2016: The Year of the Vaquita

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We have just launched a Thunderclap campaign to raise awareness for the Vaquita! Our recurring theme throughout 2016 will be “The Year of the Vaquita” and that 2016 will be a “make or break” year for the species. We are trying to get to 500 supporters before March 4, and if we do, the message below will be shared around the world! Please show your support!

“The critically endangered Vaquita porpoise is the rarest marine mammal species on the planet. Between 50 and 100 remain, and all of them live in a tiny region in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Their only threat is accidental entanglement in fishing nets called gillnets, which are illegally set for the also-endangered Totoaba fish. There is a lucrative black market trade in Asia for the swim bladders of the Totoaba, fueling this highly destructive fishery. The Vaquita is simply an accidental victim in this situation, but nevertheless, it is on the absolute brink of extinction.

2016 is a “make or break” year for the Vaquita. Which one would you prefer?

We are doing everything we can to reverse the Vaquita’s decline, from online awareness to in-person outreach. One of our biggest efforts has been International Save the Vaquita Day, which has taken place on the second Saturday of July since 2013. ISTVD is a worldwide celebration of the Vaquita and the people trying to save it, through tables, festivals, and much more. This year it is on July 9, and we are going to make the event bigger than ever! We will have tables all around the world, as well as a huge social media effort, all to create buzz and educate the public about this extremely urgent cause! In 2015 we convinced the Mexican government to ban all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range, which is amazing news! Now this year, we are going to have to make sure they flawlessly enforce the ban as well as make it permanent with the aid of Vaquita-safe fishing gear!

2016 has to be the Year of the Vaquita, or else it will be too late to save this magnificent animal.”

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/36220-2016-the-year-of-the-vaquita

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The rundown

I’m sure many of you who are reading this don’t really know what’s going on in the Vaquita world. And unless you are in VIVA Vaquita, I don’t really expect you to.

So here’s the rundown:

We all were crossing our fingers on Thanksgiving in hopes of the Mexican government’s Vaquita announcement being good news. In typical fashion, the announcement came over a week late. And it wasn’t really a public announcement. In summary, the announcement was that in San Felipe and El Golfo de Santa Clara (not Puerto Peñasco) shrimp (not corvina) gillnetting and longline fishing will be banned for a year, while compensating for the fishermen’s losses. At first, this sounds like good news, a strong start with a lot of potential success. Well, there’s one kicker they didn’t mention: it’s optional.

When I found this out, I felt like the world was collapsing. In terms of gillnet fishing, anything that’s optional means they aren’t going to do it. It’s just a plain fact. Even when it isn’t optional they still illegally fish. On December 5th, in the Vaquita Refuge, what is thought of as one of the few remaining safe havens for the Vaquita, 90 boats, many of which had gillnets were photographed in an aerial survey. 90. And that’s just in the Refuge.

Copyright © Joe Dlugo

Copyright © Joe Dlugo

So, it seemed to us at VIVA Vaquita that the Mexican government wasn’t taking CIRVA’s recommendations for a complete ban seriously. And after much, MUCH consideration and taking account for all variables and outcomes, here is the official statement from VIVA Vaquita:

 

URGENT ANNOUNCEMENT-

VAQUITA NEARING EXTINCTION!

 

In July 2014, at the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), it was estimated that the Vaquita population had decreased to only 97 individuals, and the rate of decline had accelerated to an estimated 18.5% annually (CIRVA 2014). Recent evidence indicates that about 28 Vaquitas (29% of the current population) were killed in gillnets in the 2013/2014 period (Urrutia-Osorio et al. 2014). Despite CIRVA’s strong and urgent call for an immediate ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as a critical measure to avoid the species going extinct in the next couple of years, the Mexican Government has not implemented any such ban. The shrimp gillnet fishery continues legally, and there is now rampant illegal fishing with gillnets inside the Vaquita Refuge. This is in addition to the illegal gillnet fishery for Totoaba, itself an endemic and endangered species, which has apparently expanded, and is now fueling the drastic decline in Vaquita numbers.

The Vaquita population most likely now numbers less than 90 individuals (perhaps much less), and is rapidly heading toward extinction, with a probable point of no return in the next year. Valuable time has been lost during the 2014 shrimp gillnet fishing season, with the Mexican Government delaying action, and vaquita numbers declining further.

