Last month, during a meeting between President Enrique Peña Nieto, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carlos Slim, and senior government officials at the Official Residence of Los Pinos, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed agreeing to make major commitments to protect valuable marine ecosystems in the Gulf of California.

This effort is backed by both the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Carlos Slim Foundation, as they will support the Mexican Government’s ongoing efforts to achieve the major marine conservation goals described in the MOU.

The MOU represents a collaboration between the government, NGOs, and the local communities working to ensure the ongoing vitality of the region’s waters – which have been under increasing pressure from overfishing. This activity has resulted in devastating impacts on marine life – for example, driving the native vaquita to the brink of extinction. There are fewer than 30 of the native porpoises left in the wild.

The MOU sets out specific objectives aimed at stemming illegal fishing and protecting marine life, including the remaining vaquita:

• Making the temporary ban on the use of gillnets throughout the range of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California waters permanent,
• Improving enforcement efforts to combat the use of illegal gillnets and increasing prosecution of illegal fishing and totoaba poaching,
• Prohibiting nighttime fishing in the upper Gulf of California and the vaquita Reserve, and
• Implementing and enforcing limited entry and exit points throughout the region for all fishing through certified inspectors.

The MOU also includes a commitment to work with local communities on a plan to promote the adoption of more sustainable fishing practices, accelerate the development of gillnet replacement gear that does not endanger the native vaquita and several large fish species, continue to evaluate the feasibility of providing sanctuary to the remaining vaquitas, and establish an international expert advisory committee to provide input on the content of the MOU and to develop an action plan over the next several months.

These actions outlined in the MOU complement previous efforts led by the Mexican Government during the administration of President Peña Nieto, which has shown a profound willingness to save the vaquita species.

“Mexico understands its responsibility as one of the countries with greatest biodiversity,” said President Peña Nieto. “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. Mexico also understands its vulnerability to the effects of climate change, and that is why we committed to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement and to work with other countries to do the same. We are very pleased to have the support of the DiCaprio Foundation and the Slim Foundation since the sum of effort and teamwork always brings better results.”

Working alongside national governments and local communities to foster greater conservation action is a key focus of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which has been in constant communication with the Mexican Government for weeks in an effort to obtain major commitments.

“Now more than ever, the world is looking for bold leadership at every level to tackle climate change and environmental conservation issues,” said Mr. DiCaprio. “I am honored to work with President Peña Nieto, who has been a leader in ecosystem conservation, to ensure the future viability of marine life in the Gulf. This action is a critical step towards ensuring that the Gulf of California continues to be both vibrant and productive, especially for species like the critically endangered vaquita. My Foundation and I look forward to continuing to work with President Peña Nieto, our NGO partners, and the local communities in the Gulf to reach greater progress on these important issues.”

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Carlos Slim Foundation have pledged to support the ongoing operation of the enforcement, research, and implementation of the MOU objectives.

“The efforts embraced by the government of Mexico towards the maintenance and preservation of the environment, as well as the relentless work by universities, NGOs and philanthropic organizations have been significant,” said Carlos Slim. “Today, we join with the government and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, along with several NGOs, for what could be the last opportunity to rescue and preserve the vaquita marine mammal. Despite the efforts and investments implemented to save them – their population has dramatically declined, sadly, as victims trapped by illegal fishing gillnets.”

This effort is supported by local and international conservation groups, including Pronatura Noroeste, World Wildlife Fund, Sea Shepherd, and Marisla Foundation – who stressed that this model of cooperation is key to achieving success on critical conservation issues.

Gustavo D. Danemann, Executive Director of Pronatura Noroeste, a leading non-profit group in northwest Mexico, expressed his support towards the new commitments, “Pronatura Noroeste is committed to continuing to work to save the vaquita in close collaboration with the Mexican government, organizations and local communities. We are encouraged by this recent announcement which signals a renewed sense of hope that we can turn things around for the vaquita.”

“The vaquita are facing imminent extinction unless immediate and drastic action is taken,” said Herbert M. Bedolfe, Executive Director Marisla Foundation. “Together, we are committed to these actions and the recovery of the vaquita population.”

“This agreement is a significant step toward saving the vaquita from extinction. It will require collective action to protect this unique piece of Mexico’s heritage and secure a healthy Upper Gulf of California for wildlife and local communities alike,” said Jorge Rickards, acting CEO of WWF-Mexico. “Banning the use of deadly gillnets offers a lifeline to vaquita, though our work doesn’t end here. We look forward to ensuring full implementation of these commitments and a clear and immediate path forward for local fishing communities.”

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