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Half the World’s Penguin Species Marching Towards Extinction
Conservation Group Seeks Protection From Effects of Global Warming
WASHINGTON- The Center for Biological Diversity, (Center), a non profit conservation organization, filed a formal petition today requesting that 12 species of penguins worldwide, including the well known Emperor Penguin, be added to the list of threatened and endangered species under the United States Endangered Species Act. Reasons cited are a number of threats including global warming.
Abnormally warm ocean temperatures along with diminished sea ice have wrecked havoc on penguin food availability in recent decades. Less food has led to population declines in penguin species ranging from the Southern Rockhopper and Humboldt penguins of the islands off South America, and the African Penguin in southern Africa, to the Emperor Penguin in Antarctica. The ocean conditions causing these declines have been linked by scientists to global warming and are projected to intensify in the coming decades.
The Emperor Penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, featured in the film “March of the Penguins,” has declined by 70 percent due to global warming. Krill, the keystone of the Antarctic marine ecosystem, and an essential food source not just for penguins but also for whales and seals, has declined by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean. Recent studies indicate that even under the most optimistic greenhouse gas emission scenarios, continued warming over the next several decades will affect, dramatically and adversely, Antarctica, the Sub-Antarctic islands, the Southern Ocean, and the penguins dependant on these and adjoining ecosystems.
“These penguin species will march right into extinction unless greenhouse gas pollution is controlled,” said Kassie Siegel, Director of the Center’s Climate, Air, and Energy Program. “It is not too late to save them, but we must seize the available solutions to global warming immediately. I hope that their tragic plight will motivate people to support stringent greenhouse gas reductions.”
Each of the petitioned penguins also faces threats in addition to global warming, ranging from introduced predators, disease, habitat destruction, disturbance at breeding colonies, oil spills, marine pollution, and in some cases, direct harvest. Many of the species are also impacted by industrial fisheries, either directly, such as when individual penguins are caught and killed in trawls, nets and longlines, or indirectly through the depletion of essential prey species such as anchovy and krill. Similar fishing fleets figure prominently in the hit movie “Happy Feet,” which features two of the petitioned species, the Emperor and Rockhopper Penguins.
“The planet is in denial,” said John Collee, co-writer of “Happy Feet,” which played to rave reviews as the top movie in the United States over Thanksgiving week. “The planet is largely covered with water yet we have this bizarre delusion that we can utterly destroy our marine ecosystems and somehow emerge unscathed. Coral reefs are in terminal decline. Whales and penguins are literally starving to death as a result of krill depletion. As regards global warming - the entire West Antarctic ice sheet is balanced on the tips of mountains and fragmenting at the edges. According to NASA scientist Dr. Jim Hansen, we have ten years to reverse the current trend before the build-up of greenhouse gases becomes irreversible. Ten Years! Is ‘Happy Feet’ too scary? The horrible reality of our war on the environment is so dark that most people don't want to contemplate it.”
The Bush administration finalized a proposal this month which would clear the way for an expanded U.S. fishing fleet for krill in the otherwise protected waters off Antarctica. “It is absurd and illegal that the Administration would authorize krill harvesting off Antarctica without even considering the well-documented impacts of global warming on krill stocks and the penguins,” said Brendan Cummings, Director of the Center’s Oceans Program.
Listing under the United States Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to penguins, including a requirement that United States federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the United States government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the penguin species. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with protection of species under the Endangered Species Act, must respond to the petition within 90 days.
The 12 species subject of the petition are the Emperor Penguin, Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Northern Rockhopper Penguin, Fiordland Crested Penguin, Snares Crested Penguin, Erect-crested Penguin, Macaroni Penguin, Royal Penguin, White-flippered Penguin, Yellow-eyed Penguin, African Penguin, and Humboldt Penguin. The Galápagos Penguin is the only penguin species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The United States, with four percent of the world’s population, currently produces about one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. The U.S. Government Accounting Office projects that these greenhouse gas emissions will grow by 43.5 percent through the year 2025. Despite an overwhelming body of scientific and economic literature demonstrating that any costs of reducing emissions will be vastly outweighed by the economic benefits of reducing future warming, the Bush administration has opposed all international and national efforts to truly reduce emissions. The U. S. Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow in a landmark case brought by the Center along with several states and other environmental groups challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to protecting endangered species and their habitat. Additional information, including the petition, photos, and range maps for each species are available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org