Off Mexico’s west coast, the Baja California Pacific Islands are key global nesting sites for 23 seabird species and Natividad Island shelters 90 percent of the breeding population of the Black-vented Shearwater (Puffinus opisthomelas).
Mexican conservation biologist Yuliana Rocío Bedolla Guzmán, Director of the Marine Birds Project at Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (GECI) says that invasive mammals like cats and rats wiped out at least 27 seabird colonies in the past.
Even though eight groups of islands are completely invasive mammal-free, accidental reintroduction via the personal belongings, equipment and food of the fishing co-operatives in the area remains a continuing threat for the world’s most important nesting sites for the nocturnal Black-vented Shearwater and Black Storm-Petrel (Hydrobates melania).
Rather than vilify the fishing cooperatives, the researchers have been working with them to decrease the likelihood of reintroductions that would lead to expensive eradication efforts.
“In 2021, we created the local community group “Líderes Comunitarios” formed by enthusiastic and committed women who have received formal training on island biosecurity and bird identification, and are becoming agents of change in their communities,” Bedolla says.
Recently, Bedolla won a 2023 Whitley Award from UK charity Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) and will use the funding to boost the role of local women and fishing cooperative.
“The goal is to continue preventing the accidental introduction of invasive mammals on 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 enjoyed being out in nature.
“But I had my Eureka moment when I learned to snorkel when I was 12 years old at a beach in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, in the Mexican Pacific,” she says adding that she remembered a feeling of amazement, wonder and a new sense of connection to nature.
“That experience was life-changing for me and marked the beginning of my journey as a conservationist,” Bedolla says, “From that moment on, I knew I wanted to become a marine biologist and contribute with my grain of sand.”
She would go on to study 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 would contact GECI in the course of her masters degree and years later, after a Phd in Germany, GECI offered her the directorship of the Marine Birds Project.
Bedolla says that being from the Global South helps her to bring diverse perspectives and approaches to scientific research, which can lead to more innovative and creative solutions.
“I have personal experience with the problems people in my region face, and I understand why these problems exist,” she says.
Another conservationist from the Global South working to protect local species from invasive ones is Ada Acevedo-Alonso.
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