02 March 2011


Enriqueta Velarde [right] on Isla Rasa, 1980. Photo © Julia Whitty.
Those of you who've read my book Deep Blue Home know of my great friendship with Enriqueta Velarde, a scientist at the University of Veracruz's Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries. We spent what was for me a profoundly formative field season together on tiny Isla Rasa in Mexico's Gulf of California, aka the Sea of Cortez, in 1980.

The island is home to nearly all the breeding Heermann's gulls and elegant terns on Earth. Their numbers have risen dramatically in recent decades thanks to Enriqueta's devotion and hard work. As I wrote in Deep Blue Home:

Enriqueta has returned to Rasa every spring to live among the birds. She has become one of the foremost voices for the preservation of the wild islands of the Gulf of California. Her presence, her deepening knowledge, have protected this corner of the world far beyond the modest funding she receives.

Elegant tern, Sterna elegans. Photo by Regular Daddy, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

So I'm pleased to relay the good news that Enriqueta has been awarded the prestigious Volkswagen for the Love of the Planet Award (Programa Volkswagen, Por Amor al Planeta) for scientific investigation in the field of conservation biology.

From the awards page:

Over more than 30 years of scientific work Dr. Velarde has contributed significantly to the recovery of Rasa Island, one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, located in the Gulf of California... In the early seventies the population of gulls and terns amounted to a few tens of thousands. Today, as a result of the actions and the presence of Dr. Velarde, the number of birds that nest each year on the island is about half a million, its density is so high that have begun to nest on nearby islands.

¡Felicidades, Enriqueta! I can't imagine anyone more deserving.

Both shots are of the tern colony on Isla Rasa. Photos by Carl Safina. Thanks so much, Carl!
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