The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Baku since 30 June, has decided to inscribe the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California (Mexico) on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to concerns about the imminent extinction of the vaquita, an endemic porpoise in the Gulf of California.
Mexico has made efforts to protect these threatened species, notably by creating a refuge for the surviving vaquitas and promoting fishing alternatives to gillnets, which cause the death by asphyxiation of marine mammals. Despite these measures, only about ten specimens of vaquita remain today (compared to nearly 300 in 2005). The vaquitas represent part of the outstanding universal value for which the site was inscribed. The decline in the vaquita population is due to the use of mail nets in the illegal fishing of totoabas, whose by-products are the subject of increasing international traffic.
The Committee encouraged Mexico to strengthen its monitoring activities to avoid the imminent extinction of vaquita and to ensure that the area where the last individuals were concentrated remained free of gillnets. The Committee also called on countries of transit and destination of the totoaba swim bladder to support the fight against this illegal trade.
Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2005, the site of the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California comprises 244 islands, islets and coastal areas that are located in the Gulf of California in north-eastern Mexico. The Sea of Cortez and its islands have been called a natural laboratory for the investigation of speciation. Moreover, almost all major oceanographic processes occurring in the planet’s oceans are present in the property, giving it extraordinary importance for study. The site is one of striking natural beauty in a dramatic setting formed by rugged islands with high cliffs and sandy beaches, which contrast with the brilliant reflection from the desert and the surrounding turquoise waters. It is home to 695 vascular plant species, more than in any marine and insular property on the World Heritage List. Equally exceptional is the number of fish species: 891, 90 of them endemic. The site, moreover, contains 39% of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species.
The List of World Heritage in Danger is designed to inform the international community of conditions which threaten the very characteristics for which a property was inscribed on the World Heritage List, -be they due to armed conflicts, natural disasters, unplanned urbanization, poaching, pollution or other-and encourage corrective action.
The 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee continues until 10 July.