Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Since the 1970s, the population of Galapagos penguins—the only penguin species to reside in the northern hemisphere—has decreased by more than 50 percent. Habitat loss and competition from invasive species are thought to be the two drivers of this decline—which, if left unchecked, is expected to lead to extinction before the end of the century.
Fortunately, a group of conservationists have set out to divert the species from this unhappy end. To do this, they have built 120 new homes for the penguins.Typically, the penguins build their nests in shaded areas between rocks or lava tubes. The problem is that as their habitat has decreased, the crevices available for nesting have become limited. Furthermore, introduced predators like cats, dogs, rats, and pigs manage to disturb the nests.
More nesting sites—and greater protection from new predators—are essential if the population is to stabilize, explained Dee Boersma of the University of Washington.
In September, Boersma led a team that build 120 new crevices—in areas isolated from invasive species—from collected lava rocks. She explained:
Our whole goal is to increase the population of Galápagos penguins, and the way to do that is to make sure that when conditions are good, when they're not food-challenged, that all of them will be able to breed.
The nesting sites, she said, were completed just in time: Warm La Nina currents are expected to make the next months particularly productive for penguin breeding.
The team plans to return to the sites in February to survey the success of the new nesting sites.