1997 Christopher Gordon

Christopher Gordon

In 1997, The Field Museum awarded Christopher Gordon the Parker/Gentry Award for his efforts to protect the aquatic resources of the Volta River Basin in Ghana, West Africa.

Gordon, a zoologist at the University of Ghana and a senior research fellow of the Volta Basin Research Project, is calling attention to the urgent need to protect and study Ghana's rich aquatic resources, which have been exploited due to population increase, the higher expectations of local people and the country's rush to industrialize.

For many years, the focus of Gordon's conservation work has been the Volta Basin Research Project, established by the University of Ghana in 1963 to mitigate the problems created when the government built Akosombo, a 768,000 kilowatt hydroelectric dam on the Volta River. The dam transformed the river and its tributaries into the Volta Lake, the largest (8,480 square kilometers) artificial lake in the world. Currently scientists involved in the project have focused their efforts on a variety of topics in the much neglected lower Volta area, including aquatic plants, water quality, limnology and aquatic ecology, hydrobiology and fisheries, soils and land use, and public health.

Gordon - who received his Ph.D. in Human Environmental Science from King's College, University of London in 1994 - focuses on the field of limnology (the scientific study of physical, chemical, meteorological and biological conditions in fresh waters) and is innovative in applying a holistic approach to river basin management based on the use of multidisciplinary teams.

Gordon also coordinated the Lower Volta Mangrove Project, a program collecting baseline biological information for use in community-led management initiatives. Gordon is active in researching coastal ecosystems and in improving Ghanaian awareness of the need to manage the country's freshwater ecosystems, which are under increasing threat from over-exploitation, pollution and habitat loss.


Since receiving the Parker/Gentry Award, Gordon has been active both nationally and internationally. Most importantly, the Lower Volta Environmental Impact Study has entered a new phase where information gained from research work is passed back to the local communities in a participatory way through workshops and outreach programs. In addition, a detailed analysis of agrochemical use in the Lower Volta component was carried out by Gordon, providing information on which groups to target for more education on the wise use of pesticides. Gordon also is facilitating the United Nations Environment Programme-led process of getting the six riparian states of the Volta Basin to come together with a common approach to solving the problems of the entire Volta basin.

Chris Gordon (in headband) with students on a field trip to Wli waterfalls, Volta region. Photo courtesy of Christopher Gordon.Apart from his research work on the Lower Volta, Gordon is the coordinator of the new graduate program in Environmental Science at the University of Ghana. The program is going well, but unfortunately due to funding constraints, less than half the applicants to the program can be admitted. Gordon also leads a Zoology Department team monitoring the fauna and limnology of Ghana's five coastal Ramsar (wetlands of international importance) sites.

Internationally, Gordon was invited to the 150th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia (1998) to speak on emerging water issues in Africa, particularly the status of freshwater in West Africa.

As a result of Gordon's efforts on behalf of the Lower Volta Mangrove Project, Ghana has been selected as the host on the East Atlantic coastline for the Global Mangrove Database and Information System. Gordon is the regional coordinator for this project, organized by the Japan-based International Society of Mangrove Ecosystems. Additionally, Gordon is part of a team writing the section on West Africa for a book on mangroves of the world.