Protecting the “Aquarium of the World” Through Educated Fishing Practices

 

Greater Good Charities’ Project Peril is dedicated to the conservation of species identified as in peril, threatened, endangered or close to extinction throughout the world.

 

French explorer Jacques Cousteau famously dubbed the Sea of Cortez “The Aquarium of the World'' because it is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on Earth. Also known as the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez is a part of the Pacific Ocean located between Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and Mexico mainland and is home to many endangered species, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world.

With the help of donations from caring individuals like you, Greater Good Charities’ Project Peril is able to support our partner CEDO (International Center for the Study of Deserts) and their “Save Our Sea of Cortez Treasures: Migratory Birds, Vaquita and Sea Lions Harmed by Fishing” project.

 

 

Fishing is a major part of the economy in the Sea of Cortez because of the variety and abundance of sea creatures in that area. The commercial shrimp fishery alone is responsible for providing about 37,000 Mexican jobs (source). Sea lions feed on fish species that are commonly targeted by fisherman, leading to a sharp increase in “entanglement events.” Entanglement Events are caused when sea lions get caught in fishing gear, like gillnets. Although the sea lions are usually strong enough to free themselves, they often wind up with wounds on their neck and/or flippers that are created by the nylon netting cutting into their fragile marine flesh. These wounds can cause the sea lions unnecessary stress, physical suffering, and sometimes premature death. CEDO has been working to reduce these, often tragic, entanglement events by raising awareness among fishermen and training them to untangle individual animals including sea turtles, birds, and vaquitas.  

 

ypSdkCJQ (1)Sea Lions playing around Isla San Jorge, Sea of Cortez

Photo © CEDO, Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts & Oceans 

 

With the help from local fishermen and fishing communities, the sea lion population in the Sea of Cortez is on the rise again after experiencing a 20% decline between 1988 and 2008 (source). The training in various conservation methods that CEDO has provided fishermen has further assisted them in monitoring the population of sea lions to ensure this protected species continues a successful recovery.  

Sadly, vaquitas are having a much more difficult time recovering. Vaquitas are a unique porpoise species found exclusively in the Sea of Cortez. They were only discovered in 1958 but are currently the most critically endangered sea mammal on the planet (source). Vaquitas are in peril because they too often become victims to gillnets that are illegally set to catch totoaba, a large fish that is also on the endangered species list as a result of the high value placed on their swim bladder (source). The totoaba’s large size requires nets with a large mesh, making it the perfect size to catch vaquitas as well. Once caught, the fragile vaquita drowns within minutes, leaving little time for human intervention. 

Due to the pandemic, fewer excursions were made by personnel over the last year to attend disentanglement events, however, other preventative action is being taken, including cleanup campaigns focused on areas with high traffic of endangered species.  One of those areas, San Jorge Island, is a favorite nesting site for many migratory bird species in the area that have had a decrease in population over the last several decades such as the Least Tern (population decline of about 88% between 1966 and 2015) and the Brown Booby (population decline is believed to be about 90% in the last 100 years).  

 

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Cranes, sea lions, and a brown boobie on Isla San Jorge)

Photo © CEDO, Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts & Oceans

 

In the spring of 2021, CEDO collaborated with CONANP and Grupo Lobos to implement cleanups in 12km (7.46 mi) of the island's land area and beaches. Participants included individuals from the groups Manos en Acción and Grupo Lobos, and workers from the local fishing cooperative. Together they collected 60 plastic bottles, 2 corks, 2 fishing boots, 15 aluminum cans, 3 snorkels, 1 glass bottle, 6 pieces of wood, 3 pieces of clothing, 2 blankets, 1 cardboard box, 2 milk gallon plastic containers, 1 muffler (exhaust), and 1 net ring. 

Additional funds will support educating local fishermen about the importance of safe fishing practices, connecting law-abiding fishermen to responsible seafood markets that will reward their conservation efforts, and develop environmental education and outreach programs to foster community participation in the protection and recovery of marine life, with an emphasis on vaquita, migratory birds, and the rescue of sea lions entangled in ghost-nets/gillnets. 

 

 

Your donation to Project Peril protects biodiversity essential to the health of our planet!