Third Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) Workshop, held in Borneo, puts 46 new candidate IMMAs on the map

From 12-16 March 2018, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force (the “Task Force”) conducted the third Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) workshop, this one in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Covering the North East Indian Ocean and South East Asian Seas Region, this workshop follows IMMA workshops in the Mediterranean and in the Pacific Islands in 2016-2017.

The workshop generated the biggest numbers so far; a total of 46 candidate IMMAs.

Mike Tetley, IMMA coordinator shows participants the IMMA e-Atlas. Photo Credit: Erich Hoyt

IMMA Co-ordinator Michael J. Tetley led the 34 marine mammal experts and observers from 17 countries as they worked through more than 100 areas of interest (AoI) submitted for consideration by workshop participants and others. From these preliminary AoI, the group merged 33 areas, deferred 11 others, kept 24 as AoI, and then prepared concise profiles for the 46 candidate IMMAs, proposing boundaries and explaining how each one met the IMMA criteria.

The 46 cIMMAs will now go for peer review before being put on the IMMA e-Atlas as official designations. If they don’t pass peer review, they’ll revert to AoI and will be considered again in the future.

The materials for AoI and cIMMA identification included maps of MPAs and other conservation designations in the region as well as IUCN key biodiversity areas (KBAs) and ecologically or biologically significant areas (EBSAs) as defined under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Additional data layers depicted bottom topography with features such as seamounts and continental drop offs, ocean currents and surface productivity.

Participants of the IMMA workshop defining the boundaries of Areas of Interest. Photo credit: Erich Hoyt

The third IMMA workshop region stretched from the coast of India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam in the North to the vast Indonesian archipelago in the south. The experts identified sites for marine mammal species such as Indo-Pacific humpback and Irrawaddy dolphins, finless porpoises, Bryde’s and Omura’s whales as well as blue and humpback whales, and dugongs. The region includes the Coral Triangle, one of the most species-rich areas in the ocean, both for marine mammals and overall marine biodiversity.

The preliminary results from the workshop were announced as part of Task Force presentations at the European Cetacean Society annual meetings in La Spezia, Italy, 6-10 April 2018. Final results are expected to be posted online in September 2018.

For more information and contact details for the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force and the IMMA work, go to www.marinemammalhabitat.org.

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First vaquita found dead in 2018 – March 2018 Update

On March 27 the Mexican Navy recovered a decomposed vaquita. A necropsy was conducted on April 4 and it was confirmed that the animal died from entanglement (see Necropsy Report).

The net removal effort continues

Bags of net and anchors being taken from the net removal program

With fewer than 30 vaquitas remaining and the idea of rescuing some by capturing them and placing them in a managed enclosure not considered viable, conservation action is now focused on enforcement and net removal.

The current enhanced net removal effort during the totoaba spawning season will last until May 2018. Because the net removal effort is critical to saving the vaquita, progress is updated on this website monthly (see previous updates for Feb and Jan here).

The map (Source: Siegenthaler, N. 2018. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Internal Reports) shows active nets removed from December 2017-March 2018 by all net removal operations. The yellow dots are active totoaba nets removed prior to March and the black dots those removed during March only. The black line denotes the Vaquita Refuge and the orange line the enhanced enforcement area.

The table below shows the number of totoaba nets removed, by ship, during the totoaba spawning season. JPD stands for the ship Jean Paul Dejoria, which was replaced by the Sharpie in March. The Narval belongs to the Museo de Ballena of La Paz and the other ships to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “na” stands for ‘not applicable’ since the ships did not operate in that month.

December January February March Total
Narval na 2 36 20 58
Farley Mowat 2 0 9 44 55
JPD 16 28 51 5 100
Sharpie na na na 35 35
Total 18 30 96 104 248

Patricia Gandolfo campaign leader of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro standing next to 24 dead totoabas pulled from a single net

Despite focusing the enhanced net removal efforts and enforcement in areas of overlap between vaquita distribution and illegal fishing activity, the removal of active totoaba nets is apparently following the pattern of the last two years, which has resulted in the continuing dramatic decline in vaquita numbers.  Direct comparisons of the number of nets removed by Sea Shepherd efforts in different years are not valid because the nature of the effort has been evolving (details in this Report by visiting CIRVA members). The searching efficiency of the net retrieval vessels has increased due to the use of sonar, while the illegal fishermen have become better at avoiding net retrieval by spotting search activities and setting their nets at times and in places where they are less likely to be discovered.  However, the data in the table and figure clearly indicate that illegal fishing persists.  So far, there is no indication that enhanced enforcement is being effective.

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Vaquita peril persists with on-going illegal totoaba fishing – February 2018 Update

The net removal effort, started by Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro in collaboration with the Mexican Navy in 2015, is building to become the biggest yet in the totoaba season currently under way. The initial Sea Shepherd/Navy effort focused on observing pangas illegally setting nets at night and on removing those nets. The effort was expanded in 2016 to systematically remove both active and inactive nets throughout the vaquita’s primary distribution.  This expansion in effort has been led by the Department of the Environment (SEMARNAT) together with Sea Shepherd, the Mexican Navy and Army, PEMEX, WWF-Mexico, Museo de la Ballena, Parley, World Animal Protection, and the fishermen’s organizations PESCA ABC and Cooperativa Islas del Golfo. The Mexican Fisheries Department CONAPESCA recently started supporting the program as well.

From December, 2016, through February, 2018, SSCS has retrieved 394 nets, over 270 of which have been active totoaba nets. A total of 61 totoaba nets were retrieved in February 2018. This takes the total number of active nets removed by Sea Shepherd thus far in 2018 to 96. Over 50 tons of net were donated to Parley for recycling (further details can be found in the CIRVA 10 Report).With fewer than 30 vaquitas remaining and the idea of rescuing some by capturing them and placing them in human care not considered viable, conservation action is now focussed on enforcement and net removal. The current net removal effort during the totoaba spawning season will last until May. Because this effort is critical to saving the vaquita, progress will be updated on this website monthly.

Despite the enhanced net removal efforts and enforcement focus on areas of overlap between vaquita distribution and illegal fishing, the removal of active totoaba nets is apparently following the pattern of the last two years, which has resulted in the dramatic decline in vaquitas. To give the best idea of the relative risk of entanglement for vaquitas, only efforts by Sea Shepherd in the past 2 years are shown. Even then direct comparison of the numbers of nets removed by Sea Shepherd efforts in February 2017 and 2018 is not a perfect indicator of the risk presented to vaquitas because net removal has become more efficient both due to experience and increased efficiency resulting from the addition of using side-scan sonar to locate nets. However, the data in the table and figure below clearly indicate that illegal fishing persists and follows the earlier pattern of increasing as the totoaba spawning season progresses. So far, there is no indication that enhanced enforcement is being effective.

The map shows active nets removed from December 2017-February 2018. The yellow dots are active totoaba nets removed prior to February and the black dots those removed during February only. The black line denotes the vaquita refuge and the orange line the enhanced enforcement area.

The bar graph shows the number of totoaba nets removed by Sea Shepherd during totoaba spawning season for the Milagro III operation (blue) and through February for Milagro IV (orange).

Source: Siegenthaler, N. 2018. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Internal Reports

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