Save Mexico's Vaquita Porpoise from Imminent Extinction!
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The Vaquita: The World's Most Endangered Marine Mammal
The vaquita is a small porpoise that can only be found in the Upper Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) in Mexico. The species is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is facing imminent extinction.
The population has dropped from about 600 individuals in 1997 to fewer than 20 in 2018 and continues to decline at an alarming rate. The vaquita may only have a few months left.
The Problem: Entanglement in Fishing Nets
Vaquita become entangled and drown in gillnets set for a large species of fish, the totoaba.
The totoaba fish are highly sought after for their swim bladders, which in China are used for questionable medicinal purposes. The dried totoaba swim bladders are so valuable that they are referred to as the “cocaine of the sea”, with prices of up to $46,000 per kg on the Chinese black market. Because of the totoaba’s large size, nets designed to catch the fish have a mesh size that is also perfect to catch vaquita. And once caught, they drown within minutes.
Gillnets pose a major threat to whales, porpoises and dolphins around the world and kill 300,000 of them every year ─ but because of the vaquita's small range and low numbers, it is particularly vulnerable.
The Mexican government has responded with a gillnet ban, a ban on night-time fishing and better controls to monitor fishing activity in the Sea of Cortez. It has also deployed its navy to assist and vowed to step up its enforcement efforts. Local and international NGOs have also been operating in the area for years to remove derelict fishing gear.
But none of the efforts to counter the threat have been able to lower the rate of decline, and vaquita continue to drown in nets. Resources for enforcement are insufficient, units deployed to fight the rampant illegal fishery often lack the authority or the means to intervene and poachers are rarely prosecuted. Investigations also revealed cases of government corruption and pointed to the involvement of criminal cartels in the tototaba trade.
The Solution: Eliminate Gillnets, Prosecute Poachers
Experts agree that the only way to save the species is to take immediate and decisive action:
- Remove active and abandoned gillnets from the Sea of Cortez
- Step up efforts to enforce the existing gillnet ban and prosecute those that violate it to the full extent of the law.
- Provide alternatives for the local economy, in which fishing still plays a major role.
With a new president at the helm, and a new minister of environment and natural resources in charge, it is now absolutely vital to reinforce to the Mexican government that there is no time to take a break. The vaquita will join China's baiji river dolphin and go extinct while the world is watching if the Mexican government does not take its commitment to saving the vaquita seriously. It needs to act today, as the last vaquita may drown in a gillnet tomorrow.
“The world is watching as the endangered vaquita porpoise in the Sea of Cortez is approaching extinction. This is our very last chance to prevent the loss of a unique species that is just as important to the identity of the region of Mexico it calls home as it is to humanity and as a piece in the vast and amazing tapestry of biodiversity on this planet. We call on the Mexican government to drastically step up its efforts to take immediate, decisive and effective action to end the gillnet threat once and for all; to put much needed resources towards the strict enforcement of the existing gillnet ban and to prosecute those that violate it to the full extent of the law. Do not wait for others to solve this problem. Do not waste precious time. Every single day counts. Do not let it be your legacy that you let the only cetacean endemic to Mexico go extinct on your watch.
¡Viva la vaquita marina!”
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