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The Keta Lagoon

My most memorable explorations have always begun with a topographical map and a bit of insatiable curiosity. Such was the case back in the days I lived in Ithaca, New York, when my buddy Dave and I spent four full years tramping around the Finger Lakes region trying to reach deserted fishing holes or trying to figure out exactly what the bottom of a particularly isolated gorge must feel like when you look up the cliffsides. An old map from a 1960s National Geographic led me all the way out to Gaspesie to Ile Bonaventure. And our adventures in Ghana were no different.

The Bight of Benin is a slowly curving shoreline of sand flats that goes uninterrupted from Nigeria westward past Benin and Togo until you reach the eastern edge of Ghana, where the shoreline suddenly juts southward into the Atlantic. Just inside that bump is a broad lagoon by the name of Keta, and since we first landed in Africa it has caught my attention every time I looked at the map. So it was a natural place to go check out in late November when we visited Ghana for the first time, and we were not disappointed.

Crossing the Togolese border was stressful, and I was glad to be past officialdom as we took an immediate left in the town of Denu and turned southwards along the water's edge. There the road narrowed and the population centers thinned, and before long we had water on two sides and a delicious sea breeze coming in through the windows.

The Keta Lagoon is gorgeous and enormous: 40 km long and 8km wide. We saw small wooden canoes in some places, and in others it was clear the little villages earned a living harvesting salt from the flats. But what distinguished the drive from Benin's Route de Peche was the shade. As we passed through Adina, Blekusu and all the way to Azizanze, the road was lined on both sides with beautiful, dark coconut palms, and beneath them were thick areas of leafy undergrowth. To the south we enjoyed the view of the Gulf of Guinea through more coconut palms that kept the beach shady and cool, and we saw fishermen repairing their nets in what looked like a lot more comfort than their Beninese colleagues to the east.

Our guidebook says:

Keta Lagoon is the most important site for marine birds in Ghana, and a genuine birdwatchers' paradise, with 76 water-associated species recorded and concentrations of up to 100,000 individuals not unusal in the European winter.

I was reminded of the delicate importance of Atlantic ecological transition zones, as the Keta lagoon and Gulf of Guinea reminded me viscerally of my own home on Long Island, whose Great South Bay and Fire Island form a similar ecosystem of parallel importance for the shore birds on that side of the Atlantic. I spend many summer evenings with binoculars down along the fringes of the bay watching the sandpipers and herons. I hope the residents of Keta are equally appreciative of their unique waterfront home. If not, I hope this quiet, untouristed corner of Ghana attracts some ecologically-minded travelers, as the potential to preserve such an interesting region through alternative sources of income seems intriguing to me. If not, perhaps the right kind of traveler, inspired by a unique-looking bump on an otherwise smooth coastline, will find it all on their own.


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