In early December 2019, scientists announced the approval of 37 new “Important Marine Mammal Areas" (IMMAs) in the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas, one of the richest areas of the world ocean ecologically but where conservation remains a major challenge. Indocet members have been fully involved in this process.
These IMMAs identify key habitats for several endangered marine mammal species, including the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin and the dugong. The delimitation of these IMMAs constitutes an important first step for the conservation of these species. In particular, they could serve as a basis for the implementation of management measures, such as the creation of marine protected areas.
IMMAs are defined as distinct portions of habitat, important for one or more species of marine mammals, delineated on the basis of scientific knowledge, and which have the potential to be managed for conservation.
IMMAs are identified according to a predefined methodology, involving the participation of regional experts and the organization of workshops in order to centralize and evaluate all available information on marine mammal habitat in the area. The process is based on scientific publications and any other source of scientific literature (unpublished data and reports), thus representing the most complete and exhaustive review possible of the distribution of marine mammals and the use of their habitat in the region .
Each area of interest is evaluated by the experts on the basis of purely biocentric criteria, which are divided into four main categories : (1) Vulnerability of the species or population, (2) Distribution and abundance (small resident population, aggregation), (3) Life cycle (breeding habitat, feeding habitat, migration routes), (4) Special attributes (distinctiveness, diversity).
Each proposed IMMA is submitted to an independent panel of experts and undergoes a critical scientific review by at least two reviewers, similar to the peer-reviewed scientific journal submission process.
Areas that are valued as IMMAs are published on an online eAtlas and can be used in conservation planning by a variety of stakeholders.
It is hoped, for example, that industry will be able to use this information to avoid MPAIs or to effectively mitigate the impact of their planned activities in these areas, and that governments will be able to use MPAIs to help guide their deliberations on the location of marine protected areas or other coastal zone management efforts.
The process of identifying IMMAs for the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas was launched in 2019.
A regional workshop was held from 4-8 March 2019, in Salalah, Oman, and involved 38 marine mammal scientists and experts from 15 countries, as well as several other scientists contributing to this work remotely. The IMMAs identified as a result of these workshops and the subsequent independent review are now available on the eAtlas of IMMAs.
Efforts to use these IMMAs to guide effective conservation measures are already underway, with the example of a recent implementation visit to the Bazaruto Archipelago to the Inhambane Bay Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) in Mozambique in November 2019.
The 37 IMMAs in the western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas have been identified for the Arabian Sea humpback whale population, Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, high cetacean species diversity, dugong aggregations, Omura whale concentrations, and three different blue whale populations, among others.