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WORLD PLUNDER DAY

by Homero Aridjis

from REFORMA, Sunday, June 5, 2005

The year has its calendar of environmental anniversaries and today is World Earth Day, although under present circumstances it should be called “World Plunder Day”. On May 22, the International Day of Diversity was celebrated confirming the alarming loss of species that the Earth is suffering, due mainly to destruction of habitat, climate change, pollution and excessive exploitation of natural resources. Last year, 26,000 square kilometers (approx. 16,250 square miles) were wiped out from the Amazonian Rainforest for which the Brazilian president, Inacio Lula da Silva was nominated by Greenpeace for the Golden Chainsaw award. One hopes that candidates from the Mexican state and federal governments will identify themselves.

The “Evaluation of Ecosystems Report for the Millennium”, drawn up for the UN by 1,300 experts from 95 countries, states that the accelerated reduction of bio-diversity is the result of ecosystems being degraded by human activity: “In the last 50 years, human beings have transformed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than at any other time in human history, mainly to rapidly satisfy the increasing demands for food, fresh water, wood, grain and fuel”. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has declared that the collapse of genetic diversity is impoverishing the global diet, above all for the 800,000,000 people who are malnourished. In order to reasonably satisfy the necessities of more than six billion human beings – though not the obscene avarice of a rich and powerful minority – and to reverse the almost universal degradation, radical changes are needed in the policies and practices of governments, businesses and individuals, accompanied by a profound sense of conscience regarding the fragility of life on Earth. In the last 30 years there has been a 40% reduction in vertebrates, on land,sea and in fresh water. 12% of birds, 23% of mammals, 25% of conifers, and 32% of amphibians are threatened with extinction. The world’s fisheries have been reduced by 90% since the beginning of industrialized fishing, and only 10% remain for a voracious mankind to liquidate life in the oceans.

How easy it is to extinguish a species. Last November hunters killed Cannelle, the last female brown bear native to the Pyrenees, and so only three males remain in the mountain range with no possibility of reproduction. Mexico is doing its best to reduce diversity, thanks to a commercial rapacity and the complicity of authorities. If we continue with the current behavior we will cease to be the country with the second most ecosystems and become the fourth in wealth of species.

Look at the Sea of Cortez. On June 10, 1993, the Biosphere Reserve for the Upper Gulf of California and the Colorado River Delta, a zone of great biological wealth housing rare marine and terrestrial species, endemic and in danger of extinction. Among these the most outstanding are the Vaquita Marina (a kind of porpoise), the Totoaba, the Palmoteador of Yuma and the little Dogfish from the Sonora desert. All are totally and permanently forbidden to be caught or hunted, a protection in the Reserve that extends to six species of whale, two of dolphin, the sea lion, the iguana, the Gila monster and the fox. The jewel of these is the Vaquita Marina, an ocean mammal found nowhere else in the world and whose survival is 100% dependent on Mexico. Only 500 remain and they are on their way to extinction thanks to the over-fishing of shrimp in the Upper Gulf. The principal responsibility rests with major importer and commercial purveyor of Mexican shrimp in the United States, the Ocean Garden Products Company, owned by the Mexican government and based in San Diego, California. Although the businessmen deny responsibility and say they abide by the rules, there is no doubt that this over-fishing represents a serious danger for the Vaquita, the totoaba, the marine turtle and the local fishermen themselves, since the fishery resources are also being decimated. For every kilo of shrimp ten other species fall into the drag nets, whilst the long-liners are responsible for the killing of the Vaquitas. What Jacques Cousteau called the “aquarium of the world” has become “the dying aquarium”

The Natural Resources Council (NRDC), a United States organization, which together with the Committee of One Hundred played a decisive role in defense of the Gray Whale and the San Ignacio Lagoon, has just launched a campaign to save the Vaquita Marina and bring a halt to the over-fishing in the Upper Gulf of California, now that 90% of the gulf shrimp is consumed in the United States, where the average per capita consumption is almost two kilos per year. If Mexico does not want to face another boycott of its marine products, like the one with the tuna, whose capture involves the incidental death of dolphins, she must remedy the situation, imposing fishing limits and enforcing the bans and laws. The Mexican government has just announced the privatization of Ocean Garden, and there are about ten would-be buyers. However changing owners does not change the problem, and pressure in Mexico, from fishermen, environmentalists, scientists and action from abroad, will not stop until the essential measures are taken to put an end to over-fishing in the Upper Gulf. The next shrimp season begins in September, and both businessmen and authorities are on the alert. Will there be enough consumers ready to give up eating Mexican shrimp to prevent the extinction of the Vaquita, which would be the first cetacean to disappear from the Earth for human reasons.

Sharks are also scarce in the Sea of Cortez because the Fox moratorium on rules regulating their capture is in force until the last day of the present administration. Is this the reason for this decision (benefiting dispensable humans who plunder marine resources that are indispensable for biological equilibrium) why the Mexican government vetoed the presence of Randall Arauz, (president of the Program for Restoring Marine Turtles (PRETOMA) based in Costa Rica), as an observer at the meeting of the Inter-American Commission of Tropical Tuna CIAT0 to be held this June in the Canary Islands? There, matters relating to shark fins and the shark industry in general will be discussed. For several years PRETOMA has been campaigning against shark “finning”, the practice of trimming the fins and throwing the body, sometimes alive, into the sea. This practice is not only cruel it is a waste of valuable fishery resources. At the same time it fosters over-fishing and the extinction of threatened ocean species. In Costa Rica PRETOMA has fought for the landing of fins only when attached to the body, creating problems for the shark “finners”, especially the international fleet from Taiwan. Arauz’ purpose in attending the CIAT meeting is to promote a resolution calling for sharks to be landed with the fins attached and a proportional system implemented whereby the fins would never weigh more than 5% of the body, a copy of a resolution of the IUNC recently adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Tuna in the Atlantic. Arauz points out that “we are enormously concerned at the violation of Central American customs’ laws, the silence or the refusal of CIAT to discuss the problem. Within CIAT are registered international fleets of shark fin fishermen who operate free of any control in the Eastern Pacific”. The Mexican government is promoter and accomplice of these attitudes by allowing the excessive and cruel collection of shark fins in its own waters, and blocking the presence of PRETOMA at this international meeting.

Gentlemen in government and in industry: let us celebrate the environment, not with hollow speeches, but with actions.


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