Saving Lives Bird by Bird: Nathan Lynch’s Ceramic Nest Modules

Año Nuevo Island sits in the rough waters of the Pacific Ocean a half-mile off the coast of California, fifty-five miles south of San Francisco. This small, battered landmass is one of the most densely populated animal refuges on earth.1 Access to the island is limited to scientific researchers and park personnel. The Añzo Nuevo State Reserve, as it is called, is owned and operated by the California Park Service. It serves as an important breeding ground for northern elephant seals, threatened Steller sea lions, numbers of harbor seals as well as the nesting locale for various sea birds, including Brandt's Cormorants, Western Gulls, Pelagic Cormorants, Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Cassin's Auklets, and Black Oystercatchers.

On the island, the football sized Rhinoceros Auklet nests in underground burrows dug into the soil. In 2009, when Nathan Lynch was first introduced to the Año Nuevo naturalists, they had been striving for over 20 years to construct strong, protective, nesting units using wood, plastic, or other materials in an attempt to save and extend the lives of this rare species: not from predators, but death by the massive weight of another protected island species: the 1200 pound Steller Sea Lions, who haul themselves onto the beaches to wrestle, bark and lounge in the sun crushing Auklet nests in the process In 2009, the Bay Area design team MoreLab was working with ‘Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge’ on restoration of Año Nuevo’s native habitat. Their premise that “the best scientific solutions come through artistic inquiry: beautiful not just functional” prompted them to approach ceramic artist, Nathan Lynch about possible design strategies for successful Auklet nesting modules on Año Nuevo Island. For problem solving, a ceramic sculptor turns naturally to clay.

The success of Nathan’s collaborative course, where students are offered the opportunity to work with naturalists solving world wide environmental problems, building habitat, prototyping and designing, continues with the excitement of the 2018 Spring semester.