Ten famous musicians walk into a forest where Green Tree Vipers, Fruit Bats and Whip Scorpions lurk. What sounds like the start of a lame grade-b horror movie was an unusual and happy reality for biologist Daryl Bosu when he led a group of some of Ghana’s most famous musicians into Atewa Forest, a beautiful and lush reserve that faces an uncertain future, even though it provides drinking water to more than 5 million people in the country and harbors more than 100 wildlife species at risk of extinction.
“At first when we went into the forest, their feet were dragging,” says Bosu, deputy national director of operations for A Rocha Ghana, a chapter of A Rocha, which connects communities for conservation. “But once we got in there, the musicians were so excited that they didn’t want to leave, and surprised us by being willing to spend the night. When you look at the forest from afar, you might think it’s nothing special, but once you get inside, you can’t help but see what an incredibly unique place it is. Atewa is, without a doubt, one of the most significant forests in my country, maybe even in the world.”
And yet soon after the elections at the end of 2016, the new Ghanaian government confirmed its plans to allow the mining of the bauxite—the chief ingredient in aluminum—found beneath Atewa Forest in a financial deal with the Chinese government, effectively giving permission to rip up the forest floor and leave the landscape permanently devoid of life.
The visiting musicians at the time created a catchy music video, Atewa Till Eternity, to kick off a renewed campaign to convince the government to instead designate Atewa Forest a national park—a campaign that we are this year proudly supporting as a partner in the Key Biodiversity Area Partnership.
Concerned Citizens Near and Far
This is not the first time the future of Atewa Forest—named one of the 38 most important places on Earth that should be set aside—has been under attack. In 2012, A Rocha Ghana started to engage communities in the Atewa area to help protect Atewa Forest from both small-scale mining and bauxite mining. A Rocha took a group of community leader representatives to another bauxite mine in the country to show them what an actual mine looks like and how it changes neighboring communities—for the worse.
“The experience was clearly very sobering for them, to see that bauxite mining is so damaging and that there aren’t the hoped for benefits to the neighboring communities,” says Jeremy Lindsell, A Rocha’s director of science and conservation. “The communities they visited near the mine seemed much worse off, affected by dust and without the hundreds of jobs they had expected. It was a bit of a shocker to them, really.”
This summer we joined a number of other KBA Partnership organizations in sending a letter to Ghana President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo calling for the protection of Atewa Forest as a national park. Last year, when a camera trap caught an image of the rare White-naped Mangabey in Atewa Forest for the first time, our Chief Conservation Officer Russ Mittermeier (who is also the chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group) also wrote to the president to urge him to ensure the protection of Atewa Forest from mining and other development.
In addition to the formation of a group called the Concerned Citizens of the Atewa Forest Landscape—made up of local community leaders representing women, church groups, youth and other civil society sectors—more than 120,000 people globally have now added their names to a petition calling for the government to declare Atewa Forest a national park and to protect it from bauxite mining.
“These letters and petitions are sending a very strong message to the government that it’s not just a small group of people who are demanding that the government not touch this forest because of the water it provides and because of its biodiversity,” Bosu says. “It shows the solidarity we’re getting from the international community. We’re working on the conscience of the government to support the call to save Atewa from mining.”
Making Waves in the Halls of Government
Are these efforts collectively making a difference? Bosu says he is hopeful, in part because President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is the co-chair of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Advocates, a position he seems to take seriously. SDGs include striving toward clean and available drinking water and protecting the environment. If a country protects a Key Biodiversity Area, in fact, it can count that toward those goals.
Recently Bosu has heard rumblings that the government may finally be reconsidering whether to mine for bauxite in Atewa Forest, but says his team is remaining vigilant. If that good news ever does come, Bosu is ready to open a bottle of wine that he has held onto since the first international summit for Atewa in 2013, specifically to pop open the day that Atewa is converted into a national park.
“The voice of reason, the evidence and facts available should give the government no choice but to secure the forest for the country’s long-term benefit, rather than the short-term benefit of bauxite mining,” Bosu says. “So I hope we will surely get the good news, and we’re going to continue taking action. I can’t wait to open that bottle of wine someday.”
And when he does, he has promised that Atewa Till Eternity will be playing in the background.