It's a dire time for the vaquita, a rare porpoise living off the Gulf of California in Mexico. Just 150 vaquitas remain, and that number shrinks each year as dozens are caught and killed in fishermen's' nets. Conservationists fear they have just one or two years to save the species from extinction.
Mexico has already invested $200 million over the last two years to try to save the vaquita. The government has attempted to persuade 4,000 local fishermen to use nets that would allow the vaquita to escape, or to give up fishing altogether. About 800 have already taken the government up on its offer.
This week, Mexico's efforts gained two valuable partners: the United States and Canada. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation has developed an international strategy, the North American Conservation Action Plan, which will try to use resources from all three nations not only to preserve the vaquita from extinction but to maintain economic viability of the human communities near its habitat.
One of the plan's first steps is establishment of an oceanic network of acoustic monitoring devices. The network, being put in place by a U.S. research ship, will attempt to locate and count the remaining vaquita, which could further protect them from fishermen.
Will this rare international cooperation succeed? Let's hope. They only have a few years to make a difference.
Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.
Copyright Environ Press 2008