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For Immediate Release, February 22, 2011

Contacts:  Catherine Kilduff, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 644-8580
Todd Steiner/Teri Shore, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 663-8590 x 103/104

Southern Rockhopper Penguins Listed as Threatened Species; Climate Change Protections Needed

Rockhopper penguin
Southern rockhopper penguin photo © Larry Master/ MasterImages.org. More images are available here.

SAN FRANCISCO— The Interior Department announced today that the New Zealand-Australia populations of the southern rockhopper penguin, among the world’s smallest penguins, will be listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The listing will raise awareness of the rockhoppers’ plight, increase research and conservation funds, and offer added oversight of U.S.-government-approved activities that could hurt the birds. It follows a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) over delays in protecting the penguin.

“These hardy penguins survive on remote, stormy, sub-Antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean, practically at the edge of the world, and yet they may not survive climate change,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center, which first petitioned to protect the rockhoppers and 11 other penguin species in 2006. “Endangered Species Act protections can begin to address this threat.”

“These penguins have adapted to an inhospitable environment over hundreds of years, but the combination of ocean warming and commercial fishing may prove to be too much,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of TIRN. “Through this listing, the government is acknowledging that our oceans are sick and taking a first step to protect penguins and their watery world.”

By mid-century, if greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, climate change will commit one-third of the world’s animal and plant species to extinction. The threatened southern rockhopper penguin joins six other recently protected penguins: the African penguin, the Humboldt penguin of Chile and Peru and four other New Zealand penguins (the yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland crested and erect-crested).

Rockhopper penguins, named for the way they hop from boulder to boulder, are widespread — breeding on islands off South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand — but the penguins listed today have declined by more than 90 percent since the early 1940s. Changes to the marine environment, such as increases in sea-surface temperatures and reduced prey availability, are the primary threat to these colonies.

The threatened penguins breed on Macquarie, Campbell, Auckland and Antipodes islands, which are ecologically and geographically unique as well as historically high-quality habitat. The Campbell Island southern rockhopper population was once one of the largest in the world, but has experienced the most severe declines.

For more information on penguins, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/index.html.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) is an environmental organization working to protect and restore endangered marine species and the marine environment on which we all depend. Headquartered in California, with offices in Texas and Costa Rica, TIRN is dedicated to swift and decisive action to protect and restore marine species and their habitats and to inspire people in communities all over the world to join us as active and vocal marine species advocates. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org and www.TIRN.net.


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