A vaquita porpoise surfaces with Rocas Consag in the distance. An estimated 50 vaquitas remain. Photo ©Paula Olson
By Tom Jefferson
The results of the recent US presidential election will impact a lot of things. Among those is the environment, and specifically the future of the vaquita. The vaquita has been struggling to survive as a species even under two administrations in the US and Mexico that have earned kudos for their environmental consciousness. But in January, we will have a new US president – President Donald Trump. This is a man who wants to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency, and to dismantle the Endangered Species Act. President-elect Trump says he thinks that Climate Change is a “hoax” and will obviously be working to roll back the progress we have made in recent years on this and other environmental issues. Even more relevant for the vaquita, Trump wants to reduce ties with Mexico, build a wall between our two countries, and re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. At a time when we are looking to enhance cooperation and collaboration with Mexico to keep the last 50-60 vaquitas on the planet from dying out, these are the last things that we need.
In addition, the new Mexican federal budget proposes to cut funding for efforts related to vaquita management drastically, including the budget for SEMARNAT. These cuts would result in dramatically reduced surveillance and enforcement efforts in relation to the gillnet ban. This is coming at a time when, in fact, we need beefed-up efforts.
Without a doubt, these new ‘developments’ will add roadblocks and create new challenges to saving endangered species, such as the vaquita. However, no matter how dismal and dire this all looks right now, there are still vaquitas swimming free in the northern Sea of Cortez. At last check, they were still feeding and breeding, and so there is still hope! We must not give up on the vaquita, and now is truly the time for renewed collaborative efforts to reduce gillnet deaths to zero, and put the species on the road to recovery. It is easy to lose hope, now more than ever, but the time when things look the darkest is exactly when our dedication and resolve should be the strongest. Let’s all keep up the fight and keep searching for that ‘miracle’ that we all know can happen…
Photos taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08 from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturale Protegidas (CONANP/Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government. This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the Coordinador de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos at the Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE).