Time for action

97. There are 97 Vaquitas left on this planet. For every Vaquita on earth, there are 82 million people.

To date, nothing that has been done to save them has worked. It is a harsh reality for all of us in the field of Vaquita conservation, and now there is the threat of Totoaba fishing for the Asian black market, which we didn’t think was occurring in substantial amounts anymore.

A big change is necessary if we plan on saving this species. We have been incredibly diplomatic with the fishermen, but obviously it has not been working. We need help from very important people, and we will certainly try our hardest to make that happen. Please read this message from ¡VIVA Vaquita!: http://www.vivavaquita.org/VV_Emergency2014.html.

¡VIVA Vaquita! is requesting that the Mexican Government do everything in its power (and make full use of assistance offered from other countries, such as the United States) to eliminate all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range in the next two months. If this does not happen, we will immediately begin campaigning for a boycott of ALL Mexican seafood products, until such time that the ban is considered to be in effect.

Right now, the most important thing that the general public can do is sign and share this new petition from the Ocean Conservancy:

http://act.oceanconservancy.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=41469&em_id=30824.0

 

Graphic © Joe Dlugo

Graphic © Joe Dlugo

It is vital that everyone shares the Vaquita’s predicament on social media before it is too late. If you have not already, “like” ¡VIVA Vaquita! on Facebook for important updates.

A good example of social media helping a cause is “Changing Hearts, Minds, and Lives.” They are a Facebook group (of which I am a member of) that uses social media to spread the word about important environmental issues, such as the Vaquita.

Countless major news companies have been attracted to the Vaquita’s story, but unfortunately, it’s because of how close to extinction it is. Hopefully this new level of recognition can have a positive impact on the species.

If you live near the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, then please attend their book signing on Saturday, November 8th, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. Beth Whittenbury will be representing my book there, so please pay her a visit and buy my book! Thanks so much Mrs. Whittenbury!

Lauri Hamilton has submitted a video for National Geographic’s Expedition Granted program for a chance at a $50,000 grant to go out and film Vaquitas. Please vote for her on September 16 if she is one of the finalists! She used one of my drawings for the video, which I am very thankful for. Here is the link: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/the-vaquita-project/.

If we all work together to save the Vaquita, it really does have a chance…

Now is the time for action.

Advertisements

World Wildlife Day

Today, March 3rd, is World Wildlife Day. Today is the day to take the time to appreciate our planet’s incredible creatures. In recent years, we have been depleting our world’s natural resources, especially our amazing animals. The Vaquita is one of these animals. We cannot afford to lose it in the fight against extinction, and there are many ways to help the Vaquita today.

One way is to purchase an awesome Beach Bar Radio ¡VIVA Vaquita! t-shirt, where all proceeds go to the Vaquita! The campaign ends in 28 days and their goal is 50 t-shirts. I will be getting one for my birthday!

You can also purchase my book, The Vaquita: The Biology of an Endangered Porpoise, for only, $12.95, again with all profits going to Vaquita charities.

The Vaquita: The Biology of an Endangered Porpoise

An even easier and free way to help the Vaquita is to participate in the Post-a-day Challenge! Simply write at least 1 post on social media every day for the entire month of March. #SaveTheVaquita

Post-a-day Challenge

Of course, there are many other ways to help the Vaquita, such as cooking to save the Vaquita, or just by telling your neighbors about the world’s most endangered marine mammal. No matter how big or small your contribution is, just know that the Vaquita greatly appreciates it!

Cooking to save the Vaquita: Part 2

Part 1: https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/10/26/cooking-to-save-the-vaquita/

I strongly believe that the best way to help the Vaquita is to promote sustainable seafood (and promote the Vaquita as you are doing it). As Barbara Taylor said in this article, “Fishermen are more likely to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear if there is market incentive to do so.”

What is sustainable fishing in terms of the Vaquita? I think of it in 3 levels; Worst: Gillnet-caught from Vaquita’s range, Good: Anything else, and Best: Vaquita-friendly trawl from the Vaquita’s range. The reason this is the best is because not only are you not supporting gillnets, you are supporting their ‘rival,’ giving them “market incentive to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear.” Of course, you generally don’t just find Vaquita-friendly shrimp in the grocery store, except for maybe very close to the Vaquita’s range, and even if you do, how do you know it is actually Vaquita-safe? So with this in mind, how are you supposed to support Vaquita-friendly shrimp if you can’t find any? The answer is shrimp festivals:

“WWF Mexico, with funds from the US Marine Mammal Commission and several private foundations are planning a series of events to promote Vaquita-safe seafood. The hope is that this will do for Vaquita what ‘dolphin-safe’ labeling on cans of tuna did for millions of dolphins in the eastern Pacific. These events will feature top chefs serving Vaquita-safe shrimp alongside Vaquita wine. The idea is to connect the fishermen who are sustainably harvesting seafood with outlets that cater to conscientious consumers, and rewarding those fishermen with a bit higher price for their value-added product. The events will need planning, labor, and folks to enjoy the food.”

