Introducing Important Marine Mammal Areas – a new tool for global marine mammal and biodiversity conservation

Presented by Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Co-chairs of the IUCN SSC-WCPA
Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force
Joined by Simone Panigada of the IMMA Secretariat for the Q&A session


For the past four years, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force has dedicated its time to launching a new tool leading to MPAs and other spatial conservation solutions. Called ‘Important Marine Mammal Areas’ (IMMAs), this tool highlights areas that are important for one or more marine mammal species, and which have the potential to be managed for conservation.

IMMAs are modelled after Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) but with criteria specially tailored to marine mammal species, including 90 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises; 35 species of seals and sea lions; plus sea otters, manatees, the dugong, and the polar bear. These popular megafauna — champion swimmers and divers tethered to the surface by their need to breathe air — are ideal indicators of the biodiversity and health of the vast ocean.

Part of the Task Force’s job has been pulling together intensive week-long international workshops with groups of 20-40 scientists at a time, who bring their expertise and knowledge to the task of defining candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) in a particular region. These cIMMAs are then formatted for an independent review panel. After a lot of back and forth, the panel approves some of the candidate sites as full IMMAs, and these are then placed on the IMMA e-Atlas.

Supported by the Government of Germany, the French Biodiversity Agency, the MAVA Foundation, Tethys Research Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and other sponsors, with the facilitation of GOBI, the Task Force has achieved a total of 159 IMMAs covering the e-Atlas across most of the southern hemisphere and parts of the northern hemisphere — equal to one-third of the global ocean.

As of early 2020, the Task Force had received 78 requests for IMMA shapefiles and metadata, which hints at the potential conservation value to a wide range of users around the world, including governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, industry, the wider ocean-focused scientific community, and the general public.

This webinar will introduce you to the IMMA tool, the identification process and the implementation efforts which are leading to conservation results, as well as the future plans of the Task Force.