November 7, 2008

New Plan to Save Baja Porpoise, Promote Local Economies

By Kent Paterson

A trinational plan to save the world’s most endangered marine mammal was announced by the Montreal-based Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) this week. At the request of the governments of Mexico, Canada and the United States, the CEC drafted the North American Conservation Action Plan aimed at rescuing the threatened vaquita (Phocoena sinus) from extinction.

According to the CEC, which was established as an environmental information clearinghouse and environmental policy advisory body under the North American Free Trade Agreement, only 150 vaquitas remain in the Upper Gulf of California, the world’s only known habitat of the small porpoise.

If urgent action is not taken soon, the CEC warned in a press statement, the vaquita population could drop to 50 adults within the next two years.

Although previous plans to save the vaquita have been hatched in Mexico, conflicts with fishermen from the communities of San Felipe, Golfo de Santa Clara and Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, have complicated species preservation efforts.

According to the CEC, working with indigenous communities to create “vaquita-safe fishing methods” and sustainable economies is an essential part of the new plan.

“The objective of the recovery efforts is for people who make their living from fishing to see the vaquita as an opportunity for economic and social well-being, and not a threat to their future,” said Adrian Vazquez-Galvez, executive director of the CEC.

Perhaps an unforeseen factor in the vaquita’s survival and recovery was reported by Arizona media last week. With public and private investor funds, the Mexican government plans to begin construction of a large cruise ship terminal in Puerto Penasco next year. When finished, the new home port could handle upwards of 200 big boats every year.

The entire conservation plan, in Spanish, English and French, is available on the CEC’s website at www.cec.org.

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