A very successful campaign!

The #ISTVD2016 t-shirt campaign just ended, at it was by far our most successful campaign ever! We sold 62 shirts, raising a total of $509.99 for the Muskwa Club, Inc. and VIVA Vaquita! Also, everyone who bought a shirt now has an awesome way to spread the word about the species, and of course, the perfect shirt to wear if they host an ISTVD table next year!

I can’t thank everyone who bought shirts enough! You guys made it a great day for the Vaquita!

Thanks

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.

WWF’s successes of 2013

As the year draws to a close, WWF takes a look back on the wonderful year of 2013 in their “15 WWF Success Stories of 2013.” Of course, the biggest Vaquita news in recent memory took place this June in the form of the Official Norm law, a new regulation that guarantees that all shrimp gillnets will be phased into Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years! The Vaquita is featured at number 6 on the list because it was WWF’s petition (which garnered over 38,000 signatures from 127 countries) that caused the law in the first place. We cannot give enough thanks to WWF and everyone else that has helped the Vaquita so far in its eventful, 55-year history with us (the Vaquita was discovered in 1958). Let’s have a toast to a great 2014 for the Vaquita!

My sister and I came up with a fun holiday activity to find out your Vaquita name! For example, my name is Aidan and I was born in March, so my Vaquita name would be, “Vita Marina.” Have fun and please share!

What's your Vaquita name?

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.

And they’re off!

Today marks the beginning of Expedition Vaquita 2013! We wish you the best of luck ¡Viva Vaquita!

Let’s hope that they have a successful mission, including getting some good Vaquita photographs. If they start a blog during the expedition, I will post it here.