In light of this, ¡VIVA Vaquita! is calling on the Mexican Government to immediately implement and enforce a two-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as recommended by CIRVA. We ask all consumers to purchase and support only those Mexican seafood products (i.e., fish and shrimp) that have been caught with methods other than gillnets (methods such as trawls, longlines, or hook & line gear). Check product packaging for place of origin and ask your seafood servers/vendors to serve ONLY non-gillnet caught items. A two-year ban will buy time for the Vaquita, and allow for the full conversion of fisheries to more sustainable gear. Support for fishermen who are willing to use alternative gear (i.e., less damaging than gillnets) is essential for the survival of the vaquita, as well as other marine life in the Gulf of California.

References:

CIRVA (International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita). 2014. Report of the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. Ensenada, Baja California, México, 8-10 July 2014, Unpublished Report, 38pp.

Urrutia-Osorio, M. F., A. M. Jaramillo-Legorreta and O. S. Osa-Nishizaki. 2014. Analysis of the artisanal fisheries’ fishing effort dynamics in San Felipe as a bycatch modeling tool for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Presentation at American Cetacean Society’s 14th International Conference, 7-9 November 2014, Newport Beach, CA.

We encourage you to avoid buying any seafood products from Mexico, unless you are positive they are from Vaquita-safe sources. This can only work if it spreads through social media like wildfire.

The Muskwa Club has also formed an extremely well thought-out five-part plan that we will begin implementing immediately.

The plan contains the following five parts:

1. Educate consumers in China and Chinese restaurants in America about the negative effects of the Totoaba trade for the Vaquita and the fish itself.

2. Design an efficient, cheap, and Vaquita-safe trawl net that will be given to fishermen as a replacement for gillnets.

3. Continue educating the public about the Vaquita’s plight, including International Save the Vaquita Day.

4. Reach out to celebrities due to their ability to raise funds for the ban and the safe nets, as well as begin a public outcry in favor of the Vaquita

5. Keep everyone’s spirits up in the Vaquita community. It is not too late for the species, unless we don’t work together or stay positive.

We will do everything in our power to make these five steps come true, but there is only so much a group of teenagers can do.

None of this will be possible without your generous support. We ask you to please donate to VIVA Vaquita, as now is a more important time than ever: http://www.vivavaquita.org/donations.html

VIVA Vaquita’s site has undergone a major makeover, which will be published any day now.

Another extremely helpful step you can take is to sign and share our Vaquita petitions, the newest being an urgent letter to the Mexican president and others: https://www.change.org/p/enrique-pe%C3%B1a-nieto-stop-the-extinction-of-the-vaquita-porpoise.

I am pleased to say the word is really getting out about the Vaquita. Nearly all of my relatives have called me saying they saw the Vaquita in the news, and my aunt even sent me this newspaper clipping:

Clipping

And any time you need any motivation to help the Vaquita, just take a look at this picture:

Vaquita Andrew Wright

#SaveTheVaquita Tweetstorm!

Have you ever heard of a Tweetstorm? “A Tweet-what?” you may say. Well, let me enlighten you. A Tweetstorm is a concerted effort on Twitter to get as many people as possible to all tweet the same hashtag during a small time frame in order to give that hashtag extreme popularity, landing it on the ‘Trending Topics’ chart.

The Muskwa Club and I are organizing a Tweetstorm for #SaveTheVaquita on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2014 from 5:00 pm to 11:59 pm Pacific Time (8:00 pm to 2:59 am ET). During this time, we would like for everyone to tweet about the critically endangered Vaquita using the hashtag #SaveTheVaquita. Also, you can include some eco-conscious celebrities in the tweets, like the incredible @LeoDiCaprio or my favorite singer Moby (@thelittleidiot) so they catch all of this Vaquita buzz.

A Tweetstorm is similar to a petition, but interactive and with more immediate results and potentially a much wider audience. A great example is the Tweetstorm for #SOSMauisDolphins, which garnered almost 12,000 tweets, landing at number 5 on the ‘Trending Topics’ chart, ahead of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. If we only get a fraction of the tweets that they did, ours can still be considered a success. My goal is 1,000 tweets, but goals are meant to be exceeded.

“Ugh, this social media stuff isn’t for me,” you could be saying right about now. Even if you are a firm believer that social media is only for teenagers and balk at the thought of yourself tweeting, the least you could do is email the flyer below to your friends. But to all you tech-savvy people out there (basically everyone that is reading this), please participate. I would not be nagging about this so much if I didn’t think it was one of the best ways to help the Vaquita. So mark it on your calendars, check out this countdown a few times to remind you, share the flyer increasingly frequently, and get your tweeting muscles ready! If you have been on the border between getting a Twitter account or not, please get one, even if you delete it after the Storm. Thanks so much from the Vaquita!

