Making a difference

If one person can make a difference, just imagine what a group can accomplish.

When I was very young, I was taught that we are all going to die, and life is our short window of opportunity to change the world.

Many people go through life having a fun childhood, getting a good job, raising a wonderful family, and then die content. This is the glorified image of a successful life. These people are happy, and they give their children the opportunity to have a happy, successful life as well.

However, these are not the people that are remembered for years after their death. Albert Einstein did not settle for this “successful” life, and he is one of the most well-known people in history; his name is synonymous with ‘genius.’ He might not have been as happy as an ordinary person, but he definitely affected the world more than most. He recognized his gifts and used his 76 years on this planet to accomplish incredible things. Without Einstein, who knows what our world would be like?

But you don’t need to completely abandon a normal life to be remembered…

Rachel Carson was an average marine biologist and writer. She wasn’t a genius; she wasn’t in a lab all day. She was simply conducting research projects with her colleagues and writing papers. But one day in 1957, she heard about the USDA’s fire ant eradication program, where pesticides like DDT were sprayed over large areas of land. She believed these chemicals were causing major environmental issues, many of which she witnessed firsthand. So over the next 4 years, she set out on a mission to find and share these issues with the world.

On September 27, 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, arguably the most important work of conservation writing ever created. This book changed the way we look at our effects on the natural world, and spawned the environmental movement itself.

Photographer Art Wolfe shows just how much of a difference she made:

http://artwolfe.com/2015/01/26/can-one-person-really-make-difference/

Rachel Carson remains my biggest inspiration, and without her, I have no doubts that I would not be doing what I am today. People like Einstein and Carson are proof that one person can make a difference in the world. Personally, I know I will not be satisfied with my life if I don’t have a lasting positive effect on this planet, specifically for the Vaquita. Fortunately for me, I am not alone in my desire to save this little porpoise. Now, more than ever before, we have a huge army of passionate individuals who will not let the few remaining Vaquitas slip away. If we all can show the same initiative, determination, and innovativeness of people like Rachel Carson, the Vaquita will be one lucky porpoise.

One person that is making a difference for the Vaquita in a unique way is Guillermo Munro Colosio, more commonly known as Memuco. He combines his incredible artistic skills with his compassion for nature to portray messages in an extremely compelling way. Some great examples are his Vaquita murals in Puerto Peñasco, one of the three fishing villages surrounding the Vaquita. He also creates infographics for endangered species, as well as paintings. He is a huge Vaquita warrior, and we love him and his work.

http://www.memuco.net/

Memuco and a mural he painted a few years ago in Puerto Peñasco

Memuco and a mural he painted a few years ago in Puerto Peñasco

Memuco's brand new mural in Puerto Peñasco

Memuco’s brand new mural in Puerto Peñasco

Memuco's beautiful new Vaquita painting

Memuco’s beautiful new Vaquita painting

To put the Vaquita’s current situation into perspective, imagine this:

You have a jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the box is simple and beautiful. However, when you open it up, the pieces are tiny and there are way more you thought. And you only have half an hour to complete it.

Not good, right? The Vaquita’s situation appears simple (the picture on the box): remove all gillnets. However, there are countless tiny pieces to the puzzle (fishermen, money, wildlife trafficking, government, etc.), and time is running out. There could be 86 Vaquitas left, and that could even be an overestimate. The point is, we are so close to the point of no return, that every little action has major consequences. Currently, there is a harmful algal bloom, called a red tide, going on in the Vaquita’s range. This may seem like bad news, and it could possibly be toxic to the Vaquita, but there is a huge upside: all fishing operations are on pause due to the danger of consuming contaminated sea food. So basically, it is like a ban that doesn’t even need enforcement. However, the red tide will fade away sooner or later, and the fishermen will be back on the water.

86

Luckily, strides have been made in the form of the new 2-year ban, which at least gives us a law to enforce starting in March. However, we still need to keep the pressure on the Mexican government to follow through with the ban. There need to be major short-term actions carried out immediately, and then we can worry about the long term. The most positive news is that the Mexican government says they are planning on using high-tech aerial drones to monitor the Vaquita’s range for any illegal fishing, which will relay the information back to enforcement so they can stop the illegal activity before it is too late. With the recent possible extinction of the Chinese Bahaba, many wealthy Chinese people have turned their attention to Mexico’s Totoaba, a very similar fish, for their “medical” needs. As we know, this recent increased (yet illegal) demand for Totoaba has left the poor Vaquita in the crossfire. Two more species are on their way to extinction mainly because of some ridiculous traditions. This demand needs to end, or else even strong enforcement on the water may not be enough to stop relentless poachers and cartels from killing both species, albeit one accidentally. Andrew Wright takes a closer look:

http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=18084

This will be a historical next few months for everyone in the Vaquita world. Thankfully, we don’t have to be helpless witnesses to all this. Don’t buy any seafood from the Gulf of California, Mexico, and make sure your local Chinese food restaurants aren’t selling Totoaba swim bladder soup. Keep signing the petitions to keep the pressure on, and I promise you, we really can do this.

