Sharjah: Conservation Summit explores solutions to preserve oceans and their wildlife

Experts share their experiences with audience at Xposure International Photography Festival.


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Thu 10 Feb 2022, 10:17 PM

The outlook for ocean conservation got a promising boost Thursday as Xposure International Photography Festival opened its first-ever Conservation Summit under the theme ‘Saving our Oceans’ to explore hope and solutions for safeguarding the precious biodiversity of the global marine ecosystems.

The day-long summit dedicated to ocean conservation and visual storytelling opened at Expo Centre Sharjah in the presence of Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah. Held in partnership with the International League of Conservation Photographers, the summit began with a short video showcasing the incredible beauty and diversity of the ocean’s creatures found across the diverse climatic terrains of the planet.

Addressing a distinguished gathering of conservationists, biologists, ocean explorers, researchers and photographers, Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, expressed her appreciation to the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB) for drawing attention to a global issue of concern and helping provide active solutions to preserve the oceans and their wildlife.

The Minister also thanked the International League of Conservation Photographers, environmentalists, and scientists participating in Xposure’s Conservation Summit for their efforts in deliberating and formulating solutions to overcome the challenges facing the planet.

Almheiri, said: “The focus on oceans at the Conservation Summit is an apt choice, as oceans are the largest and most important ecosystem of our planet. Three quarters of our planet is covered by oceans; they are the world’s largest carbon sinks; and the source of livelihood for hundreds of millions of people globally.”

The Minister pointed out that increasing threats of pollution, high acidic levels, and rise in temperatures are depleting oceans of their wealth of resources and endangering the lives of millions who directly or indirectly depend on it for their existence. She emphasised the importance of concerted global efforts to accelerate and implement sustainable solutions to achieve Goal 14 (Life Below Water) of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, pointing out that failure to do so would place the world in grave danger of losing one of the key resources essential for human existence.

She added, "The UAE’s marine environment has a very high biodiversity and our awareness of the economic, social and environmental importance of this marine wealth has led us to implement numerous measures to preserve and safeguard the sustainability of its resources, and address issues that impact ocean health.”

The Minister highlighted the various measures initiated by the UAE to protect its marine environment, including regulating fishing activities, expanding the aquaculture industry, establishing marine protected areas, combating marine pollution, conservation of endangered marine species, and rehabilitating impacted marine areas.

She pointed out that the UAE’s goal to expand its mangrove cover from 30 million to 100 million trees by 2030 has contributed in strengthening the resilience of the country’s marine environment, and maintaining its global leadership in the Marine Protected Areas category of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

Photographs capture distress calls of oceans

In her address, Alya Al Suwaidi, Director of SGMB, stressed that the powerful imagery of underwater photographers has brilliantly captured the distress calls of the oceans and the seas and brought greater awareness on the urgent need to address human impacts on the marine ecosystem.

Al Suwaidi said: “The Conservation Summit theme, 'Saving our Oceans', transforms the slogan from a mere title to hundreds, thousands and millions of compelling and vibrant pictures that powerfully illuminate the irreversible threats facing the marine environment. This has inspired Xposure to lead efforts to save the oceans and tell the stories of dangers looming ahead if no action is taken. The Conservation Summit is a platform for photographers to become ambassadors of environmental protection as they transform their inspiring experiences into a message of hope and a force for change.”

There is hope for the oceans

Delivering the opening address, Kathy Moran, former Deputy Director of Photography at National Geographic, said: “Despite the challenges of climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution, the one word that has been paramount is ‘amal’ or hope. There is hope when it comes to our oceans – always.”

Concerted actions taken by nations, including the UAE, have shown that marine protected areas can work, said Moran. “Heat tolerant strains of coral provide hope for transplantation and restoration. The reefs in the waters here are amongst the most heat-resistant and could be part of the solutions to climate impact.”

“We live on an ocean planet. Everything that happens to those waters, impacts us,” said Moran, as she elucidated the challenges stemming from marine pollution, rising waters, global warming, overfishing, and coral bleaching and which are threatening the health of the world's oceans and escalating socio-economic and environmental costs.

“Yes, there are significant challenges to confront but there is always hope, and truth in storytelling is fundamental to how we understand and fix our relationship with the sea,” she concluded.

National Geographic explorers Brian Skerry, David Doubilet, Jennifer Hayes, Jeffrey Garriock, and Laurent Ballesta, who have witnessed the beauty and the devastation happening across all ocean ecosystems and have accumulated more than 80,000 hours combined underwater documenting changes, shared their inspiring experiences with audiences at the summit.

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