Penguin Awareness alone won’t stop the decline of Australia’s deep-diving birdlife

Cosmos Magazine


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By Cosmos

Noot Noot!

That loud, Pingu-like protest might be the clarion call of Australia’s penguin populations which are increasingly threatened by climate change.

There are 18 species of penguin that live primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. Three quarters of penguin species are in decline and five are considered endangered.

And in Australia, January 20’s Penguin Awareness Day encourages people to better understand threats and risks posed by these unique animals, especially the eight species that inhabit Australian territory, from the mainland to Antarctica.

The challenge facing Australia’s ecological scientists – at least those specialising in coastal and Antarctic birdlife and ecosystem – is the increasing plight of penguin colonies around the nation.

On Australia’s mainland, the difference between thriving and surviving boils down to the mix of threats a colony faces.

For Little Penguins, Phillip Island provides an idyllic sanctuary: predator-free, plenty of prey, this place some 75 kilometres south of Melbourne has ticked over 40,000 birds and injects millions of dollars into Victoria’s tourism economy thanks to the nightly ‘Penguin Parade’ that greets avid birdwatchers from around the world.

The species is faring less well elsewhere. The only on-shore colony in New South Wales is officially endangered, and Granite Island in South Australia has seen an almost 99% decline in its numbers over a 20-year period thanks to drought and predation.

Across the Nullarbor, Western Australia’s offshore colonies are threatened by heating oceans as climate change hits home.

They’re not officially threatened, but are little penguins in big decline?

Away from mainland Australia, penguin populations are also poised to suffer from similar threats.

Recent reports suggest Antarctica’s biodiversity will buckle under the pressure of both invasive species and climate change, particularly given the absence of large-scale assessments into managing these dangers.

Among them, emperor penguins – the model for Pingu and other pop culture icons like Mumble (Happy Feet) and the tuxedoed mischief-makers in Madagascar – will face the most pressure. According to University of Queensland research, it is the species most likely to go extinct.

But Adelie Penguin numbers are also declining. This species has been popularised for its quirky personality popularised in many-a-BBC nature documentary.

So where to for bird species like these? On the latest episode of The Science Briefing, Dr Sophie Calabretto and Matthew Agius dive into the reasons for one colony’s decline and what options are available to researchers and authorities to stem their decline.

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