He may not be the hero we need right now (that would be, oh say, the leader of the free world), but he is the one we deserve: Will Leo be able to do what many others have not and save the vaquita?
The vaquita – a small porpoise that lives only in the coastal waters off Mexico – is one of the most well-documented endangered species in the world. With only around 30 left in the world and numerous imaginative yet failed attempts to ensure their future, we could very easily watch the species go extinct in the next few years.
In a last-ditch effort, though, the Mexican government has teamed up with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF) and the Carlos Slim Foundation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) committing them to saving the critically endangered porpoise.
The agreement proposes emergency measures to ensure the conservation of their marine ecosystem, the Revillagigedo World Heritage Site in the Upper Gulf of California, where they live. They also hope to address the illegal fishing of the endangered totoaba fish for the Chinese “traditional” medicine market, in whose fishing gillnets the vaquita get caught.
“Now more than ever, the world is looking for bold leadership at every level to tackle climate change and environmental conservation issues,” Mr DiCaprio said in a statement on Wednesday. “I am honored to work with President Peña Nieto to ensure the future viability of marine life in the Gulf.”
The MOU agrees to make the temporary ban on the use of gillnets permanent, and within 30 days of signing, increase enforcement and effectiveness at preventing the illegal use of gillnets by prohibiting nighttime fishing in the protected marine area, increase punishment for totoaba poaching, and fund an increase in vessel-monitoring systems.
It also agrees to invest in a permanent program to rid the coastal waters of any ghost fishing nets, create a task force to involve local communities in efforts to use sustainable fishing practices, accelerate efforts to develop alternate fishing practices that don’t involve bycatch, and to protect the remaining vaquita, introducing a captive breeding program if need be.
“Mexico understands its responsibility as one of the countries with greatest biodiversity,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said in the statement after the signing. “That is why we have implemented an historic effort to avoid the extinction of a unique species in the world and also to protect important ecosystems such as the Revillagigedo World Heritage Site.”
With predictions that we could see the last of the vaquita as early as 2022, we're keeping everything crossed that this time efforts to save it from extinction really will work.