Vaquita half above water
Photo credit: Paula Olson/NOAA.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Biodiversity is “Mainstreaming biodiversity; Sustaining people and their livelihoods” and if you’re like 99% of people you will then ask – what is mainstreaming biodiversity?

Mainstreaming biodiversity is a broad term we use to describe a suite of changes in human activity and decision making to include the protection of biodiversity in everyday things that we do.

We can’t turn the whole planet into a park and people still depend on using natural resources, so we have to change our regular activities to protect biodiversity. Some examples of mainstreaming are choosing the route of a new highway to avoid a critical habitat for an endangered species, not using a pesticide because it hurts birds (like DDT), or limiting visitors to a fragile coral reef.

Today, we want to introduce you to one of many species the GEF is working to protect through mainstreaming – the vaquita.  With its dark eyes and adorable face, this smallest porpoise in the world could be called the panda of the sea.

The vaquita is only found in the very North of the Gulf of California and because of its great differences from other porpoises, it is recognized as particularly important for conservation (through the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered or EDGE Initiative).

Sadly, the vaquita has now been classified as Critically Endangered with only about 60 individuals left in the wild, according to a recent report. The vaquita is threatened because it gets caught and drowns in nets fishermen use to catch fish, including Critically Endangered totoaba, whose swim bladder is highly valued in China.

Through a UNDP/GEF project, Mexico is now working with fishermen to implement new rules to protect the vaquita, including paying fishermen not to use the fatal gillnets. By using a combination of refuges, protected areas and mainstreaming, we are putting every strategy we know to work to save this little porpoise.

But if you don’t live near the Gulf of California or eat totoaba swim bladders, then saving vaquita from extinction is not on your biodiversity to-do list. In that case, what can you do to mainstream biodiversity in your life? Below are some ideas:

Look for products like coffee or chocolate that are shade-grown. Shade grown coffee requires little or no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The shade trees filter carbon dioxide, and aid in soil moisture retention which minimizes erosion. It helps sustaining rainforest and provides habitat for a great number of migratory and resident birds, reptiles, ants, butterflies, bats, plants and other organisms. Of all agricultural land uses, shade-grown coffee is most likely the crop that supports the highest diversity of migratory birds, native flora and fauna.

In your yard plant flowers or plants that attract pollinators. Pollinators like bumble bees and humming birds are called ‘keystone species’ because other species depend on them for their survival. They are vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems, and are essential for plant reproduction. Unfortunately, because of the habitat loss and pesticide poisoning, pollinators are in trouble. Biologists fear several butterfly and bumble bee species have disappeared from parts of their range, including the once common western bumble bee.

Get involved with your local government’s planning to make sure that the next development isn’t in a wetlandWetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water and shelter, especially during migration and breeding. Scientists now know that atmospheric maintenance may be an additional wetlands function. Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.

No matter what you do – celebrate and enjoy the biodiversity you encounter today from the trees that give you shade to the flowers, bees and butterflies that please your sight, to the food on your tables.

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