Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi and Martha Rojas Urrego on the opening day of the Ramsar conference in Dubai on Monday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: Our oceans and local wetlands are in deep trouble around the world and need serious protection and repair, heard more than 1,000 delegates on the opening day of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on Monday in the Festival Arena.

And with a little help from our friends in governments and eco-organisations, the day may come when the tide is reversed and marine environments can be restored, say experts.

The 13th edition of the Ramsar conference was officially opened on Monday evening in a ceremony at the Festival Arena by Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary-General of Ramsar.

Speaking at a high-level session shortly before the opening ceremony, Urrego said up to two-thirds of mangroves, for example, around the world have already been lost.

“What we are seeing is we’re losing wetlands and mangroves at a very fast rate,” Urrego said, adding the big questions for delegates is, “what to do to protect them?”

As many as 89 member-countries to Ramsar have made strategic submissions to further protect remaining wetlands.

Urrego said new efforts will “help create stability and contribute to Sustainability Development Agenda.”

Elizabeth Mrema, Law and Conventions Division of the United Nations Environmental Programme, said “tropical reefs are 0.1 per cent of the global oceans but are among the most biodiverse systems which support one-quarter of all marine life on the planet.”

Mrema said major impacts such as climate change are seriously threatening reefs.

“The life of coral reefs is in danger. By some projections, we could lose more than 90 per cent of coral reefs in this century alone.”

Speaking at a mini conference on mangroves on Monday, speakers said new findings suggest that if global warming is not held at 1.5C temperature increase in decades to come, more than 90 per cent of reefs could be lost.

Coupled with the estimated current loss of 67 per cent of mangrove swamps around the world already recorded, the outlook is not good.

Mangroves also protect shorelines from storm surges, provide safety for fish nurseries and provide rich fishing grounds.

Stewart Maginnis, Global Director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Nature-based Solutions Group, told the conference that mangroves are critical because they also absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide, lessening the greenhouse effect.

Maginnis told Gulf News that “we see ongoing mangrove loss with conversion for development, conversion for aquaculture — 67 per cent of mangroves have been lost or are badly degraded.”

He noted that, “these are these are daunting figures but I think it actually is also a call to redouble our efforts. We know we can actually take action. We have got one country, for example, Sri Lanka, which has moved ahead and made all its remaining mangroves protected areas.”

“One thing is to stabilise and avoid further loss but that is not enough. We have to look at restoring mangroves,” he said. “I think among the general public, some believe that oceans are some highly wild and natural but we’ve got serious problems … from climate change to issues around ocean acidification, ocean warming and then critically what is also coming up all very quickly is this new phenomena of ocean deoxygenation.”

In coming years, Maginnis said seven per cent of the world’s ocean may of comprised of pockets of water with no oxygen to support life.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands continues for the next eight days to set aside wetlands around the globe.