Barbara Taylor

These events are incredibly important ways to help the Vaquita, and are completely accessible to the general public. The amazing group San Felipe Pescados y Mariscos recently had one of these events in Mexico. This group is doing exactly what needs to be done for the Vaquita: monitor and promote sustainable seafood from the Upper Gulf of California, including Vaquita-friendly labeling. If you can, please attend these kinds of events, show the fishermen that we do appreciate their efforts to save the Vaquita, and enjoy some of the best shrimp there is.

But what if you have my problem: location? There are still ways to support sustainable fishing without visiting a Vaquita-friendly shrimp festival near the Vaquita. The best is to make your own Vaquita-friendly seafood dish (remember my list above; if it says wild-caught in Mexico, don’t risk it. Though it could be Vaquita-safe, there is a higher chance it was gillnet-caught). Create your own recipe, or pick any of the endless dishes online or in cookbooks. Use Seafood Watch (or their great app) as your guide to make the right choices for your meal’s ingredients. Once you finish making your delicious dish, please send some pictures of it to me at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com so I can spread it around the Vaquita community! Please, share this with your friends so we can make this a really big movement!

Here is my holiday Shrimp Scampi with MSC-certified sustainable shrimp. It tasted beyond amazing!

Shrimp Scampi

Reflecting on experience

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
John Dewey

Lately I have been thinking a lot about saving the Vaquita…I mean really saving the Vaquita, not just blurting out words and ideas without even fully processing what we are saying. Saving a species has become such a widely used term that we sometimes forget to dig all the way down to the roots of the problem. As the quote above by American philosopher John Dewey states, we need to reflect on our experiences to learn something. In this case, our experiences would be conservation success and failure stories. I decided to look for patterns in the successful species recoveries, as well as in the ones that were not so lucky, to determine what can and should really be done to save the Vaquita.

This article (please read it now) was perfect for this type of research. It is a list of the “top 10 conservation successes and failures,” from 2006. The date does not really matter here, because information about something that happened in, say, 2000 will not change between 2006 and 2013, similar to a history textbook. Here are the successes from the list:

Reforestation of China
The American Bison
Southern White Rhino
Wildlife Reserves Cover 10% of the Earth’s Land
Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey

So what do all of these success stories have in common? The answer is we actually did something. We tried. Scientists started captive breeding programs. Conservationists created protected areas. We made sure we protected the species with every last ounce of energy we could. A captive breeding program unfortunately could not work for the Vaquita because they don’t survive in captivity, and even if they did, they would be virtually impossible to capture in the first place. And don’t even get me started on the whole SeaWorld issue (I am getting Blackfish for Christmas). Our main goal to help the Vaquita should be to really try, and I don’t just mean conservationists. Everyone, fishermen, public figures, governments, and the citizens of the world need to band together to save a species that cannot save itself. We already have multiple protected areas for the Vaquita, which is a great start, but as I’ve said many times before, the areas do not completely cover the porpoise’s full range. And enforcement on these protected areas is not as strong as it needs to be, which is hopefully changing. Fortunately, animals with smaller populations and more dangerous habitats than the Vaquita have come back from the brink of extinction, so it is still not too late.

Now let’s look at the failures to learn what to avoid in our mission to save the Vaquita:

Destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest
Saiga Antelope
Northern White Rhino
Worldwide Amphibian Declines
Orangutan

So what did we do differently? As you might expect, the exact opposite of what we did in the successes: absolutely nothing. As with basically every endangered species on the planet, these animals are being destroyed by us humans, much like the Vaquita is. Yet we did not take the responsibility of helping our innocent victims. Many of these failures are due to a lack of understanding or control over the threat. Luckily, the Vaquita is in a perfect habitat with only one problem: accidental entanglement in gillnets. Bycatch is a much easier-to-deal-with threat than poaching or trapping because it isn’t even intentional, and climate change because it is a direct threat. With the right teamwork, the Vaquita can definitely be saved.

So in recap, we learned that we can save the Vaquita by, well, saving it. We mustn’t sit around and hope it survives.

We need to take action now, before the Vaquita itself becomes an experience to reflect upon.

Cooking to save the Vaquita

It is no secret that gillnets are the only danger to the Vaquita’s population. It has been that way for as long as we have known about the endemic little porpoise. So it should be quite clear what needs to happen in order to save it: get the gillnets out of the Vaquita’s range. A huge step in making this a reality is completely eliminating the purchasing of gillnet-caught seafood from the Gulf of California. The Gulf’s principal exporter is the company Ocean Garden, and the people there are big on Vaquita conservation and even founded the group Alto Golfo Sustentable (Sustainable Upper Gulf). Here is a quote from one of their newsletters:

“As a founding member of the sustainability group Alto Golfo Sustentable, Ocean Garden has taken a leadership role to protect the endangered vaquita marina porpoise and the Sea of Cortez environment, improve the efficiency of the shrimp fishery and support the native fishermen.”

