Only 30 Left in the Wild: Saving the Nearly Extinct Vaquita
In one of the longest campaigns in Sea Shepherd's history, Operation Milagro III concluded its six-month operation in Mexico's Gulf of California to protect the near-extinct vaquita porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass.
Two Sea Shepherd vessels, the M/V Farley Mowat, along with the M/Y Sam Simon, spent the last six months patrolling the vaquita refuge in the upper gulf, retrieving illegal gillnets that trap and kill the vaquita and totoaba, along with other marine wildlife. Together, the two ships removed 233 illegal fishing gear including 189 totoaba nets, 27 shrimp and corvina nets and 17 long lines.
In February, scientists announced that only about 30 vaquita remained left in their habitat. This is half the amount that was previously recorded in 2015, making the vaquita the most endangered marine mammal in the world.
Sadly, during Operation Milagro III, Sea Shepherd discovered five dead vaquita. Their deaths are attributed to being caught in gillnets set up by poachers to trap the totoaba bass, whose swim bladder is prized for unsubstantiated medicinal properties in China and Hong Kong, where it sells for tens of thousands of dollars. Once vaquita become entangled in these gill nets, they are unable to reach the surface of the water to breathe, causing them to drown.
But the nets do not discriminate. During the campaign, the crew removed 1,195 dead animals—among them sharks, dolphins, whales, turtles and sea lions—and released 795 live ones. Watch this video detailing facts and figures.
Removing Illegal Gillnets
Throughout the campaign, Sea Shepherd used radar and drones to nab poachers in the act, contacting authorities who could then make arrests. The ships also gathered information on the location of the nets to retrieve them from the sea. The nets are subsequently destroyed, separated and then handed over to NGO Parley for the Oceans for recycling.
"If we had not been there, if we were unable to have removed those nets, the vaquita would now be extinct," said Milagro Campaign leader, Captain Oona Layolle. "Milagro means miracle and we intend to do all we can to perform this miracle because there is nothing more noble, more satisfying, and more important than to save a species from extinction."
Meanwhile, the Farley Mowat continued its presence through June, and will keep working in collaboration with local fishermen, the Mexican government, and marine scientists to retrieve all ghost nets from past fishing seasons. It is now headed to San Diego, California where it where it will offer free ship tours to the public from July 1 - July 4.
About Operation Milagro
Sea Shepherd's inaugural Operation Milagro brought much-needed attention to the plight of the vaquita, spawning groundbreaking efforts to protect this imperiled species. On April 18, 2015, Sea Shepherd crew members documented the first recorded sighting of a vaquita since 2013, shattering claims by some locals that the species is already extinct. The resulting video made national headlines in Mexico, prompting the government to reach out to Sea Shepherd.
The following month, a partnership between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican government was announced and since then, the two sides have worked together to protect the vaquita. Sea Shepherd's dedication to save this porpoise has garnered international attention and its work has been documented on 60 Minutes, CNN, Al Jazeera, The National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, NPR and more.
So far, Sea Shepherd's efforts clearing the bottom of the ocean of ghost nets has been effective in removing another 160 nets since October 2016, preventing them from actively killing marine life.
After Sea Shepherd's third consecutive year in the Gulf of California, the total number of illegal nets retrieved over the three campaigns is 452.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
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