A save-the-vaquita rally today in Washington, D.C. A save-the-vaquita rally today in Washington, D.C.

UNESCO postpones in-danger designation

New measures to protect the vaquita porpoise brought a one-year delay

UNESCO has given the Mexican government a year to protect the habitat of the endangered vaquita marina, a porpoise found only in the upper Sea of Cortés, or it will change designation of a heritage site.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee had been asked to apply an “in-danger” designation to the World Heritage Site known as the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California because of the drastic decline in the vaquita population.

The site is made up of 244 islands, islets and coastal areas in the upper Sea of Cortes and was created in part to protect the vaquita and a fish called the totoaba.

UNESCO’s decision came after the federal government declared a permanent ban on gillnet fishing in a large portion of the area, a measure designed to protect the vaquita.

The proclamation has been criticized for not banning the sale or manufacture of gillnets in the region, for exempting two fisheries from the ban and for failing to address significant weaknesses in law enforcement.

The non-governmental organizations Animal Welfare Institute and the Center for Biological Diversity had petitioned the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to list the site as being “in danger” in 2015.

In its decision the WHC acknowledged the Mexican government’s conservation measures and vowed to closely monitor efforts to protect the site and the vaquita.

The WHC decision was not well received by the proponents of the “in-danger” designation.

“We are disappointed that the WHC chose to postpone its decision . . . Given the dire situation facing the vaquita, such a delay could mean the loss of this unique species,” said DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute.

“It is absolutely critical that the WHC and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature see to it that Mexico goes beyond empty rhetoric and takes all actions necessary to save the vaquita,” he said.

Conservation and animal protection groups in the United States held a rally today outside the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C. They called on the Mexican government to take “drastic action” to save the remaining vaquita, demanding the government “rigorously enforce laws” to protect them.

An estimated 30 vaquita remain.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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