On July 24, Mexico committed to permanently banning all gillnet fishing within the Gulf of Mexico habitat of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Details, including enforcement mechanisms, have yet to be announced, however.
Earlier that month, AWI co-organized a “Save the Vaquita” rally outside the Mexican Embassy in Washington, DC. The rally coincided with International Save the Vaquita Day, an annual event that takes place in dozens of locations around the world to direct global attention to what must be done to protect the fewer than 60 remaining vaquita. At the DC event, some 30 staff members and supporters from AWI, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council enthusiastically carried signs, chanted slogans, and passed out pamphlets to hundreds of passers-by.
A small group, including AWI’s Kate O’Connell, also met with Mexico’s newly appointed ambassador to the United States, Carlos Sada Solana. During the meeting, marine biologist Dr. Desray Reeb described the biological challenges facing the vaquita. The group presented a letter to Ambassador Sada, thanking his government for its efforts to date, and urging Mexico to impose a complete ban on gillnet fishing in vaquita habitat and increase enforcement against illegal fishing. The ambassador was further presented with a petition, initiated by the group ¡VIVA Vaquita!, containing more than 96,000 signatures supporting the permanent ban on gillnets.
Currently, vaquita habitat is listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations. AWI petitioned the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to designate the site as “in danger”—a move that would free up UN resources to assist Mexico in saving the species. The effort apparently has borne fruit: At its July meeting, the WHC directed Mexico to make the gillnet ban permanent, take other immediate action to save the vaquita, and report back in February 2017. The WHC will conduct a fact-finding mission to the Upper Gulf, and an “in danger” designation will be considered at the 2017 meeting.