published : 2023-11-28

Mexico Falls Short in Listing Vulnerable Species on Endangered List

Queen conch, elkhorn coral, and vaquita porpoise among species left unprotected

A photo of hunters from Banco Chinchorro near Belize, capturing the essence of generations hunting the queen conch for their meat and shells. Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Residents of Mexico's Caribbean reef island of Banco Chinchorro near Belize have hunted the meat and salmon-pink shells of queen conch for generations.

However, as populations have shrunk in recent decades, Mexico has enforced limits and bans on catching the shellfish.

Despite these measures, the queen conch, along with many other vulnerable species, has not been included on Mexico's national endangered species list.

On Mexico's national conservation day, critics argue that the government's registry for endangered species is woefully inadequate and slow to update.

Even though there is a legal requirement to review and update the list every three years, no updates have been made since August 2019.

As a result, species like the queen conch have been left without federal environmental protection, pushing them closer to extinction.

Activists are calling for the Mexican government to be more proactive in protecting endangered species.

However, the government has yet to respond to inquiries about the lack of updates.

The current system for accepting proposals to list species is opaque and slow, hindering conservation efforts.

Alejandro Olivera, a marine biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, emphasizes the need for a more open and responsive process.

In comparison, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepts submissions on an ongoing basis and provides a timely initial response within 90 days.

Mexico's government only accepts proposals during set periods for public comment, causing delays and hindering conservation efforts.

A stunning image showcasing the beauty of the elkhorn coral, with its large, ochre branches growing six feet tall. Taken with a Nikon D850.

The Mexican government launched a comment window in April 2021, during which the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a proposal to list the queen conch.

Unfortunately, the group never received a response.

Angélica Cervantes Maldonado, a plant biology professor at Mexico's National Autonomous University and an expert involved in reviewing proposals, acknowledges the lengthy delays in updating the list.

She explains that although species' situations can deteriorate quickly, the regulatory process in Mexico is slow.

The Mexican government intends to publish updates around April.

While Mexico's list was last updated in 2010 and has been revised three times since, it fails to adequately protect endangered species.

For example, the elkhorn coral, which has declined by 97% over the past four decades, is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, Mexico's list ranks elkhorn coral under a lower risk category, despite requests from scientists to review its classification for several years.

The disparity between Mexico's list and the IUCN's list is significant, with Mexico listing 535 species as endangered, while the IUCN identifies nearly 1,500 species in Mexico as either endangered or critically endangered.

In Mexico, if a species is included on the list in any category, all commercial uses of that species are banned.

Higher categories come with stricter regulations, fines, and even the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Additionally, the list affects permitting and pollution regulations, which can restrict development in areas where listed species are known to reside.

A heartwarming photo of a vaquita porpoise swimming gracefully in the Gulf of California, reminding us of the urgent need to protect this endangered species. Taken with a Sony Alpha a7 III.

Among Latin American nations, Mexico ranks third in terms of the number of endangered species, following Ecuador and Madagascar.

Other countries in the region also struggle with regulations that are slow to adapt to the changing status of endangered species.

Brazil, for instance, passed legislation requiring yearly revisions of its endangered species list in 2014.

However, there have been very few updates since then.

Rodrigo Jorge, a biologist with Brazil's environment department, explains the need for a more efficient process.

To expedite the process, Brazil launched an online database of endangered species called Salve.

This database can be updated regularly, providing a more dynamic approach to listing species.

At present, official listings must still go through the existing regulatory process, and the listings on Salve do not carry legal obligations.

In the lead-up to Mexico's national conservation day, the government focused on its efforts to save the vaquita porpoise.

However, critics claim that the government's claims of success are misleading and that vaquita populations continue to decline.

With as few as 10 vaquitas left in the wild, urgent action is necessary to prevent their extinction.