Monday, November 17, 2008

Penguin plunge sends ocean warning signal

People and Plunging penguin populations are a signal that the worlds oceans are suffering the effects of climate change, fishing and oil and gas development, according to an analysis that could provide new ammunition for groups seeking global protection for the birds.

The papers author, University of Washington conservation biologist P. Dee Boersma, who has studied the birds for more than 30 years, says that in recent decades, populations of the worlds 16 to 19 penguin species have begun to dwindle, with about two-thirds now under threat,Life is not likely to get easier for penguins, Boersma reports. They have to withstand both climate variation and human development.

Boersma, who has tracked penguins at Punta Tombo, Argentina (the largest breeding colony in Patagonia) for 25 years, says that the number of breeding pairs there fell from about 400,000 in the late 1960s to about 200,000 in 2006.

On the Antipodes Islands – about 500 miles from the New Zealand coast – the number of erect-crested penguin breeding pairs dropped by half between 1978 and 1995, to about 50,000. And on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the numbers of Adelie and chinstrap penguins have shown a similar decline, having fallen by about 50 per cent since the mid-1970s.

In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering extending Endangered Species Act protections to 10 penguin species in South America, southern Africa and Antarctica. The agency said last summer that listing the birds may be warranted but failed to meet a November deadline for deciding whether the species qualify and proposing a listing. The Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit against the agency in an effort to speed up its decision-making process….

Magellanic Penguin on Isla Magdalena, an uninhabited island in the Strait of Magellan in Southern Chile, shot by Steve Deger, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

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