The Vaquita, a Species Found Only in the Upper Part of the Gulf of California, is on the Brink of Extinction. Different Efforts Come Together to Save Them. We tell You About this Species
Photo: National Geographic
LatinAmerican Post | Jorge Francisco Vuelvas Lomeli
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Leer en español: México ¿Se acerca el fin de la vaquita marina?
In an effort to protect the vaquita, the Mexican government has implemented a series of conservation measures, including a ban on gillnet fishing in the vaquita's habitat, increased enforcement of fishing regulations, and expansion of protected areas. However, despite these measures, the population continues to decline, and it is estimated that the species could become extinct soon. But what are the main factors why the vaquita continues to be threatened? And what actions can be taken to prevent its extinction?
With an estimated population of 10 individuals (according to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission), the species faces a very real threat of extinction. In fact, actions for its conservation were a key point at COP19.
This porpoise is threatened by a number of human activities, including illegal gillnet fishing and habitat loss due to agricultural and coastal development. Due to the increase in these activities, the number of vaquita entanglements and bycatch continues to be a problem for the specimen. On the other hand, climate change is also affecting the species, the warming of the waters in the Gulf of California can affect the food sources of the species, causing a decrease in its population.
The Chinese Mafia Factor
The Chinese mafia is one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world. It is believed to have its roots in the Hong Kong triads and is mainly engaged in drug trafficking, counterfeiting, human trafficking, smuggling, and the illegal arms trade, but one of the activities that will cost the most to the conservation of species, is their presence in the illegal totoaba export industry in Mexico.
The totoaba is a species of fish native to the Gulf of California and is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This fish is highly coveted in the Asian country due to its swim bladder, considered a delicacy and used in traditional Chinese medicine. The Chinese mafia is thought to be behind the illegal totoaba trade in Mexico, bribing local fishermen and government officials to illegally harvest the fish. But what does this have to do with the vaquita porpoise?
By using large nets to catch the totoaba and other fish that they obtain illegally, the vaquitas are captured, causing their death. Despite the fact that there have been operations by the Mexican Navy to prevent these illegal incursions, the level of violence generated by the Chinese mafia, which could be allied with local cartels, makes it very difficult to combat this activity.
What to do to avoid its extinction?
First, the main threat to the vaquita must be addressed: illegal fishing. The gill nets used by local fishermen (often captured by the mafia) to capture the totoaba have been found to be the main cause of vaquita mortality.
Secondly, it is necessary to increase research and monitoring efforts to understand the behavior and population dynamics of the vaquita. By collecting more information, conservationists can better focus their efforts to protect the species. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita Marina (CIRVA) has been working to install acoustic monitoring equipment in the Gulf of California to detect vaquita populations.
Third, it is essential to make efforts to promote sustainable fishing, so that the totoaba and other endangered species are not caught in the Gulf of California. Education campaigns can help raise awareness of the risks associated with consuming these illegally caught species, while increased enforcement of existing regulations can help crack down on the activity.
Finally, it is essential to involve local communities in conservation efforts. Fishermen and local communities must be provided with alternative livelihoods and economic opportunities that do not depend on the exploitation of endangered species. This will help reduce pressure on the vaquita and other species, while providing economic benefits to the local community.
It is clear that a concerted effort is needed to save the vaquita from extinction. With the right strategies and initiatives, we may still have a chance to save this unique species and protect its fragile habitat.