The winner of the 2016 Penguin Election is…
... the Emperor Penguin! It vows to call for marine reserves in Antarctica to protect its imperilled species.
Elections are a hot topic these days, even in icy-cold Antarctica, where a bevy of birds has spent the past six months campaigning to lead the charge against threats to this fragile corner of the Earth. The mock election was orchestrated by the Pew Charitable Trusts, with the hope of generating reader awareness of the many challenges penguins face, from overfishing and dissipating ice to predators, invasive disease, and habitat destruction.
Since World Penguin Day (April 25), online readers have been able to vote for their favorite candidate out of seven – the Chinstrap, the Emperor, the King, the Adélie, the Gentoo, the Macaroni, and the Yellow-Eyed penguin.
The winner was announced on October 13, and it’s the Emperor who strikes back! The Emperor has promised to fight for large-scale marine reserves to build resilience to climate change and provide peaceful, undisturbed space for nesting.
Emperor penguins were made famous by the 2005 documentary film “March of the Penguins,” which revealed the astonishing rigors of its life; the male penguin keeps a single egg warm during months of bitter cold, storms, and darkness. It is the most ice-reliant species of penguin, and therefore deeply affected by global warming. From the Emperor’s election profile:
“A study in Nature Climate Change predicted that the global population of these penguins will decline by 19 to 33 percent by the end of this century due mostly to climate change and associated shifts in sea ice, which are forecast to affect where the emperor can breed and how far it must travel to hunt. This could result in lengthy—and unpredictable—absences for the parents, increasing the likelihood that their chicks will succumb to predation and starvation. This is a critical risk because the emperor has only one chick per year per pair.”
The most effective way to help all of these penguins, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, is to establish large-scale marine protected areas, particularly in the Ross Sea, called “the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth” in Biological Conservation journal, and eastern Antarctica. This depends on the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a fisheries management body that sets fishing policy in the Southern Ocean. The group, however, requires full consensus from all 25 members in order to create marine protected areas:
“In five previous commission meetings, bids to create marine protected areas did not pass due to one or two dissenting votes. The proposals to create the marine protected areas, if passed, would still leave millions of square miles of ocean open to continued fishing.”
The CCAMLR is currently meeting in Tasmania (October 17-28, 2016), and the Pew Charitable Trusts hope that the penguin election will put these valuable little creatures in the spotlight, encouraging CCAMLR to make steps toward protecting them.