Penguins are unusually susceptible to environmental changes. These inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere are affected by environmental changes and pronounced warming in the Antarctic, as well as commercial fishing, mining, and oil and gas development at lower latitudes, has led to declines in many species.
P. Dee Boersma, of the University of Washington in Seattle has published
In the July/August 2008 issue of BioScience,
a first-person account based on 30 years of studying the birds. Counts of the penguin populations at the 43 remaining breeding “hotspots,” even once every five years, could provide valuable insights into the variability of the ocean ecosystem and the populations’ viability; unfortunately counts are carried out only rarely, if at all.
Many penguin populations appear to be in rapid decline even as some temperate populations have expanded their range southward. Rapid reductions of sea ice off Antarctica in recent years threaten Adélie and emperor penguins, which need ice, but may benefit some populations of relatively ice-intolerant gentoo and chinstrap penguins.
In addition, increased snow and rain (another result of the changing climate) reduce breeding success in some gentoo and Adélie penguins.
Temperate penguins, such as Galápagos, Peruvian, and African species, are all declining. This decline is mainly caused by the mining of guano, egg harvesting, commercial fishing, and oil spills , while tourism and increasingly severe El Niño events, probably resulting from climate change, are also partly responsible.
Boersma recommends that a nongovernmental organization that is dedicated to monitoring major aggregations of penguins be formed. This organization could provide advance warning of urgent threats and thus make amelioration possible.