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A visitor checks out the work of photographer Vineet Vohra at the sixth edition of Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah on Wednesday. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Sharjah: The outlook for ocean conservation got a promising boost as Xposure International Photography Festival here 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.

The summit dedicated to ocean conservation and visual storytelling opened at Expo Centre Sharjah in the presence of Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi. Image Credit: Supplied

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 of combined underwater documenting changes, shared their inspiring experiences with audiences at the summit.

Global concern

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 for the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB) for drawing attention to a global concern and helping provide active solutions to preserve the oceans and their wildlife. The Climate Change and Environment Minister also thanked the International League of Conservation Photographers, environmentalists and scientists participating in Xposure’s Conservation Summit for their efforts in deliberating upon and formulating solutions to overcome the challenges facing the planet.

Mariam bint Mohammed 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.”

‘Importance of marine wealth’

The minister said: “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 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 said the UAE’s goal to expand its mangrove cover from 30 million to 100 million trees by 2030 has contributed to 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).

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A photograph by Tariq Zaidi on display at Expo Centre Sharjah. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Photographs capture distress calls

In her address, Alya Al Suwaidi, Director of SGMB, 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.”

‘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.”

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Citing recent actions that have inspired hope, Moran highlighted the support extended to the UN by 100 countries, including the UAE to protect at least 30 per cent of global oceans by 2030, Ecuador’s tripling of the size of its green reserves around Galapagos Islands, and the announcement by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that several species of tuna are no longer critically endangered.

Concerted actions taken by nations, including the UAE, have shown that marine protected areas can work, said Moran.