Latin America Green News: Special Report

U.S. Mission Photo
Credit: Eric Bridiers

Beginning September 1, members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) gathered in Hawaii for the World Conservation Congress to discourse on the future of conservation and sustainable development. Every four years the Congress, which is made up of 217 state and government agencies, over 1,000 NGOs and 16,000 experts, gathers to, among other things, vote on a number of motions proposed by IUCN members that will set priorities for the work IUCN will engage in over coming years. This year, members voted on and adopted 85 motions encompassing everything from mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity and protecting primary forests to enhancing protection of the vaquita marina.


That’s right, the world’s most endangered marine mammal received some much needed attention at the meeting in the form of motion 13: “Actions to avert the extinction of the vaquita porpoise.” The motion, co-sponsored by a number of organizations including NRDC, stipulates the urgent need for the Mexican government to make permanent the two-year ban on gillnet fishing introduced by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in April 2015. Motion 13 passed this week with a sweeping majority.


It has been well documented over the last few years that the catch and illegal trade of totoabas has left vaquitas prone to becoming bycatch, slowly dwindling down their numbers. In fact, the IUCN Red List has the vaquita listed in the critically endangered category – one step away from extinction. In China, totoaba bladders are popular for medicinal use and can sell for thousands of dollars in the black market. While trying to catch the lucrative totoabas with gillnets, Mexican fisherman are inadvertently entangling and killing vaquitas in the process. Estimates from the latest survey concluded that approximately 60 vaquitas remain in the world, all of them in the Sea of Cortez. In addition to making the gillnet ban permanent throughout the entire vaquita range, motion 13 also urges increased funding and research on additional technologies for catching finfish and urges all governments and international organizations to assist any and all countries where totoaba products are found in markets or in transit, including Mexico, the United States and other countries.


Another notable motion taken up at this year’s congress was motion 088 which recognized the important contributions of indigenous peoples in the management and conservation of natural resources in Central America and called for the creation of an experts working group to build a proposed system of categories of indigenous collective management areas that responds to the recognition, respect and practice of collective rights of indigenous peoples. Importantly, the motion urges the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy and the World Commission on Protected Area to regulate the development, implementation, and evaluation of projects in indigenous territories and include these communities in the evaluation and fair and equitable sharing of benefits according to their own system of collective management.