Johnson, D.E. and Barrio Froján, C., 2020. A new impetus for Particularly Sensitive Sea Area designation. In: Malvárez, G. and Navas, F. (eds.), Global Coastal Issues of 2020. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 95, pp. 829–834. Coconut Creek (Florida), ISSN 0749-0208.
Designation of 15 Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) by the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) has taken place over a period of 30 years (1990-2020). Each of these areas must qualify on its own merits, and is subject to collective scrutiny by the IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee and other relevant IMO technical committees. In principle, evidence must be presented to demonstrate that a sensitive and valuable site is vulnerable to adverse impacts from activities associated with international shipping, activities which can be addressed by an Associated Protective Measure within the purview of IMO. In practice, designation of PSSAs has taken place in a series of pulses stimulated by marine accidents, changes in legislation, and through revision of the IMO Guidelines. This article examines two case studies: the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Philippines and the Banc d'Arguin in Mauritania. The impetus for both has been a desire by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO to reduce the vulnerability of marine World Heritage Sites and their recognised ‘outstanding universal value’ to the adverse impacts of international shipping activities. For Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the catalyst was high profile groundings of two vessels in the Spring of 2013. For Banc d'Arguin, it was a recognition of the migratory avifaunal links to Europe and a unique oceanic upwelling system. A wider study to make best use of data gathered by the Convention on Biological Diversity's process to describe Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas is also reviewed. The article concludes that this is a best practice example of marine governance, where the remits of UN agencies coincide and complement each other. Cooperation amongst agencies can provide for better protection and awareness-raising of the value of unique marine ecosystems. Recommendations are made to explore other opportunities for synergies.