By Kelly Roncace | For NJ.com
on May 16, 2015
In 1930, the South African penguin population consisted of more than one million thriving, breeding pairs.
Today, only two percent of that population remains in the wild. "They are an endangered species that could very well become extinct within our lifetime," said Jennifer Duffy, senior biologist at Camden's Adventure Aquarium.
On May 14, in recognition of the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, the aquarium's penguin colony disappeared. "Today, when the visitors come in, they will see no penguins," she said. To show visitors what the world would be like without penguins, the glass doors leading out to Penguin Island were covered and each group to come through was stopped and asked to take a pledge to help save the penguins and protect the environment as a whole. "We are encouraging people to protect our environment by disposing of trash properly, recycling responsibly, turning off the water while you brush your teeth," she said.
As the visitors then passed through the doors, they could see an empty Penguin Island. "It's kind of sad, but we want it to be shocking," Duffy said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility that, in the near future, the only place to see penguins could be in a facility like this."
Endangered Species Day, May 14, 2015
Adventure Aquarium recognizes Endangered Species Day. After Duffy or another aquarium biologist explained the critical situation for South African penguins, the doors opened, allowing the penguins to waddle out to see their visitors. "It drives home the point that these guys are super cool and we want to do what we can to save them," she said.
Michele Pagel, aquarium curator of birds and mammals, said if the South African penguin population continues to decline as it has since the first survey was conducted in 1930, they will disappear. "Their lives are connected to the ocean," she said. noting that many oil tankers travel directly through the penguins' breeding grounds, making oil spills a major threat.
Humans have also caused the decrease in the penguin population by taking their eggs and waste.
Duffy explained that the penguins use guano to build protective coverings over nesting areas. "Penguins go to the bathroom every 10 to 15 minutes," she said.
While the birds use the material, humans also come in the take it for fuel and fertilizer. "But when they take too much of it, the penguins don't have enough to protect their nesting areas," Duffy said.
Pagel said some conservation organizations near penguin breeding grounds have begun building artificial nesting habitats that have helped, but there is much more to be done. "You can start in your own area," Duffy said. "Clean up your neighborhood or the shore or the beach because all of the oceans are connected, so what we do here affects what happens to the penguins."
Adventure Aquarium joined the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' SAFE program - Saving Animals From Extinction - and more than 200 members of AZA, along with SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) in this effort to raise awareness of the declining South African penguin population. "We want youngsters to pledge to pick up three pieces of trash every day," Duffy said. "And to go home and tell their friends and family members to be neat and tidy, and to be superheroes for our oceans."
And, Pagel said, there is a lot that can be done to help halt the current decline in population. "The African penguins are our heros here, and it's our turn to become superheroes for them."
For more information, visit www.adventureaquarium.com.