San Francisco Bay NWR Complex
Pacific Southwest Region

Welcome to the Common Murre Restoration Project

Logos National Audubon Society Logo US Fish and Wildlife Service Emblem CA Dept of Fish and Game Emblem National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Humboldt State University  



What is the Common Murre Restoration Project?

The Common Murre Restoration Project is a comprehensive seabird restoration effort aimed at enhancing depleted seabird populations in central California, specifically those of the common murre (Uria aalge). The main focus of the project is to reestablish a colony of murres on a small seastack called Devil's Slide Rock, located along the San Mateo coast near Pacifica. This breeding colony held close to 3,000 murres as recently as the early 1980s, but was wiped out as a result of human-caused mortality.

Project Site

Project Site

Devil's Slide Rock Covered with murres in 1980 Devil's Slide Rock in March 2005
Devil's Slide Rock covered with murres in 1980
Devil's Slide Rock in March 2005

Reasons for the Decline

Oiled Murre


Tens of thousands of murres in central California were drowned in gill nets between the late 1970s and mid-1980s. Then, in the winter of 1986, the oil barge Apex Houston accidentally discharged some 26,000 gallons of oil while en route from San Francisco to Long Beach Harbor. About 9,900 seabirds were killed as a result of the spill, of which about 6,300 were murres. After the spill, no murres were known to breed on Devil's Slide Rock and the colony disappeared.

Project Partners

Following the oil spill, a federal and state lawsuit against the Apex Houston Company resulted in a settlement of $6.4 million, of which $4.9 million was allocated for natural resource damages, primarily for Common Murres. A trustee council, made up of representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), was established to review, select, and oversee implementation of restoration actions for natural resources injured by the spill. The USFWS's San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex was chosen to lead the restoration efforts for murres. A restoration plan was written and finalized in 1995 after substantial public review, and the Common Murre Restoration Project was born. The murre restoration work is conducted cooperatively by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Humboldt State University, and the National Audubon Society with additional assistance from several other public and private institutions.

How Are Biologists Attracting Murres back to Devil's Slide Rock?

The Murre Project uses a technique known as social attraction to restore murre colonies. Murre decoys (including those of adults, chicks, and eggs) three-sided mirror boxes, and CD players projecting amplified murre calls have all been used to lure the highly colonial birds back to the rock.

Biologist setting up decoysDecoys and Mirrors

USFWS Photos

Social attraction equipment was first placed on Devil's Slide Rock in January 1996. That spring, six pairs of murres raised three chicks on Devil's Slide, the first breeding in ten years. The colony has been growing each year since, reaching 190 breeding pairs in 2004. Since 1998, social attraction equipment also has been placed on San Pedro Rock, about one mile north of Devil's Slide. This colony disappeared early in the twentieth century as a result of commercial harvesting of murre eggs for the San Francisco markets. Although small numbers of murres visit San Pedro Rock every year, recent breeding has yet to occur.

Additional colony monitoring by the Murre Project was conducted at the Point Reyes Headlands in Point Reyes National Seashore from 1996-2002, and the Castle and Hurricane Point Rocks in the California Coastal National Monument along the Big Sur Coast from 1996 to the present. The project also administers an educational component for local elementary school children.

Contact Gerry McChesney for more information about the project.
Mailing Address: 1 Marshlands Rd, Fremont, CA 94555
Phone: (510) 792-0222 ext. 222

Last updated: January 3, 2012