The IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force Marks 10 years

Ten years ago, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force was launched at the International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC3) in Marseille. It was formed to scientifically assess and identify key areas that are important for the conservation of marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises, or IMMAs (Important Marine Mammal Areas).
“We wanted to give voice to the marine mammal scientific community—those interested in spatial protection for whales as well as to the whales and other marine mammals themselves,” says Erich Hoyt co-chair and co-founder of the Task Force with Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara. “To do that,” Notarbartolo di Sciara adds, “we needed a simple but authoritative conservation tool that marine spatial planners, marine protected area practitioners, government, industry, conservation groups and scientists could use to give whales, dolphins and other marine mammals a place at the negotiating table. That way, at least there could be a chance of gaining protected habitat.”
Despite celebrating the 10th anniversary of the working group, some important areas for marine mammals are already at risk. In the Black Sea, six IMMAs created around the habitat of unique subspecies of threatened dolphins and porpoises along the Ukrainian coast now find themselves in the middle of a war zone. Black Sea harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena relicta), bottlenose (Tursiops truncates ponticus) and common dolphins (Delphinus delphis ponticus) are increasingly being found stranded or dead at sea amidst floating mines laid in the Black Sea, and following the devastation caused by blowing up the Kakhovka Dam and other disasters from the ongoing war. In the Upper Gulf of California IMMA, the vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) has been reduced to an estimated 10 individuals despite numerous efforts to save the species from extinction. It may be only a matter of a few years before it disappears forever.
“Here we are on the 10-year anniversary of the founding of the Task Force,” says Task Force deputy chair Gill Braulik, “and we’re already seeing severe habitat degradation in some of these IMMAs and the prospect of one species going extinct.”
To date, the Task Force has examined 72% of the ocean and identified 242 Important Marine Mammal Areas, or IMMAs. The Task Force membership itself has grown, currently with more than 60 members spread across the world. Each IMMA has gone through an expert nomination process from scientists followed by peer review. Nearly 300 scientists have been involved in one or more of the week-long workshops held now in 10 regions, thereafter, becoming enrolled as IMMA ambassadors, the keenest of which volunteer as IMMA coordinators for their region.
“One of these regions is the Northern Adriatic,” says Dr. Tilen Genov of the Morigenos, one of the coordinators of the working group for the Mediterranean. The Northern Adriatic has been identified as an important area for marine mammals based on research by the Morigenos and colleagues from Italy and Croatia.
IUCN Task Force continues to expand its work collaborating with various organizations and marine spatial managers to protect these crucial areas and prevent the loss of marine mammal biodiversity.