Hello again

It’s been a while. The last post I wrote on this blog was in November 2016, at the end of a crazy year and the beginning of an even crazier saga in modern history.

A lot has changed in that year and a half. I am 18 years old now, legally an adult. I live and train at a tennis academy in Greenville, South Carolina, where I’ve made some really good friends while learning a lot about life in general. I’ll be heading back to my birth county in New Jersey in a few months to play tennis for Monmouth University, where I will also study for a degree in Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy.

I created this blog when I was 11 years old, soon after learning about the vaquita and its decline. It was a way for me to share the plight of a beautiful little animal, as well as express myself to people other than my family. It was truly an exhilarating time for me. I posted anything I could find or create about the vaquita; facts, poems, drawings, news. Over time, it grew, and I became partners with many incredible people in all facets of life. From the Muskwa Club, Viva Vaquita, and many other conservation groups, to authors, filmmakers, passionate citizens, and even government officials, I began to learn that this issue had a much wider reach than I expected. People cared about the vaquita, and this public sentiment grew substantially in the years following the conception of V-log. And as the vaquita’s fame grew, so did my optimism. I saw what passion and teamwork could do. We started International Save the Vaquita Day. Millions of people were educated, between the websites, books, social media, ISTVD, and the countless articles and news segments about this animal. I felt my responsibility to share the vaquita’s story lessen as more and more people heard it. The gillnet ban was even made permanent. In a way, it almost felt like it was mission accomplished.

But I had entered a world more complex than anyone could have imagined, let alone a child. The story of the vaquita was not what it seemed from an outsider’s perspective. And perhaps the irony of it all is that I still have no clue what is really happening. I’m not sure if any one person knows the entirety of the situation.

The recent estimates put the vaquita population at fewer than 30 individuals, possibly much fewer. Illegal gillnet fishing continues at a high level. The lucrative totoaba trade thrives. A desperate effort to capture and safely breed vaquitas ended in the worst way possible: the death of a mature female vaquita. It is extremely difficult to remain optimistic as you learn more and more about the deep, dark truth of what is happening on the water and behind closed government doors, despite the best efforts of conservationists there and around the world. From an analytical perspective, the vaquita needs an unprecedented miracle.

Yet, I still have hope. I am 18 years old. I see a world around me at a crossroads in time. I believe these next few years are going to change the world forever. Slowly but surely, around the globe, people are beginning to see what we have done to the planet. Plastic fills the oceans. Species are disappearing. Warming climates are wreaking havoc on land and marine ecosystems, even strengthening natural disasters that are already affecting humanity. In the relative fraction of time we have been on this planet, we’ve doused it with gasoline and struck a match. However, we haven’t thrown down the match yet. I believe we still have time to blow it out.

This next brief moment in history will see the end of many ancient ways of thinking as citizens and governments decide which side of history they would like to be on. It is simply not an option to continue down the path we have created. Humanity will go extinct if we do. Sustainability is the future, because without it, we are going to be just another lost species in Earth’s history as new ecosystems evolve and erase all traces of life as we know it. That idea actually sounds poetic and relaxing in a strange way, but that is because I omitted the few hundred years in between now and our theoretical extinction where human and animal life would descend into a miserable world as more species go extinct while the human population balloons to a level that is not even close to sustainable before storms, heat waves, air pollution, droughts, and diseases spell the end of us. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d much rather see us stop that trend while we still can by peacefully coexisting with nature.

Forgive me for the apocalyptic rhetoric. I am only using such bold, dark imagery because I know that it is not inevitable and that we still have time to save the planet and ourselves. I firmly believe that we as a species will fully realize what needs to be done and act accordingly, even if it is for selfish reasons. It is ridiculously easy to forget about the problems in the world while we go about our daily lives, especially those of us in first world countries. The extinction of humanity seems unfathomable when you look around at what we have created. However, we are already in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, and we are not excluded from it. Every part of the apocalyptic scenario I laid out is already happening to some extent. It’s not science fiction, it’s science. And it could get much worse. If we wait, every human alive will witness these things firsthand, but it will be too late by then. We need to heed scientists’ desperate warnings and act now.

I am no longer the naive child that created V-log, and I no longer see the world as somewhere that is only good. However, I am still the same person who believes that it is our duty protect the planet, and the same person who truly believes that we will. It is not going to be nearly as easy as I thought when I was 11, and it’s probably going to be a lot harder than I think it is now. But we don’t have a choice. My generation and the ones that come after mine have decades and centuries of life left to live on this planet, and we want to do it in a world that is even better than the one we currently live in.

That brings me back to the vaquita. This precious species has been nearly destroyed by the same traits in humanity that are causing every other problem: ignorance, apathy, corruption, and greed. Deep down, we all have to personally fight these urges in some way every day. Now we need to fight them on a bigger scale. How many more examples do we need of what not to do? Why should the vaquita be just another species that goes extinct before we finally realize that we need to change?

