Sunday, September 30, 2012

Penguins face a slippery future

Jeremy Hance
September 26, 2012

Adelie penguins hunting for food. Photo by: J. Weller. Click to enlarge.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu will be speaking at the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 13th, 2012.

Penguins have spent years fooling us. With their image seemingly every where we turn—entertaining us in animated films, awing us in documentaries, and winking at us in commercials—they have made most of us believe they are doing just fine; the penguin's charming demeanor has lulled us into complacency about their fate. But penguin populations are facing historic declines even as their popularity in human society rises. Overfishing is decimating some of their prey species, climate change is shifting their resources and imperiling their habitat, meanwhile pollution, such as oil spills, are putting even healthy colonies at risk. Now, a young organization, the Global Penguin Society (GPS), is working to save all of the world's 18 penguin species by working with scientists, governments, and local communities.

"Penguins are telling us a story that we need to hear: 11 of the 18 species of penguins are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered by IUCN," Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, the President of the Global Penguin Society, told in a recent interview. "Penguins have particular life history traits that make them vulnerable to environmental changes. They are flightless Southern Hemisphere birds. They are long-lived, lay one or two eggs, and take several months to raise their offspring. They breed in colonies, and depend on marine food sources that are spatially and temporarily unpredictable."

These factors make penguins not only extremely sensitive to large-scale environmental changes, but also key species for monitoring the overall health of oceans. Declines among many of the penguin species over recent decades have followed wider problems in the oceans.

Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins in the background. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins in the background. Photo courtesy of GPS.
"Large-scale industrial fisheries starting in the mid 20th Century removed enormous numbers of fish from the Southern Oceans. Some prey species for Sub-Antarctic penguins, such as mackerel icefish are 10 percent of their population size prior to fishing. Commercial fishing has also reduced the carrying capacity of the Benguela ecosystem for penguins to only 10 to 20 percent of what it was in the 1920s, and hence it is not a surprise that African penguins declined by 90 percent," Borboroglu notes.

On top of overfishing, oil spills have pummeled a number of penguin species year-after-year, including African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) and Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). Other species have also been hurt by less common spill incidents, such as the spill that oiled thousands of northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) last year in the remote Tristan da Cunha archipelago. Oil spills have resulted in dramatic, in some cases, unprecedented rescue efforts, but even surviving birds suffer from reproduction problems due to the pollution.

Finally, climate change is, according to Borboroglu, "creating penguin winners and losers." Increasing and worsening El Niño conditions due to climate change could push the Galápagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) to extinction within a century. Meanwhile, Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarcticus) and Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) may end up losing out if a warmer world means less krill in their feeding grounds as predicted. Emperor penguins could face problems due to a lack of shore ice needed for breeding. While two penguins, the King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) and Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua), appear to be currently benefitting from climate change due to habitat expansion.

But despite these two "winners" the general picture of the world's penguins is one of rapid and alarming decline. Sixty-one percent of penguins are considered threatened with extinction, and if the IUCN's Near Threatened category is included, the percentage jumps to 83 percent. Borboroglu sees this as evidence of the wider crisis facing the world's oceans.

"Ocean conservation is crucial to life in the sea, the land, and to the quality of human life," he says, adding that, "we are living in an unprecedented age of modifications to marine systems."

But according to Borboroglu, penguins not only show us problems in our marine ecosystems, but can also help lead to positive action—if only people wake up the penguin's plight.

"As charismatic, keystone, and seascape species, penguins can foster public and political support for integrated ocean conservation," he notes. This is where GPS comes in, aiding efforts to conserve penguins through working directly with governments on creating protected areas and improving management; helping craft conservation plans and conducting research with other experts; and providing local education through field trips, lectures, and a new, comprehensive book coming out this winter: Penguins: Natural History and Conservation.

In a September 2012 interview, Pablo Garcia Borboroglu discusses the threats facing penguins worldwide, the many solution necessary to make sure penguins don't vanish, and how the Global Penguin Society is contributing to this mission.

Borboroglu will be presenting at the up-coming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 13th, 2012, an event which will be headed by Charles Knowles and Dr. Jean-Gael Collomb.


Gentoo penguin on a beach. Photo by: J. Weller.
Gentoo penguin on a beach. Photo by: J. Weller.

Mongabay: What drew you to penguins?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: When I was 2-3 years old I lived in a city in Argentina where there were no penguins. But my grandmother used to tell me about the penguins of Patagonia and for me it was something really magical. I think her passionate description of the penguin colonies left a special message in my memory.

Later, as a teenager, I decided to become an ambassador. To do so in Argentina, you have to become a lawyer first. So I studied languages (English and French) and laws for 2 years, but I did not like it that much. Therefore I moved to Patagonia for the summer and I started working in a travel agency. In those years (80s) there were a very large numbers of oiled penguins found along the beach and 40,000 died annually from pollution. I felt really shocked by this problem and started picking up oiled live penguins and set up and emergency station in a farm where I used to rehabilitate them. Working as a tour guide for foreign tourists, I learned a lot about wildlife, particularly penguins, and I realized that I could transmit a conservation message to a lot of people. So I decided to study biology at the University and after that I completed my Ph.D. working on ecology, management and the conservation of seabirds. Throughout these periods I kept working on penguin science and conservation.


King penguins. Photo by: J. Weller.
King penguins. Photo by: J. Weller.

Mongabay: One rarely hears about how endangered penguins are as compared to other species like big cats or rhinos. Why do you think that is?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: That is absolutely true, people love penguins but they are unaware of their decline. So it is not a matter of charisma.

I guess one reason is that big cats and rhinos face threats that are more tangible and direct for humans, like hunting for instance. Besides, most of their conservation problems are on land and people can see them. In the case of penguins, most threats are not necessarily visible and concrete. For example, lack of food availability in the ocean, change in oceanographic conditions caused by climate change, and pollution in remote areas.

