Q. What are the IMMA criteria?
A. The IMMA criteria can be viewed here.
Q. What is the process for IMMA identification?
A. Anyone can propose a potential IMMA by nominating and gathering background to create an area of interest (AoI). AoIs then go to the formal expert workshops for consideration where they may be proposed and become candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs). Some may not reach this stage and remain as proposals. cIMMAs will then go to an independent review panel who will either accept the cIMMA to become an IMMA, or send it back as a cIMMA or AoI, to be reconsidered later.
Q. How do you know where to place IMMA boundaries on a map?
A. Boundary identification can be difficult. Experts for the relevant species and region are called upon to help identify boundaries based on distribution, genetics, acoustics and other studies. In some cases, oceanographic features and other hydrographic data can be used to help define a boundary. National or other legal designations are not considered when selecting IMMA boundaries.
Q. What is the difference between “Areas of Interest (AoIs)”, “candidate IMMAs” and IMMAs proper?
A. Initially, the submission to the Task Force of “Areas of Interest” (AoI) in any particular region is broadly advertised and solicited within the scientific and conservation practitioners’ communities, and submissions are accepted from any person or institution. If they qualify based on criteria and robustness of data, AoI are then considered and elaborated as “candidate IMMAs” (cIMMAs) during regional expert workshops. Having undergone independent peer review after the regional workshop, if successful and if the criteria have been met, cIMMAs formally become IMMAs and are posted on a dedicated e-Atlas and searchable database. After review, a cIMMA that has not reached a sufficient level of robustness but only needs minor adjustments to become an IMMA (adjustments that can be made without resubmission to a successive workshop) maintains its status as a cIMMA and is shown as such on the e-Atlas; by contrast, cIMMAs that need substantial additional knowledge and a reassessment including new collective scrutiny through a workshop and review, are posted on the e-Atlas as AoI.
Q. Are IMMAs peer-reviewed?
A. Yes. Candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) proposed at a workshop are reviewed by an independent panel to assess whether the cIMMAs qualify on the basis of the criteria, before becoming IMMAs and being added to the global repository.
Q. What data are used to identify IMMAs?
A. All available data on marine mammal distribution and habitat use are central to IMMA identification. Oceanographic and hydrographic data are considered too, as well as the various threats that may affect them.
Q. Once IMMAs are identified and filed, can they be changed?
A. Yes. It is envisaged that IMMA identification will be an iterative process, e.g., it would be advantageous to revisit each region to review and evaluate each IMMA, adjust boundaries as needed as well as to add potential new IMMAs. To address the concern that volatile environmental conditions including climate disruption, distributional changes in a population and improved ecological knowledge are likely to render original IMMA designations less useful and outdated, a region-based revision is built-in into the process which aims to recur every approximately 10 years.
Q. Why are some IMMAs small and others large?
A. Some marine mammal populations are very localized while others are spread over great distances.
Q. Can IMMAs be identified in the high seas?
A. Yes. Marine mammals ignore human political boundaries and many populations live in the high seas. Indeed, it is very important to be able to attract the decision-makers’ attention to the presence of important marine mammal habitat in areas beyond national jurisdiction, particularly in view of the agreement for the protection of high seas biodiversity currently negotiated within the United Nations framework.
Q. How can new information on existing IMMAs be considered for inclusion and added to the database?
A. New information on existing IMMAs will be considered when the IMMAs in each region are reviewed periodically. It will be possible to nominate AoIs at any time but, under the present scheme, new IMMA information that might lead to boundary changes or other changes can only be considered at formal regional workshops, and added to the database after approval by the independent Panel.
Q. If data for a region is poor, how can we proceed with identifying IMMAs?
A. In data poor regions, the assembled experts for that region will need to take difficult decisions on how and where to identify IMMAs. It may be that a data gap analysis reveals the need for specific research that can be stimulated by the expert assessments and recommendations from the workshops.
Q. When will it be possible to adjust the borders of individual IMMAs based on new or additional data?
A. IMMA identification, as noted above, will be an iterative process, but the decisions on the adjustment of borders for individual IMMAs can come only during the review process, although in situations with certain critically endangered species, a special review may be made, as determined the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force.
Q. I’m a marine mammal biologist with data. Can I nominate an IMMA in my study area? How can I help?
A. Anyone can identify Areas of Interest (AoIs) to be submitted to the Task Force and examined during a regional workshop, but only the regional workshops can identify cIMMAs on the basis of AoIs. Only after having been reviewed by the Panel can cIMMAs be considered IMMAs.
Q. I’m a student; how can I get involved in the Task Force and the IMMA work?
A. As noted above, anyone can identify Areas of Interest (AoIs) to be submitted to a regional workshop. The success of your submission will depend on how well supported it is by the evidence from data. To get involved in Task Force work, please contact the Task Force chairs.