Organized crime undermined the viability of the program to rescue the critically endangered vaquita marina porpoise, a senior environmental official said yesterday.
José Sarukhán Kermez, the coordinator of the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio), blamed the incursion of organized crime into the illegal totoaba swim bladder trade and “the scant interest of several governments” to protect the Gulf of California as factors that prevented rescue efforts from succeeding.
Consequently, the vaquita marina — of which as few as 12 are believed to remain — will “most likely become extinct,” Sarukhán told a press conference at Los Pinos, the official residence of the president.
However, the Conabio chief said his comments were not an attempt to justify the failure of the rescue efforts, which included a capture program that was terminated in November without maintaining a single rescued specimen in captivity.
“I’m not justifying anything. There was a series of situations that made the matter difficult and now, at this point, the feasibility of resolving the problem is declining and it’s more expensive and difficult, which happens with all environmental issues,” he said.
An additional factor that has hampered conservation efforts, Sarukhán said, is that fishermen — protecting their own economic interests — refused to stop using gillnets despite a permanent ban on their use coming into force last June.
The nets — used to catch the lucrative totoaba species whose swim bladders are highly prized in China — are the primary cause of the vaquita marina’s demise as they often become entangled in them and die.
Criminal organizations are believed to be involved in the trade of the swim bladders, their value being higher than that of cocaine.
Sarukhán also cited environmental changes to the porpoise’s habitat in the upper Gulf of California as another circumstance that has contributed to the species’ dire predicament.
The gulf’s “armpit,” he explained, converges with an area where the United States captures water, a situation which “severely altered [the vaquita’s] environment.”
Sarukhán added that “for decades it was said that something had to be done [but] they didn’t do the things they should have.”
The vaquita marina is “a species of which little is known about its biology,” he explained, charging that for that reason problems the porpoises face have to be attended to in a timely manner.
“I would hope that this is not a chronicle of an extinction foretold,” Sarukhán said.
Although pessimistic about the species’ long-term survival chances, the Conabio chief emphasized that it is important to continue the conservation, protection and recovery efforts, whether that be through programs that involve keeping the porpoise in captivity or semi-captivity or via other means.
Source: Milenio (sp)