Is Mexico Ready to Save the Vaquita?

The race to save the vaquita, a tiny porpoise living in the northern Gulf of California, began in earnest this week with the launch of an international campaign in Ensenada, Mexico. Mexico is investing millions of dollars to save the critically endangered species from extinction. Only 150 individuals remain.

Several communities in the region depend on the income derived from a gill net fishery that inadvertently drowns the world’s smallest marine mammal.

A band of local and international scientists, government officials, community groups, conservationists and media, will converge on the northern Gulf of California from September to November in an effort to work together to protect a species found nowhere else on earth.

To save the vaquita, the Government must also take care of the fishermen whose livelihoods are also at risk. The funds will be used not only to enforce fishing regulations in vaquita habitat, a protected biosphere reserve, but also to buy nets from fishermen.

The fisheries buyout plan would see the offending nets being taken out of the water, at the same time offering locals alternative methods of fishing, or training in new trades such as ecotourism. So far most fishermen are in agreement, but remain skeptical of the buyout plan.

Not quite two years ago, the world’s first cetacean species (whale, dolphin and porpoise) was declared functionally extinct as a direct result of human activity. The baiji, or Yangtze River dolphins demise, like the vaquita, was tied directly to drowning in fishing nets.

The baiji is gone, but there is a brief window of opportunity to ensure the vaquita is not lost as well.

The challenge ahead is vast, complex and uncertain. However, one thing is certain, the time has come to decide whether we want to live in a world without the vaquita.