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Vaquita habitat now listed as ‘World Heritage in Danger’

10 / 07 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has decided to list the Sea of Cortez and its islands in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the only place where the critically endangered vaquita is known to occur, on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The story of the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), the smallest and the most threatened species of porpoise, is one of tragedy. The porpoise’s numbers have dropped drastically, from around 300 in the mid-2000s to just 10 individuals, according to the latest estimate, mostly as a result of getting entangled in gillnets meant to catch the totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi). The totoaba, too, is critically endangered and found only in the Gulf of California. It’s prized for its swim bladders in China, and demand for the delicacy has given rise to totoaba poaching using gillnets and a massive illegal trade in Mexico. In its report, the World Heritage Committee welcomed Mexico’s efforts to protect the vaquita by taking steps such as creating a refuge area for the species, promoting alternative fishing gear, and stepping up surveillance in the upper Gulf of California. “Unfortunately, these efforts appear not to have significantly reduced the pressures on the property from illegal fishing of totoaba, nor prevented the further decline of the vaquita population,” the report notes. The few remaining vaquitas live a very small area, most of which lies within the Vaquita Refuge, the report says, where illegal fishing for totoaba continues to occur at high levels. “It is an alarming indicator of the severity…

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