The tenth workshop of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force concluded an intensive week in Germany (22-26 May 2023) with the identification of 36 new candidate Important Marine Mammal Areas (cIMMAs) going for independent review.
Participants consisted of 53 scientists and observers from 13 countries who are specialists in whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals of the North East Atlantic from Morocco in the south, to the Shetland Islands of the UK, and further east to include the North and Baltic seas.
Heading into the 10th Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) Workshop in Hamburg (22-26 May 2023), some participants questioned the need for another process to define habitat needs for marine species in this well-studied region of the northeastern Atlantic Ocean. Already over the past few decades, there have been designated special areas of conservation (SACs) under the EU Habitats Directive, marine protected areas and reserves under national programmes and identified through OSPAR, and ecologically or biologically significant areas (EBSAs) described as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) process. The area has been surveyed repeatedly by air and sea to evaluate the status of the region’s marine mammals.
“It has been valuable to build on the extensive knowledge available for this region,” said Simone Panigada from the IMMA Secretariat who also worked on the SCANS aerial surveys. “Yet none of these existing conservation exercises used expert knowledge, independent and peer-reviewed, to focus exclusively on habitat important to multiple marine mammal species.”
IMMA Deputy Chair Gill Braulik explained “With the IMMA expert-driven basis for identifying important habitats, the process can update previous work in the region and within the context of a global process through IUCN that aims to be repeated roughly every decade.”
Workshop opening day speakers emphasized the value of IMMAs for conservation. Presentations came from Vedran Nikolić (European Commission), Anne Freiberger (German Ministry of Environment), Melanie Virtue (Convention on Migratory Species) and daughter agreement speakers Susana Salvador (ACCOBAMS) and Jenny Renell (ASCOBANS).
David Johnson, attending for and representing GOBI, put the project into the context of the other spatial tools being used for conservation based on the GOBI-IKI package of projects and his own previous work with OSPAR and EBSAs in the northeastern Atlantic region.
The North East Atlantic IMMA region workshop, sponsored mainly by the Water Revolution Foundation, follows on from the GOBI-funded IMMA work across the Indian, South Pacific and Southwest Atlantic ocean, and in the Black and Caspian seas.
Following the workshop and announcement of the new cIMMAs, the IMMA Secretariat of the Task Force who coordinated the meeting will send them now for independent scientific review. The final decision on those that have been accepted to full IMMA status is expected later in the year, and then they will join 209 existing IMMAs from the South Pacific, Southern and Indian oceans, as well as the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Seas, on the Task Force IMMA e-Atlas where they will become available for download as shape files and associated information.
The group started with 395 preliminary areas of interest (pAoI) across the North East Atlantic, including the OSPAR and national MPAs, Habitats Directive SACs, CBD EBSAs and 57 areas submitted by marine mammal experts, each of which had to be examined in detail before being considered for a cIMMA proposal. As well as the 36 new candidate IMMAs, 6 areas of interest (AoI) were also singled out by the experts as being useful to go forward.
The North East Atlantic Ocean, which represents roughly a quarter of the Atlantic Ocean, features substantial populations of fin and common minke whales, killer whales, sperm whales, Risso’s and bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises as well as several species of rare deep-diving beaked whales. There are several endemics including the endangered Saimaa ringed seal and the critically endangered Baltic harbour porpoise.