Thursday, August 21, 2014

Penguins in urgent need of protection

Copy of ca p10 Penguins DONE

JUST SLEEPING: A penguin chick having a snooze at Sanccob s penguin nursery.

Cape Town - Some of them are small, cute and superficially cuddly, although they smell alarmingly of fish. Others are tall, stately and beautiful, although also generally offensive to human noses.
all of them are definitely charismatic and collectively are one of people’s favourite animals – yet the world’s 18 penguin species are now at “considerable risk”, scientists warn. 

And unless effective conservation measures that should include the urgent establishment of more Marine Protected Areas – including in the hard-to-police high seas beyond national jurisdictions – are taken now, penguins will be at even greater risk from future climate change. Because penguins are a good “indicator species”, changes in their numbers are also a warning of a decline in general ocean health.  These warnings are spelled out in a major review study just published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology by 17 scientists who include South African seabird expert Dr Rob Crawford of the oceans and coasts branch of the national Environmental Affairs Department. 

Another of the authors of “Pollution, habitat loss, fishing and climate change as critical threats to penguins” is Dr Richard Cuthbert of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a member of the seabird research team of UCT’s Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Their review of all 18 penguin species – all in the southern hemisphere except in the northern hemisphere at the Galapágos Islands – was based on an expert assessment and scientific literature, with 49 scientists contributing to the process. 

In the paper, the researchers point out that many fisheries across the world’s oceans are depleted, and that other, mostly human-driven, changes to coastal ecosystems have occurred. The largest cumulative impacts have occurred in the northern hemisphere, but the southern latitudes are less studied. “Therefore, we assessed a single widespread taxonomic group, penguins, to examine how humans affect marine systems across southern latitudes.” 

Noting that populations of many penguin species had declined substantially over the past two decades, the scientists looked at the main issues affecting penguin populations, including habitat degradation, marine pollution like oil spills, fisheries by-catch and resource competition, environmental variability, climate change, and toxic algal poisoning and disease. The status of each species was assessed and the scientists then developed a scale for estimating risk factors. They concluded that habitat loss, pollution, and fishing remained the primary concerns, but also said that despite the paucity of direct evidence that climate change was affecting penguins, evidence was “compelling.”

The future resilience of penguin populations to climate change impacts would almost certainly depend on addressing current threats to existing habitat degradation on land and at sea. “Many populations of penguins appear to be resilient, and given adequate protection, including sufficient habitat and food, populations can recover from relative low numbers once threats such as (direct) harvesting (of these birds) and egging (egg removal) are removed. Whether this remains the case in the future as climate change continues to affect ecosystems, has yet to be determined… 

“Many penguin species face a common set of anthropogenic threats that also affect other seabird species, marine mammals and taxa (groups of species) across a variety of trophic (feeding) levels. We therefore conclude that there is an urgent need to establish marine protected areas as an effective means of protecting penguins. (Protected areas) are an important management tool for conserving marine biodiversity because they allow for the sustainable and rational use of marine resources and potentially enhance fisheries management.” 

No comments: