Seabirds on Rasa Island

Studying & conserving the historic nesting site of native and endemic birds

Isla Rasa, a speck of rock and guano in the Gulf of California, is the breeding site of nearly the entire world’s population of elegant terns and Heermann’s gulls. Today, approximately one million birds call the island home during nesting season, but in the 1960s, Isla Rasa’s seabirds were almost wiped out due to human predation of eggs. 

By 1964, fishermen were collecting eggs as fast as they were being laid to sell at local markets, and as a result there was hardly a chick on the island. Carl Buchmeister, President of the National Audubon Society, visited Isla Rasa that year and noted that some of the elegant terns had returned and nested a second time with limited success, but that the Heermann’s gulls’ reproduction that season had experienced a near total failure rate. Without immediate conservation efforts, these seabird populations were in danger of never recovering.

In 1979, a young biology graduate student named Enriqueta Velarde came to the island to conduct her Ph.D. research on Heermann’s gull. Over the next 35 years, she would make the conservation of Isla Rasa her life’s work. Thanks to her conservation efforts and ongoing study, she has transformed Isla Rasa into a protected seabird sanctuary. Her work sets an international example for successful conservation, and in 2014 Dr. Velarde was the winner of the National Geographic Society/Buffett Award for Leadership in Latin American Conservation.

We have supported Dr. Velarde’s ongoing study of seabirds on Isla Rasa through an annual collaboration with the Gulf of California Conservation Fund. 

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. If you would like to learn more about projects supported by the LEX-NG Fund worldwide, please contact the Fund by email. To support our work by making a contribution to the LEX-NG Fund, click here.

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