Past impacts on the island ecosystem have included heavy human exploitation of marine mammal and bird populations in the 18th century, followed by 75 years of further human disturbance after a Coast Guard lighthouse station was established in 1896. As a consequence, the island's plant community disappeared, natural erosion processes were accelerated, and some animal species were extirpated.
Since the State of California took ownership of the island in 1958, active protection practices and access restrictions have led to the recovery of some of this ecosystem, particularly seal and sea lion populations. Protection alone, however, cannot reverse the damage done to the plant community and to wildlife populations dependent on the vegetation and on soil stability.
At present, the species most affected by habitat degradation on the island is the Rhinoceros Auklet, a burrow-nesting seabird related to puffins. Auklets excavate nest burrows in soil, with tunnels about five feet long, where they rear their young in safety from predators. This species began colonizing Año Nuevo Island after an absence in California of over 100 years, in the 1980s, about the time when non-native rabbits were eradicated. Unfortunately, the loss of vegetation and subsequent accelerated erosion have led to an increase in the number of burrows that collapse, causing injury and death for adult and young birds.
|Michelle Hester (left) and Julie Thayer plant saltgrass, revegetating Año Nuevo Island. PRBO Photo.|
Revegetating burrow-nesting habitats of Año Nuevo Island is a highly collaborative endeavor, led by Oikonos, a non-profit organization focusing on understanding ecosystem relationships, and PRBO. Año Nuevo State Reserve provides substantial support for this effort, as do the coastal and riparian habitat restoration specialists Go Native and the University of California at Santa Cruz, and the California Coastal Conservancy.
Through these efforts we aim to reestablish a unique native plant community, conserve burrow-nesting seabird colonies, gain innovative knowledge-applicable elsewhere-of island restoration techniques, and contribute to the long-term conservation of biodiversity.