Global Warming Marches More than Half of World’s Penguin Species Towards Extinction
Emperor penguins with chicks. Photo by Michael Van Woert/NOAA
Some of the world’s most remarkable birds are threatened by global warming. More than half of the world’s 19 penguin species are in danger of extinction, yet only one, the Galapagos Penguin, is currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.
On November 28, 2006, the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list 12 of the world’s 19 penguin species under the Endangered Species Act. This protection would provide a vital safety net for these species on the brink of extinction, and also help alert the public to the preventable tragedy of their decline.
“We're all 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.”
Global warming has already been linked to past, ongoing, and projected population declines in numerous species of penguins. The Emperor Penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, featured in the film March of the Penguins, has declined by 70% due to global warming. Even under the most optimistic greenhouse gas emission scenarios, continued warming over the next several decades will dramatically and adversely affect Antarctica, the Sub-Antarctic islands, the Southern Ocean, and the penguins dependent on these and adjoining ecosystems.
Each of the petitioned penguin species also faces unique and specific additional threats, ranging from introduced predators, disease, habitat destruction, disturbance at breeding colonies, oil spills, marine pollution, and in some cases, direct harvest. Additionally, most species are also impacted by industrial fisheries, either directly, such as when individuals are caught and killed in trawls, nets and longlines, or indirectly, through the depletion of essential prey species such as krill. Cumulatively, these threats are for most of the petitioned species already of significant magnitude that listing under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.
Impacting these species further through additional greenhouse gas emissions and global warming will create a deadly mix.
Fortunately, no species of penguin has yet become extinct in the modern era, and it is not too late to save them. But we must act quickly to control the destructive industrial fishing, oil pollution, habitat destruction and other threats. And most importantly, we must compel our elected officials to enact stringent and enforceable greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
August 2, 2007