As a result of pressure from the environmental organizations, Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Interior Department announced on Tuesday that New Zealand-Australia populations of southern rockhopper penguin would finally get listed as a “threatened” species for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The listing followed a legal settlement with the two organizations.
Although it is not an “endangered” listing, it will increase funding for research and conservation and additional oversight to federal activities that could result in harm to the existing rockhopper population.
“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,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center, which first petitioned to protect the rockhoppers and 11 other penguin species in 2006. “Endangered Species Act protections can begin to address this threat.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity press release, Rockhopper penguins, named for the way they hop from boulder to boulder, are widespread — breeding on islands off South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand — but the penguins listed today have declined by more than 90 percent since the early 1940s. Changes to the marine environment, such as increases in sea-surface temperatures and reduced prey availability, are the primary threat to these colonies.
“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 predicts that by mid-century, if greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, climate change will commit one-third of the world’s animal and plant species to extinction. The threatened southern rockhopper penguin joins six other recently protected penguins: the African penguin, the Humboldt penguin of Chile and Peru and four other New Zealand penguins (the yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland crested and erect-crested).
Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has a dismal record on listing species for ESA protection and rarely does so, without pressure from conservation groups.
More information on the plight of the penguins