Islands off Baja California, Mexico,
may soon see an influx of seabirds
thanks to a major new grant intended
to help reverse damage by oil spills
and pollution. Several environmental
nonprofits share the $3.9 million
grant including the Cornell Lab of
Ornithology, which will provide expertise,
equipment, and training for
the five-year project.
A 1953 oil spill, decades of pollutant
dumping, and introduced predators
such as cats and rats affected
seven islands off Baja’s Pacific coast.
Currents carried chemicals such as
DDT and PCBs, plus oil from the
sunken tanker, from U.S. waters to
the Mexican islands and beyond.
Seabird populations declined, particularly
Brown Pelicans, Cassin’s Auklets,
Xantus’s Murrelets, and Ashy
The grant was awarded by the National
Fish and Wildlife Foundation
from restitution funds for the incidents.
The Cornell Lab’s Neotropical
Research Initiative leader, Eduardo
Iñigo-Elias, applied for the grant
along with Mexico’s Island Ecology
and Conservation Group (GECI),
Audubon, and the Mexican Fund for
the Conservation of Nature.
“This project gives local Mexican
conservationists the tools they need
to restore seabird colonies,” Iñigo-
Elias said. Improving nesting grounds
will result in more stable, healthier
populations of seabirds shared by California
and the Baja California islands.
GECI has been working for more
than a decade to get rid of introduced
predators. Now it’s time to bring the
birds back. Getting seabirds to recolonize
means convincing them others
of their kind have found the site acceptable
for nesting. The researchers
plan to use “social attraction”
techniques such as mirrors, decoys,
and recordings of bird calls, all of
which help birds decide to start new
colonies, as past projects around the
world have shown.
For example, sounds from our Macaulay
Library have helped reestablish
Atlantic Puffin colonies in the Gulf of
Maine and Roseate Tern colonies in
the Florida Keys. In Baja California,
we’ve provided training and equipment
to help GECI staff record the
seabird sounds they’ll need to lure
birds back to the islands. This spring,
researchers will collect baseline data
to determine which species live on the
islands and in what numbers.