Written by Ethan Franks (in collaboration with James Pettipher and Bethany Foster).
On December 12 to December 13, the world’s first dedicated Vaquita conservation Hackathon took place. A Hackathon brings a large group of people together to work tirelessly for a 48-hour time period to address separate issues that threaten a cause. The people that take part in the project come together from different countries and different career backgrounds that all relate to the issue at the base of the Hackathon. The Vaquita conservation project is a complex multi-faceted issue that spans many fields, from criminal law to biology. The aim of this Hackathon was to develop a brighter future for the Vaquita, of which the methods and lessons learned can be incorporated into other complex conservation and criminology problems. UWE Bristol Law students proudly represented almost all the United Kingdom within the ‘criminal law review’ sector of the Hackathon.
The criminal law review aimed to try and combat the issues that Mexico is having in enforcing the law against illegal Totoaba Cartels fishermen and meeting its treaty obligations. This is to be done by all the groups, collaboratively developing a white paper. The hope is that by publishing a white paper and then implementing its recommendations the Vaquita and other marine wildlife in the Gulf of California will be sufficiently protected by the Mexican government.
Each individual group comprising a small number of students was set up with a mentor. Groups worked together to suggest their solution and then go away to work on small tasks that worked towards a final solution. This process would take place repeatedly over the weekend reinforcing the solution before the closing ceremony at midnight on the Sunday.
UWE law student James Pettipher and I worked under our mentor Volcy Boilevin, forming group six of the Hackathon. We were tasked with supporting the law enforcement efforts of the Mexican government. We decided that the best approach to take to impact Mexico was to try and use Mexico’s agreements with neighbouring countries to help impose pressure on Mexico. The pressure was implemented with the intention of encouraging the Mexican government to value its environmental obligations, without using the ineffective environmental law.
Additionally, group four included another UWE student, Bethany Foster who under the guidance of Daniel Marsh and alongside other professionals and students, worked on a proposal addressing the weak judicial framework that operates in Mexico that fails to deter the illegal totoaba trade. The suggested solution was twofold: introducing a judicial exchange programme between the UK and Mexico and assisting Mexico in implementing sentencing guidelines to ensure consistent sentencing of wildlife criminals. These proposals involve mutual co-operation between the UK, Mexico and industry experts and success is largely determined by Mexico’s willingness to co-operate. However, these proposals were inspired by the work of international criminal barrister Shamini Jayanathan whose efforts have focused on judicial reform where jurisdictions have weak judicial processes. Her work has been incredibly successful which provides a blueprint for the potential success of these propositions.
The entirety of the event will be concluded this year when a decision is made as to the best legal solutions to be put forward and incorporated into a white paper. Though it is not the motivation of any of the participants, there will be a prize awarded to the best proposed solution as well.
The Hackathon was organized by the Conservation Project International, a platform dedicated to supporting and mentoring young conservationists and future leaders, in collaboration with Earth League International, Earth Hacks and the Countering Wildlife Trafficking Institute. The event was financially supported by the two research groups of the Bristol Law School (the Global Crime, Justice and Security Research Group and the Environmental Law and Sustainability Research Group).