force members to enable them to perform the above functions effectively. Some of the issues addressed during the training were; the conservation status of turtles, breeding habits, maturity, feeding and mortality factors. The primary objective of training the community members was to empower them to take up the challenge of conserving turtles. The potential benefit for the people is the fact that through sustainable and non-consumptive uses such as eco-tourism, turtle conservation can contribute to improving their socio-economic status.

The turtle conservation strategy advocated is grounded in partnership between the local communities, the Ghana Wildlife Society as an NGO and relevant Governmental agencies such as the Wildlife Department. In this partnership the coastal communities are regonised as the key stakeholders who play a central role in the turtle conservation efforts with assistance from the external agencies.

The process of involving local communities in the turtle conservation project is conceptualized in figure 1. The Ghana Wildlife Society and the local communities worked together as partners to define the turtle problem, the society created awareness and understanding of the problem, together the two partners decided on appropriate intervention measures and implemented joint activities/programmes to address the turtle problem.

Outcome of the Project

The most important achievement of the turtle conservation project has been a dramatic change in people's attitude and behaviour towards marine turtles. This may be attributed to an increased awareness of the turtle problem due to the activities of the Society and the community turtle task forces. Task force members have reported that fishermen often invite them to come and witness the release of turtles accidentally caught back into the sea. Hitherto, accidentally caught turtles were killed. The formation of the turtle task forces also provides an immediate point of contact for community people who want to report egg collection or killing of turtles.

Most of the communities have also instituted byelaws to control the rearing of domestic animals which prey on turtles. Some of the communities are even planning to ban the rearing of pigs. The Ghana Wildlife Society, in consultation with the communities is exploring ways of assisting the people to keep the animals in enclosures.

The Task Force members assist in collecting data on nesting turtles which are required for long term monitoring of marine turtle populations on the Ghana Coast. This information will also be used to evaluate the turtle conservation project as a whole.

In the long term it is planned that the communities will be involved in the promotion of community based eco-tourism in the turtle concentration zone. Revenue from this enterprise, will be used for the development of the communities by providing clinics, schools and improving domestic water supply. Community-based eco-tourism will also provide an employment avenue for some of the unemployed youth in these communities.

The Lessons Learned

The project provides a number of lessons. The key lesson is that local people will support the conservation of natural resources if (1) they are recognised and respected as equal partners by conservation officers and are empowered to be able to contribute effectively to the conservation process and (2) if they have ownership of the resource and are convinced of the benefits that the conservation of a particular resource will bring to them.

The use of community task force has been very effective in creating awareness of the turtle problem within the communities. This is because the suspicion which they had in the past with government officers or outsiders is eliminated. The fact that the task force members are part of the communities made them readily acceptable to the communities and helped them to drive the turtle conservation messages home much more easily.

Again, the involvement of the local communities created an opportunity for the Ghana Wildlife Society to gain better insight and to understand the turtle problem from the perspectives of the local people. The partnership between the communities and the Society was therefore mutually beneficial due to the two-way transfer of knowledge from one to the other. Most of the turtle conservation activities being implemented are the recommendations of the community representatives who attended the November 1995 workshop.