Today marks the first day of a historical effort to prevent the extinction of the world’s smallest and most endangered cetacean, the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, Phocoena sinus, commonly known as the vaquita marina, or little sea cow. Rafael Pacciano Alamán, Mexican Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), arrived a few days ago in the northern Gulf of California city of San Felipe, one of the communities that have been directly impacted by policy concerning the conservation of this species. U.S. Navy trained bottlenose dolphins are also there to help locate vaquitas, representing the cetacean faction of an international team of experts advised by the Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, or CIRVA.  These highly skilled professionals aim to capture a number of individuals and transfer them to a protected sea pen where they will hopefully be able to reproduce, an unprecedented and high-risk operation that comes as a result of the fact that there are only an estimated 30 vaquita left in the wild, and current mortality rates exceed their ability to maintain a viable population.

Photo credit: Ru Mahoney. Members of the VaquitaCPR rescue team working with lightweight nets that will be used to capture vaquita porpoises.

Vaquita mortality is a result of their becoming entangled and drowning in fishing nets, primarily those gill-nets used in an illegal fishery for the endangered Totoaba fish, Totoaba macdonaldi, a croaker species who’s swim-bladder, prized in Asia, is sold on the black-market for tens of thousands of U.S. dollars. Just as threats to the vaquita are international, so is this ambitious recovery effort. CEDO, although not a direct participant in the Vaquita CPR project, is present as a regional expert and community partner working to help fishermen adapt to the difficult socio-economic circumstances that surround this issue.

CEDO recently coordinated an energizing and informative workshop on behalf of the task force on community and economic development of the Upper Gulf of California set up by the @LeonardoDiCaprioFoundation and Carlos Slim Foundation and the MX president Enrique Peña Nieto as a follow up to the agreement signed in June, which includes developing a plan for community well-being in the Upper Gulf of California. The team of collaborators includes representatives from INAPESCA and the Reserva de la Biosfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado, San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy along with community representatives, international economists and other experts.

Over the next two years we hope to define a clear path towards sustained livelihoods and a bright socio-economic future for the fisheries-based communities of San Felipe, B.C., and Santa Clara, Sonora, both heavily impacted by conservation measures concerning the vaquita marina. The conservation response to this issue has been marked by inconsistency for decades, hence the need for an emergency response, and whether or not the Vaquita CPR program is successful, we cannot forget our responsibility to the fishing communities whose livelihoods are also entangled with the fate of this species, and who are equally in need of immediate aid. For more information from CEDO follow this link to a vaquita article by our Director. To support the effort, follow this link to our Vaquita Fund.

 

By Alan Ruiz Berman

Alan is CEDO’s new Communications and Development Coordinator at our U.S. Headquarters in Tucson, Arizona. Alan has a MA in marine conservation from Victoria University in New Zealand, and comes to us from La Paz, Baja California Sur, where he worked as a science communication specialist.