26 Oct 2023
by Niru Dorrian, Dr. Renata Kowalik

The Marine Mammal Observer Association and it's Partnership with IMarEST

Niru Dorrian, Chair of the IMarEST Marine Mammals and Conservation Special Interest Group, and Dr Renata Kowalik, MMOA Executive Committee Member, explore the vital role of Marine Mammal Observers (MMO), Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) operators, and the Marine Mammal Observer Association (MMOA), and how in partnership with the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST) we can collectively work together to promote professional standards and raise further awareness of key issues.

The vast expanses of our world's oceans, seas and coastal areas hold an invaluable diversity of marine species, from the essential and vast array of microscopic plankton to the largest known extant marine mammal species. However, threats to these marine ecosystems in the form of industrial activities, such as offshore drilling, shipping, oil and gas exploration and production, and renewable energy projects, have the potential to damage the function of these marine ecosystems.

The Role of Marine Mammal Observers and PAM Operators

MMOs and PAM operators are environmental professionals who play a crucial role in safeguarding marine megafauna during anthropogenic noise producing operations such as geophysical surveys, unexploded ordnance clearance operations and piling. These dedicated individuals are responsible for monitoring and mitigating potential impacts on marine mammals and other protected species.

MMOs and PAM operators work to prevent or minimise affects to marine fauna caused by these activities and may include:

  • comprehensive pre-operational surveys for a pre-determined time period prior to operational activity within a pre-defined area both visually and acoustically establishing a baseline or reference point for marine mammals in the area;
  • mitigation measures during offshore operations which may reduce the risk of harm to marine mammals, such as altering the course of vessels, delaying operations, or shutting down operations if marine mammals or protected species are detected within predefined mitigation areas/zones;
  • data collection on marine mammal sightings and acoustic detections, such as behaviour, number of animals, and acoustic recordings, which is essential for project reporting, possible further scientific research and informing future conservation efforts, and
  • communications with the project crew, providing updates on the presence of marine mammals and advising on necessary actions to be taken.

The Marine Mammal Observer Association (MMOA)

The MMOA is a global organisation dedicated to promoting high standards of professionalism. Founded in 2008, the MMOA has become a supporting voice in the field of ‘marine mammal observation’ and aims to work with professional, experienced, and newly qualified MMOs and PAM operators, industry, government agencies, non-government organisations (NGO), and academics to improve the profession's effectiveness by:

  • developing and promoting professional competency;
  • improving recording and use of data;
  • assimilating field experience and knowledge;
  • providing a collective voice for MMOs and PAM operators;
  • promoting the profession in the offshore and coastal industries, and
  • improving protection for marine mammals and other protected species.

The Marine Partnership with IMarEST

The MMOA, in recognising the importance of professional standards, formed a partnership in 2019 with the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science & Technology (IMarEST).

The partnership enhances the capabilities of MMOs and PAM operators and raises awareness of the importance of their work. The collaboration involves:

  • education and training through joint efforts providing access to career support, special interest group events and workshops, and educational resources to support the professional development, and ensuring that observers are equipped with the latest knowledge and techniques;
  • collaborative initiatives which support the improvement of understanding of marine mammals by pooling resources and expertise that can contribute valuable data to the scientific community, and
  • advocacy and outreach activities to promote the inclusion of MMOs and PAM operators in offshore projects, and to raise public awareness about the importance of marine mammal conservation.

MMOs and PAM operators are dedicated professionals working passionately to protect marine life from the impacts of human activities both in coastal and offshore environments. The partnership plays a pivotal role in ensuring that MMOs and PAM operators are well-trained, supported, and equipped to carry out this vital work.

As we continue to rely on marine resources and transportation, it is imperative to prioritise the protection of marine mammals and marine fauna that may be affected. Through collaboration, we are contributing to a more sustainable and harmonious coexistence between humans and marine mammals in our ever-changing seas.