Blue Barrels for Habitat Restoration

We're proud to see BlueBarrel Systems™ all over the map and love hearing from customers the world over who have installed their own unique systems. The Oikonos Bird Sanctuary on the Island of Año Nuevo provides an especially interesting setting for a BlueBarrel System. Read on to learn about their shorebird conservation project and how they utilize rainwater catchment to support habitat restoration.

 Año Nuevo: A Bird Sancturay

Content provided by Rozy Bathrick, BlueBarrel customer and project ecologist at Oikonos

For about 80 years, Año Nuevo Island was an active Coast Guard station, occupied year-round by lighthouse and foghorn operators until these tools were mechanized. The island is still recovering from the ecological damage caused by human occupancy during that time: displaced wildlife, introduced species, and the removal of native plants. 

Oikonos has been monitoring the seabird population at Año Nuevo Island and improving habitat for the last 28 years. Seven species of seabird breed on the island, including two rare species of auklet which are puffin relatives. The island is also home to four species of pinnipeds that haul out on the beaches and raise their chicks on the shores. 

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Islands free of invasive predators and human activity are extremely rare, making Año Nuevo highly desirable for tens of thousands of individual birds and seals. At just nine acres of area, this means lots of spatial competition and specific habitat needs within a small space. Oikonos works to improve habitat for seabirds without compromising the area’s value as a seal rookery. 

map of año nuevo island

The name Oikonos is derived from Greek and Latin roots and is pronounced “oi·kô·nôs.” The literal translation of “oikos” is home. The root “konos” is derived from the Latin “cognoscere,” which means to recognize, learn, inquire or examine. Hence we define Oikonos as ecosystem knowledge.

Rainwater Harvesting

Until recently, there was an old cistern on the island used to collect fresh rainwater. It was built by the coast guard and functioned for over 150 years(!) until it finally began to leak in 2018. 

There is no natural source of freshwater on the island, and all of the materials and water are carried across the 1-km channel in a small, inflatable boat. We installed a BlueBarrel System in 2019, utilizing the roof of the old foghorn building (the current field station). 

Rozy and a helper installing a bluebarrel system
Rozy and a helper installing a BlueBarrel System on Año Nuevo

It filled up over the winter while the ocean conditions were too challenging to visit the island, and provided four full barrels to water freshly planted saltgrass, dune grass, and beach burr. These plants will continue to stabilize soil and reduce the erosion on auklet burrows.

Habitat Restoration

birds on island

Over the past 10 years, Oikonos has innovated restoration methods to improve the "central terrace" of the island—a one-acre area with the highest density of seabird nesting. 

Auklets raise their chicks in long, underground burrows that they dig with their sharp toenails. The biggest risk to their nesting success is soil erosion causing burrow collapse, which can cause death of adults or chicks. 

Around the central terrace is a sea lion exclusion fence, designed to prevent sea lions from entering the seabird habitat and crushing these burrows. Within the fenced area, volunteer groups have planted many native plants and installed biodegradable erosion control fabric. Both these techniques help stabilize soil and improve the success of nesting auklets.

In collaboration with California College of the Arts, Oikonos designed ceramic artificial nests shaped like auklet burrows that provide completely safe nesting habitat within the central terrace.

ceramic brid nests
CCA students with the ceramic nests they designed
Shorebirds enjoying their island sanctuary
Shorebirds enjoying their island sanctuary

Learn more about Oikonos’s habitat and restoration work at Ano Nuevo Island here


We love being inspired by our customers’ real-life BlueBarrel stories. Whether for the backyard garden, for an exciting project like Rozy’s, or anything in between, please click here to send us your notes from the field!


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