SAVING THE XANTUS'S MURRELET

Ever since people began sailing the seas, they’ve introduced species to islands unprepared for the newcomers. Cats, rats, pigs and many other four-legged creatures have annihilated fragile island ecosystems, and seabirds especially have suffered. The penguin-like Xantus’s murrelet is a striking example. These murrelets were decimated by predation as feral cats and rodents spread across their island homes in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. Islands that once hosted a deafening murrelet chorus were silenced.

While efforts to remove nonnative predators from murrelet breeding grounds have largely been successful, other human activities have put the few remnant populations at grave risk. In 2005, when Chevron announced plans to build a massive liquid natural gas facility only 700 yards from the world’s largest known murrelet breeding colony at Mexico’s Los Coronados Islands, the Center sprang into action to protect this nocturnal seabird from the dangers posed by high-wattage artificial lighting, chlorine discharge, and tanker activity associated with liquid natural gas terminals.

In coalition with scientists and conservationists on both sides of the border, we filed a petition with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, an international agency established under the North American Free Trade Agreement, requesting an investigation into Mexico’s violation of its own environmental laws in approving this “energy maquiladora.” The Commission agreed to our request, and soon thereafter, Chevron abandoned its plans to construct the facility. Now the murrelet is on track toward federal Endangered Species Act status, thanks to a 2011 Center agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service compelling action on protecting the bird and 756 other species.