Global lockdown has been no obstacle for the IUCN Marine Mammal Protection Area Task Force (MMPATF) and IMMA Secretariat, who have just delivered their first ever virtual IMMA workshop (22-26 February 2021), targeting the Black Sea, Turkish Straits System and Caspian Sea Region. This unscheduled workshop arose out of the gap left by the postponement (due to Covid-19) of a planned IMMA workshop originally scheduled for October 2020 in Costa Rica, targeting the south-eastern temperate and tropical Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, the IMMA Secretariat sought to test the feasibility of virtual IMMA workshops – a process normally heavily reliant on group discussions within and outside meeting rooms and on data visualisations around dynamic and interactive maps – in a spatially discrete setting with a recognised pool of expertise.
The Black Sea, Turkish Straits System and Caspian Sea Region IMMA workshop was conducted via the now familiar Zoom application, with plenary and breakout sessions expertly planned and coordinated for maximum benefit. In attendance were 25 scientific experts and data holders from 12 countries, ably supported by the IMMA Secretariat. During the workshop, a starting list of 92 preliminary Areas of Interest (pAoI) was reconfigured into 23 candidate IMMAs (cIMMA) and 4 Areas of Interest (AoI), all of which will be submitted to an independent IMMA review panel. Eventually, approved IMMAs and AoI will appear on the MMPATF’s IMMA e-Atlas and inform the CBD and CMS in their negotiations on marine mammal conservation and ecosystem connectivity as part of the broader global biodiversity conservation efforts.
This latest IMMA workshop was the seventh in the series so far, and the fifth supported primarily by GOBI-IKI. Additional support was provided by the MAVA Foundation, Tethys Research Institute and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. It is hoped that the south-eastern tropical and temperate Pacific Ocean IMMA workshop will be rescheduled when circumstances allow, completing the intended full set under GOBI-IKI. A portfolio of funding options is being developed to support the ongoing IMMA process to cover all oceanic regions in due course.