IMMAs are identified through an expert-led process involving the collation and assessment of evidence against a set of selection criteria. This process, lasting approximately 12 months, aims to engage a wide range of representatives within the marine mammal science and conservation communities where much of the evidence necessary to assess IMMAs is held. Experts are selected based on their region-specific knowledge, experience and skills relevant to the task of weighing evidence and applying the IMMA selection criteria. Potential sources of information are actively sought in a process engaging with experts and other holders of evidence on a region-by-region basis.
A five-stage process with the help and support of the Task Force is used to identify, review, and accept or reject IMMA nominations, as follows:
Stage 1 – Nomination of preliminary ‘Areas of Interest’
The starting point in the process is the nomination of preliminary Areas of Interest (pAoI). Any expert or interested party may propose a pAoI following a simple template, accompanied by supporting evidence. These are also be solicited publicly via ‘call for information’ announcements made 4-6 months in advance of regional expert IMMA workshops (see Stage 2). Each pAoI, along with existing marine mammal place-based conservation areas (e.g., MPAs, EBSAs, KBAs, etc.) is then presented and evaluated at regional expert workshops. Participants invited to attend these workshops are encouraged to develop pAoI in advance of the workshops, and to supply information for the creation of a joint regional Inventory of Knowledge (IoK) using a standardised Data Appraisal Form (DAF).
Stage 2 – Development of ‘candidate IMMAs’
The development of candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) is a multi-step process guided by the Task Force. Regional workshops are publicly announced with ‘calls for information’ 4-6 months in advance. Each workshop reviews all pAoI to determine if they meet one or more of the IMMA criteria. Participants use their regional knowledge to develop cIMMA, based on their review of pAoI submitted in advance or generated during the workshop itself, whilst also consulting the shared IoK produced in partnership with other experts. Workshop-agreed cIMMAs are then submitted to the Task Force on an agreed IMMA Review Template to (a) identify proposed boundaries, (b) provide a thorough rationale based on one or more of the IMMA criteria, (c) summarise and provide access to the full supporting evidence and (d) identify any existing conservation measures within the areas proposed.
Stage 3 – Final review and IMMA Status Qualification
The Task Force, in consultation with the IUCN (e.g. through the Chairs of the relevant specialist groups), nominates an independent Review Panel, charged with assessing the scientific robustness of the proposals and satisfaction of the criteria.
The Review Panel is chaired by Randall R. Reeves. Members serving on the Panel during the review process in past regions include Robert L. Brownell Jr, Phil Hammond, Amanda Hodgson, Kit Kovacs, Lloyd Lowry, Helene Marsh, Howard Rosenbaum and Peter Shaughnessy.
Stages 4 and 5 – Reporting, communication, final review and IMMA Status Qualification
Confirmed IMMAs and their associated documentation are made publicly available by the Task Force on its website via a searchable and downloadable database, and a dedicated online IMMA e-Atlas. Individual IMMA portfolio pages are created on the website, together with summaries of key information on every individual IMMA, and information on how to obtain the GIS shapefiles. Finally, detailed fact sheets are completed for each IMMA, and posted on the website for download as PDF.
Areas that are not accepted as full IMMAs by the Task Force because they do not present convincing evidence that they satisfy the criteria remain as either cIMMAs or Areas of Interest (AoI). Both are included in the searchable database and displayed on the IMMA e-Atlas, with a different colouration, recognising that, although not IMMAs, both denominations have been deemed to be of interest and that they can potentially become IMMAs in the future. It is possible in the future when more information becomes available, that an AoI will become an IMMA, subject to undergoing a new workshop and review process. For a cIMMA to become an IMMA, it is sufficient for the point of contact to interact with the IMMA Secretariat to ensure that certain requirements have been satisfied, and the the Secretariat can then determine if the cIMMA can become a full IMMA.
Towards the implementation of management and conservation actions within IMMAs
By engaging regional experts and evidence holders, the process to identify IMMAs helps to establish common ideas, consistency and protocols for best practice across the marine mammal community. These ideas are reinforced by the independent Review Panel’s feedback on the cIMMAs assessed. This approach mirrors the regional/national scale achievements by other similar processes (e.g. seabirds in IBAs). This helps to provide an initial regional focus helping to prioritise the use of IMMAs in informing the design of effective protection networks or national management schemes, and the creation of Regional IMMA Expert Groups, trained in common methods of best practice for the future identification of IMMAs.
See IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force reports from previous completed regional workshops for details and real-life examples of how the IMMA selection process works.