Mexico hailed for taking measures to protect 2 endangered species

A vaquita in Mexico's Gulf of California. Photo: NOAA
A vaquita in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Photo: NOAA

UNESCO has recognized Mexico for its efforts protecting totoaba and the vaquita, two endangered species found only in the Gulf of California.

Although endangered, vaquitas — the world’s smallest porpoise — aren’t intentionally caught by fishermen. Its fate is intertwined with the totoaba, which are sought after on the black market.

That’s because the vaquita and totoaba often get hauled up in the same fishing nets.

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At the CITES conference in South Africa, countries have adopted a proposal from Mexico that bans international trade of a fish species native to the Gulf of Mexico, the totoaba.

The fish is in demand in China, where its swim bladders are a delicacy.

Commercial fishing of totoabas was banned in 1975, but that doesn’t always keep poachers from catching the fish illegally to sell on the black market.

Local fishermen can make more money in just a few weeks of illegal fishing than they would make fishing legally all year long.

In a statement, the Federal Office of Environmental Protection (Profepa) said it presented the permanent monitoring program in the Upper Gulf of California to officials of the international organization.

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Profepa noted that the Reagent Monitoring Mission to the World Heritage Site “Islands and Natural Protected Areas of the Gulf of California” aims to analyze and evaluate the conservation and protection actions of the ecosystem and biodiversity in the Upper Gulf of California.

UNESCO officials visited northern Mexico from Feb. 6 to 12, reiterated their recognition of the inspection and surveillance effort carried out by the Mexican government, said Profepa.

The commitment to meet the recommendations forwarded by UNESCO was last July, at the meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland.

Regarding the work coordinated by Profepa, the inter-institutional collaboration to protect the “Islands and Natural Protected Areas of the Gulf of California” was highlighted.

Profepa accepted the participation of the Secretariats of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), of the Navy (Semar), of Foreign Relations (SRE), the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), the National Fisheries Commission (Conapesca), the Commission of Protected Natural Areas (Conanp) and the National Fisheries Institute (Inapesca).

The Unesco mission visited the community of San Felipe, Baja California, where they were shown the resources applied for the conservation and protection of the vaquita, as well as the inspection and surveillance procedures to combat the illegal trafficking of totoaba.

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Profepa and Semar demonstrated the coordination with which they work in aerial, maritime and land surveillance operations throughout the Upper Gulf of California, in addition to showing surveillance tools such as radar, video and aerial vehicles.

Mexico’s officials must still wait for the final report from UNESCO to know if the international organization will register the Upper Gulf of California as a site in danger.

Activists mourn

Activists and artists held a demonstration in Mexico City on Saturday for what they say are the final 18 vaquitas in existence.

With the beating of drums and the ringing of bells, hundreds of people who were led by a person wearing a carved skull crossed slowly through a park in the center of the Mexican capital.

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A year ago there were about 30 vaquitas, experts say.

The biologist and environmentalist Omar Vidal, who mounted a photo exhibition of the vaquita, wrote that “today the future of the vaquita and totoaba hangs by a thread.”

Lorenzo Rojas, chief scientist of a conservation campaign, attended the march on Saturday and said it was an act of “mourning for the vaquitas who have died, but in no way a funeral procession.”

Sources: Notimex, dw.com, La Jornada Maya

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