Climate Change Could Devastate Emperor Penguins, U.S. Officials Warn
Climate change threatens emperor penguins with extinction across much of their range, federal wildlife officials said on Tuesday as they announced a proposal to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. of disappearance.
Penguins live much of the year on the Antarctic sea ice, which disappears or breaks due to heat-trapping gases released by human use of fossil fuels. Penguins need ice to reproduce, raise their young and escape predators.
“The decisions made by policymakers today and over the next several decades will determine the fate of the emperor penguin,” Martha Williams, senior deputy director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.
If listed as threatened, the birds would join a few dozen species the federal government considers threatened by climate change, including polar bears, two types of seals and 20 varieties of corals.
Although the species is not found in the United States, a listing under the Endangered Species Act would mean that federal agencies would have to minimize damage from American activities in their habitat, such as fishing.
The proposal was informed by scientific research independently published in the journal Global Change Biology on Tuesday. This study found that if sea ice continued to disappear at the rate predicted by climate models given current world energy trends and policies, more than 80% of emperor penguin colonies would disappear by 2100.
But, the scientists point out, it doesn’t have to be. If the world takes swift and drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate agreement, there will be enough sea ice left to support a small, but still viable population of emperor penguins. , they found.
“We need to act now, before it’s too late,” said Stephanie Jenouvrier, lead study author and seabird ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
“And not just for the penguins,” noted Dr. Jenouvrier. “For us and for our children.
The tallest of all penguins, Emperors stand almost four feet tall. After laying a single egg, the females go hunting, and the males feed the egg by holding it on their feet and covering it with a feather pouch. After hatching, the parents take turns looking after their offspring. If the pack ice clears before the young penguins exchange their fluffy baby feathers for smooth adult feathers, they will not be able to swim in the freezing waters and will die.
In 2016, Antarctica’s second largest colony lost more than 10,000 chicks in an area considered safe. Sea ice is essentially a frozen ocean. Penguins often cannot climb ice floes to find habitat on land, and the harsh conditions there can deplete the penguins’ energy reserves.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species currently classifies emperor penguins as “near threatened” with a declining population.
Environmentalists say they hope the penguin listing will increase pressure on the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the impact of fossil fuels on endangered species when giving its opinion on whether to ‘grant federal permits.
“The hope is that with these additional protections, US fossil fuel project approvals will have to weigh the damage to penguins and their Antarctic habitat, thereby reducing heat-trapping pollution around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, director of the international program at the Center for Biological Diversity. The environmental group had asked the United States to consider listing the penguin and sued when it failed to act within the required timeframe. Two employees of the group were among the 12 authors of Dr. Jenouvrier’s study.
Tuesday’s proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service kicks off a 60-day public comment period.
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