“As scientists planned an expedition in Mexico this fall to count one of the world’s most endangered animals, a shy porpoise called a vaquita, they dreaded the possibility that there would be none left to find. The last survey, in 2019, estimated that only about 10 remained.
At the same time, fishermen in the area were preparing to set out with the illegal nets that scientists say are driving the porpoises to extinction: walls of mesh that hang upright below the surface, up to 20 feet deep and stretching the length of several football fields.
Called gill nets, they trap shrimp and fish. They also entangle vaquitas, drowning the mammals. Researchers say the nets are the only known cause for the species’ catastrophic decline, but getting rid of them has turned out to be a challenge.
Amid a global biodiversity crisis, with an estimated million species threatened with extinction, the story of the vaquita shows how even obvious solutions — in this case, putting a stop to illegal fishing — require political will, enforcement and deep engagement with local communities to meet the needs of both people and animals.”