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Ghana’s historic slave forts are being swallowed by rising seas


For 21 years, Fort Prinzenstein’s caretaker James Ocloo Akorli has watched the Gulf of Guinea’s tempestuous waters eat away at both his livelihood and his heritage.

The 18th century Danish citadel, set along Ghana’s palm-fringed coastline, was once the last stop for captured Africans before they were forced onto slave ships bound for the Americas.

Today, three-quarters of the Unesco World Heritage site has been swallowed by the sea.

“There have been mornings after a storm when I have come to find large parts of the fort have just disappeared,” Akorli lamented as he stood by the monument’s crumbling walls a few metres from the shore in Keta town, 180 km (110 miles) east of Ghana’s capital, Accra.

“Whole structures, including the main dungeons, are now in the sea.”

Accelerated by climate change, rising sea levels and increased storm surges and floods are washing away Ghana’s famed slave forts and castles - jeopardising coastal jobs, homes, as well as the country’s thriving tourism industry, say experts.

Between 2005 and 2017, 37 per cent of the coastal land around the town of Keta was lost erosion and floods, according to research conducted by Ghana University’s Institute of Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS).

Currently, the coastline is eroding at an average annual rate of about two metres (6.6 feet) - but some areas have recorded up to 17 metres (56 feet) of erosion in a single year.

Global warming is responsible, said Kwasi Appeaning Addo, IESS’s director and associate professor in coastal processes and delta studies.

“As well as sea level rise, climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of storm surges and floods, leading to increased erosion in coastal areas,” he said.

“We’ve already seen fishing villages in low-lying areas such as Keta being washed away, so naturally, historic monuments are also at risk. Within 20 to 30 years, we will face serious problems if we continue with the business-as-usual approach.”

Addo’s warning comes days before world leaders gather at the COP27 UN climate summit in Egypt, where they are expected to battle over how much financial support rich countries should provide to developing nations to help them cope with the consequences of rising temperatures.


The transatlantic slave trade, active between the 16th and 19th centuries, forcibly removed 12.5 million people mainly from Central and West Africa, and sent them to work across the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean.

—Thomson Reuters Foundation

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