Winner avatar
2023 Whitley Award
Yuliana Bedolla Mexico Coastal and Marine
Safeguarding seabird nesting sites on Mexican Pacific Islands

Ten seabird species concentrate their entire breeding population on Mexico’s islands, making it the country with the second highest number of breeding endemic seabird species globally. However, the introduction of invasive species can be catastrophic for island ecosystems, with ongoing biosecurity measures needed once the invasive species have finally been eradicated.


The islands of Mexico and their surrounding seas provide crucial habitats for one third of the world’s seabird species. The San Benito Archipelago and Natividad Island host 13 breeding species, the largest abundance of seabird breeding pairs in the Baja California Pacific islands and together, support more than one million individuals of eight nocturnal seabird species. Natividad Island shelters 90% of the endangered Black-vented Shearwater breeding population and San Benito Archipelago represents the most important colony of the Black Storm-Petrel. These islands are also inhabited by small fishing cooperatives and their families, who are invested in protecting their island home.


In the past, the Baja California Pacific Islands were threatened by invasive mammals such as goats, rabbits, cats and rodents that decimated seabird populations, where the latter two extirpated at least 27 seabird colonies. Thanks to restoration efforts over the last two decades, San Benito Oeste and Natividad islands are currently invasive mammal free. Nevertheless, there is a high risk of accidental re-introduction, mostly of rodents, because of the constant stream of people, equipment and materials between the mainland and the islands. To ensure long-lasting effects, island biosecurity protocols for both islands were jointly developed with fishing cooperatives to prevent, detect and respond to incursions of invasive alien species, but their implementation did not include the active involvement of local people.


Yuliana and her NGO Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (GECI) will directly engage communities in implementing biosecurity measures, ensuring the absence of invasive species across the islands. Community conservation awareness will be raised through educational initiatives, and a women’s leadership group will receive further training, bolstering local capacity to monitor and protect seabird nesting sites, and manage conservation projects. With grants available from the Mexican government for community conservation initiatives, Yuliana and her team are working towards a future where local people can lead on the protection of their islands, embedding sustainability in their efforts to secure these fragile island ecosystems.

Using her Whitley Award to protect crucial seabird breeding sites on two key Mexican Pacific islands, Yuliana and her team will:

  • Prevent the introduction of invasive mammals on San Benito Oeste and Natividad islands, involving local fishing cooperatives in biosecurity protocols
  • Build the conservation capacity of local women, training 6 members from two communities in seabird monitoring, invasive species detection and project planning
  • Conduct surveys to confirm the ongoing absence of invasive rodent species
  • Evaluate breeding success of the Black Storm-Petrel and Black-vented Shearwater together with community leaders
  • Raise awareness of nocturnal seabird species and the importance of nesting site protection, encouraging widespread adoption of biosecurity measures

top facts:

  • The seabirds are known by local people as the “nocturnos” or night creatures.
  • Both shearwaters and storm-petrels only have one chick per season, where both parents contribute equally to its care.
  • Bahía Sebastián Vizcaíno, located in front of the two islands, is an internationally renowned whale sanctuary that is an important reproduction and wintering site for the grey whale