[MARMAM] 33 new Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) in the NE Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea needing conservation measures

Erich Hoyt erich.hoyt at icloud.com
Mon Feb 26 10:49:47 PST 2024

New Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) highlight concerns raised for endangered species and habitats in the North East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea

27th February 2024. The IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force is pleased to announce the creation of 33 new Important Marine Mammal Areas, called IMMAs, in the North East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. The newly approved IMMAs represent the final result of a full-year process, including an intensive week-long scientific workshop assessing and presenting data on candidate IMMAs which were then submitted for peer review.  At the same time, a number of candidate IMMAs from previous regional IMMA workshops have been re-assessed in recent months, leading to 6 areas reaching full IMMA status. As a result, a total of 39 new IMMAs have been added to the IMMA e-Atlas and are now available for download as shapefiles with associated information.

To date, 74.3% of the world ocean has been examined for IMMAs, with IMMAs comprising 13% of the examined area. IMMAs are divided into 57% within exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and 43% in international waters on the high seas. Globally, there are now 280 IMMAs and 185 Areas of Interest (AoI).

Scientists and marine experts are now calling on governments to take action to utilise the IMMA tool in marine spatial planning, the creation of marine protected areas, and for performing environmental impact assessments.

The North East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea (NEATLO) Region covers nearly a quarter of the Atlantic Ocean. Species-rich, the region offers essential habitat for feeding and migrating humpback, blue and fin whales. There is deep water habitat for Cuvier’s and other cryptic beaked whale species in the Canary Islands, Azores and Bay of Biscay, and other offshore waters in the region. Besides the prevalent common minke whales, harbour porpoises, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, common bottlenose dolphins and harbour seals; there are species endemic to the region such as the critically endangered and decreasing Baltic Sea harbour porpoises and the endangered Saimaa and Ladoga ringed seals. There are several populations of killer whales including the critically endangered Strait of Gibraltar subpopulation with only 39 individuals subsisting on bluefin tuna and lately disabling or breaking the rudders off small boats traversing the region.

The week-long North East Atlantic IMMA workshop, held in Hamburg, Germany, in May 2023, was supported by a grant from the Water Revolution Foundation. The meeting was organised by the IMMA Secretariat of the Task Force. The 53 workshop participants from 13 countries were drawn from the region’s top marine mammal scientists. They started by considering 395 preliminary Areas of Interest (pAoI). The pAoI selected to advance to candidate IMMAs were then defended with text supporting various criteria based on scientific evidence and detailed mapping along with a strong rationale for the boundaries chosen. After an extensive process by an independent review panel, the mapping of these areas is now complete.

IMMAs are defined as discrete portions of habitat, important to marine mammal species, that have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation.  The IMMA work continues to move ahead to identify important areas in the western North Atlantic and Caribbean with a workshop in May 2024 to be held in Yucatán, Mexico. To discover more about IMMAs, visit the e-Atlas: https://www.marinemammalhabitat.org/imma-eatlas/

Additional Notes and Links

 • The IMMA initiative is a partnership between the IUCN Joint SSC-WCPA Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, Tethys Research Institute and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). A recent paper in Frontiers in Marine Science details the Task Force IMMA work (2016-2022): https://www.marinemammalhabitat.org/download/the-important-marine-mammal-area-network-a-tool-for-systematic-spatial-planning-in-response-to-the-marine-mammal-habitat-conservation-crisis/

 • The IMMA initiative has been financed mainly by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) as part of the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative (GOBI). Individual regions have been funded by the French Biodiversity Agency through the IUCN Marine and Polar Programme and by the MAVA Foundation with timely assistance by the Animal Welfare Institute and others. The funding for the North East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea IMMA region came from the Water Revolution Foundation with assistance by OceanCare and orca.org, both of which sent participants to the workshop.

 • The global total of IMMAs now stands at 280, with an additional 185 Areas of Interest (AoI). The e-Atlas showing maps of all the IMMAs and AoI identified to date is here: https://www.marinemammalhabitat.org/imma-eatlas/. AoI status is not as strong as IMMA status but it is valuable in terms of facilitating and focusing future monitoring and research activities on marine mammals in the region which may in future help turn it into an IMMA.

 • This media release and a final report of the North East Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea IMMA region are available for free download on the marinemammalhabitat.org website: https://www.marinemammalhabitat.org/resources/documents/

 • To obtain shapefiles and detailed background information for the 280 approved IMMAs, go to https://www.marinemammalhabitat.org/immas/imma-spatial-layer-download/

For more information, story leads, contacts and use of photos and maps, email Task Force co-chair: Erich Hoyt, erich.hoyt <at> imma-network.org

More information about the MARMAM mailing list