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Saving the vaquita from extinction

Monday, 5 July 2021 at 18:36
access_time 1 min read
© Paula Olsen / NOAA

Vaquita are one of the world’s most threatened mammals, with less than ten individuals thought to remain. These all exist in a small area of the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico, where entanglement in illegal fishing nets threatens their survival. The site was for this reason inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2019. The Rapid Response Facility (RRF) is supporting removal of illegal fishing nets to save this critically endangered species from extinction.

At the end of 2020, an existing programme to remove the illegal gillnets in the UNESCO World Heritage site was put on hold, leaving the vaquita at risk. RRF, therefore, has provided emergency funding to enable a local group, Museo de Ballena y Ciencias del Mar, to resume daily net removals during the remainder of the totoaba poaching season (April – May).

© Museo de la Ballena

This work is a collaborative effort to save the species. A mass transition away from gillnets represents a longer-term solution, and challenge, that various local agencies are working on. At this point in time, failure or delay of net removal represents an intolerable risk to vaquita survival, as well as many other marine species which get caught in the illegal nets.

© Museo de la Ballena

This RRF grant is an important step toward uniting efforts from the World Heritage Convention and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to tackle unsustainable wildlife trade on UNESCO World Heritage sites as it will directly contribute to the implementation of relevant Decisions of the World Heritage Committee and CITES.

UNESCO thanks Fondation Franz Weber, Arcadia, Fondation Iris and the Government of Norway for their support.