South East Tropical and Temperate Pacific Ocean

San José, Costa Rica, 6-10 June 2022

From 6 to 10 June 2022, the IMMA Regional Workshop for the South East Tropical and Temperate Pacific Ocean was held in hybrid mode in San José, Costa Rica, with the goal to identify and delineate important marine mammal areas — IMMAs. These discrete portions of habitat, important for marine mammal species, aim to have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation. The IMMA Secretariat of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force (the ‘Task Force’) collected 118 preliminary Areas of Interest (pAoI), 39 of which were submitted by participants before the meeting and 17 more submitted in the first two days, while the others consisted of existing marine mammal spatial designations including marine protected areas (MPAs) and ecologically or biologically significant areas (EBSAs) from the Convention on Biological Diversity. At the close of the workshop, 48 candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) were identified and proposed through the expert-based process, utilizing dedicated selection criteria. Six additional areas would be advanced as AoI and 64 pAoI were merged or deferred.

Following independent review and consideration of how the criteria supported IMMA identification, 36 IMMAs were accepted for full status with 5 remaining as cIMMAs and 11 being reserved as AoI, all of which now appear on the IMMA e-Atlas (see figure above). More details are provided later on in this summary and in Annex III and IV. Worldwide, including the South East Tropical and Temperate Pacific Ocean region, there are now 209 IMMAs, as well as 30 cIMMAs and 152 AoI.

The Costa Rica workshop follows the sequence of IMMA regional workshops starting in the Mediterranean (Chania, Greece, 24-28 October 2016), and continuing with the Pacific Islands (Apia, Samoa, 27-31 March 2017), North East Indian Ocean and South East Asian Seas (Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, 12-16 March 2018), the Extended Southern Ocean (Brest, France, 15-19 October 2018), Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas (Salalah, Sultanate of Oman, 4-8 March 2019), Australia-New Zealand and South East Indian Ocean (Perth, Australia, 10-14 February 2020) and Black Sea, Turkish Straits System and Caspian Sea (Virtual, 22-26 February 2021). It is hoped that the results from this eighth IMMA Regional Workshop will help provide conservation priorities to, and strategic direction for, place-based marine mammal conservation within the South East Tropical and Temperate Pacific Ocean (SETTPO) region.

The workshop was attended by 58 experts, including 20 observers, 14 of them remote. Of the 58 experts, 27 participated in person through the week while 4 participated remotely. There were 7 participating members of the IMMA Secretariat in attendance. In summary, the participants came from the Pacific-facing countries of Mexico to Chile, as well as from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States of America. The observers came from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dubai, Ecuador, Kenya, Peru and the USA. In some cases, the expert held a main residence in a country other than where the research was done, and a number of experts have worked in multiple areas in the region. The workshop was organised by the Task Force with support from a partner grant with GOBI funded by the German government’s International Climate Initiative (IKI).

The SETTPO Region is an area of rich biodiversity. The 56 expert pAoI submissions from participants were the core of the work to go forward but the IMMA Secretariat also provided a number of valuable pAoI for marine mammal habitats sourced through the CBD EBSAs and MPAs from the World Database on Protected Areas ( Examining all the pAoI one by one during the workshop, the group merged some areas and deferred others, and then prepared cIMMA submissions, proposing boundaries and detailing how each one met the various IMMA criteria.

The experts identified cIMMAs for the first time for the Critically Endangered vaquita (Phocoena sinus) and Endangered marine otters (Lontra felina), as well as Near Threatened Burmeister’s porpoises (Phocoena spinipinnis) and Chilean dolphins (Cephalorhynchus eutropia). Other cIMMA proposals focused on populations of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and Endangered blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) from both the North and South Pacific, including areas that are used by humpback whales from both hemispheres when they cross the Equator in their long migrations. The full list of marine mammal species included in the region’s IMMAs, together with the boundaries of accepted IMMAs, will become available as part of the IMMA e-Atlas.

It was recognized that there are substantial data gaps for marine mammals across many species groups and areas in the region — partly due to logistical challenges and a lack of funding for larger scale surveys and other research, particularly in the high seas.

There were several plenary discussions throughout the workshop, but the focus was on the breakout groups that were divided into six sections covering the subregions. Their task was sorting through the pAoI, merging those areas that might be better considered together, and deferring certain pAoI back to the originating authority if the case for becoming a cIMMA were weak. In the main part of the workshop, the subregion groups prepared a proposal for each cIMMA, detailing how selected species fulfilled relevant IMMA criteria. As most participants had expertise in multiple areas and had worked together before, many cIMMA submissions were jointly prepared. The cIMMAs were then presented in plenary and considered to be a joint result of the workshop. IMMA Secretariat members Margherita Zanardelli, Caterina Lanfredi, and Michael Tetley presented the final numbers along with maps of all the polygons prepared by Lanfredi and Tetley. On the last day, a regional Task Force group was set up to promote and progress marine mammal conservation work in the SETTPO IMMA region. The volunteer coordinators are Carlos Olavarría from Chile, Susana Cardenas Alayza from Peru, Ester Quintana from Guatemala representing Central America, and Lorenzo Rojas de Bracho and Jorge Urbán jointly representing México.

Following the workshop, the 48 cIMMAs were compiled and assessed, and sent for independent review to determine whether the criteria were applied correctly and to verify that the evidence provided was sufficient to support the case for each cIMMA. Many of the cIMMAs required major or minor revisions and were returned to the points of contact for further work. For the approved IMMAs, the boundaries and a summary of the supporting evidence have been made available on the IMMA e- Atlas, and included in the online IMMA database. Interested users will be able to request IMMA layers as shapefiles for implementation initiatives. A number of cIMMAs, 5 of them, requiring revisions were not received by the deadline and will remain as cIMMAs until revisions are completed and accepted. They have been placed on the IMMA e-Atlas awaiting final revisions. For the 11 AoI it is recognized that these areas have potential but at present do not have enough information to satisfy the criteria. The 11 AoI will also be shown on the e-Atlas, and thus highlight areas for further marine mammal research and monitoring to help build an evidence basis on which future cIMMAs may be proposed.

At the end of the workshop, Gabriela Toscano, based at the BirdLife office in Ecuador, described how at least three of the cIMMAs would be likely to fulfil the criteria including thresholds for KBAs or to facilitate the expansion and fill gaps in identified KBAs. She also talked about the growing flexibility of KBAs. The number of KBAs worldwide that feature marine mammals is slowly expanding. Considering the focused work of Charlotte Boyd working on KBAs globally, Golo Maurer from BirdLife Australia, and others, their participation at previous IMMA workshops represents the most productive way to ensure that IMMAs enable the identification of potential KBAs and that KBA thresholds inform IMMAs if they are selected together – the process currently facilitated by the IMMA Expert Workshop process.

The 36 new IMMAs, 5 cIMMAs and 11 areas gaining AoI status are listed below:

Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs)

  1. Almirantazgo Sound IMMA
  2. Almirante Montt Gulf IMMA
  3. Banderas Bay and Islands of Nayarit IMMA
  4. Carnegie Ridge, Galapagos to Mainland IMMA
  5. Central America Humpback Whale Corridor IMMA
  6. Central Humboldt Current Upwelling System IMMA
Central Magellan Strait IMMA
  8. Chacao Channel – Guamblin Island IMMA
  9. Chiloe Interior IMMA
  10. Cobquecura-Itata IMMA
  11. Continental Shelf of the Northern Humboldt Current IMMA
  12. Costa Rica Thermal Dome IMMA 
Eastern Pacific Warm Pool IMMA
  13. Galapagos Archipelago IMMA
  14. Gorgona-Tribuga-Malpelo IMMA
  15. Guadalupe Island IMMA
  16. Gulf of Arauco IMMA
  17. Gulf of California IMMA
  18. Gulf of Chiriqui IMMA
  19. Gulf of Panama IMMA
  20. Gulf of Penas IMMA
  21. Gulfo Dulce IMMA
  22. Humboldt Archipelago IMMA
  23. Juan Fernandez Archipelago IMMA
  24. La Paz Bay IMMA
  25. Magdalena-Puyuhuapi IMMA
Osa Peninsula IMMA
  27. Pacific Coast of Baja California Peninsula IMMA
Papudo-Maitencillo IMMA
  29. Pitipalena Anihue IMMA
  30. Revillagigedo Archipelago IMMA
San Jose Canyon and Adjacent Shelf IMMA
  32. San Juan del Sur-Papagayo IMMA
  33. Upper Gulf of California IMMA
  34. Western Baja California Lagoons and Coastal Waters IMMA
  35. Western Magellan Strait IMMA

Candidate Important Marine Mammal Areas (cIMMAs)

  1. Beagle Channel – Southern Patagonia cIMMA
Fitzroy Channel cIMMA
  3. Laguna San Rafael cIMMA
  4. Northwestern Patagonia cIMMA
  5. Southeastern Pacific Whale Migratory Corridor cIMMA

Areas of Interest (AoI)

  1. Cocos Island AoI
  2. Desventuradas Islands AoI
  3. Diego Ramirez Islands AoI
Eastern Equatorial Pacific Ocean AoI
  5. Eastern Magellan Strait AoI
  6. Golfo de Fonseca AoI
  7. Loanco-Pelluhue AoI
  8. Los Cobanos Reef AoI
  9. Nicoya Gulf AoI
Padre Ramos AoI
  11. Rapa Nui and Motu Motiro Hiva AoI