Friday, August 29, 2014

For Penguins’ Sake—How Conservation Efforts May Save the Tuxedoed Wonders

By Ryan Wallace 
Aug 29, 2014
Affected globally in recent decades due to multiple factors including climate change, pollution, habitat loss and fishery-related impacts, seabird species have become far more uncommon sites to be seen than ever before. Particularly vulnerable species, in all of their niché habitats, penguins have shown this effect as population sizes for the black and white birds have plummeted. In fact, all 18 penguin species face some sort of threat even today, as conservation efforts have become more well-defined. But researchers say that not all hope is lost for the penguin family.
Published earlier this month in the journal Conservation Biology, a team of international European and American conservation biologists sought to pinpoint the threats and difficulties facing all 18 species over the course of the last 250 years. By reviewing data and research collected by biologists worldwide over more than two centuries, the team was able to consider trends seen in range, distribution, population density and anthropogenic (human-caused) threats. "These [anthropogenic] threats were harvesting adults for oil, skin and feathers and as bait for crab and rock lobster fisheries; harvesting of eggs; terrestrial habitat degradation; marine pollution...climate change; and toxic algal poisoning and disease", and those are only the short list of threats, lead author from the British Antarctic Survey, Phil Trathan says.

(Photo : National Geographic)

Though nine serious threats were identified to have caused serious declines in penguin populations, the conservationists focused on three main causes, which humans can readily address. These included: ongoing habitat destruction caused by livestock and other foreign species, pollution from oils spills and marine debris, and injury and famine caused by increased fishing in their natural hunting areas. By paying more attention to the factors that seriously affect the species, the researchers are hopeful that governmental intervention can help penguins once again flourish in the absence of humans.

Though the researchers do not posit specific plans, they do generally suggest the implementation of more marine reserves called "Marine Protected Areas" (MPA) to help return the populations to natural conditions not interfered or altered by human presence and intervention. As not only hunting and pollution, but also climate change, exhibited serious trends in the study, the researchers insist that ongoing conservation actions and changes in the anthropogenic stresses placed on the niche habitats will be an essential necessity for conservation of the 18 species in the immediate future.

"Large-scale conservation zones are not always practical or politically feasible, and other ecosystem-based management methods that include spatial zoning, bycatch mitigation, and robust harvest control must be developed to maintain marine biodiversity and ensure that ecosystem functioning is maintained across a variety of scales" Trathan says. "We suggest protection of breeding habitat, linked to the designation of appropriately scaled marine reserves, including in the High Seas, will be critical for the future conservation of penguins worldwide."


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