Going, Going, But Not Quite Gone
Beneath the surface of the Sea of Cortez swims the world's smallest porpoise and one of the planet's most endangered species. The vaquita marina (Phocoena sinus) is distinguished by a darkly shaded mouth and black-ringed eyes. It can be found only in the shallow coastal lagoons of the sea, a body of water that lies between mainland Mexico and the Baja California peninsula. An estimated 150 porpoises, some just two feet long, remain.
For three years, NRDC has been working with local fishermen and the Mexican group Pronatura on ways to eliminate the deadliest threat to vaquita: gill nets. These nets are intended to catch shrimp and fish but also entangle and kill the porpoises. This past August, the Mexican government, guided by this innovative collaboration, pledged $16 million to enforce a no-fishing zone in vaquita habitat, to research porpoise-safe fishing gear, and to provide monetary compensation to fishermen who voluntarily decide to turn in their fishing permits.
Ninety percent of the local fishing industry has said it supports at least some voluntary measures, which will help sustain the region's fisheries and the porpoises.