And don’t forget to follow me (sidebar under ‘Stay Connected’)!

Vaquita Tweetstorm

I’ve gone Social!

A while back I wrote a post on the importance of social media to help the Vaquita. You can read it here: https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/04/04/social-media/. Social media is an extremely important tool for us in the battle against the Vaquita’s extinction, as it is the only way to easily spread information across the globe in seconds. So if you are such a big proponent of social media, why don’t you have it yourself? you might ask. And the answer is, “I have no clue.” So now it’s time to put that all to rest. I have created two social media accounts, on Google Plus+ and on Twitter. I will be posting all of my future posts from V-log on Twitter, and very important posts and extras on Google Plus+, so if you follow me on both as well as here on WordPress, you should be able to stay constantly connected to the Vaquita world! Also, please follow ¡Viva Vaquita! on Facebook and Twitter. Click the buttons below (they are also in the sidebar) to begin our journey together!

Follow me on Google Plus+

Vaquita model

I’ve had the idea of a Vaquita app for a while now. It would be a spectacular way to get the word out, not to mention the financial benefit for the Vaquita. WWF is a great example of conservation through apps, with Rhino Raid and WWF Together. My app would be something along the lines of you playing as a Vaquita who has to dodge gillnets to get to a goal, such as its family or a school of fish. Between levels, there would be little blurbs of information on the Vaquita, such as why it is endangered and how you can help, as well as a button on the home page to directly donate. The hardest part of creating the app would be the animation of the Vaquita. It could be a cartoon Vaquita, but I would prefer it to be quite realistic. I have been browsing through deviantART a lot in the last few days, and was inspired by all of the realistic animal models, some even moving with muscles and skeletons! I did a little research on 3D software, and discovered the free program Blender. I am starting to figure out how to use its endless features, and I created a basic Vaquita model. My hopes are to learn a lot more about animation and modeling, and eventually try to make the app. Below is my Vaquita which I will be using as the basis for the app’s animations. If you are or know anyone that you think can help with this project, please let me know at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com.

Wireframe Vaquita

Solid Vaquita

Solid Front Vaquita

Vaquita Model

Vaquita art

I don’t think there is a better way to share an idea than through visual art. Something about an image evokes a feeling that cannot be accessed any other way. Getting out the message to save the Vaquita has proven to be quite difficult, especially through writing. So now I will be starting to draw a lot more Vaquita pictures and make as many Vaquita crafts as I can. I really hope all you artists out there will help me on my mission to spread the word. I have recently set up an account on the amazing site deviantART: http://goldenliontamarin.deviantart.com/, where I have posted and will continue to post my Vaquita artwork. I strongly encourage everyone to make some sort of Vaquita art and email it to me at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com. Get your kids to make something too! Sometimes a child’s drawing makes even more of an impact than an adult’s. I have started off the endeavor with a Vaquita word cloud.

What will you do?

Vaquita Word Cloud

Increasing awareness

Today I finished reading the North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP) for the Vaquita. You can read it online here: http://www.cec.org/Storage/62/5476_Vaquita-NACAP.pdf (the English section starts on page 48).

It is a very in-depth paper from 2008 with extremely important and relevant information. It reaches a similar conclusion to many other papers in that the fishermen are willing to help the Vaquita as long as they do not lose their income for it and their families can still be sustained. Basically the entire world wants to help the Vaquita, including the fishermen, so really all that needs to be done is our governments work together to complete all of the goals required to save it before time runs out.

I was particularly interested in the matrix provided on pages 76-79 that charts all of the priorities for saving the Vaquita, as of 2007, according to the CEC. Many of the things listed have already been done, which is promising. Below is the section for increasing awareness, with the first box containing the action, the second showing the priority (more ! = more important), and the third showing the time frame. I am really excited to try to help make these things happen, and I am sure the Muskwa Club will play a crucial role in these endeavors. All of these things are past their due date, but that does not mean they shouldn’t be done. Earlier in the paper it states, “The [conservation] sector also stressed the value of having information flow smoothly among the various sectors [fishing, aquaculture, tourism, and conservation] so that problems can be identified and solutions sought in a timely, efficient manner.” This idea is extremely similar to the Muskwa Club’s idea of the Vaquita Preservation Alliance, which I will write about once the details are figured out after the Muskwa Club – American Cetacean Society Los Angeles meeting on October 25.

(Click the chart if the words are too small.)

Increasing awareness