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

CMS is a UN treaty that enables countries to work together on  the conservation of migratory animals, including whales and dolphins,and their habitats.

Why the convention is needed

Whales and dolphins around the world face many threats and issues: being caught in active or discarded fishing gear, not finding enough food to eat, being hunted for their meat or taken to live in a concrete tank.

Some species and/or populations, however, are at more risk than others. Whales and dolphins that migrate seasonally from one part of the world to another may be driven to extinction unless they are protected from excessive threats in every one of the habitats they live in throughout the year. Whether it’s the areas they use to feed, or those where they breed and nurse their young, or indeed the pathways in between the two, adequate and relevant protection is needed to ensure they can move freely and safely through the world’s oceans.

WDC believes that human activity doesn’t have to negatively impact on the survival and wellbeing of migratory species such as whales and dolphins, and we are far from alone. Representatives from more than 100 countries regularly meet to agree plans to protect the migratory species and the habitats they live in throughout the year. These meetings are held because of an international treaty called The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, (CMS). CMS is the only global convention specifically concerned with the conservation of migratory species and is overseen by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). WDC has been working through CMS for many years and is a Partner organisation to the Convention.

Countries whose representatives have signed up to the CMS are known as ‘Parties to the CMS’. All Parties to the CMS acknowledge the importance of acting to conserve migratory species whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so. CMS adopts a two-tier approach, with the parties drawing a distinction between species identified as “endangered” (listed in Appendix I to the CMS) and those considered to have an “unfavourable conservation status” (listed in Appendix II to the CMS), with differing obligations and policies prescribed in relation to each category. In doing so, strict protection measures are prescribed for such species, including regulating anthropogenic activities that may cause harm to such species and or their habitats.

The agreements that Parties to the CMS can sign up to come in many forms. One type of agreement is referred to simply as an Agreement (with a capital ‘A’). Another form of agreement that Parties to the CMS can enter into is called a Memorandum of Understanding, or MoU for short. There are 4 Agreements and MoUs that so far have been agreed upon by Parties to the CMS aiming to directly help the conservation of migratory whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The 4 CMS Agreements

  • ACCOBAMS – an Agreement to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises of the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and the Contiguous Atlantic Area (‘Contiguous’ means ‘next to’ or ‘neighbouring’). You can see the Agreement website for ACCOBAMS via this link.
  • ASCOBANS – an Agreement to protect small whales, dolphins and porpoises of the Baltic, north-east Atlantic, Irish and North seas. You can see the Agreement website for ASCOBANS via this link
  • The ‘Cetaceans and their Habitats of the Pacific Island Region’ MoU.
  • The ‘Small Cetaceans and Manatees of West Africa’ MoU

All areas of concern for migratory whales and dolphins are addressed through CMS and Parties have adopted a series of Resolutions to address these species since its inception – including a comprehensive global work plan for cetaceans, numerous policies towards bycatch, ocean noise, marine debris, live capture for commercial purposes and aquatic wild meat. Although these Resolutions do not have formal binding effect, they have nonetheless guided policy developments within the subsidiary Agreements and provide an additional political impetus towards cetacean conservation by the CMS parties.

CMS is also embarking on ground-breaking work by recognising the importance of culture in the conservation of migratory species. WDC is integral to this workstream and continues to work closely with both the Secretariat and Parties to the Convention to ensure positive change for migratory whales and dolphins.