It has been heartwarming to see the vast amounts of news coverage and public attention to address the thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at our Southwest border with Mexico. As thorny as immigration issues are, our American humanity is taking hold, trying to come up with a workable solution that protects these engendered kids and their futures.
And so that’s why I have just a bit of new hope about the most endangered child at our border right now that has gotten only a small fraction of news coverage and attention
This child is not human.
Meet the vaquita, which the Cousteau Society calls the most endangered marine mammal on the planet. The vaquita is a very small porpoise that lives in the upper reaches of the Gulf of California just below the U.S./Mexican border. In fact, back before the dams were built and the Colorado River still flowed into the Gulf, the vaquita may have actually swam up and over the border near Rio San Luis Colorado, Mexico and Yuma, Arizona.
But not anymore.
Due to gillnet fishing, illegal fishing of other species and the complete lack of freshwater flowing into the Gulf from the Colorado River, the International Union of Conservation of Nature has for years tracked the decline and endangerment of the vaquita. In 1997, the IUCN estimate there were just 567 vaquita living in the Gulf; just last week they estimated that only 97 vaquita are still alive. This new estimate has garnered some news attention, here in the Washington Post and here in the San Diego Union Tribune. This shy, unique creature could go completely extinct from our planet in the next two or three years.
Here’s what needs to happen:
- The U.S. government and the American public needs to increase the pressure on the Mexican government to ban gillnet fishing, switch to vaquita-safe trawling nets, patrol for illegal fishing in the Gulf and increase the protected habitat in the vaquita’s range.
- The U.S. government needs to better enforce the laws around trafficking in other endangered species, including the totoaba fish, which when it is illegally caught in the Gulf also ensnares and kills vaquita swimming nearby. Insanely, Chinese culture believes that body parts of the totoaba are an aphrodisiac, and the trafficking in totoaba body parts travels through the U.S. over to boats and airports on the West Coast towards China.
- The U.S. government and the American people need to better educate everyone about the consumption of fish that are gillnetted in the Gulf during which vaquita are accidentally snared and killed. Many of these gillnetted fish are sold to U.S. markets as seafood, and thus our consumption habits can help stop the destructive fishing in the Gulf that kills vaquita.
The children that are walking up to our border have eyes and voices for all of the American public to see, and our media is trained to feed that compelling story to us. The vaquita has neither—the only voice they have is what we give to them.
But America’s humanity will rise to this occasion too—I just know it will.
Help prevent the extinction of the vaquita by signing this petition.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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