Fishermen help protect seabirds from rats and cats on Mexican islands

Off the west coast of Mexico, the Pacific islands of Baja California are key global nesting sites for 23 species of seabirds and Natividad Island is home to 90% of the black-bellied shearwater’s breeding population (Puffinus opisthomelas).

Mexican conservation biologist Yuliana Rocio Bedolla GuzmanDirector of the Seabird Project of the Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (GECI) indicates that invasive mammals like cats and rats wiped out at least 27 seabird colonies in the past.

Even though eight island groups are completely free of invasive mammals, accidental reintroduction via personal belongings, gear and food from area fishing cooperatives remains an ongoing threat to the world’s most important nesting sites for the nocturnal black-bellied shearwater. and black petrel (Hydrobat Melanie).

Rather than vilify fishing cooperatives, researchers worked with them to reduce the likelihood of reintroductions that would lead to costly eradication efforts.

“In 2021, we created the local community group “Líderes Comunitarios” formed by enthusiastic and committed women who have received formal training in island biosecurity and bird identification, and become agents of change in their communities”, says Bedolla.

Recently Bedolla won a 2023 Whitley Price from UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) and will use the funding to strengthen the role of local women and the fishing cooperative.

“The goal is to continue to prevent the accidental introduction of invasive mammals to Natividad and San Benito Oeste Islands by actively involving local leaders and fishing cooperatives in biosecurity protocols,” she says.

“My grain of sand”

Bedolla grew up far from the sea in Moroleón, a small town in central Mexico, where she loved being in nature.

“But I had my Eureka moment when I learned to scuba dive when I was 12 on a beach in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, in the Mexican Pacific,” she says, adding that she remembers a feeling of wonder, wonder and a new sense of connection. to nature.

“This experience changed my life and marked the beginning of my journey as an environmental defender,” says Bedolla. “From that moment I knew I wanted to become a marine biologist and contribute with my grain of sand.”

She then studied marine biology at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur in La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico, learning to dive and study coral reefs and associated invertebrates on several islands in the Gulf of California.

Bedolla will contact the GECI as part of his master’s degree and years later, after a doctorate in Germany, the GECI offers him the direction of the Sea Birds Project.

Bedolla says being from the South helps her bring diverse perspectives and approaches to scientific research, which can lead to more innovative and creative solutions.

“I have personal experience of the issues facing people in my area and I understand why these issues exist,” she says.

Ada Acevedo-Alonso is another southern conservationist working to protect local species from invasive species.

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