10 March 2011

Endangered Species Act protection for southern rockhoppers

A southern rockhopper penguin in the
Falkland Islands.
Photo © Larry Master/masterimages.org.
USA - Their spiky hairstyle makes them look anti-establishment, but the punk rockers of the penguin world now have protection from the US government. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that the New Zealand/Australia distinct population segment of southern rockhopper penguins will join the list of threatened species protected under the US Endangered Species Act. The listing follows a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) over delays in protecting the penguin.

Listing under the Act will raise awareness of the penguins' plight and increase research and conservation funds. It will also mean that federal agencies are required to ensure that any action carried out, authorised, or funded by the US government will not jeopardise the continued existence of the penguin species. This includes compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species and to adopt solutions to reduce them.

"These hardy penguins survive on remote, stormy, sub-Antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean, practically at the edge of the world, and yet they may not survive climate change. Endangered Species Act protections can begin to address this threat," said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center.

The New Zealand/Australia distinct population segment of southern rockhopper penguin is found in the subantarctic region south of these two countries. The population size of this species, which breeds on the Macquarie, Campbell, Auckland and Antipodes Island groups, has declined by approximately 90% since the 1940s and continues to shrink. They are classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List.

"These penguins have adapted to an inhospitable environment over hundreds of years, but the combination of ocean warming and commercial fishing may prove to be too much," said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of TIRN. "Through this listing, the government is acknowledging that our oceans are sick and taking a first step to protect penguins and their watery world."

The Center first petitioned to protect southern rockhoppers in 2006, along with 11 other penguin species. In 2008, it sued the Department of Interior for its delay in providing protection for the penguins, and since then the African, Humboldt, yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland and erect-crested penguin species have been listed as threatened under the Act.

ESA protection provided to rare penguin species, 22 February 2011, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Southern rockhopper penguins listed as threatened species; climate change protections needed, 22 February 2011, Center for Biological Diversity

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