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The Most Endangered Child at Our Border

Insights + Opinion

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.

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. Photo credit: Conservation International Mexico

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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