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  • The vaquita, a tiny stubby-nosed porpoise found only in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, is on the brink of extinction as more die each year in fishing nets than are being born, biologists say.

    The vaquita, a tiny stubby-nosed porpoise found only in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, is on the brink of extinction as more die each year in fishing nets than are being born, biologists say. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 October 2019
Opinion

The vaquita, the smallest porpoise in the world also known as the 'panda of the sea,' will be extinct by 2021 if current fishing levels continue in the Gulf of California.

Mexican authorities began using buoys on Thursday to mark off a reserve for a critically endangered porpoise known as the vaquita, the world’s smallest cetacean, and prevent fishing boats from intruding on its last remaining habitat.

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Two buoys – out of a total of 10 – were set up inside the reserve in the Upper Gulf of California, which was delimited in a bid to protect the world’s most endangered marine mammal species.

That step was taken on the recommendation of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), a global team of scientists established by Mexico’s government that has called for the establishment of two polygon-shaped protection areas inside the reserve.

“One that encompasses the Refuge Area for the Protection of the Vaquita and another described as a Zero Tolerance Area, where any net must be removed following the placement of these markers,” Profepa said in a statement.

Vaquitas, which are found only in Mexico, are often caught in gillnets used to catch the critically endangered totoaba, a fish whose swim bladders are highly prized in China for their purported aphrodisiac and medicinal properties.

The buoys mark the perimeter of a 288-square-kilometer area that was specified by CIRVA, which issued that recommendation on Feb. 11 and also called for other measures such as round-the-clock monitoring.

On Wednesday, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued a recommendation to government agencies over their alleged non-compliance with legal measures to protect the vaquita, the totoaba fish and other species endemic to northwestern Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California.

The CNDH described the situation as a “violation of the human right to a healthy environment,” adding that there has been a “lack of effective protection and conservation of the Upper Gulf of California and the persistence of conditions that affect the vaquita and the totoaba.”

The CNDH sent its Recommendation 93/2019 to the Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat, the Agriculture and Rural Development Secretariat, the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) and the National Commission on Aquaculture and Fisheries (CONAPESCA).

CIRVA’s latest estimate in August put the number of vaquitas off Mexico northwestern coast at between six and 19.

The measure is part of a series of efforts of the Profepa environmental protection agency and other institutions in a bid to slow down the massive extinction of mammal species across the world.

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