China, Mexico and U.S. Target Illegal Totoaba Trade to Save Nearly Extinct Vaquita
As the first trilateral meeting of the governments of China, Mexico and the U.S. on illegal totoaba trade came to an end Friday, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) urged swift action to halt the trafficking of totoaba swim bladders and save the vaquita.
The world's most endangered marine mammal—the vaquita porpoise—is teetering on the brink of extinction as individuals are trapped as bycatch in gillnets cast illegally to capture totoaba—also a critically endangered species.
The totoaba and vaquita are species endemic to the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico, part of the Gulf of California World Heritage site. In recent years, unsustainable fishing practices and illegal wildlife trafficking have seen populations spiral downward, with vaquita numbers plummeting to as low as 30 or fewer individuals remaining.
Only 30 Left in the Wild: Saving the Nearly Extinct Vaquita https://t.co/Mc9v2wwuEO @ConservationOrg @WildlifeRescue— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498597279.0
As the majority of totoaba swim bladders follow an illegal trade route from Mexico through the U.S. to China, the first trilateral meeting, held this week in Ensenada, Mexico marks a potential turning point against totoaba trafficking where decisive action could bolster ongoing conservation efforts to protect the last remaining vaquitas. At the meeting, where WWF was participating as an observer, the three countries agreed to promote cooperation on investigating organized wildlife crime networks and strengthen customs training, paving the way toward improved collaboration in enforcement measures.
"Cross-border collaboration is essential to tackle a challenge at the scale of global wildlife crime," said Dr. Margaret Kinnaird, WWF wildlife practice leader. "Political will has long been a bottleneck in international efforts to crack down on illegal totoaba trade and the trilateral meeting marks a crucial moment that can mobilize the high-level policy efforts and collective determination needed to dismantle criminal syndicates and save the vaquita."
The meeting comes less than two months after the implementation of a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California as part of the strong commitment of the Mexican government to prevent the vaquita's extinction. The ban will be further accompanied by the retrieval of all abandoned or lost "ghost" nets within the vaquita habitat and the development of new fishing gear and techniques for local communities—measures considered imperative by WWF to halt the vaquita population decline and secure its habitat.
"As we head into a new fishing season in the Upper Gulf of California, the meeting reminds us all that we—and the vaquita—have no time to lose," said Jorge Rickards, director general of WWF-Mexico. "The commitment we have seen at the table today is promising but our work has only just begun. We urge the three countries to rapidly move to action even as we work together with local communities and partners to create a gillnet-free and healthy Upper Gulf of California—for both marine life such as the vaquita and totoaba, and people."
WWF has been working with the government of Mexico and other partners to identify and implement a comprehensive long-term strategy to save the vaquita and secure its habitat in the Upper Gulf of California, an important source of income, food and livelihood for thousands of people in the country. WWF was invited by the Mexican government to participate in the trilateral meeting as an official observer, alongside high-level representatives including Sec. of Environment and Natural Resources Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, as part of this ongoing cooperation.
"It is critical to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to save the vaquita and it is encouraging to see Mexico lead the way," added Rickards. "In the past months, the government has announced financial support for captive totoaba production, dispatched naval forces to the vaquita habitat and cracked down decisively on illegal fishing and we hope the discussions today lead to concrete actions that strengthen the impact of these efforts."
The trilateral meeting was organized as a follow-up to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in Johannesburg in 2017 where China, Mexico and the U.S. committed to maintain cooperation and coordination in combating illegal fishing and trade in totoaba.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
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