Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)

January 25, 2024

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as the Bonn Convention or CMS) is an international environmental agreement that coordinates the protection of migratory animals and their habitats. Currently 133 countries are parties to the Convention.

OceanCare has been active within the CMS since 2004 and has been an official partner organisation since 2016. OceanCare is particularly involved in the issues of underwater noise, plastic and other pollution, the protection of aquatic mammals and aquatic wildlife.

CMS is the only global convention focused on the conservation of migratory species, their habitats and migratory routes. It brings together the countries through which migratory animals pass (the ‘Range States’) and provides the legal basis for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout the range of migratory species and populations.

The decision-making body of CMS is the Conference of Parties (CoP) and it also has a Scientific Council and other administrative bodies. The next CoP meeting will take place 12-17 February, 2024 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan – OceanCare policy and science experts will be present to participate in debates and support the drafting process at the meeting. This article gives an overview of the most interesting topics on the agenda from a marine conservation point of view.

Endangered species

Migratory species threatened with extinction are listed in Appendix I to the Convention, and CMS Parties endeavour to protect them strictly, to conserve or restore their habitats, to reduce obstacles to migration and to control other factors that may endanger them, including the prohibition of their taking.

Migratory species and populations that require or would significantly benefit from international cooperation are listed in Appendix II of the Convention, and CMS encourages range states to conclude global or regional agreements for these animals.

From a marine perspective there are two important regional agreements in which OceanCare is heavily involved are ACCOBAMS, the regional agreement for the protection of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoise) in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and ASCOBANS, the regional agreement for the protection of small cetaceans in the North and Baltic Seas, the North-East Atlantic and the Irish Sea. There are many other regional subsidiary agreements and regional cooperation initiatives covering a wide range of marine species.

Deep-sea mining

Deep sea mining is the process of extracting mineral deposits from the deep seabed. Deep-sea mining is a relatively new activity and emerging threat. While its impacts are still quite poorly understood, what we do know is cause for concern.

Exploration of deep-sea habitats is challenging, and scientific research on deep-sea species and ecosystems is just beginning to reveal what we stand to lose if this destructive activity is allowed to proceed. Fragile deep-sea ecosystems already face multiple threats, including climate change and pollution, including underwater noise. Deep-sea mining could destroy habitats, wipe out species and cause potentially unavoidable widespread and permanent damage to ecosystems and biodiversity. It may potentially adversely affect migratory species, including whales, as well as their habitats and prey.

Ocean noise

Anthropogenic ocean noise is a major threat to many marine species. A distinction is made between continuous noise emissions, mainly from commercial shipping, and intense impulsive noise emissions from seismic exploration, sonar technologies, especially from military activities, and many industrial activities, all of which contribute to ocean noise. Ocean noise has the potential to affect all marine life, from the smallest krill to the largest whales. Ocean noise can disrupt or disturb migrating species, displace them from their habitats, mask communication or even cause physical harm and stress. Some impulsive sounds are so loud that they can directly kill marine life.

The proposed draft decisions at the CoP14 include a request to Parties to apply Best Available Technology (BAT) and Best Environmental Practice (BEP) for mitigating three noise sources – shipping, seismic airgun surveys and pile driving – and bring them to the attention of regulatory authorities involved in marine spatial planning and licensing processes for underwater noise-generating activities.

Vessel strikes

The impact of ship strikes on marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and rays is a growing concern as the ocean is increasingly used by commercial, recreational and other vessels. Ship strikes can cause serious or even fatal injuries to marine animals. When a large ship is travelling at high speed, it can be difficult for marine animals to avoid it.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are vulnerable to ship strikes in areas where they feed and breed. Manatees and dugongs are slow-moving marine mammals that regularly come to the surface to breathe, making them vulnerable to ship strikes. Sea turtles are vulnerable to ship strikes when they surface to breathe. Turtles are at risk when migrating through shipping lanes and in coastal areas where there is increased vessel traffic. Large sharks and rays, especially filter feeders such as basking sharks, whale sharks and mobilids, which spend much of their time at the surface feeding, are particularly vulnerable to ship strikes.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world. It is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species worldwide. It is listed in CMS Appendices I and II. Whale sharks can spend 50% of their time in the top 20m of the water column, making them vulnerable to ship strikes. They are most at risk in major shipping lanes and at specific hotspots where large numbers of whale sharks congregate. Whale sharks are also at high risk from shipping during their migrations.

Fish aggregating devices (FADs)

A fish aggregating device, or FAD, is a floating structure made of any material used to aggregate fish (which tend to swim underneath floating objects) so that they can be captured. FADs may be anchored or drifting. Drifting FADs are used extensively in industrial tuna fisheries, for example.

Marine mammals, sharks, sea turtles and other wildlife can become entangled in FADs, which often have trailing ropes or even nets. The material used in FADs can end up as marine debris, with associated negative impacts on wildlife and marine and coastal habitats.

The proposed draft decisions on FADs include a request to Parties to ensure that FADs are non-entangling and that they are designed and deployed in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of their being lost. FADs should be marked, monitored, maintained, and retrieved by fisheries. They should be disposed of appropriately when no longer needed.

OceanCare’s role in CMS

OceanCare has been involved in the work of the Convention since 2004 and, in 2016, it became an official partner organisation of CMS. This partnership gives the organisation the opportunity to closely collaborate with the CMS Secretariat and Parties on issues such as underwater noise, plastic and other pollution, marine mammal conservation and aquatic wildmeat in order to better protect aquatic migratory species.

Important successes in recent years include the commitment of Parties through a series of key resolutions agreed at their meetings providing the technical foundations to address underwater noise and plastic pollution, as well as efforts to better involve civil society in the processes of the Convention. Since 2013, OceanCare has provided leadership and support via individual experts to the CMS, ACCOBAMS and ASCOBANS joint working group on underwater noise. It has also made a significant contribution to the inclusion of threatened species in the CMS Appendices, such as the polar bear in Appendix II and the Mediterranean populations of the Cuvier’s beaked whale and the common dolphin in Appendix I, to name just a few.

CMS is also leading the world in its work on the protection of animal cultures and OceanCare has been assisting in this important new conservation theme. The Bonn Convention has also been instrumental in endorsing and promoting the science-based concept of identifying Important Maine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) and Important Shark and Ray Areas (ISRAs) and recommends Parties making use of such sites when developing and imposing area based conservation action.

OceanCare has been instrumental in the progress of other important areas including the development of plans to address aquatic wild meat in Africa, the conservation of aquatic mammals (especially the development of the relevant programme of work), climate change – especially in the context of the linkages between this threat, ocean noise and shipping – and plastic and other marine pollution.

Further information