37 Important Marine Mammal Areas identified in the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas

CaptureIn early December 2019, scientists announced the approval of 37 new Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) in one of the more ecologically rich, yet conservation challenged areas of the worlds oceans—the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas. The new IMMAs highlight key habitats for various threatened marine mammal species, including endangered Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, and the threatened dugong. IMMAs are an important first step toward


An image from the IUCN MMPA Task Force eAtlas showing the new Important Marine Mammal Areas and Areas of Interest in the Western Indian Ocean and Arabiean Seas Region

greater protection efforts, including in some cases, the establishment of marine protected areas.

IMMAs are defined as discrete portions of habitat, important for one or several marine mammal species, that have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation.  IMMAs are identified through a carefully planned process in which experts are convened in regional workshops to collate and assess all the information about marine mammal habitat in that region. The process draws from published and unpublished sources, often precipitating the most comprehensive review of marine mammal distribution and habitat use in the chosen region.  Each proposed area of interest is assessed based purely on biocentric criteria , that fall into four main categories: (1) Species or Population Vulnerability, (2) Distribution and Abundance (small resident population, Large aggregation),  (3) Life Cycle Activities (Breeding habitat, Feeding habitat, migration routes) (4) Special Attributes (distinctiveness, diversity). 

Once submitted, each IMMA proposal undergoes a critical scientific review by at least two independent reviewers, much like the submission process of peer-reviewed scientific journals.  Only proposed areas that can fully demonstrate fulfillment of at least one criteria attain full IMMA status, after which point they are published on the  eAtlas, and can be used in conservation planning by a variety of stakeholders.  It is hoped, for example, that industry can use this information to either avoid IMMAs or effectively  mitigate the impact of any of their planned activities in them, and that governments can use IMMAs to help guide their deliberations on where to place marine protected areas or other coastal zone management efforts.

 The IMMA process for the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas was launched in 2019.  A regional workshop took place on March 4th-8th 2019, in Salalah, Oman, and involved 38 marine mammal scientists and observers from 15 countries, with several more scientists contributing to assessments and proposals remotely. The IMMAs identified as a result of these workshops and subsequent independent review can now be viewed on an IMMA eAtlas.  Efforts to use these IMMAs to guide effective conservation measures are already underway, with the example of a recent implementation visit to Bazaruto Archipelago to Inhambane Bay Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA), Mozambique in November 2019.

The 37 IMMAs in the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas were identified for the Arabian Sea humpback whales, Indian Ocean humpback dolphins, high cetacean species diversity, dugong aggregations, concentrations of Omura’s whale, as well as three different populations of blue whales.

Follow the links below to find more information on each of the 37 new IMMAs:

  1. Aldabra Atoll IMMA
  2. Bazaruto Archipelago and Inhambane Bay IMMA
  3. Cape Coastal Waters IMMA
  4. Comoros Island Chain and Adjacent Reef Banks IMMA
  5. Dhofar IMMA
  6. Farasan Archipelago IMMA
  7. Greater Pemba Channel IMMA
  8. Gulf of Kutch IMMA
  9. Gulf of Masirah and Offshore Waters IMMA
  10. Gulf of Salwa IMMA
  11. Indus Estuary and Creeks IMMA
  12. Kisite-Shimoni IMMA
  13. Lakshadweep Archipelago IMMA
  14. Lamu Offshore IMMA
  15. Madagascar Central East Coast IMMA
  16. Maldives Archipelago and Adjacent Oceanic Waters IMMA
  17. Mascarene Islands and Associated Oceanic Features IMMA
  18. Menai Bay IMMA
  19. Miani Hor IMMA
  20. Mozambique Coastal Breeding Grounds IMMA
  21. Muscat Coastal and Shelf Waters IMMA
  22. Nakhiloo Coastal Waters IMMA
  23. North East Arabian Sea IMMA
  24. Northern Gulf and Confluence of the Tigris, Euphrates and Kuran IMMA
  25. Northern Red Sea Islands IMMA
  26. North West Madagascar and North East Mozambique Channel IMMA
  27. Oman Arabian Sea IMMA
  28. Seychelles Plateau and Adjacent Oceanic Waters IMMA
  29. Shelf Waters of Southern Madagascar IMMA
  30. Sindhudurg-Karwar IMMA
  31. South East African Coastal Migration Corridor IMMA
  32.  South West Madagascar and Mozambique Channel IMMA
  33. Southern Coastal Shelf Waters of South Africa IMMA
  34. Southern Egyptian Red Sea Bays, Offshore Reefs and Islands IMMA
  35. Southern Gulf and Coastal Waters IMMA
  36. Toliara, St. Augustine Canyon and Anakao IMMA
  37. Watamu-Malindi and Watamu Banks IMMA
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