“These small islands hold such a magnificent amount of biodiversity, but they are incredibly fragile ecosystems.”
London, 26 April: UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is recognising Mexican conservationist Yuliana Rocío Bedolla Guzmán with a 2023 Whitley Award for her work to protect important seabird colonies from invasive mammals on two of the world’s most important nesting sites for the nocturnal Black-vented Shearwater and Black Storm-Petrel.
WFN Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, will present the £40,000 awards to Yuliana and five other winners on 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society in a ceremony that also marks the 30th anniversary of the Whitley Fund for Nature, livestreamed to YouTube.
WFN Trustee Sir David Attenborough said that the work of conservationists has never been more urgent: “We need the work of Whitley Award winners to succeed and to help them to whatever extent possible.”
Mexican islands and their surrounding seas provide important breeding grounds and are crucial habitats for one-third of the world’s seabird species. The Baja California Pacific Islands are key nesting sites for 23 seabird species, 11 of which are nocturnal when breeding. Known locally as “nocturnos,” the birds visit the islands at night and nest between rocks or in burrows.
Yuliana, who is Project Director at Grupo de Ecología y Conservación del Islas — a non-profit focused on the restoration of islands in Mexico — will use the funding to boost the role of local women and fishing cooperatives on two of the islands to strengthen seabird monitoring and protocols to prevent accidental introduction of invasive mammals, particularly cats and rodents, which have decimated at least 27 seabird colonies in the region in the past.
The sparsely-populated islands of Natividad and San Benito Oeste support more than one million nocturnal seabirds: Natividad holds 90 percent of the world’s breeding population of the Black-vented Shearwater, listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN. San Benito Archipelago is the most important colony for the Endangered Black Storm-Petrel. Following decades of conservation, the two islands are among eight in the Baja California Pacific now free of invasive mammals.
However, the risk of reintroduction remains amid a steady stream of people, equipment and materials travelling between the mainland and the islands. An accidental introduction of a mouse on San Benito Oeste in 2006 was only eradicated after seven years and at a cost of $654,000; a single black rat on Natividad spotted by a local fisher took three months to capture in 2019.
Local fishing cooperatives — which sell lobster and abalone to mainly Asian markets – will become actively involved in implementing biosecurity protocols. Yuliana will also provide further training to women from local communities to prevent, detect and respond to invasive species and will equip them with the tools to sustainably finance their locally-led conservation work on the islands in future. San Benito Oeste has a resident population of 10-60 people while Natividad is home to 302.
“For conservation to succeed, the local communities must be empowered as the stewards of their land and resources.”
Yuliana’s programme will actively protect nesting sites by evaluating breeding success of the nocturnal seabirds by monitoring eggs, chicks and adults of the Black-vented Shearwater on Natividad and the Black Storm-Petrel on San Benito Oeste. Community leaders will survey for early detection of invasive mammals once a year on both islands; prevent rodent reintroduction at landing sites as well as provide environmental training for islanders focused on what action to take if they become accidental carriers.
“After our interventions, 20 seabird colonies have returned to nest and several new colonies have been formed… recording a new colony that we have never seen before or a pair of a species that historically nested there is a huge motivation,” said Yuliana. “I stay positive because I have seen over the years that with commitment and perseverance, it is not too late to take action, that we can still make a difference.”
HIGH-RES IMAGES AVAILABLE HERE.
NOTES TO EDITORS – WHITLEY FUND FOR NATURE
- Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders in the Global South. Over 30 years it has channelled £20 million to more than 200 conservationists across 80 countries.
- An early pioneer in the sector, WFN was one of the first charities to channel funding directly to projects led by in-country nationals. Its rigorous application process identifies inspiring individuals who combine the latest science with community-based action, to benefit biodiversity, climate and people.
- WFN’s flagship prizes – Whitley Awards – are presented by Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at a prestigious annual ceremony in London. Winners receive funding, training and media profile including films narrated by Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.
- The 2023 Whitley Awards Ceremony is on Wednesday 26 April at the Royal Geographical Society, streamed live to YouTube from 8pm BST. The 2023 Whitley Award winners are:
- Yuliana Bedolla in Mexico who is protecting marine bird life from invasive species on the Baja California Pacific islands
- Tulshi Laxmi Suwal is a world expert on pangolins who plans to conduct Nepal’s first forest fire impact assessment on pangolins, the most traded mammal in the world.
- Mamy Razafitsalama is working to improve livelihoods and reduce forest fires in Madagascar, which has lost nearly half of its forest cover and where one-third of the country’s 110 lemur species are now Critically Endangered
- Serge Alexis Kamgang in Cameroon will expand the only lion-focussed project in the Bénoué ecosystem where lion numbers have fallen to just 250
- Albert Salemgareyev in Kazakhstan plans to find sustainable solutions to emerging conflict between saiga antelope and local pastoralists over water resources in the country’s newest protected area
- Leonard Akwany in Kenya works in Lake Victoria where native fish species have more than halved to 200 and local livelihoods are threatened. He plans to create community managed protected areas to allow fish populations to recover.
- Every year, a past Whitley Award winner is chosen to receive the Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000, in recognition of their outstanding contribution to conservation. Joining the Judging Panel, the Whitley Gold Award recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners and an international ambassador for conservation success. The 2023 Whitley Gold Award winner is Kenyan conservationist Shivani Bhalla, recognised for her community-led work to secure a future for lions in northern Kenya.
- whitleyaward.org, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn
FOR INTERVIEW REQUESTS AND INFORMATION, CONTACT:
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