IUCN to assess new measures protecting endangered vaquitas in Gulf of California World Heritage site

IUCN is expected to carry out a field mission with UNESCO to Mexico’s Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, to assess the effectiveness of new measures to protect the Critically Endangered vaquita. This follows a decision by the World Heritage Committee, which meets this week in Kraków, Poland.  

Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California, Mexico © IUCN Elena Osipova

The vaquita is the world’s smallest porpoise and can only be found in the Gulf of California. It is a victim of by-catch from illegal fishing of another Critically Endangered species, the totoaba, whose swim bladder fetches high prices in Asian markets.

A joint IUCN-UNESCO mission in April 2017 concluded that the site was in danger due to the decline in the population of vaquitas. An estimated 30 vaquitas are left in the world. Mexico has since announced new initiatives to protect the vaquita, including a permanent ban to gillnet fishing – a measure which had been recommended by the mission.

“If the vaquita population continues to decline, the site risks losing a key element of its World Heritage value,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. "It is clear that Mexico is taking this issue very seriously, and IUCN welcomes its efforts to reduce threats to the vaquita and will follow this issue closely. The illegal wildlife trade that is impacting so gravely on our natural heritage also needs to be addressed through international cooperation and we call on all states parties to urgently enhance their actions in this respect.”

A continued decline of the vaquita would constitute a basis for adding the site to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018.

The Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California became a World Heritage site in 2005 due to its unique marine biodiversity. Composed of 244 islands, islets and coastal areas in north-eastern Mexico, it contains 39% of marine mammal species and a third of  cetacean species in the world.

IUCN is the advisory body on nature to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and makes recommendations on necessary action to protect sites affected by threats. The List of World Heritage in Danger is used by the Committee to facilitate emergency conservation action and international assistance to support severely threatened World Heritage sites.

For more information or to set up interviews please contact:

Célia Zwahlen, IUCN World Heritage Programme, [email protected], +41 22 999 07 16
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, [email protected], +41 76 505 33 78

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