Ocean rage

Matilde Gattoni

2016 - Ongoing


“Ocean Rage” is an ongoing project aiming at documenting the devastating natural and social effects of climate change on the coastal communities of West Africa.

As a consequence of global warming and sea level rise, more than 7,000 kms of coastline from Mauritania to Cameroon are eroding at a pace of up to 36 metres per year, disrupting the lives of tens of millions of people in thirteen countries. While local governments scramble to salvage big cities and industrial complexes, thousands of villages are being left out in the cold, pushing a thousands-year-old way of life on the brink of extinction.

Rising temperatures have pushed fish stocks away from the coasts, while erosion and salinization reduce arable land and contaminate freshwater reserves. Deprived of their means of survival, communities lose their most resourceful people to migration. As rampant unemployment drives drugs and alcohol consumption, the only profitable activities left are those controlled by criminal syndicates involved in fuel smuggling and illegal sand mining.

Once home to thriving fishing settlements, the coastline of Ghana and Togo is now a sequence of crumbling buildings and ghost towns which have been swallowed by the ocean in little more than 20 years. As climate change wipes away houses, churches and plantations, it also destroys the livelihood, cultural heritage and social fabric of entire communities, with dangerous consequences for the future of the whole continent.

The submitted series, shot along the coasts of Ghana, Togo and Benin, is the first chapter of a project spanning thirteen African countries. The next one will bring me to Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau where, by 2100, 70 percent of the coastal population is projected to suffer from sea level rise, experiencing chronic flooding, increased field salinization and the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera and malaria.

By mapping the destruction in a region where climate change has received very limited coverage, I want to show how the problems haunting West Africa are the harbinger of what mankind will experience if we won't be able to find a viable balance between progress, social inequality and environmental conservation. In a world where progress is synonymous with urbanization and consumerism, traditional communities are being sacrificed on the altar of modernity, even when the increasing pressure on natural resources should prompt an overhaul of our priorities.

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  • Ghana - El Mina harbour- Climate change is having serious effects on the coast of West Africa. Rising temperatures are causing increased molecular activity within the ocean waters, triggering sea level rise, coastal erosion, loss of biodiversity, migration of fish stocks and affecting the livelihoods of tens of millions of people along the coast.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - Schoolgirls look at the ocean while the tide is quickly rising.
    Nestled between the ocean and the Volta river estuary, the village of Fuvemeh has seen its territory reduced from several kilometers to few hundred meters. Nowadays, the villages sits on a narrow strip of land which separates the coastline from the adjacent lagoon. Haunted by coastal erosion, its 1,000 inhabitants have literally nowhere to move.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - As the tide rises the village of Fuveme quickly gets flooded.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - A schoolgirl runs for cover as the ocean waves start flooding the village.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - Villagers walk across the village flooded by the rising sea level. As the ocean quickly enters the houses villagers try to save their belongings.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - David Buabasah, 32, is a fisherman from Fuvemeh. Coastal erosion has recently destroyed part of his house, prompting his wife and 8 kids to find shelter in nearby villages. « When I was a kid, our house used to be at the center of the village and I couldn't see the sea from there. Now, due to coastal erosion, we are at the forefront » he explains.

  • Togo - Agbavi - Komlan Setor (right), 27 and Adjo Setor, 25, in their house on the coastline of Agbavi. Due to the depletion of fish stocks, Komlan is struggling to feed his family and is now forced to work part-time as a tailor. With their house just on the shoreline, Komlan predicts his family will be forced to move in 6 months time.

  • Ghana - Volta region - A mangroove forest along the Volta river heavily damaged by Men. The cutting of mangroves for firewood has removed one of the most effective natural tools for protecting the coast, resulting in increased erosion in various parts of the coastline.

  • Togo - Abgavi - Togbe Agbavi Koffi, 60, is the chief village of Agbavi. When he was a kid his house was in an area which is nowadays 1,5 kms inside the ocean. « Once, erosion was a seasonal event. Now, the sea advances all year long », he explains. « It has devastated our villages and many of our people have already left ».

  • Togo - Abgavi - The house of a young couple recently destroyed by the rising sea level. The village of Agbavi is one of the coastal erosion hotspots in Togo. Dozens of houses have already been lost, forcing the local population to relocate several times. Although coastal erosion has affected this coastline since the 60s, the phenomenon has increased massively after 2012 due to climate change and the enlargement of a nearby deep-sea port.

  • Togo - Aneho - The catch of the day of several fishermen after several hours spent pulling the net. Fishermen are struggling to feed their families as rising sea temperatures have prompted fish stock to move further away from the coasts. Many youngsters are therefore abandoning their villages in search of better opportunities.

  • Ghana - Blekusu - Children learning traditional fishing techniques. A traditional fishing village, Blekusu lies just beside the sea defence which has been built in the nearby city of Keta. Although the groynes and sea defence wall are now protecting the city from erosion, they prevent sediments from reaching the coastline of Blekusu, resulting in massive erosion of the village coastline.

  • Togo - Agbavi - Villagers collecting water from a well that was contaminated by ocean water and therefore not safe to drink anymore.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - A tree lies on the beach uprooted by last night's high tide, the tide was so strong it ravaged 5 meters of shoreline in just a few hours.
    Once the site of several coconut plantations, today the shoreline of Fuvemeh has been reduced to a steep, narrow stretch, where the few remaining tree are being uprooted by the force of the ocean.

  • Ghana - Fuveme - A tree lies on the beach uprooted by last night's high tide, the tide was so strong it ravaged 5 meters of shoreline in just a few hours.
    Once the site of several coconut plantations, today the shoreline of Fuvemeh has been reduced to a steep, narrow stretch, where the few remaining tree are being uprooted by the force of the ocean.

  • Togo - Outskirts of Aneho - Tanks ffilled with petrol are lined along the ocean. As fishing has become less remunerative due to the effects of climate change on the fish stocks, several local fishermen have retorted to fuel smuggling, a highly lucrative but illegal practice which consists in trafficking jerrycans of petrol from Nigeria through Benin and Togo by sea.

  • Togo - Lomé - A local woman sand mining on the beach. Aside from climate change, other man-made activities such as sand mining, mangroves harvesting, river dams and the construction of deep-sea ports have increased coastal erosion by either preventing sediments from reaching the coasts of by disrupting their natural movements.

  • Ghana - Blekusu - Young villagers stand on a traditional fishing boat.

  • Ghana - Blekusu - Sunday Mass in St. Anthony Catholic Church. Local communities often seek for courage and strength in their religious beliefs.

  • Ghana - Kpogbor - The last man living on the island that has gradually been destroyed by the rising sea level and coastal erosion stands in front of the ocean where he has built a makeshift sea defence wall in order to protect what is left of his house.