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CALABAR, Nigeria 31 July 2015 – Marine specialists agreed Wednesday to a protocol that would legally bind 22 countries within Abidjan Convention area to protect mangroves and manage them sustainably.

The protocol had been undergoing its second review by experts before being sent to Convention member states for revision and final adoption by the next Conference of Parties to the Convention.

The meeting in the south-eastern coastal Nigerian Calabar was symbolic as the city lies within the oil-bearing Niger Delta, which accounts for at least 10,000 square kilometres of the country's mangrove cover. The county has Africa’s and the world’s third concentration of mangroves. All eight species of mangroves in West Africa grow in the country.

In a message to delegates at the meeting that began Tuesday, Abidjan Convention Regional Coordinator Abou Bamba said for decades states had developed national and transboundary strategies to stem the degradation of the mangrove ecosystems.

“On closer examination, these experiences needed to be supplemented by a more comprehensive approach taking into account the general circulation of ocean currents and management of networks,” he said.

He added that the increased oil and gas exploration posed “immeasurable threats” to coastal ecosystems, which required states to think globally.

“The need was, therefore, felt to extend the charter to the East Atlantic seaboard,” he said.

The charter is in reference to an agreement signed by six West African countries to manage their mangroves forests.

Mangrove ecosystems skirt the eastern Atlantic coast of all 22 countries of the Abidjan Convention. However, forest densities vary greatly. Concentrations are high from Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria and far lower in Central and Southern Africa.

Mangroves are an important habitat for fishing nurseries and spawning grounds; they shielding against tidal waves, sea storms and floods caused by these effects and rising sea levels. They are also vital carbon sinks. West and Central Africa has lost around 23 per cent of its mangroves, Bamba said. This has occurred as mangroves were cleared for rice farming, aquaculture, tourism, construction to accommodate an expanding coastal population and their use of mangroves for wood fuel. Furthermore, decreased rainfall has led to salinization of the soil, especially in the upper-West African areas. Spills from oil drilling and dredging in the Niger Delta are other dimensions of the problem. Dredging to reach sand pits for his activity has led to sulphidic build up that has acidified some coastal inland waters.

Due to the importance of mangroves, parties to the Abidjan Convention at their biennial conference of parties, in 2012 and in 2014, intervened to preserve this ecosystem. The last of these meeting, the eleventh Conference of Parties from 17 to 21 March, asked the Convention Secretariat to transform the Charter for the Sustainable Management of Mangrove Resources - signed in 2010 by Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone - into an additional protocol to the Convention of Abidjan. The meeting in Calabar sealed that process.

To do so, the Secretariat has partnered organizations dedicated to the sustainable management of mangroves (Birdlife International, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Wetlands International, Word Wildlife Fund, and Fondation Internationale du Banc d'Arguin or FIBA) to develop an action plan capable of supporting the transformation of the Charter. The entire process to transform the charter to a protocol has been supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA. The agency provides upward 90 per cent funding for the Convention’s activities. The winner of a bid to implement USAID’s West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change project, TETRA TECH, also participated at the Calabar meeting. The project aims to partner subregional bodies in West African, such as the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, to spur broad-based economic growth and resilience to climate change.

See also: Nigeria Vows to Support Abidjan Convention’s Mangrove Protocol