It is extremely important and comforting that the primary marketer of the Gulf’s shrimp prioritizes Vaquita conservation. This should mean that the only gillnet-caught shrimp from the Gulf is for self-sustenance or local markets. However, it is thought that up to 80% of the Gulf’s shrimp is exported to the United States. It is therefore vital that we support sustainable fishing for two reasons: first, to save the ocean (the whole point of sustainable fishing), and second, to encourage the gillnet-users to make the switch to Vaquita-safe gear when they see the success of sustainable fishermen. So of course, this gave me an idea…

The idea is to use this blog as a sharing platform for sustainable recipes in order to spread the excitement of saving the Vaquita. I got the idea while reading this great post about the restaurant Misión 19’s Vaquita-friendly shrimp celebration. I have started off our own celebration by making Shrimp in Coconut-milk Broth, a dish inspired my Misión 19 chef Javier Plascencia. It was absolutely delicious and 100% sustainable.

Shrimp in Coconut-milk Broth Recipe

20131026-192910.jpg

Now it’s your turn. Do you know any sustainable seafood recipes? If not, a great resource is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. You can even create your own dishes! Leave your recipes in the comments or even make them yourself and share it on Facebook or your own blog and send me the link. I will post any recipes I receive and might even make a few myself if they sound really good! The most important thing is that the seafood is sustainable and you have fun while helping the Vaquita!

I look forward to seeing what all you cooks out there can stir up! 😉

It’s not time to let go

Okay, so I found a link to an article in a New York Times blog post. The article, here, by Erik Vance, is on an extremely personal and controversial topic:

Should we let the Vaquita go extinct?

I had to close my eyes and calmy inhale to even make it through the article. The answer is absolutely, positively, no way in the world, not in a million years, no. He says that perhaps we should let the Vaquita go in order to get the fishermen on board with saving other endangered species of the Gulf. I am not sure if/how that would even work, but there is no way that the scientists and conservationists who have worked on saving the Vaquita for their entire careers would just let the Vaquita ‘slip away.’ I am not arguing with the fact that the Vaquita is in a tough situation right now, and that there has been phenomenal effort by the Mexican government to seemingly little avail. I am not arguing with the fact that the Vaquita is a life-changing ‘nuisance’ to the fishermen that they will likely never see in their entire lives, yet they have been very cooperative with NGOs and the government for the most part.

But this is about the big picture. The Vaquita cannot be a canary in a coal mine. It is not an option for us to learn from our mistakes on the Vaquita. We have already lost the Baiji because of human activities. Those beautiful dolphins were sacrificed so we could learn what not to do with an endangered species. The Vaquita is the test. If we can save the Vaquita, we can do anything. Tigers, pandas, rhinos, polar bears, and every other endangered species can benefit from us saving the Vaquita, not letting it go extinct. The Baiji has already filled that role.

It is also about the little picture. The Vaquita simply deserves to live. If you were born before 1958, then the Vaquita was discovered in your lifetime. Now it could go extinct within the next few years. Your life could completely encompass our knowledge of the existence of an entire species. We definitely do not want that. The Vaquita as an animal is extremely unique. We will absolutely never have a species like the Vaquita again if we lose Phocoena sinus.

So the real question is, “Now that we know the Vaquita can’t go extinct, how are we going to save it?” In June, an enormous step was taken by the Mexican government in the form of a new regulation that will phase out all shrimp gillnets to Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years. This is great news, but this doesn’t mean our work here is done. The government still has to pull through with their promise, as well as develop safe trawls for finfish, not just shrimp. For now, you can help the Vaquita by raising awareness, not buying seafood caught in gillnets, and raising money towards the switch-out program. For more details, visit https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/07/14/update-the-big-3/.

So my point is, there is no way we can give up, especially after all this time and effort. This is where we need to explore the limits of human teamwork to save something that’s not a human. The Vaquita has never done anything to us, so why should we accept murdering every last one? This adorable, innocent little porpoise deserves every drop of blood, sweat, and tears we can squeeze out of ourselves. And even if the Vaquita does eventually go extinct, I could not live with myself knowing that we didn’t try our hardest to rescue it.

We need to at least, as my tennis coach would say, go down swinging.

Guilt

Alright.

I want you to go deep into your memory.

Back to when you were a kid.

When the world was simpler,

Yet more wondrous.

Now travel to the worst memory of your life.

Maybe the day you broke your leg and ruined your summer.

Or maybe someone died.

Like a friend.

Or a family member.

Someone you loved.

Think about all the tears and the pain.

How their loss changed your life.

How dearly you missed them.

How you wish you go back in time and be with them.

How you hoped it wasn’t real.

The Vaquita is a family member.

A brother.

A sister.

A father.

A mother.

Except this family member,

You can save.

If the Vaquita goes extinct,

You may not even know.

You could find out years later.

How guilty would you feel?

Did you ever feel so guilty,

Because you knew that something was your fault,

But someone else was punished.

Minorly or majorly.

Extinction is not minor.

Extinction means ‘to extinguish.’

Forever.

In a way,

Losing the Vaquita is worse than losing a loved one.

Because we completely control the fate of the Vaquita.

We are holding the entire species in our hands.

Like a fragile egg.

We can manipulate its success.

Not individually,

But as a group,

A whole,

We can save the Vaquita.

Because if we don’t,

The guilt will be overwhelming.