For Immediate Release, December 3, 2007
Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 436-9682 x 301
Bush Administration Delays Protection of Penguins Threatened by
Global Warming; Conservation Group Will Sue
SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today that it intends to sue the Bush administration for delaying protection of penguins under the Endangered Species Act. In November 2006, the Center filed a petition to list 12 species of penguins as threatened or endangered under the Act; the petition triggered a strict deadline that gave the government 12 months to determine whether protection is warranted for the penguins. In July, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that 10 of the species may deserve protection and began status reviews for those penguins, including the well-known emperor and rockhopper penguins. Now the government is ignoring its duty to move forward with protections for those 10 species, which are threatened by global warming.
“There’s no time to wait when it comes to global warming,” said Miyoko Sakashita, a staff attorney for the Center. “We won’t allow the Bush administration to continue to violate the law while these penguin species march toward extinction.”
Today, while the federal government flouts its duty to protect penguins threatened by global warming, delegates from around the world meet to discuss climate change at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali, Indonesia. International representatives will discuss targets for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Although a top contributor to greenhouse gas pollution, the United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and agree to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States contributes more than 20 percent of the global total of those emissions. Because the emissions continue to increase, warming is projected to accelerate. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected additional warming of 1.1 to 6.4°C (2 to 11.5°F) by the end of this century. Scientists are now able to tell us, with a high degree of certainty, that additional warming of more than 1°C (1.8°F) above year 2000 levels will constitute “dangerous climate change,” with particular reference to sea-level rise and species extinction. Despite an overwhelming body of scientific and economic literature demonstrating that the economic benefits of reducing future warming will vastly outweigh the costs of reducing emissions, the Bush administration has opposed all serious international and national efforts to reduce emissions.
“Global warming is an overarching threat for the world’s penguins,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, a seabird biologist with the Center. “Absent prompt action to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the survival of these penguin species will be in doubt along with that of many other wildlife species.”
Abnormally warm ocean temperatures, along with diminished sea ice, have wreaked havoc on penguin food availability in recent decades. 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. Scientists have linked the ocean conditions causing these declines to global warming and loss of sea ice. The emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, featured in the film March of the Penguins, has declined by more than 50 percent due to global warming. Emperor penguins are dependent on sea ice extent and stability and therefore are extremely vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
Each of the petitioned penguins also faces threats in addition to global warming, ranging from depletion of prey by industrial fisheries, entanglement in deadly fishing gear, introduced predators, disease, habitat destruction, disturbance at breeding colonies, marine pollution, and oil spills.
For example, on November 23, a sinking Antarctic cruise ship created a mile-long diesel spill in the midst of penguin breeding islands about 70 miles north of the Antarctic peninsula. This area provides important breeding and foraging grounds for two of the petitioned species, macaroni and emperor penguins, as well as gentoo, chinstrap, and Adelie penguins. Biologists are worried about the impacts of the oil spill on penguins and the food they depend on as the 50,000 gallons of diesel aboard the ship continues to leak.
Penguins lack any protection under the Endangered Species Act while they await government action. The Act contains strict deadlines because time is of the essence in all efforts to protect endangered species; this is particularly true for penguins. The 12-month finding is overdue on the emperor, southern rockhopper, northern rockhopper, Fiordland crested, erect-crested, macaroni, white-flippered, yellow-eyed, African, and Humboldt penguins. Two other species, the snares crested penguin and the royal penguin, were found not to warrant Endangered Species Act protection. The Galapagos penguin is the only penguin species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Listing under the Endangered Species Act will provide broad protection to 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.