I think it also has something to do with the image of penguins broadcast in mainstream media. Typically images show colonies of particular species in Antarctica, with hundreds of animals, like the Emperor penguin. Since there is no vegetation and they nest in dense aggregations people perceive there are a lot of penguins. Besides, many documentary films or movies always show the funny and amusing part of penguins but not necessarily their conservation status. This issue related with communication is also reflected in the fact that most people think that penguins only live on the ice in the South Pole, and they ignore that most species live in temperate regions and even above the Equator line.

Mongabay: More than half of all penguin species are currently threatened with extinction. What happened to the world's penguins? What are the biggest threats to penguins today?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Ocean conservation is fundamental to assure that ecosystems function while humanity and other living forms thrive. Unfortunately, we have initiated an unprecedented age of alterations to marine and coastal environments. Penguins are particularly affected by these phenomena. As top predators, penguins are key constituents of marine ecosystems, and as such are indicators of the oceanic and coastal ecosystem health. Penguins are telling us a story that we need to hear: 11 of the 18 species of penguins are listed as Vulnerable or Endangered by IUCN.

Magellanic penguin furnishing nest. Photo by: W. Conway.

Magellanic penguin furnishing nest. Photo by: W. Conway.
Penguins have particular life history traits that make them vulnerable to environmental changes. They are flightless Southern Hemisphere birds. They are long-lived, lay one or two eggs, and take several months to raise their offspring. They breed in colonies, and depend on marine food sources that are spatially and temporarily unpredictable. Penguins also make use of very wide geographical areas in the ocean while foraging and during wintering migrations. As a consequence, they are particularly vulnerable to variations in ecosystem structure and processes, caused mainly by climate change, marine pollution, and extensive overfishing.

In addition, penguins are among the most conspicuous victims of marine pollution. They are particularly sensitive to petroleum spills because they swim low in the water, surface regularly to breathe, do not fly and are less able to avoid petroleum than other seabirds. Mortality of penguins from accidental and chronic petroleum discharge is a both long-term and large-scale problem, having killed thousands of penguins in Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand, and even Antarctica. The African penguin populations, in particular, have been devastated by this threat, in combination with guano harvest, egging, and fishing, showing a decline from 1.5 million a hundred years ago to 25,000 pairs today. Approximately 40,000 Magellanic penguins were killed each year by oil pollution within their breeding range in Argentina in the 1980s and there are at least 25 organizations in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina dedicated to washing oiled penguins. Current trends in the economy of the countries where penguins breed or migrate indicate an exponential increase in petroleum development suggesting that the risk of petroleum spills will only increase.

Fisheries are also a threat to penguins. Large-scale industrial fisheries starting in the mid 20th Century removed enormous numbers of fish from the Southern Oceans. Some prey species for Sub-Antarctic penguins, such as mackerel icefish are 10 percent of their population size prior to fishing. Commercial fishing has also reduced the carrying capacity of the Benguela ecosystem for penguins to only 10 to 20 percent of what it was in the 1920s, and hence it is not a surprise that African penguins declined by 90 percent. Fishing for anchovy in the Pacific Ocean contributed to the tremendous decrease of Humboldt penguin from a million in the 1930s to less than 30,000 now. Expanding fisheries in the Southwest Atlantic will increasingly compete with Magellanic penguins. As prey continues to be reduced by commercial fishing, and climate perturbation becomes more common, penguin colonies will be harmed.

Currently, some species of penguins face hazards within their colonies related to inadequate management of human activities, such as egging, irresponsible tourism, coastal development, and introduced predators.

To what extent is the condition of the marine environment mirrored by penguin populations’ conservation status? Penguins use a wide range of marine habitats covering hundreds and even thousands of kilometers in their foraging and wintering migrations. Therefore, they cover a relatively large portion of the vast Southern Oceans. As ocean samplers, they can serve as cost-effective indicators of the health of the oceans they inhabit, allowing us to have a better scientific insight into the nature, magnitude and location of priority marine conservation issues to address.

Mongabay: What changes are needed for global fisheries to ensure penguins have enough food? How do we ensure protection at penguin foraging areas?

Penguin drowned by fishing net. Photo by: D. Boersma.
Penguin drowned by fishing net. Photo by: D. Boersma.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The negative effects of fisheries on penguin populations vary depending on the species and the area.

For example, with the African penguin the large, more recent decline seems to be related to decreased prey availability in part due to competition with industrial fisheries for food and the eastward shift in prey abundance. This shift could be the consequence of climate change and also overfishing. In South Africa the existing marine reserves may be too small or may need to be re-designed to produce a positive impact on the recovery of the population. In the case of the Humboldt penguin, the decrease in abundance has been linked to overfishing, direct take of birds and eggs for human consumption as well as for bait, and habitat degradation due to guano harvesting. Prey availability has been suggested as the main impact limiting the growth of the population. To benefit penguins and many other organisms, it is necessary to implement an ecosystem-based management of the anchovy fishery.

There are other cases, like the yellow-eyed penguin, where entanglement in fishing gear seems to be an important cause of mortality, but there is a need to conduct more studies to assess the real magnitude and nature of the problem.

In general, it is necessary to create or expand no-fishing zones around major rookeries. To be able to stabilize or recover some penguin populations it would be important to implement additional measures in already existing protected areas. In some regions it is also imperative to implement serious recommendations made to achieve a real ecosystem-based fishery management where the demands of the penguins (and other top and meso-predators) are considered in calculating the fish total allowable catches.

We have participated in a statement coordinated by the Pew Environmental Group to submit recommendations to the Marine Stewardship Council regarding the certification of krill fishery in Antarctica to improve fishing management and practices.

Mongabay: The drive for fossil fuels is also imperiling penguin populations. Will you tell us about how oil pollution is imperiling Magellanic penguins?

Oiled Magellanic penguins.  Photo by: D. Boersma.
Oiled Magellanic penguins. Photo by: D. Boersma.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Oiling of penguins is likely a common problem wherever tankers and penguins mix. One of the best documentations of how vulnerable penguins are to petroleum discharge is the chronic pollution problems along the coast of Argentina. For decades chronic oil pollution killed Magellanic penguins in Argentina and more recently has been documented as a problem in Brazil. It was estimated that over 40,000 Magellanic penguins were killed each year by chronic oil pollution along the coast of Chubut Province, Argentina, from 1982 to 1991. In 1994 tanker lanes were moved 100 km farther offshore, and few penguins are now found dead with petroleum along the Chubut coast.

Magellanic penguins migrate between Argentina and Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean on routes that overlap with heavy maritime traffic and petroleum development. Twenty-five groups from Salvador, Brazil to San Antonio Oeste, Argentina survey or rehabilitate sick or oiled seabirds. An average of 63.7 percent of the seabirds found were Magellanic penguins, with 3,869 reported since 1987. Mainly adult penguins were found in Argentina (1,605 of 2102 penguins of known age class) and Uruguay (158 of 197). Juveniles were most common in Brazil (234 of 325). Oil fouling was the most frequent cause of injury or sickness.

In long-lived seabirds such as penguins, that mature late and lay small clutches, even small decreases in adult survival can cause populations to decline. In addition, even small amounts of petroleum reduce reproductive success in penguins. The large number of adult penguins affected by chronic oil pollution in their wintering range suggests that this problem will have to be ameliorated before populations of Magellanic penguins rebound at their breeding colonies.

The number of oiled penguins reported in their wintering range has greatly increased since the early 1990s and is strongly correlated with petroleum exports from Argentina.

Regulations and enforcement are failing to protect living resources. We conclude that governments are failing to adequately protect penguins from petroleum pollution in the Southwest Atlantic. We need to enforce the national and international regulations that prohibit oil discharge and create more incentives to reduce both accidental and intentional oil spills.

Mongabay: If climate change isn't dealt with what will that mean for the world's penguin species?

Spot the penguin! A single Adelie penguin on pack ice. Photo by: J. Weller.
Spot the penguin! A single Adelie penguin on pack ice. Photo by: J. Weller.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Climate change is suggested as one of the main causes of decline of many penguin species. It results in changes in sea ice cover and timing as well as key oceanographic characteristics such as surface temperature, upwelling, circulation, and seawater acidity. All of these factors can change prey availability affecting the abundance, nutritional quality and species composition of food for penguins.

Climate change is creating penguin winners and losers. Climate change is apparently already a major factor in the decline of four species. Two species, the King and Gentoo, have benefited by expanding their range south. Others like the Galapagos, African, and Humboldt penguins are losers because of the increased frequency or intensity of environmental events such as El Niño. Chinstrap and Adelie penguin in the Antarctic Peninsula depend on krill. Krill winter under ice where they can feed on algae. The melting of ice decreases krill survival and their abundance plummets. Climate warming is predicted to be highest at high latitudes where it has already caused Chinstrap and Adelie penguins in the Antarctic Peninsula to decline. Warming will also likely remove breeding habitat for Emperor penguins. Early break-up of shore ice, where Emperor penguins breed, can cause complete reproductive failure for the colony. Lack of ice may also result in problems finding a site to molt for ice-associated penguins.

Increased rainfall coupled with a cold wind can kill chicks that historically grew up in a dry desert climate on the coast of Peru, Argentina, South Africa or a sub-Antarctic island. The losers in climate change are not only temperate species. From the Galapagos to the Antarctic, climate change will likely have a negative impact on the breeding success of penguins. Rainfall increases in deserts and rain instead of snow in the Antarctic, depending on when it occurs, lowers penguin reproductive success.

Some of the best-documented signals of regional warming come from the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP). In the WAP, the mean winter air temperature has risen more rapidly (6 degrees Celsius since 1950) than anywhere else in the world. Reduction in winter sea-ice cover caused shifts in penguin abundance and distribution.

One of the predicted results of climate warming is an increase in the frequency and severity of normal environmental events such as El Niño. The first seabird reported to show the biological effects of El Niño farther west than the South American coast was the Galápagos penguin. El Niño, with its warm, unproductive waters, caused adult Galápagos penguins to desert their eggs and chicks to search for food to save themselves while their chicks starved to death. Galápagos penguin populations are now about 25% of what they were in the 1970s. After the 1982–1983 and 1997–1998 events, Galápagos penguins declined by more than 65%. Using population viability analyses, researchers estimate that the chance of Galápagos penguins’ becoming extinct in the next 100 years is 30% without assuming more frequent and more severe El Niños.

Climate change is a large temporal scale problem. Improving the resiliency of penguins is the main goal to secure penguin populations.

Mongabay: Do you support efforts to safeguard much of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean from commercial fisheries? Are current fisheries imperiling penguin populations there?

Adelie penguin jumping out of the water. Photo by: J. Weller.
Adelie penguin jumping out of the water. Photo by: J. Weller.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The main problem for penguins caused by commercial fisheries in Antarctica is related to forage fish, which are mainly exploited for use in fishmeal, fish oil, and for direct consumption.

Forage species often serve an important and unique role in marine ecosystems. As small, plankton-feeding pelagic fishes and crustaceans, forage species are prey for other fishes, marine mammals and seabirds, transferring energy from plankton to these higher trophic levels. Forage species thus maintain energy flow through ecosystems and can regulate overall trophic dynamics. Reduction in forage species availability therefore can negatively impact predators and ecosystems. In most systems, only a few forage species occur, so ecosystems may not be resilient to forage species removal. Forage fisheries must therefore be managed under a regime that accounts for the dynamics of the target stock, its predators and prey, and climate-forcing. Management must be precautionary and adaptive, and requires an ecosystem approach.

In the Southern Ocean ecosystem, Antarctic krill is one of the main forage fish species. It serves as the prey base for fishes, birds and marine mammals. Sea ice density, climate, and oceanography affect krill population dynamics. Climate change will impact the dynamics of krill and their predators as will fishing and the combination of the two factors.

Fishing and foraging ranges overlap in some areas. Predators can be geographically constrained (e.g,. land-based breeding colonies of marine mammals and seabirds) and depend upon localized sources of krill. A recent study indicates that spatially concentrated harvest already occurs. Spatial management should limit fishing in some areas where predators feed.


Adelie swimming. Photo by: J. Weller.
Adelie swimming. Photo by: J. Weller.

Mongabay: You're President of the Global Penguin Society. What makes this organization unique?

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: Ocean conservation is crucial to life in the sea, the land, and to the quality of human life. We are living in an unprecedented age of modifications to marine systems. Penguins are particularly impacted by these phenomena: the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listes 60% of penguin species as Vulnerable or Endangered. Variations in ecosystem structure, processes, and productivity, caused mainly by climate change, pollution, and overfishing have impoverished living marine systems. Penguins are sensitive to these changes, and can reflect the status of oceans, providing information about the nature, magnitude, and location of priority conservation issues.

Penguins can also increase awareness of ocean health, making us reconsider our policies and behaviors. As charismatic, keystone, and seascape species, penguins can foster public and political support for integrated ocean conservation. However, there is no international organization directed toward penguin conservation.

The goal of the Global Penguin Society (GPS) is to promote the protection of penguin populations, through science, management and education, developing and advocating solutions for sustainable marine activities and management. Penguin research and conservation group efforts are being integrated synergistically into this coalition to speed up ocean conservation efforts. This coalition promotes science-based conservation, educates and advises governments and communities, influences policies, and campaigns through the media to educate people on how to improve both penguins’ and peoples’ quality of life.

Emperor penguin chick. Photo by: J. Weller.

Emperor penguin chick. Photo by: J. Weller.
The Society fosters the production and use of the good science needed for the conservation and adequate management of penguins and marine environments at local, regional, and global scales. To improve management, GPS uses science to educate communities, decision makers and provide recommendations for policy makers. The Society extends this impact by forming partnerships to meet common goals, integrating many isolated conservation and research groups into a team, working synergistically. GPS will be an international forum for conservation NGOs, academic and research institutions, individual projects, local communities and other partners to work together strategically for the conservation of penguins and oceans.

The coalition makes penguin conservation a global issue, but focuses at a local level. It develops an international cooperative team for better stewardship of the ocean, aligning the expertise of marine conservation leaders and penguin researchers and fostering the accumulation and use of knowledge and experience. Working as a learning network, we can share lessons extracted from similar local problems among different countries. For instance, the estimation and implementation methods of visitors carrying capacity has been solved for colonies in Australia, but continues to be a problem for South American penguin species. Lessons learned from other key management actions in colonies opened for tourism or the design of effective contingency plans for oil spills or fires can also be shared.

The existence of this international coalition provides a solid position when communicating concerns, submitting demands or negotiating solutions. One aim is to increase the effectiveness of local groups and individuals by linking them to similar efforts in other parts of the world. Isolated groups are also supported by the Global Penguin Society.

Science is extremely necessary, but in some cases it is not sufficient by itself to fix conservation problems. Most environmental problems have social roots, and the answers will only be found in the social arena. We need to increase awareness of what is happening to the ocean to catalyse changes in people´s behavior.

Unmistakably, penguins are a perfect tool to inspire major changes in actions and choices of individuals, of businesses, of governments, and of the international community. Penguins can create public and political interest and generate support; they can be a vehicle for integrated ocean conservation, and allow the protection of many other marine species and their habitats through ecosystem-based marine conservation planning. However, strategy, synergy and integration are lacking. GPS seeks to provide direction and action in this endeavour, because people care about penguins and the problems are often well documented, but the absence of integration and unified vision limits the scope of conservation achievements.

Mongabay: What are the group's biggest accomplishments so far?

Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins. Photo courtesy of GPS.
Borboroglu with Magellanic penguins. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu:

• New Book called Penguins: Natural History and Conservation: The book will be a remarkable product and a longtime contribution for the science, conservation and awareness of penguions in the international community. The effort made is reflected in the quality of the content. This book is a symbol of the integration we wanted to achieve within the penguin conservation world. The book will be a source of highly credible information about penguins. It will provide academics, conservation groups, NGOs and decision-makers will have a trust worthy source of information and recommendations.

• Discovery and protection of a new penguin colony (El Pedral, Patagonia): mo more penguin are killed there and habitat is protected from damage. We discovered El Pedral, conducted research, designed its management plan, implemented a protection proposal, and generated a sustainable tourism operation.

• The South African government invited us to contribute to the Management Plan of the Endangered African penguin. They also asked us for permission to use our book chapter on that species for their plan’s base document.

• Design and launching of our website: we have visitors from 71 countries and penguin conservation groups from all over send us material very frequently for publishing.

• Penguins meet the neighbor kids: taking the kids that live close to penguin colonies in Argentina and South Africa to visit penguins for the first time and learn about penguins and ocean conservation needs. Only 15% of the kids had visited the penguins before.

• Fourteen newspaper articles including The Washington Post and The Boston Globe (U.S.A.), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany) , Folhas de Sao Paulo (Brazil), Clarin, Jornada, Diario de Madryn and Chubut (Argentina). Six Interviews on national and regional TV stations and several radio program participation.

• Five scientific papers were published in international journals: Research Priorities for Seabirds: improving seabird conservation and management in the 21st Century / Endangered Species Research; Magellanic Penguin Mortality in 2008 in Brazil / Marine Pollution Bulletin; Feather Loss disorder in African and Magellanic penguins / Waterbirds; Magellanic penguins in Patagonia: Conservation and management challenges / New Zealand Journal of Zoology.

Progress on specific goals:

Borboroglu accepting the Whitely Award in 2010. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Borboroglu accepting the Whitely Award in 2010. Photo courtesy of GPS.
1) The Global Penguin Society (GPS) was founded in 2009. Since then we have met and engaged key people and organizations related to penguin conservation and research in different countries (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile). We held meetings and workshops and organized or participated in events to strengthen GPS. For example in 2009 we were the plenary speaker at the Oamaru Penguin conservation symposium on New Zealand penguins; in 2010 we attended the workshop to design the Management Plan for the endangered African penguin; in 2010 we held a World Penguin Conservation Symposium at the International Penguin Conference in Boston; and in 2011, together with Pew Environmental Group, we organized a Penguin conservation status Symposium at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Victoria, Canada.

We also involved 56 researchers in of the book: PENGUINS: Natural History and Conservation. Some of the institutions included in our activities are: the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Cape Town, University of Otago, Univ of Maryland, University of Washington, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (France), Australian Antarctic Division, Antarctic Research Trust (Germany), Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources of Namibia, Phillip Island Nature Parks (Australia), The Peregrine Fund, Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park (Ecuador), Universidad Cayetano Heredia (Peru), etc.

2) Creation of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group. IUCN specialist groups represent the highest level of scientific rigor and credibility with regards to conservation. We made very good progress to reach the goal of creating a specialist group for penguins. We have met with the IUCN General Director and other major authorities in Switzerland, and with authorities of the Species Survival Commission in Cambridge to get started in the process of creating this group.

3) Compile updated information for all penguin species. We accomplished this goal by editing the book mentioned above, that will be printed by University of Washington Press and will be available in English, Spanish and Japanese. It will have 400 full colour pages divided into 18 chapters with 190 figures and 89 tables. All 56 authors provided the most up-to-date information. Main section include diagnostic characteristics, distribution, population size and trends, threats, research gaps and needs, current conservation efforts and conservation priorities. The book will be available to order in mid-November.

4) Discuss a Global Penguin Conservation Strategy. We organized a Penguin Status conservation Symposium in Boston where experts presented the status of all penguin species. We coordinated meetings to discuss conservation priorities. Another joint presentation was done at the World Seabird Conference in Victoria together with leading authors.

In the book there are four sections on each penguin species that refer to this conservation strategy: Main threats, Recommendations of priority research actions for conservation, Current Conservation Efforts, and Recommendations of priority conservation actions.

5) Collaborate with and formulate advice for governments based on scientific, technical and empirical evidence, aiming at influencing decisions and policies. The coalition will formally offer assistance to governments. Such as:

Punta Tombo Advisory Management Commission: We fostered the creation and coordination of an Advisory Management Committee by the Provincial Government. We interested the administration in the creation of a marine protected area adjacent to Punta Tombo.

El Pedral Colony: During our research with penguins we discovered a new Magellanic penguin colony. However, the site selected by the first 13 penguins pairs was far from pristine. Unregulated recreational activities took place there, with fishermen and visitors leaving garbage all around and setting on fire bushes, where penguins nest, to make barbecues. Moreover, people with 4-wheel trucks and motorbikes crossed the area not paying attention to the nests. The fate and persistence of this colony depended on our ability to improve their habitat and design and implement an adequate management of human activities. We coordinated a multisectorial management plan for the area and submitted the application for its designation as Provincial Wildlife Refuge, which was approved. Now penguins are protected and we designed a very restricted touristic operation. The colony grew from 13 original nests in 2009 to 176 nests in 2011. This is now a model for a changing ocean environmental scenario that fosters the movements of species to areas where they never occurred before.

New Marine National Park at San Jorge Gulf, Argentina: We participated in meetings and workshops on the management of this park located in Central Patagonia that were organized by the National Government of Argentina.

We have also interacted with the Department of Conservation of New Zealand in a workshop about the Fiordland penguin. We submitted letters of concern to the National Government of Chile regarding their plans to build thermal power plants within a major Humboldt penguin breeding area. Wewere also involved in the design of a management plan for penguin colonies in Southern Chile (Magellanic National Park, Cape Horn) and Central Chile ( Region ed Los Lagos), where we facilitated material form management plans from Australia, South Africa and Argentina. Finally, we intervened with the Ambassador of Uruguay in Japan to avoid the purchase of wild penguins for an Aquarium in Tokio.

Borboroglu at meeting with IUCN. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Borboroglu at meeting with IUCN. Photo courtesy of GPS.
6) Design effective communication strategies to reach specific audiences with clear messages. GPS has a website which contains information on what we do, who we are, goals, activities, updated information on all species of penguins in the world, and news. Launching announcements were made in Boston, New Zealand, SouthAfrica and Argentina.

GPS was the scientific advisor for the complete exhibits of the new Interpretation Center for Magellanic Penguins in the Province of Chubut, Argentina, where 130,000 visit the area per year.

7) Campaigning through the media in association with other worldwide conservation initiatives. This includes highlighting the power of individual responsibility to make a change for ocean conservation byway of penguins. GPS activities (including television documentary films) were covered by the media in Argentina and several countries: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, France, England, the Netherlands and the United States, among others.

8) Promote and help consolidate marine conservation initiatives, such as the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) or other more appropriate marine conservation tools in the Southern Oceans.

To promote the designation of new marine protected areas we obtained critical information about penguin colonies along Patagonia, foraging areas (from satellite tracked penguins), and estimated abundance.

After succeeding in protecting the new colony at El Pedral, we are working to foster on the incorporation of a marine protected area to protect the foraging ground.

We are collaborating with the Government of Ecuador (Galapagos) to improve the breeding habitat for Galpagos penguins and we are assisting the government of Rio Negro Province (Argentina) in the research and protection of 3 penguin colonies recently settled in their coasts.

9) Foster the signature and implementation of multilateral agreements. Migration ranges often extend across borders of many countries, so we promote the generation of Regional Conventions for penguin conservation. Toward this end, we published an article in Marine Pollution Bulletin, about an extreme migration never reported historically, coupled with a mass mortality of Magellanic penguins during the winter 2008. We suggest that this mortality event may have resulted from a lack of prey related to a low sea surface temperature anomaly, potentially linked to climate variability. This paper complements a previous one we published in 2006, justifying the need to propose an international agreement between Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil for this species.

Mongabay: How is the Global Penguin Society working to make people more aware of the precarious position for penguins?

Borboroglu giving presentation on penguins to school children. Photo courtesy of GPS.
Borboroglu giving presentation on penguins to school children. Photo courtesy of GPS.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The Global Penguin Society has an education program with several key activities designed to increase visibility for penguins:

1. We promote participatory processes where stakeholders are part of the design and implementation of community-based management plans or guidelines for penguin colonies.

2. We empower local communities by training them to generate sustainable incomes through ecotourism mainly in developing countries. We offer lectures to train local people to become tour guides, wardens and other roles related with ecotourism.

3. Communication is crucial to reach communities that coexist with penguins and involve them in deciding the fate of penguins. Sometimes there is less information and education of people near the resource than for people that live far from them. Both groups are needed, however, if penguins are to be conserved. We also target local education efforts at communities and schools near colonies so that the next generation will value, respect and protect penguins more.

Activities include:

• School trips for kids to visit nearby natural areas with penguins to teach them about their needs and value them more.

• Providing poor school libraries and low-income family kids with books about penguins, marine conservation and natural resources.

• Producing posters, leaflets and educational material for schools and general audiences.

4. Mainstream media participation: We broadcast project activities, findings and conservation concerns publishing popular articles in newspapers and magazines, participating in radio interviews and television programs to reach broader and discrete audiences. We already had press cover (TV, radio, newspapers and documentary films) in many countries: Argentina, Brazil, U.S.A., Mexico, U.S.A., Canada, Germany, Netherlands and France. We also share content on our website and Facebook pages.

5. Provide ideas and information to empower children and families who play Disney Club Penguin online. Millions of kids and their families interact with penguins when they are playing online. We offer information about penguins and suggest ideas and interesting pieces of information so that kids can learn about real penguin lives, their home habitat, lifestyles, tastes, and needs.

Mongabay: How could improving understanding of penguins' plight aid the health of the oceans altogether?

Adelie penguin on blue iceberg. Photo by: J. Weller.
Adelie penguin on blue iceberg. Photo by: J. Weller.

Pablo Garcia Borboroglu: The oceans are in trouble, and so are penguins. Many species of penguins are becoming more endangered and the increasing anthropogenic sources of mortality appear to be an important driving factor in their decline.

The Global Penguin Society works at different scales. Sometimes we deal with specific penguin colony management, and in other cases we work to improve the stewardship of anthropogenic activities in the ocean. In this last case, the benefits are seen in the marine ecosystem of interest and also by many other species. A typical example is the oil pollution problem that affects penguins. Penguins are hardy animals that can swim many kilometers in the ocean after they get oiled. Once they reach the coast they cannot go back to the ocean to feed by themselves, so they starve to death during weeks. People see them and they feel very sorry for them, so they want the problem to be solved for penguins. So, the charisma of penguins leads to improved management of some activities, such as oil development, which can also be helpful for the oceans in general and many other creatures.

Penguin Species


Erect-crested penguin ( Eudyptes sclateri)

Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

Northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi)

Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

African penguin ( Spheniscus demersus)


Fiordland penguin (Eudyptes pachyrynchus)

Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)

Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)

Snares penguin (Eudyptes robustus)

Southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome)

Near Threatened:

Gentoo penguin ( Pygoscelis papua)

Magellanic penguin ( Spheniscus magellanicus)

Emperor penguin ( Aptenodytes forsteri)

Adelie penguin ( Pygoscelis adeliae)

Least Concern:

Chinstrap penguin ( Pygoscelis antarctica)

King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

Little penguin ( Eudyptula minor)


Thursday, September 20, 2012

First Space-Based View of the Ozone Hole

First Space-Based View of the Ozone Hole by NASA Goddard Photo and Video
First Space-Based View of the Ozone Hole, a photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr.
At an August 1985 meeting in Prague, atmospheric scientist Pawan Bhartia presented this satellite-based image that revealed for the first time the size and magnitude of the Antarctic ozone hole. The discovery ultimately led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a landmark international treaty designed to phase out ozone-depleting substances. Yesterday, Sept. 16,2012, marked 25 years since the treaty was opened for signatures.

NASA satellites continue to provide clear snapshots of a generally stabilized Antarctic ozone hole as it cycles toward and away from its annual maximum depth by late September or early October.

To read a Q&A about the discovery with NASA's Pawan Bhartia, visit:


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Study: Tourism not a factor in Antarctic penguin decline

A lone chinstrap penguin on an ice floe near Brown Bluff, Antarctica. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Chinstrap penguin populations around Antarctica — including a major colony at Baily Head on Deception Island — are dwindling, and some have even blinked out in what scientists are calling colony collapse.

But tourism is not a big factor in the decline, according to researchers who compared penguin population trends at heavily visited sites with other spots that aren’t on the Antarctic tourism circuit.
Adélie penguin populations are also dropping regionally. Both species are offshore foragers, so loss  of sea ice and changes in krill populations — driven by global warming — are suspected be the primary causes. The Antarctic Peninsula, including the South Shetland archipelago, is warming faster than almost any other part of the planet.

It’s also possible that rebounding humpback whale populations, as well as commercial fishing, are affecting krill distribution to some degrees, but researchers haven’t yet been able to pinpoint those impacts accurately.

New study

In one of the most recent penguin studies, ecologist Heather Lynch, of Stony Brook University, teamed up with other researchers to make a detailed count of breeding chinstrap penguins at Deception Island, including the colony at Baily Head. The scientists worked from a private yacht (not a US research vessel) chartered with grant money from the Tinker Foundation to count nests and also used satellite images for their census.

Comparing the numbers with earlier surveys done in the 1980s, the scientists estimated that the number of breeding chinstrap penguins at Baily Head has dropped by 50 percent since the 1980s, and by as much as 39 percent just in the past seven years.

“For people that have been going down there for decades, it takes their breath away to see how few there are … they say it’s like a ghost town,” Lynch said. “The evidence for a significant decline is very strong. It didn’t surprise anybody … people could see these changes happening, but it was mostly from anecdotal reports.”

It’s difficult to quantify historic chinstrap penguin populations before the 1980s, but the trend from the past 25 years, coinciding with rapid warming in the region, is clear, she said.

“We now know that two of the three predominant penguin species in the Peninsula — chinstrap and Adélie — are declining significantly in a region where, in the last 60 years, it’s warmed by 5 degrees annually and by 9 degrees in winter, said Ron Naveen, founder of the nonprofit science and conservation organization, Oceanites, Inc. “By contrast, gentoo penguins, the third of these species, are expanding both its numbers and range. These divergent responses are an ongoing focus of our inventory work effort,” Naveen said.

Managing tourism

The results of the study should help inform decisions about tourism management at Baily Head and other locations, where previous discussions within the framework of the Antarctic Treaty proceeded without detailed information about penguin population trends.

Deception Island and Baily Head are among the most popular stops for visitors to Antarctica. Last year, about 1,500 tourists visited the chinstrap colony. Because the observed decline in chinstrap penguin numbers coincided with increases in visitation, there was speculation that tourism was impacting the penguins.

But surveys at other sites that are only rarely, or never, visited by tourists showed similar declines. Essentially, the researchers said their study showed no link between tourism and chinstrap penguin population declines.

“We wanted to make sure the Antarctic community didn’t get distracted by tourism and put the focus back on climate change, which seems to be the real issue here,” Lynch said.

There are other concerns related to Antarctic tourism, including a push toward more camping, the continued threat of invasive species, as as the issue of ship collisions and groundings, but at least for now, it appears that visitors aren’t contributing to the decline of the ice-loving sea birds.
Establishing solid baseline data on the penguin populations will also help researchers going forward as they try to determine the exact causes of the decline.

Counting krill

“People have been thinking about Adélies for a long time … they thought chinstrap penguins would benefit, that open-water species would do better,” Lynch said, describing the feeding habits of the various species and explaining that some of the existing models that relied solely on sea ice metrics may not encompass all the possible factors.

“Chinstraps don’t like to forage in sea ice, but they like to eat krill … the thinking is, there’s just not enough krill left to support the populations, but krill are amazingly difficult to survey.”

The decline in sea ice may be hampering the ability of krill populations to recruit new generations, she explained.

“In the juvenile stage of krill, they feed on algae on the underside of ice … that’s what allows them to recruit. It’s this incredibly important bottleneck for them to be able to feed on the underside of the sea ice,” she said, adding that krill populations tend to grow in pulses during “boom years.”

“The concern is, you have to have at least one boom in the life cycle of krill, but the booms are becoming less frequent. There are bigger gaps between years with heavy sea ice,” she said.
The bottom line is that there’s less food available for foraging penguins around the Antarctic Peninsula.

Lynch said she’s a member of an international working group established to try and determine if commercial krill fishing is also a factor.

“We just don’t know yet. Spatially-resolved data on fishing effort are not widely available,” she said.
Based on the fact that the two offshore-foraging species — chinstrap and Adélies — are declining, while gentoo penguins, which forage close to shore are increasing, there’s also a hypothesis that the comeback of humpback whales may be linked with the decline in krill populations, she concluded.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Plans for giant Antarctic marine sanctuary falter

September 14, 2012 by Nick Perry
Plans for giant Antarctic marine sanctuary falterEnlarge

In this Dec. 1, 2006 photo released by Fish Eye Films, a small group of emperor penguin stand on the edge of an ice drift in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. Antarctica's Ross Sea is often described as the most isolated and pristine ocean on Earth, a place where seals and penguins still rule the waves and humans are about as far away as they could be. But even here it has proven difficult, and maybe impossible, for nations to agree on how strongly to protect the environment. (AP Photo/Fish Eye Films, John Weller)

(AP)—Antarctica's Ross Sea is often described as the most isolated and pristine ocean on Earth, a place where seals and penguins still rule the waves and humans are about as far away as they could be. But even there it has proven difficult, and maybe impossible, for nations to agree on how strongly to protect the environment.
The United States and New Zealand have spent two years trying to agree on an Alaska-sized marine sanctuary where fishing would be banned and scientists could study . U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a strong interest in the outcome, regularly prodding diplomats, and New Zealand recently sent a delegation to Washington to reach a tentative deal.

That compromise, over a region that accounts for less than 2 percent of New Zealand's , flopped this month when senior New Zealand politicians rejected it behind closed doors.
The U.S. and New Zealand have now sent competing plans to the 25 countries that meet annually each October to decide the fate of Antarctica's waters. Their inability to agree greatly increases the chances that nothing will get done.

Evan Bloom, director of the U.S. State Department's Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, said the U.S. put a great deal of effort into its reserve proposal because it believes the Ross is the best place on Earth for scientists to carry out studies away from the influence of mankind.
"If you can't do it in Antarctica, where can you do it?" said Bloom.

Both countries advocated for marine sanctuaries. The differences between the two plans seem small on a map, but they center on the areas of the sea where marine life is most abundant.

The U.S. does not have fishing interests in the Ross Sea, though fish caught there often end up in high-end American restaurants, marketed as Chilean sea bass.

The species is actually an ugly creature called the Antarctic toothfish. from New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and other nations have been catching them in the Ross Sea since the 1990s. They use lines that can stretch more than a mile to catch about 100,000 of them a year.

Plans for giant Antarctic marine sanctuary falter

In this Dec. 1, 2006 photo released by Fish Eye Films, a lone emperor penguin stands on the edge of an iceberg drift in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. Antarctica's Ross Sea is often described as the most isolated and pristine ocean on Earth, a place where seals and penguins still rule the waves and humans are about as far away as they could be. But even here it has proven difficult, and maybe impossible, for nations to agree on how strongly to protect the environment. (AP Photo/Fish Eye Films, John Weller)

The U.S. aimed to reach an agreement with a nation that fishes the Ross Sea in hopes it would lead to a broader deal to protect marine habitats there.

New Zealand wanted to minimize disruption to its fisheries, but also wanted to burnish its conservation credentials. The country not only prides itself as an environmental leader, but it also makes money by marketing its clean, green image to trading partners and tourists. And it has criticized other nations' environmental records at sea, particularly nations that allow whaling.
Clinton urged diplomats to craft a deal. When she visited the Cook Islands last month, she described the Ross Sea as "one of the last great marine wilderness areas on the planet" and said the U.S. was working with other countries, "in particular New Zealand," to establish protected areas. Murray McCully, New Zealand's foreign affairs minister, echoed her comments.

Late last month, senior New Zealand diplomat Gerard van Bohemen led a team to Washington that spent four days grinding out the details of a compromise. After he brought the proposal back to New Zealand's ruling National Party, its senior Cabinet of lawmakers met in a closed session and rejected it.

Exactly why, they're not saying. Van Bohemen and Cabinet minister Steven Joyce declined to give interviews.

McCully also declined to discuss what happened, although he said in an email that New Zealand will keep working closely with the Americans.

The Ross Sea fishery is small on a global scale, worth about $60 million per year. The New Zealand Seafood Industry Council says New Zealand's Ross Sea catch accounts for just $16 million of a national industry worth over $1 billion.

But council spokesman Don Carson said New Zealand relies on dozens of species being fished in dozens of places. "None of them are huge, but they are very diverse, and we are keen not to lose any of them," he said.

Carson said the Ross Sea is being fished conservatively and sustainably, so further restrictions are unnecessary.

"We fish in a very limited area for a very limited season," he said. "We don't want to be buffeted by the winds of popular sentiment when that sentiment is based on a misapprehension of what's going on."
Antarctic fishing is regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the 25-nation group scheduled to meet next month. Its executive secretary, Andrew Wright, said fishing in the Ross Sea is carefully regulated with quota limits set each year, and that available science points to the fishery being sustainable.

Peter Young, a New Zealander who recently directed an environmental advocacy documentary on the sea titled "The Last Ocean," said an international agreement that protects Antarctic land from exploitation should be extended to its seas.

"Almost every other ocean on earth has been impacted and affected by humanity," he said. "We're down to the last few places, and we've got to protect it and have something to hand on to future generations."


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Picky Penguins: Does Mate Choice Depend On Genes That Help Resist Disease?


Magellanic penguins. (Credit: Photo courtesy of J. L. Bouzat) 
ScienceDaily (Sep. 4, 2012) — Magellanic penguins have a high level of variation in genes associated with the ability to fight infectious disease, but a recent study found that the mechanism the penguins use to ensure that diversity is far from black and white.

Found exclusively south of the equator in South America, Magellanic penguins assemble in large nesting colonies along the coasts of Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands. They typically mate for life, producing clutches of two eggs that are cared for by both parents. While individual colonies can number in the millions of birds, the species as a whole appears to be in decline, and is therefore classified as "Near Vulnerable" by the IUCN Red List.

A recent study published via Advance Access in the Journal of Heredity tested whether the significant diversity in the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genome region observed in these birds is attributable to mate choice or genetic selection based on disease exposure.

The study first confirmed that MHC diversity is high in these birds compared to other closely-related penguin species. Gabrielle Knafler, a graduate student at Bowling Green University and the first author of the study, explained, "By looking at the MHC genotypes of 50 breeding pairs of Magellanic penguins, we found considerable levels of genetic variation, detecting a significantly greater number of MHC variants or alleles than those reported for Galapagos penguins and Humboldt penguins." Forty-five alleles were found at the gene locus for the Magellanic penguins, sampled from a wild population in southern Patagonia, compared to 3 for Galapagos penguins and 7 for captive Humboldt penguins.

The authors of this study then investigated two possible mechanisms for maintaining the high MHC diversity in the Magellanic penguins: balancing selection, in which heterozygous individuals are better adapted to combat a wide range of diseases and are therefore more likely to survive to pass on their genes, and disassortative mating, or preferentially choosing a mate with a different MHC genotype.

How might a penguin know that a potential mate has different MHC genes? Smell could tell. Dr. Juan L. Bouzat of Bowling Green University, the lead scientist on the study, said, "In some species in which disassortative mating has been detected, individuals discriminate among potential mates by MHC type on the basis of olfactory cues."

To test the mechanism for maintaining MHC diversity, the authors studied the genetic variation of 50 breeding pairs of penguins. They examined whether MHC diversity was greater between breeding pairs as compared to random mating, and determined whether MHC genotype was correlated with measures of reproductive fitness, such as number of eggs hatched and number of chicks fledged.
Surprisingly, they found no direct evidence for disassortative mating based on the genotypes of the breeding pairs. Incidence of shared alleles between males and females in breeding pairs was not significantly different from what would be expected by chance.

But heterozygosity was found to be associated with increased fitness of adults, as heterozygous females hatched significantly more eggs and fledged significantly more chicks than homozygous females (in fact, none of the homozygous females that hatched eggs actually fledged any chicks). This finding suggests that a mechanism for balancing selection is at work in maintaining MHC diversity, even if it is not promoted by disassortative mating.

Other evidence for balancing selection was also found, including a gene phylogeny for MHC alleles from Magellanic, Humboldt, and Galapagos penguins. This analysis, akin to developing a "family tree" for genes, found that MHC alleles did not group together by species, suggesting that balancing selection has maintained different alleles even as species evolved over millions of years.

"There are likely other mechanisms at work as well," said Bouzat. "Spatial and temporal patterns in exposure to different pathogens may shape which alleles are favored at different times," changing selection pressures on the MHC genes. "The direct association of MHC genes with mechanisms of disease resistance suggests that the maintenance of MHC diversity could be driven by periodic selection due to different pathogens, similar to epidemics in humans."

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Journal of Heredity, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. G. J. Knafler, J. Alan Clark, P. Dee Boersma, J. L. Bouzat. MHC Diversity and Mate Choice in the Magellanic Penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus. Journal of Heredity, 2012; DOI: 10.1093/jhered/ess054

Journal of Heredity (2012, September 4). Picky penguins: Does mate choice depend on genes that help resist disease?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 6, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/09/120905163708.htm