Case study

How climate change is affecting coastal communities

We are researching how climate change is affecting people’s lives in coastal communities in Ghana. The aim of our research is to help people living in these coastal regions find strategies to cope with changes to their environment.

Rising sea levels

The towns and villages along the coast of Ghana are predominantly fishing communities. They are being affected by changing rainfall and climate. One of the key aims of our research project is to bridge the physical, environmental and human impacts of climate change.

Researchers from our Environmental Sustainability Research Centre have focused on the Muni-Pomadze lagoon-barrier system in Winneba, Ghana. It has expanded from looking at how sea-level rise has impacted the coastline to understanding how this and changes to climate and the shoreline affect the community.

Shoreline mapping and comparison of aerial imagery shows that there has been land loss from the front of the lagoon barrier in the last 40 years. This is probably associated with sea level rise. Erosion has led to a more open connection with the sea. This has been made worse by the informal opening of the lagoon, which has sped up the changes along the barrier.

study area in Ghana overlooking the lagoon barrier system
Deb and Sian with members of the community in Ghana

Adapting strategies

Dr Deb Raha, Lecturer in Human and Developmental Geography at School of Environmental Sciences, has visited Akosua and Wareba villages in a protected wetland area linked to Winneba town. She explains: “These are predominantly fishing households faced with interconnected developmental issues ranging from livelihoods to wellbeing. They are adapting strategies to cope with environmental and physical changes around them.”

Dr Raha’s role is to analyse the present practices around income generation, water, health, sanitation, waste management and education. She is working with householders – men and women along with local institutional representatives – to identify ways to enhance their strategies to adapt to climate change.

She explains: “As a forest commission officer said, ‘We always tell them how they are negatively impacting the environment through their actions.’ It will be good to help them identify alternative practices. So, instead of saying ‘don’t, don’t’, we can say ‘do, do’.”

The impacts of shoreline changes and coastal erosion on local communities in Ghana

View shoreline changes in Ghana video transcript

Human aspect

Dr Sian Davies-Vollum, Head of School of Environmental Sciences, adds: “When I started researching on this project in Ghana, it was very much focused on the physical landscape, the natural landscape, as that's my area of expertise, I'm a Geologist and Physical Geographer.

“Deb is a Human Geographer and Development Geographer and she encouraged me to think about the human aspect to this project. So that's how it has evolved and developed.

“People in less economically developed countries, who live at the coastline, are really dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. So any changes to rainfall, to sea level rise, to flood patterns, has a big impact on them. They are the coastal communities that are most at risk from climate change.”

the Muni-Pomadze lagoon-barrier system in Winneba, Ghana

Pollution priority

A top priority of the team is looking for strategies to deal with plastic pollution. Plastics in the near shore and shallow water are brought up with the fish catch and then left on the beach.

Dr Davies-Vollum explains: “One of the things that I've noticed in five years that I've been visiting this coastal community in Ghana is the increased prevalence of plastics along the beach and the coastline and the lagoon.”

Dr Raha adds: “And as of now, they don't have any system, management system, of what to do with the plastics. So it's just left on the beach and nobody's really doing anything about it.

“So that's one thing we said would be top priority to deal with, as we go along in the project.”

plastic pollution on the beach in Ghana
Plastic pollution on the beach in Winneba, Ghana

Research goal

The researchers will critically analyse the gap between well-intentioned policy discourse and actual implementation challenges in reality at the village level.

Our team wants to be able to provide research-informed policy recommendations for local and national government. The work would also lead to publications for an academic audience and research-informed teaching.

But the most important element of the research is to help local communities adapt their strategies. We aim to give them more alternative methods that they can implement for protecting the environment and having stable livelihood.

Deb wearing a blue sweater with a pink striped shirt, smiling, outdoors
Lecturer in Environmental Social Science and Programme Leader BSc Environmental Sustainability

Dr Debadayita (Deb) Raha is a lecturer in Human and Developmental Geography at the University of Derby. Her research interests lie in the multidisciplinary field of social science and environmental impact on people's lives. She has previously worked at the University of Nottingham looking at whole systems analysis of small scale renewable energy for rural communities in UK and India.

closeup of some coral in a fish tank

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