Marine mammals in the spotlight

The second World Marine Mammal Conference has concluded in Barcelona (December, 2019), with an extraordinary display of enthusiasm and results from scientists from around the world.  With 2,611 participants, it was the largest ever gathering of marine mammal scientists and conservationists.

Amongst the varied presentations were those from our GOBI partners and associates:  the Tethys Research Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force.  Michael J. Tetley (Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) co-ordinator) presented the latest results of the IMMA work (more below).  There was a session to discuss techniques for gaining the data required to establish IMMAs on the high seas, which to date holds less than 1% of the IMMAs in existence.  Several posters about IMMAs were also evident, including one on ship strikes in the Mediterranean Sea.  Lastly, a workshop was held to identify new strategies for obtaining nominations for ‘areas of interest’ (AoI), which can lead to proposals for candidate IMMAs through the formal IMMA process.

To coincide with the conference, the IUCN MMPA Task Force published the latest tranche of 37 approved Important Marine Mammal Areas, which were identified during the regional IMMA workshop in Oman (March, 2019) and which have since undergone formal peer review.  These new IMMAs have been added to the Task Force’s IMMA eAtlas, bringing up the global total number of IMMAs to 114.  An additional report on the outcomes of a recent IMMA implementation workshop in Mozambique (November, 2019) was also released.  Co-chairs Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Erich Hoyt met with stakeholders and Mozambican government representatives to discuss the enhanced protection of the ‘Bazaruto Archipelago to Inhambane Bay IMMA’, which contains the last viable yet vulnerable population of dugong in East Africa, as well as substantial numbers of the endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphin.

Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, with dugong experts Donna Kwan, Victor Cockcroft and Almeida Guissamulo, with Mozambique government officials from the National Administration of Conservation Areas. Photo: Alima Gomes

As a legacy to the conference, delegates submitted the WMMC19 Barcelona Declaration for approval, with over 500 signatures from participants asking authorities for more MPAs in the high seas, a global network of marine mammal stranding agents, as well as to help endangered species avoid extinction and to use all means to reduce marine mammal bycatch in fishing practices.