Let’s start right now by saving the vaquita. We don’t have to accept their fate. There are still vaquitas out there swimming right now, and it would be an unforgivable travesty to give up on them in the critical moment. I don’t know what it will take, but we need to find a way to stop the extinction of the vaquita. Ask yourself, which side of history would you like to be on? The revolution needs to start now, and you and I need to be a part of it.

~

Something you can do right now is to purchase an official International Save the Vaquita Day 2018 shirt here: https://www.customink.com/fundraising/istvd2018. All proceeds go to the Muskwa Club’s efforts to save the vaquita and make the world a better place.

Also, please sign this petition and pledge to avoid shrimp from Mexico: https://www.change.org/p/boycott-mexican-shrimp-take-the-pledge. We need to show that we will not accept lackluster enforcement of the gillnet ban.

Learn more about how you can help at https://vlogvaquita.com/how-to-help/ and http://www.vivavaquita.org/act-now-to-save-the-vaquita.html

Thank you.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
―Martin Luther King Jr.

istvd2018

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New Vaquita art

Here is a poem that I wrote for an upcoming poetry competition focused on ocean pollution:

THE NETS WE FORGET

The dark gray sky casts its shadow on the sea,
The sea swells with the wind, whipping up froth.
Thunder booms among the rolling clouds;
Lightning flashes in the distance,
But underneath, it is calm.
The muffled sound of the storm above dances off the coral.
Small reef fish swarm in and out of nooks and crannies.
All seems fine at first, but there is something wrong here.
A ghost enters the scene.
A nearly invisible drifter.
A gillnet.
But this fishing net does not belong to anybody.
It has been abandoned,
But its job is not done.
This ghost still has lives to take.
First comes a shrimp,
A puny pink prawn:
Gone.
His life ends and is doomed to drift away,
Trapped forever.
Next is a fish.
A huge one at that.
He swims right into the net,
And in the blink of an eye,
The life leaves his body.
A little porpoise swims through the shallows,
Bubbles dancing down her side.
She’s teaching her baby how to fish.
They happen upon a juicy meal,
But as the mother darts towards the target,
She is struck by a web of death.
The fish they were chasing
Was already a victim.
The baby, terrified, watches as her mother writhes in agony.
And the ghost has taken yet another life.

Here is a double exposure image, made from a Vaquita photograph and an ocean sunset photograph that I combined using digital software:Vaquita Double Exposure

And here is a mosaic of a Vaquita made out of hundreds of photographs taken during International Save the Vaquita Days 2014 & 2015:

ISTVD Mosaic

International Save the Vaquita Day has become a huge event, and one that has been—and will continue to be—making a legitimate difference for the Vaquita and its survival. Showing the people and government of Mexico that the world cares about the Vaquita and appreciates their efforts to date will hopefully inspire them to follow through with their promises and actually save this species. To make ISTVD 2016 the biggest one yet, help ignite the buzz and donate to the event by buying a cool ISTVD 2016 t-shirt!

https://www.booster.com/international-save-the-vaquita-day-2016

Cooking to save the Vaquita: Part 3

Part 2: https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/12/22/cooking-to-save-the-vaquita-part-2/

*Vince Radice has brought to my attention that the sardine fishery in the Gulf of California is not as sustainable as the MSC believes, due to the seabird bycatch caused by the purse seine nets. More information below.

During our incredible trip to Boston for the New England Aquarium’s 2014 World Oceans Day Celebration (recap coming soon), we were treated to a live demonstration of sustainable seafood cooking by one of the most famous seafood chefs in the world, Barton Seaver. Barton is a leading ambassador in sustainable seafood awareness, with two amazing cookbooks on this topic. I bought a copy of his first book, For Cod and Country, and already have made two meals from it. A recurring theme in his books is: eating sustainable seafood alone will not save the ocean. Eating vegetable-oriented meals with small portions of sustainable seafood will. Salads are a perfect example.

The first dish was “Smoked Atlantic Sardines with Mixed Greens and Fig-Olive Dressing”:

Sardine Salad

Sardines are the ocean’s superfood, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B2 and B12, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, niacin, iron, selenium, vitamin D, and tons of protein: http://www.amazon.com/The-Perfect-Protein-Lovers-Feeding/dp/1609614992. Additionally, they are low in mercury levels due to their position on the food chain and their short life spans. Unfortunately, these little sea gems are not caught sustainably in the Gulf of California.

