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Isla Natividad, Mexico
The triumphant return of the Black-vented Shearwaters

 Natividad Island, located off the coast of Baja California Sur, hosts about 95% of the world’s population of Black-vented Shearwater. In 1996, Conservación de Islas, Sociedad Cooperativa de Producción Pesquera Buzos y Pescadores, and the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve launched a project to study the natural history and conservation of the endemic Black-vented Shearwater on Natividad Island.

Research by Brad Keitt, an Island Conservation biologist, discovered that nearly 1,000 Black-vented Shearwaters were dying each month during breeding season. At this rate, the shearwater would become extinct in 5-20 years. Brad’s research showed that the Black-vented Shearwater population was severely threatened by feral cats, which had been recently introduced to the island and had become a top predator.   

Community Involvement

Brad, a few research assistants, and local community members began an initiative to protect the Black-vented Shearwater and restore Natividad Island. At the community school, environmental education efforts helped the children better understand that their island is a special place, with animals that are found nowhere else. Brad and research assistants took the children out to see shearwater burrows and set up a camera inside so they could see a nesting bird. They also created a memory game about the island’s native species and made a coloring book about the Black-vented Shearwater and feral cats. These actions led to strong conservation support from the children and their parents and the Black-vented Shearwater soon became the school emblem.  

Conservación de Islas and Island Conservation staff met with regional and national government agencies to advocate for protecting the shearwater population by removing feral cats. Some community members became so excited about protecting the shearwater that they began removing feral cats themselves. Eventually, Conservación de Islas and Island Conservation were able to secure government and foundation support for removing feral cats from Natividad.  

The Shearwater Population Soars

By 2001, the Black-vented Shearwater was free from predation. With all feral cats removed, shearwater mortality was reduced to a sustainable level of less than 100 birds a month from natural causes. Goats and sheep were removed from the island as well and sent to a ranch on the mainland to protect the native and endemic plants and seabird habitat.

A recent report in Bird Conservation International highlights the results seen on Natividad. In the 1990’s, before feral cats were removed, the Black-vented Shearwater was listed on the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable due to feral cat predation. After Conservación de Islas and Island Conservation removed invasive species from the island the mortality dropped dramatically, increasing the population and lowering the Red List status to Near Threatened in 2004.

With support from the community, Natividad Island continues to remain free of invasive species. Native species, such as the Black-vented Shearwater, are now able to flourish on the island and Natividad remains an extraordinary place.

Black-vented Shearwater. Photo by: Knut Hanson

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