The first workshop to implement a new tool for conservation — Important Marine Mammal Areas, or IMMAs — was held in Chania, Greece, from 24-28 October. The workshop was organized by the IUCN WCPA-SSC Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, which devised IMMAs to represent the priority sites for marine mammal conservation worldwide.

Although IMMAs are not necessarily protected areas, they could inform a variety of conservation outcomes, including the siting of MPAs, creation of directives on shipping or underwater noise, and increased monitoring.

The October workshop brought together experts from across the Mediterranean to identify sites in the region important to marine mammals. It was the first of a series of regional workshops convened by the task force that will eventually take place around the world.

Here, Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara (co-chairs of the IUCN WCPA/SSC Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force) and Michael Tetley (Task Force IMMA Coordinator) describe IMMAs and their relevance to MPA managers.

On how managers of MPAs with marine mammals can be of use to the IMMA workshops, and how the workshops can be of use to managers:

“The Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force — the ‘Task Force’ — welcomes nominations with evidence supporting new Areas of Interest (AoIs) from marine mammal and MPA professionals. Such evidence may be in the form of data from both inside and outside of existing MPAs. Anyone can submit evidence to recommend an AoI but assessing the evidence to turn an AoI into a candidate IMMA (cIMMA) requires a regional workshop of experts. Following the workshop, an independent review panel will then examine each cIMMA to see if it can become a full-fledged IMMA.

“In terms of what the Task Force can do for MPAs with marine mammals, we hope that the selection of IMMAs will inform managers about opportunities for zoning as well as possible extensions to their MPA. We also hope to expand their knowledge and interest in the marine mammals that may be largely outside their MPA but, for example, use the MPA seasonally. IMMAs can also be useful as a monitoring tool against various threats to marine mammal habitat such as ocean acidification, overfishing, and climate change.”

On the global map of IMMAs:

“There will not be a final global map of IMMAs. Instead the map will be a living document and adaptive. Each region will need to be reviewed and further workshops held perhaps every decade. It may take 10 years or more to do the initial work to cover the world.”

On the relationship between IMMAs and other classifications of important marine habitats, including Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs):

“Unlike KBAs, IMMAs are not necessarily identified on the basis of numerically based thresholds. However, we are already finding that some IMMAs may be able to meet the IUCN standard for identifying KBAs. In that case, those IMMAs could also become KBAs for marine mammals. A statement jointly signed in 2015 by our Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force and the IUCN Biodiversity and Protected Areas Task Force provides the background for the integration of these two conservation tools.

“Incidentally, we also expect that IMMAs will be valuable for the selection and refinement of ecologically or biologically significant areas (EBSAs) under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Members of the Task Force have been participating in CBD EBSA workshops for several years and contributing marine mammal data and expertise. This was in part what made us realize that we needed a systematic tool and method for organizing and submitting marine mammal datasets so that they could be used effectively and that marine mammals would benefit. Of course, we also realized that there were challenges with marine spatial planning (MSP) and for the designation of new MPAs, as well as the management of existing MPAs. Having an accepted tool to identify and monitor marine mammal habitats would be valuable.

“Summing up, we hope that IMMAs, through the regional workshop process, will be able to serve as tools for conservation and monitoring. This will happen through the existing channels of EBSAs and KBAs, as well as various national and international (i.e., high seas) MPA and MSP processes. We hope that national and international agencies will use the tool not only for the conservation of marine mammal species, but for the habitats for which they serve as umbrella species. In this way IMMAs could be essential tools to help conserve biodiversity. With the UN deliberations on the high seas over the next few years, we hope that IMMAs will be able to step into a much wider role throughout the world ocean.”

For more information:

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara ( and Erich Hoyt (, co-chairs of the IUCN WCPA/SSC Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force

IMMA Coordinator Michael J. Tetley. Email:

Task Force expert Simone Panigada. Email: