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For Immediate Release, October 6, 2009

Contact:  Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301; cell (415) 385-5746
Todd Steiner, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 663-8590 x 103

Feds Will Face Lawsuit for Denying Penguins Endangered Species Protections
Emperor Penguins March Toward Extinction As Global Warming Melts Habitat

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network today notified the Department of the Interior of their intent to file suit against the agency for denying necessary protections under the Endangered Species Act for emperor and rockhopper penguins, despite clear scientific evidence that the species are threatened by global warming. The emperor penguin, the most ice-dependent of all penguin species, is threatened by the loss of its sea-ice habitat as well as declining food availability wrought by the warming ocean off Antarctica. Just last month, scientists analyzing NASA data announced that ice melt in western Antarctica has accelerated to profound levels and ice sheets are shrinking much faster than predicted.

“Right now penguins are marching toward extinction due to the impacts of global warming,” said Shaye Wolf, a seabird biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Protecting penguins under the Endangered Species Act is an essential step toward saving them.”

Today’s notice challenges a decision made under the Bush administration that global warming impacts are too “uncertain” to warrant protecting emperor penguins. The notice also challenges denials of protection for northern rockhopper penguin and all but a few populations of southern rockhopper penguin. In 2006, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to list 12 penguin species as threatened or endangered. The Interior Department conducted status reviews for 10 of those species. After delays and ultimately a court order, the agency proposed listing seven species but denied protection for the remaining penguins, which are the subject of today’s notice.

The emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary March of the Penguins, has declined by more than 50 percent, and scientists predict that sea-ice loss due to climate change will push this colony to the brink of extinction within this century. Another study concluded that 40 percent of the world’s emperor penguins will be in jeopardy from a further temperature rise of 1.3 degrees Celsius, which the world will exceed before mid-century on our current course. Warming ocean temperatures and melting sea ice in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica have diminished the emperor and southern rockhopper penguins’ food supply. Commercial fisheries are also a key threat to the penguins.

“Penguins face a double whammy from the threats brought by climate change and industrial fisheries that deplete the penguins’ food supply and entangle and drown the penguins in longlines and other destructive fishing gear. They deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Krill, an essential food source not just for these 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 with the loss of sea ice. Additionally, ocean acidification resulting from the ocean’s absorption of human-produced carbon dioxide threatens all three penguin species. Scientists predict that acidic ocean conditions may be lethal for key marine organisms at the base of the Southern Ocean food web as early as 2030.

“If the Obama administration is serious about restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making, it will stand behind the sound science showing that global warming is threatening the emperor penguin and protect this species before it’s too late,” said Wolf.

Listing under the Endangered Species Act would provide broad protection to these penguins, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the U.S. government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the penguin species. For example, if penguins are listed, future approval of fishing permits for U.S.-flagged vessels operating on the high seas would require analysis and minimization of impacts on the listed penguins. The Act also has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas pollution by compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species and to adopt solutions to reduce them.

For more information on penguins and a link to the federal petition, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/index.html

For a link to the Notice of Intent to file suit, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/pdfs/Penguin_60-day_notice_10-06-09.pdf

For a link to photos of emperor and southern rockhopper penguins, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/press_photos.html

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 10,000 members work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.

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