Sea Shepherd Suspends Efforts to Protect Endangered Vaquitas Due to Coronavirus
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd has made the difficult decision to suspend its campaign to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in Mexico's Upper Gulf of California.
"We haven't had much choice because we're dependent upon getting fuel from the Mexican government to do the patrols, and we weren't able to get the fuel," Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, told Mongabay. "We have to send the vessels back to Mazatlán, and once we get there, of course, then we're not allowed to leave because of the [COVID-19] quarantine."
Two of the Sea Shepherd ship that patrol the vaquita refuge. Jack Hutton / Sea Shepherd
Vaquitas (Phocoena sinus), which are endemic to the Sea of Cortez in the Upper Gulf of California, are on the brink of extinction, although there are different estimates of how many are left. A recent study calculated there to be fewer than 19 vaquitas left as of the summer of 2018. Another report, conducted by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), suggested only about 10 individuals remain, although it also stated that there's a 95 percent chance that 6 to 22 individuals continue to exist.
The biggest threat to the vaquitas is the illegal fishing of totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), which, like the vaquita, is classified as a critically endangered species by the IUCN. The totoaba's swim bladder is believed to have special medicinal qualities in traditional Asian medicine, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this. The bladders, which are used to make a "curative" soup, can fetch prices up to $14,000 USD, according to the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and they're regularly trafficked in the global wildlife trade.
A vaquita surfacing in the Sea of Cortez. Sandra Alba / Sea Shepherd
Since totoabas are about the same size as vaquitas, vaquitas easily get caught in the gillnets meant to capture totoabas. Gillnets are also used to catch shrimp in the Sea of Cortez, which wreaked further havoc on the vaquita population.
In 2015, the Mexican government placed a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the Sea of Cortez, and in 2016, it announced a total ban on gillnet fishing. Despite these legislative efforts, fishing has continued in the area. During a patrol in October 2019, Sea Shepherd reported seeing more than 70 fishing boats in the vaquita's critical habitat.
A dead vaquita floating in the ocean. Robbie Newby / Sea Shepherd
Last month, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it would ban all imports of Mexican shrimp and other seafood caught in the vaquita's refuge, an action taken under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Conservationists hope this latest step will provide enough protection to help the vaquita survive.
"This is exactly how the law protecting marine mammals is supposed to work: if Mexico's fisheries kill vaquita at a rate that violates US standards, the US must ban imports," Zak Smith, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement. "Mexico has no choice but to eliminate the destructive fishing taking place in the northern Gulf of California that is driving the vaquita to extinction. It's the only hope the vaquita has for survival, and it is required if Mexico wants to resume exporting these products to the United States."
Sea Shepherd crew members removing illegal gillnets from the Upper Gulf of California. Robbie Newby / Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd has spent the last six years patrolling the vaquita refuge, often with scientists and photographers on board to collect data on the vaquitas and to conduct acoustical monitoring. The group has also retrieved 1,200 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the vaquita habitat, according to a statement on its website.
While Sea Shepherd isn't able to be in the Sea of Cortez right now, the Mexican navy will be monitoring the waters, Watson said. Fshing activities may decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's also possible that poaching will continue — or even increase. "Poachers take advantage of opportunities," Watson said.
Sea Shepherd crew will return to the vaquita refuge as soon as it can.
Illegal fishing activity taking place in the Sea of Cortez. Sea Shepherd
The vaquita may be fighting for survival, but Kate O'Connell, marine wildlife consultant at AWI, believes there's still hope.
The vaquita sightings demonstrate that vaquita remain, and those that have been spotted appear healthy," O'Connell said. "New research … shows that vaquita may reproduce annually, which would increase the species' potential to recover from its current low numbers. While the situation is daunting, other marine mammal species have come back from extremely low numbers, including the northern elephant seal, which was nearly exterminated in the 19th century, and has rebounded from less than 100 individuals to well over 100,000."
Editor's note: Captain Watson has clarified his comment to say that Sea Shepherd is not actually dependent on the Mexican government for fuel, and that the organization has been unable to obtain fuel because of ports being closed and resources not being guaranteed during the COVID-19 crisis.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
- New Doc on Nearly Extinct Vaquita Features Leonardo DiCaprio ... ›
- Sea Shepherd Ship Attacked by Rocks, Molotov Cocktails in Vaquita ... ›
- Only 10 Vaquita Porpoises Remain in the World, Scientists Announce ›
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›