September 9th, 2016 (Louzel Lombard). Cape Town – More than half of the world’s penguin species are threatened with extinction, according to penguin experts convened at the Ninth International Penguin Congress in Cape Town, South Africa this week.
The plight of the African penguin, the most rapidly declining of all 18 species, has focused international concern in South Africa and Namibia.
In the 1950s, more than 140 000 pairs bred up and down the coasts of those two countries. Today, only 25 000 pairs remain. African penguins are threatened by food shortages, climate change, human disturbance, and increased predation by seals.
Oil spills also pose a continuous threat. The Treasure oil spill in 2 000 hit the main penguin landing beaches and oiled nearly 20 000 penguins. There have been 14 major oil spills in South Africa since 1968.
Just last week, more than 150 penguins were again affected by an oil spill in Port Elizabeth. Following the emergency, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) is calling for aid in assisting to save and rehabilitate the penguins.
All of these threats, like the most recent one mentioned above, could be eliminated by proactive human action, but still, the majority of penguins face a very uncertain future.
Some small conservation victories can be seen, thankfully.
“One of the major positive changes in the last three years has been the increase in marine protected areas around the world,” said Dr Dee Boersma, of the Global Penguin Society.
“For more than 30 years, we have studied Magellanic penguins in Argentina, and finally in 2015, the government and the international community approved a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Patagonia that should help penguins as well as other marine species.”
According to Dr Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, co-chair of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group, “two species of penguins, Adélies and Gentoos, are also doing better than when the International Penguin Congress convened three years ago”.
The group recommended strengthening laws and policies relating to fisheries and management of human activities that negatively impact penguins.
“Even though there is some good news, we cannot be complacent. Immediate interventions are needed to better manage the marine environment,” says Boersma.
Conservationists and avifauna experts from all over the world are in Cape Town this week as South Africa hosts the 9th International Penguin Congress (IPC) until 9 September 2016.