In early July, in response to a 2015 petition from AWI and the Center for Biological Diversity, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) approved an “in danger” designation for Mexico’s Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California World Heritage site. The area is critical habitat for the endangered vaquita porpoise, as well as the totoaba, a fish that is the target of rampant illegal fishing due to its high value on Asian black markets.
The decision by the 21 members of the committee was based on Mexico’s poor track record enforcing its regulations. After years of opposition to the “in danger” listing, the Mexican government accepted the WHC’s verdict, and must now work with UNESCO and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to develop measures to save the vaquita and end illegal fishing and trafficking of totoaba if it wishes to retain the area’s designation as a World Heritage site.
Although a recent study indicated a 98.6 percent decline in the vaquita population over the past eight years, researchers reported six sightings of the elusive porpoise in late August/early September. The animals were healthy, keeping hope alive for the species’ survival. The determination that their habitat is in danger will facilitate both financial and logistical international assistance and help ensure that Mexico takes the management and enforcement actions necessary to save the vaquita.