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Mexico, DiCaprio and Carlos Slim craft plan to save endangered porpoise
June 8, 2017 / 3:43 AM / in 4 months

Mexico, DiCaprio and Carlos Slim craft plan to save endangered porpoise

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing to protect marine ecosystems in the Gulf of California as Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) looks on, at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, in this undated handout photo released to Reuters by the Mexican Presidency on June 7, 2017. Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican government, tycoon Carlos Slim and U.S. actor Leonardo DiCaprio on Wednesday unveiled a joint plan to protect a tiny porpoise in the Gulf of California that has become a potent symbol of critically endangered animal species.

Populations of the snub-nosed vaquita porpoise have plummeted due to gillnet fishing for shrimp and totoaba, a popular delicacy in Asia, sparking increasing calls for action.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto met Hollywood star DiCaprio and Slim in his official residence in Mexico City to sign a memorandum of understanding committing to conserve marine life in the Gulf of California, including the vaquita.

There are now fewer than 30 of the vaquita left in the wild, the foundations run by Slim and DiCaprio said in a statement.

The accord comes less than a month after DiCaprio urged his fans on social media to petition Pena Nieto to save the vaquita, which prompted the president to take to Twitter to assure the actor that Mexico was doing all it could to protect the porpoise.

Under the memorandum, the signatories undertook to make permanent a temporary ban on using gillnets in the vaquita’s waters and to step up efforts to combat the use of illegal gillnets, as well as the prosecution of illegal fishing and totoaba poaching.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto gives an indigenous Huichol art representing a Vaquita porpoise to actor Leonardo DiCaprio, at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, in this undated handout photo released to Reuters by the Mexican Presidency on June 7, 2017. Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Gillnet fishing, which uses mesh sizes designed to allow fish to get only their head through the netting but not their body, is blamed for trapping the vaquita porpoises and killing them.

The plan also included a commitment to prohibiting nighttime fishing in the upper Gulf of California and the vaquita reserve, and to enforce limited entry and exit points in the region for fishing, among other measures.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) shakes hands with actor Leonardo DiCaprio as tycoon Carlos Slim (R) looks on during a meeting to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) commiting to protect marine ecosystems in the Gulf of California, at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, in this undated handout photo released to Reuters by the Mexican Presidency on June 7, 2017. Mexico Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

In the last month, 200,000 people have signed the petition to save the vaquita directed by DiCaprio at Pena Nieto, the World Wildlife Fund said.

In the statement, DiCaprio, the 42-year-old star of “Titanic,” called the memorandum a “critical step” on behalf of the marine mammal.

“I am honored to work with President Pena Nieto, who has been a leader in ecosystem conservation, to ensure the future viability of marine life in the Gulf,” DiCaprio said.

Pena Nieto on Wednesday evening tweeted pictures of his meeting with DiCaprio and Slim, saying that Mexico understood its environmental responsibility to the world.

A spokesman for the project could not immediately say how much money was being dedicated to the rescue effort.

Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Leslie Adler

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