from the Penguin News site,
4 June 2010
Legal settlement will protect seven penguin species at risk from global warming and fisheries (USA)
A federal judge has approved a settlement that requires the US federal government to finalise protections for seven penguin species under the Endangered Species Act. The court-ordered settlement results from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network challenging the Obama administration’s failure to finalise its determination that these penguins warrant Endangered Species Act protection due to threats from climate change and commercial fisheries.
Read Center for Biological Diversity press release
While this is a justified action, it’s not clear what the practical results might be. The polar bear was listed under the ESA in May 2008 because of habitat loss from global warming. Yet Bush’s Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne “made clear several times during a press conference announcing the department’s decision that, despite his acknowledgement that the polar bear’s sea ice habitat is melting due to global warming, the ESA will not be used as a tool for trying to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for creating climate change.” For the bears, listing could have potential benefits of changed regulations governing activities in US territory (such as oil drilling) but action would be based on the direct impact on the ground, not the contribution of oil and drilling to climate change.
Last year the Scientific American blog stated the effects of ESA listing for these species of penguin:
Why protect penguins under the ESA if they don’t live in the U.S. or its territories? “Listing of penguins under the ESA would make import or export of the species illegal without an ESA permit,” Ward says [US Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs specialist Tamara Ward]. “Such permits are issued only if an activity has a conservation benefit and it is hoped listing may help focus international attention on the species conservation needs.” In addition, according to the CBD [Center for Biological Diversity], listing would also require federal agencies to ensure that any action carried out, authorized or funded by the U.S. government would not jeopardize the continued existence of the protected species.
Major threats to penguin species include overfishing and climate change. The latter causes loss of ice on which some species nest, and changes in currents which move fish and other prey to new areas of the sea—sometimes so far offshore that penguin parents are hampered in bringing back fish to feed the young. Oilspills and introduced terrestrial predators (rats, dogs, feral cats) can have devastating local effects.
Realistically, I think it will take a much greater disaster than the Gulf Oil spill to provide the political will for effective action on climate change and the overfishing/pollution of the oceans. Piecemeal wildlife protection is sometimes valuable, and ESA listing has symbolic importance (perhaps little else in this case), but where, where, is the “place to stand” for moving the world on these huge issues?
African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) oiled in a spill off the South African coast. Photo by Cape Times, Cape Town South Africa, from Penguin Conservation vol. 7(2).
Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor), at entrance to a nest burrow on Phillip Island, Australia. Photo by M. Kuhn, Creative Commons license.