Penguins A Threatened Ecotourism Treasure


Penguin life has gotten more precarious since this 1913 NOAA photo.

Penguin populations have been declining and shifting globally as a result of oil pollution, overfishing, guano mining (!) and increased coastal development, according to research by Dee Boersma from the University of Washington, published in the July-August edition of the journal BioScience.

Climate changes cause dramatic shifts
Boersma sees penguins as marine sentinels of the Southern Hemisphere. They depend on predictable climate for their breeding cycles and need high ocean productivity for the krill and fish they survive on. A warming Antarctic is causing varying changes - for some ice-requiring penguins like the Adelie it is detrimental, while for ice-intolerant species such as the gentoo and chinstrap it could be beneficial.

Penguins an ecotourism favorite

But Boersma contends that demonstrated declines in penguin populations overall show that humans aren't managing their ocean resources and habitats well enough. Penguins are a huge ecotourism draw - for example, as many as half a million people visit just one of the many penguin species, the blue penguin, on Phillip Island in Australia. But there is only sporadic, uncoordinated monitoring of the 43 different penguin colonies that make up most of the global penguin population.Just like polar bears, penguins are a high profile species at the mercy of warming poles. Boersma says forming an international organization to monitor the status of penguin populations would help scientists have a better chance to intervene and help possibly crashing populations, as well as give us important data about the state of the oceans they inhabit.

As Boersma states, life is not likely to get easier for penguins as they try to withstand both climate variation and human development. It seems to behoove us to give them a little more help if we hope to see them surviving in their natural habitats rather than just as pictures in a history book or captives at the zoo. Via ::International Polar Foundation
More on penguins:
Video: French Ad for March of the Penguins
Penguins March into New Patagonian Marine Park

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