Protection measures for penguins at risk from habitat degradation

Scientists have recommended a range of measures to protect penguins following a study suggesting continued risk from habitat degradation. The measures include mitigating the effects of food scarcity, oil pollution and climate change.

Penguins are at continued risk from habitat degradation, a British Antarctic Survey study has concluded. Writing in the journal Conservation Biology, the international scientists recommended the adoption of measures to mitigate the effects of food scarcity (where fisheries compete for the same resources), being caught in fishing nets, oil pollution and climate change.

This could include the establishment of marine protected areas and a number of other ecologically based management methods.

Populations of many penguin species have declined substantially over the past two decades. In 2013, 11 species were listed as ‘threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), two as ‘near threatened’ and five as ‘of least concern’.

In order to understand how they might respond to further human impacts on the world’s oceans, the scientists examined all 18 species, looking at different factors where human activity might interfere with their populations.

They considered all the main issues affecting penguin populations including terrestrial habitat degradation, marine pollution, fisheries bycatch and resource competition, environmental variability, climate change and toxic algal poisoning and disease.

The group concluded that habitat loss, pollution and fishing remain the primary concerns. They reported that the future resilience of penguin populations to climate change impacts will almost certainly depend upon addressing current threats to existing habitat degradation on land and at sea.

The group of scientists recommended that the protection of penguin habitats is crucial for their future survival. This could be in the form of appropriately scaled marine reserves, including some in the High Seas, in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Dr Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey and the lead author of the study, said: “Penguins and humans often compete for the same food, and some of our other actions also impinge upon penguins. Our research highlights some of the issues of conservation and how we might protect biodiversity and the functioning of marine ecosystems.”

The scientists believe their work will be of benefit to other studies of animal species, not just in the southern hemisphere, but the northern one too, where human impact on the environment is even greater.

Photo credit: sandwich/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


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