Energy & Environment

Feds grant Endangered Species Act protections to emperor penguin, citing climate change

An emperor penguin
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced Tuesday that it will grant the emperor penguin “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act, citing the effects of climate change on the sea ice that comprises its habitat.

In its announcement Tuesday, the USFWS said that while the emperor penguin population is stable for the moment, projected loss of Antarctic sea ice is likely to have major impacts on population size by midcentury. The species currently has about 61 breeding colonies along the coast of the continent and between 625,000 and 650,000 individual penguins among the entire species population.

However, projections of carbon emissions and their impact on sea ice found that by 2050, the population could recede by between 26 percent in a low-emissions scenario and 47 percent in a high-emissions scenario. A worst-case scenario could reduce the global population size to just over 132,000 breeding pairs, according to the USFWS.

Certain regions would be harder hit than others, according to USFWS projections, with melting sea ice potentially reducing populations by more than 90 percent in colonies within the Indian Ocean and western Pacific as well as the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas.

“This listing reflects the growing extinction crisis and highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species before population declines become irreversible,” USFWS Director Martha Williams said in a statement. “Climate change is having a profound impact on species around the world and addressing it is a priority for the Administration. The listing of the emperor penguin serves as an alarm bell but also a call to action.”

The USFWS is set to publish the final rule assigning the threatened classification on Wednesday. It will take effect 30 days later.

The Center for Biological Diversity called the designation, which it has petitioned for since 2011, a “big win” for the species but said it must be accompanied by meaningful action to reduce emissions.

“Listing emperor penguins as a threatened species is an important step for raising awareness about the impact of climate change,” Stephanie Jenouvrier, a scientist and seabird ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said in a statement. “Emperor penguins, like many species on Earth, face a very uncertain future, which is dependent on people working together to reduce carbon pollution. We should draw inspiration from the penguins themselves; only together can penguins brave the harshest climate on Earth, and only together can we face a difficult climate future.”

Tags Climate change emperor penguins Endangered Species Act U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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