Pablo García BorborogluSaving the world's threatened penguins
Two thirds of the world’s seabirds have vanished since 1960, and among the most critically endangered are penguins. Their alarming decline has spurred Argentinian conservationist Pablo García Borboroglu to carry out a worldwide campaign to address the main threats facing them. Actions include gathering key data to understand how to assist penguin survival, along with a global educational programme engaging local communities and schools to increase awareness and, finally, work with local and national governments and landowners to improve decision-making on matters that affect penguin conservation, including the designation and management of new Marine Protected Areas.
“There are 18 species of penguins living on our planet and over half of them are considered threatened by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). In the last 30 years, 14 of these species have been reclassified as more at risk,” says García Borboroglu, who is the founder and president of the Global Penguin Society.
“Penguins are excellent indicators of the health of the oceans, because they’re very sensitive to all the alterations in their habitats. They face threats not only on land when they are nesting, but also when they go to the ocean and swim thousands of kilometres to feed or migrate. So, they are exposed to threats like climate change, pollution and fisheries mismanagement. But on land, human disturbance or the introduction of new predators also impact penguins,” he remarks.
“Among the most concerning aspects is the reduction in food linked to overfishing and climate change, which forces penguins to travel greater and greater distances to gather the fish they need to feed their chicks: They swim hundreds of kilometres − but many times when they come back, the chicks have starved.”
García Borboroglu has been working to understand and save penguins for more than 30 years, since witnessing 40,000 of them dying annually as the result of oil spills in Patagonia in the 1980s, and trying to rescue them. “When I released the first one back into the wild, it clicked – I realized that one individual action can have a big impact, so I started to scale up.”
His project has three components: science, education, and management of penguin species and habitats.
First, it is generating scientific knowledge on critical aspects of the biology and ecology of three key penguin species in Argentina, Chile and New Zealand that is useful to make fact-based recommendations to guide conservation.
Second, he is engaging local communities and students from schools in penguin studies and conservation in Argentina and Chile. This also involves school trips to penguin colonies, coastal clean-ups aimed at penguin protection, developing sustainable ecotourism plans and creating an online education kit for worldwide distribution.
Third, García Borboroglu is currently working with governments and landowners to improve decisions that affect penguin conservation. This uses the scientific knowledge that he is generating to develop adaptive management strategies, and to inform the process for establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that protect penguin nesting and feeding areas.
“Through penguins we work for marine conservation – and the oceans are extremely important for the quality of life on this planet as they provide food, oxygen and regulate the weather of the entire planet. This project is essential to address major environmental problems – it’s a global issue.” So far, his actions have benefited 1.6 million penguins helping to secure 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of their habitat and involving thousands of children in educational activities.
species of penguins living on our planet
of them are considered threatened