Advertisements

Animal welfare vs. Conservation

Please take a few minutes to read this intriguing piece by Andrew Wright, from Southern Fried Science:

“The ever-logical Spock once said “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Then he didn’t. Then he did again. (Thanks J. J. Abrams.)

But I digress.

Regardless of which Spock you are listening to, the logic is still sound. For example, most people would agree that it is sometimes necessary to put a few people in harm’s way to protect the entire population of a nation. Likewise, a system that taxes a few of the world’s wealthiest to help out the masses is generally accepted as a good idea.

The logic also holds when it comes to helping endangered species survive and recover. Decision-makers essentially try to maximize the returns of their investments, making sure that the greatest number of animals are protected for the all-too-limited funds available to take on the task at hand.

So when the world went crazy over the death of Marius the giraffe in February of this year, many conservation biologists found themselves in a state of disbelief.

Of course, the vast majority of those in the business of conservation will freely admit that the welfare of animals in zoos and aquaria is important. They are in our care and we have an ethical obligation to look after them and make sure they remain healthy and happy. And this is especially true in the case of endangered species.

So what is the problem?

Well, the trouble is that conservation of wild animals is woefully underfunded.

Let us look at a case in point. In August a new report was released stating that the worlds’ smallest cetacean (a group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises), the Vaquita, was down to just 97 animals and would likely to go extinct in the next four years. Crucially, all the necessary laws are in place; the solution is better enforcement and retraining of fishermen. And all this needs is money. And probably less than a movie star can make on a single movie.

On an environmental scale this is both tragic and a surprisingly easy fix. But, while a reasonable number of news agencies have covered the story, and continue to do so, the level of public outrage since that time can be best described as non-existent.

In another case, Suni, a 34-year-old male northern white rhino in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a wildlife conservancy in Kenya, died last week, leaving only six left in the world – all in captive facilities. The future of the species is now extremely bleak as Suni was one of the last two breeding males. And yet no-one seems to have noticed.

And therein lays the problem. We, as a society, cry foul over the perceived unethical treatment of animals that solidly inhabit our world, but apparently care little for those that live on the fringes. Consider that the western black rhino was officially declared extinct at the end of 2013, with very little fanfare, while the staff of Copenhagen Zoo received death threats over one giraffe from a healthy subspecies. The very existence of the Vaquita and both the northern white and Javan rhinos currently hang in the balance, while many other animals, including two other subspecies of giraffe, are also listed by the IUCN as endangered. But there is no shouting and screaming.

Meanwhile, public outcry caused huge amounts of money to be offered up to buy Marius and ship him off to another location. In a previous case, ridiculous sums of money were invested in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce Keiko (of Free Willy fame) back into the wild (although he did enjoy a probably extended retirement in a Norwegian sea pen).

One reason often given for this is that people identify with animals with names. Accordingly, the money spent on such individuals simply wouldn’t be available for conservation otherwise, as people would not have offered it up. However, the lack of response to Suni’s death seems to contradict this. As do two other recent examples, Satao, the largest elephant in the world, and another huge tusker, Mountain Bull, that were both killed by poachers in late May of this year. These magnificent and important animals had names, but despite some media coverage the outpouring of outrage simply did not materialize. So perhaps it is simply that people can only identify with those animals they can see for themselves.

It is right that we protect the rights of animals in our care. But we must also remember that all wild animals are likewise at the mercy of human actions. We kill them for a handful of trinkets. We tear down their homes. We pollute their food and water. But the overwhelming majority of animals suffering in such ways find no spontaneous offers of new homes; no funds being set up for their welfare and security; no celebrities tweeting about how horrible their treatment is.

Animal rights are an ethical issue. It is an issue that should receive our attention. But if animals do indeed have rights, then don’t we have an ethical obligation to uphold the welfare and safety of all animals?”

We absolutely do. We need the world to care about the little Vaquita. And frankly, almost nobody even knows about them. With celebrities being the people we all look up to the most, having one (or more) as an ambassador for the Vaquita would be a big deal. So please, while we in the Vaquita conservation world work towards this goal, you can as well.

Social media is quite the powerful tool…