The sardine fishery is one of the main fisheries in the Gulf of California, and is sustainable due to how they are caught: http://www.msc.org/track-a-fishery/fisheries-in-the-program/certified/pacific/gulf-of_california-mexico-sardine. By eating sardines from the Gulf, you are giving incentive to the gillnet fishermen to switch from shrimp, corvina, or other finfish to sardines instead.

*“The sardine fishery in the Gulf of California is not nearly as sustainable as [the MSC says]. I know the players in Guaymas who have spent a great deal of money to become sustainable, [but] incidental bycatch is a huge issue, especially with marine birds.

http://sancarlos.tv/guaymas-commercial-sardine-fishery-preliminary-report/

Also check out this article, one of my photos from the above link made it into the gallery, http://e360.yale.edu/feature/brown_pelicans_a_test_case_for_the_endangered_species_act/2764/ and for a movie that is being produced about brown pelicans by Judy Irving which is going to go into some detail on the big crash in pelagic sardines this year hopefully. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pelicandreams/pelican-dreams/

After speaking with scientists from all over the gulf they all concur one thing. The ecology of the Gulf of California has been forever changed by two factors more than just about anything. The commercial sardine fishery and the commercial shrimp fishery (the big boats, not the small artisanal fisherman as pictured in the video above).”

—Vince Radice

This means that it is not good to buy sardines from the Gulf of California. However, this does not mean that all sardine fisheries are unsustainable, so buying sardines is still a great idea for their health benefits alone. Hopefully in “Cooking to save the Vaquita: Part 5,” Vince will be able to give some more valuable insight on what is and isn’t sustainable from the Gulf.

Most people think of sardines as gross. I was one of these people until a few days ago. When I first tried the sardines, I was reluctant to even put them in the salad because I wanted to eat them all straight out of the can. They have a delicious smoky flavor with a hint of tuna. The meaty sardines perfectly complemented the salty olive dressing. Sardines have quickly become one of my favorite seafoods, and I (and hopefully you) will be eating a ton of them in the future.

Learn more here: http://www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/sardine/species_pages/pacific_sardine.htm

The main course was “Spinach- and Parmesan-crusted Tilapia”:

Spinach Tilapia

This might have been my favorite seafood dish of all time. The delectable cheesy spinach did not overpower, or was overpowered by, the sustainably farmed tilapia. It was just right, and the Panko breadcrumbs added a slight crunch that topped off the meal. Tilapia is very easy to work with due to its mild flavor, and it is always sustainable, so there is never any guilt while chowing down on the flaky white meat.

For these incredible sustainable recipes and hundreds more, purchase Barton’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/For-Cod-Country-Delicious-Sustainable/dp/1402777752

As I have said before, AVOID shrimp from Mexico, unless you are at a specifically-designated sustainable shrimp festival for the Vaquita. Here is Seafood Watch’s comments on wild-caught shrimp from Mexico:

Although shrimp are generally highly resilient to fishing pressure, many shrimp populations in the Mexican Pacific and Gulf of Mexico have been depleted. Management efforts to protect shrimp populations that include reducing the size of the fishing fleet, seasonal closure of fisheries, creating marine protected areas, and restrictions on gear have produced mixed results. Some shrimp populations are experiencing rebuilding, while others continue to decline. Even where strong regulations have been implemented, poor compliance and illegal fishing continue to plague the Mexican shrimp fisheries.

Fishing methods commonly used in Mexican shrimp fisheries result in a large amount of bycatch. Vaquitas are a critically endangered porpoise endemic to the Upper Gulf of California, and are caught in entanglement nets used by the shrimp fleet. Although entanglement nets have been banned in part of the Vaquita’s range, the extent of protection and level of enforcement is insufficient, and bycatch from the entanglement net fishery continues to threaten the species with extinction. Shrimp trawls catch other threatened and endangered species including sea turtles, seahorses, sharks and rays. However, Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs, which can reduce sea turtle bycatch by more than 90% if deployed correctly, are required in the shrimp trawl fishery. The mortality rates of bycatch species caught in Mexican shrimp gear and the impact on the populations of bycatch species is unknown.

With all of these factors, Seafood Watch recommends that consumers “Avoid” all wild-caught Mexican shrimp.”

 

As always, I would love to see some of your sustainable seafood recipes and dishes! Please share them with us in the comment section or by emailing me at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com. Thanks!

For more info on sustainable seafood, check out these links:

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/take-action/seafood-decision-guide/

http://kategeagan.com/2011/04/7-myths-about-sustainable-seafood-and-sustainable-seafood-recipes/

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

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! 😉

2013 shrimp season starts

On September 5, the Sonoran shrimp seasons commenced. The season generally begins in early September and ends in April, meaning you can shrimp during every month with the letter “r” in it. For the first ten days of the season, only artisanal panga fishermen, ribereños, are allowed to shrimp. But starting Sunday the 15th, the enormous trawling boats, cameroneros, are allowed to set sail. Both are of danger to the Vaquita unless they are outside of the Vaquita’s range and/or using Vaquita-safe trawls. This is an important time for Vaquita conservation because we will be able to see the Official Norm regulation hopefully be put into action. It would also be nice if all the fishermen follow the law and stay out of the Biosphere Reserve and Vaquita Refuge, but realistically, that’s not going to happen, at least not yet.

PROFEPA ships used for patrolling.  © 2008 Chris Johnson, earthOCEAN

PROFEPA boats used for patrolling.
© 2008 Chris Johnson, earthOCEAN

Hopefully PROFEPA (the part of the Mexican government in charge of patrolling the water for illegal fishing) will be out in large numbers trying to keep the reserves gillnet-free. That is another thing that will be very interesting to see during ¡Viva Vaquita!’s expedition starting the 23rd. Number one, if they see any fishermen, and if they do, what are they fishing with. I am not sure what they would do in that situation, and as cool as it would be for ¡Viva Vaquita! to go full-out Whale Wars on a tiny fishing boat using gillnets, I believe they would handle it very calmly and probably radio to PROFEPA, or something along those lines. The second thing that will be interesting to see will be if the ¡Viva Vaquita! team is spotted by PROFEPA, and if they are, will they be inspected for permits. Here is an excerpt from the blog of their 2010 expedition (hopefully they will have a blog this year too) about this very situation, which happened to be at the exact time they saw their only Vaquita during the entire 3-week trip:

“Captain Antonio sighted a Vaquita off the port-bow that surfaced twice and avoided the boat. We stopped to search, but at that same moment we were approached by the PROFEPA boat (Mexico’s environmental law enforcement agency) asking to see our permits. By the time the agents reviewed our paperwork, the Vaquita was gone. No one had been able to get any pictures. It was bad timing, but good to see the PROFEPA agents were doing their job.”

So my hopes for this year’s shrimping season is that no Vaquitas are killed by humans. This is definitely possible if the Official Norm is put into action and the fishermen follow the law. That way in the spring, when the calves are born, the Vaquita will finally begin its climb back from the brink of extinction.

For more information on this year’s shrimping season, read this article: http://sancarlos.tv/shrimp-season-commences-in-sonora/, and here is a great piece from Vaquita.tv about 2010’s shrimp season: http://vaquita.tv/blog/2010/09/17/big-expectations-for-the-2010-shrimp-season/.

Let’s do this!

As I am sure you know by now if you have read some of my previous posts, Mexico made a new law (called the Official Norm) that requires all shrimp gillnets to be switched out with Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years. This is obviously enormous news, so even some of the major groups wrote articles about it, among them the WWF, the organization whose petition caused the law to be created in the first place.

However, few to no articles talk about what happens next.

This law is only affecting shrimp gillnets, because they are the only ones who have a Vaquita-safe substitute so far. Finfishing gillnets pose just as big, if not bigger, of a threat to the Vaquita, so they obviously need to be replaced as well. Currently, there are Vaquita-safe finfishing trawls being developed and tested, so hopefully they prove effective and can be implemented in the Gulf as well within the next couple of years, before it is too late.

The other part of the puzzle with this law is the cooperation of the fishermen and the commitment of the government. We are all hoping that the government really does follow through with this plan and succeeds, and from what I can tell, they mean business with this law. They really do want to save the Vaquita, and I believe they will as long as one factor falls into place: the fishermen.

In the end, it is all up to the fishermen. No matter how strict the government gets, the fishermen will be able to slip through their grasp and fish illegally. That is, if the fishermen would rather risk it all just to fish with gillnets. The law plans to train each fishermen on how to use the trawls and compensate them, meaning there is no real loss for the fishermen that participate in this mandatory law. The trawls are a lot more expensive than gillnets, so the government is going to need to use a lot of their tax dollars to make it happen. If you are a Gulf fishermen, please do the right thing and follow the law. Participate in the Official Norm, and tell every other fishermen to do the same. If you live in Mexico, know that every item you buy with tax could be helping save one of your national icons.

You. Yes, you sitting there reading this post. I want you to help this law succeed too. First off, DO NOT BUY FISH OR SHRIMP FROM THE GULF OF CALIFORNIA CAUGHT WITH GILLNETS! If there is no business, there will be no reason to fish. The next thing to do is sign my new and improved petition to the Mexican president, SEMARNAT, and PROFEPA, which asks them to do the things I wrote about in this post:

http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-elusive-vaquita

Thank you so much for your help! If you would like to learn everything you can about the Vaquita while also donating to the species, please buy the first ever Vaquita book, written by me, here: https://www.createspace.com/4268018.

Together, we can save the Vaquita. Let’s do this!