IMMA Identification Process

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 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 Fact Sheets 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 Brochures 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 Areas of Interest (AoI).  These are included in the searchable database and displayed on the IMMA e-Atlas, with a different colouration, recognising that, although not IMMAs, AoI have been deemed to be of interest and that they can potentially become IMMAs in the future, subject to undergoing a new workshop and review process.

Towards the implementation of management and conservation actions within IMMAs

By engaging regional experts and evidence holders, the process of identifying IMMAs helps to establish common ideas, consistency and protocols for best practices 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 of 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 previously completed regional workshops for details and real-life examples of how the IMMA selection process works.

Stages of regional IMMA identification process

stagetiming (months)outcomes
1. Workshop preparationa) Region (including sub-region) delimitation;
b) Identification of experts;
c) Date and venue selection;
d) Circulation and follow-up of preliminary Area of Interest (pAoI) submission form;
e) Preparation and circulation of pAoI Report;
f) Circulation and follow-up of Inventory of knowledge survey form;
g) Preparation and circulation of Inventory of knowledge;
h) Sending and follow-up of Save the Date and invitations and background materials.
i) Flights, visas and accommodation arrangements.
1 – 4workshop announced and ready in all its aspects (venue, budget, final list of participants, flights booked, documentation circulated, received and elaborated)

critical mass of invitees has accepted and are confirmed

2. Workshop deliverya) workshop delivered and concluded with formal identification of cIMMAs and AoI.
b) cIMMA review templates filled in as appropriate
(the workshop itself is scheduled to last 5 days)
workshop delivered and concluded with formal identification of cIMMAs and AoI

cIMMA review templates filled in as appropriate.

3. cIMMA reviewa) review templates revised prior to submission to Panel
b) revised templates submitted to Panel
c) feedback and necessary amendments required by cIMMA points of contact
6 – 8cIMMA review process concluded
4. Reporting and communicationa) workshop report written and issued in preliminary version
b) workshop report in final version
c) Prepare and issue news release, FaceBook and Twitter posts; Marmam and other announcements
d) Follow-up assessment (outline of ideas for IMMAs in the region, with input from MMPA Task Force and Workshop participants)
6 – 10report completed and posted, activities communicated
5. e-Atlas & online database populationa) e-Atlas and database populated by IMMAs and AoI
b) Individual IMMA fact sheets created on website with summary of IMMA Key Info and download options for GIS layer
c) Detailed brochures (to satisfaction of IMMA point of contact) completed and posted online
8 – 12e-Atlas and online database populated