By Jezebel Handel
In the waters of the Gulf of California lives the vaquita marina or cochito, the smallest species of cetacean in the world, belonging to the Phocoenidae family and the six species of porpoises.
Unfortunately, today it is in danger of extinction; in fact, it is on the list of 129 animals at high risk of disappearing. Although it has always been a small population, it is estimated that 97 specimens lived in 2015. Today, there are only 25 left.
What are these alarming numbers? Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets, lines and traps, commonly known as "ghost gear", increasingly destroy marine animal life.
Working to save them
The NGO World Animal Protection (World Animal Protection), the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) and Monterey Bay Diving, fight tirelessly so that this emblematic animal of Mexican waters can continue to swim freely. These three organizations joined forces with local fishermen from San Felipe, Mexico, to locate and remove illegal fishing nets in the threatened habitat of the vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California.
The team used unique and advanced echolocation technology to identify illegal fishing nets discarded at sea, which put the threatened vaquita population at risk of being entangled. 5,702 square meters of mesh were removed, which will be recycled by partners of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), founded by World Animal Protection, to be converted into nylon-based products.
How do vaquitas die?
Sea vaquitas are not intentionally hunted, as is the case with other species, but are caught accidentally as a result of the nylon mesh used to fish for totoaba, a threatened species that is illegally sold in China for use in the traditional medicine. When the fishing season ends, the nets float and become deadly traps for the vaquita.
Due to the inordinate appetite to catch ocean animals, an estimated 640,000 tons of ghost fishing nets are discarded in our oceans each year. As a consequence, it is estimated that 90% of sea vaquitas have disappeared in the last 6 years, in addition to 136,000 seals, sea lions and whales that die annually, along with millions of other birds, turtles and fish.
Faced with the race against time to save the sea vaquitas, some experts suggest placing them in sea pens to avoid their complete extinction, but this measure is somewhat risky, which is why it has not yet been carried out. One of the initiatives launched is World Animal Protection's Sea Change campaign, which seeks to reduce the volume of ghost nets in the seas, removing and recycling them, while rescuing animals entangled in the nets.
"Ghost fishing nets are the main cause of the decline in the population of vaquita porpoises," said Elizabeth Hogan, Ocean and Wildlife Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection. “We are delighted to be able to link the innovative sonar scanning technology, supplied by Monterey Bay Diving, with CIRVA's ghost net removal initiatives, obtaining crucial information to save the life of such a critically endangered animal to disappear.
The extremely high danger of extinction for the vaquita is alarming, as well as the corresponding figures for other living beings that inhabit the marine ecosystem. It is necessary to demand protectionist measures from governments that stop favoring companies that, under their cloak, hide illegal fishing nets, designed to destroy not only marine life, but the ecosystem in general.
Let us be conscientious consumers and inform ourselves of the origin of the products we consume so as not to benefit these shady corporations any more. It is possible to remove animals from their habitat to save them, but the reality is that if the threats do not disappear, doing so will be in vain.
World Animal Protection
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At World Animal Protection we move the world to protect animals in disaster situations, through prevention, response and recovery. Learn more about this work at http://www.worldanimalprotection.cr/nuestro-trabajo/animales-en-desastres.
About World Animal Protection
World Animal Protection is a global non-governmental organization, based in London, that for 50 years has worked for the protection and welfare of animals. With 14 offices around the world, including in Costa Rica and Brazil, it works in more than 50 countries around the world in four main areas of work: the welfare of production animals, animals in disaster situations, animals in communities and animals wild. It is the only NGO dedicated to animal welfare that enjoys consultative status with the United Nations. It is also an ally of the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) and is represented alongside the European institutions.
For more information on World Animal Protection visit: www.protecíanimalmundial.org or follow us on our profiles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram