What you do and who you support impacts penguins. Climate change, pollution, and overfishing threaten penguins and their habitat. While these problems may feel overwhelming, each of us can minimize our impact and promote conservation locally and globally.
Climate variability is a problem for many species, and penguins are no exception. For ice-dependent penguins, such as the emperor, the shifting and loss of sea ice threatens their reproductive success. For temperate species climate change has increased rainfall and storms. Extreme rainfall can flood nests. When downy chicks get wet they can die from hypothermia.
What you can do to reduce your carbon footprint:
- Walk, bike, or take public transportation to reduce vehicle emissions.
- Keep your car well-maintained. Proper maintenance decreases gas consumption and emissions, helping the environment and saving you money.
- Power down and unplug electronics that are not in use.
- Use energy-efficient electronics and light bulbs.
- Shop locally.
Garbage and chemical pollution decreases the water quality of the oceans and is a direct risk to wildlife. An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of garbage entered our oceans in 2010 alone (Jambeck et al., 2015, Science,). Wildlife can become tangled in garbage, reducing their ability to swim, thermoregulate, eat, or breath. They can also mistake garbage for food, which can lead to digestive problems and starvation. As the human population increases, so does the amount of garbage in our oceans.
What you can do to reduce pollution:
- Reduce your consumption. Pay attention to how much packaging is used for items you purchase, maintain items you have already purchased, and borrow, rent, or share items you use infrequently. Purchase products you can use more than once, such as water bottles and travel mugs. Cut down on catalogues and use electronic statements to reduce paper waste.
- Reuse. Think before you throw. How can the item be repurposed or used again? Often food packaging can make great containers for food storage. Search the internet to see what others have done. Donate items you no longer need, such as clothes, toys, and electronics.
- Recycle (and compost). Fill your recycle and yard waste containers so materials can be processed into other items, such as recycled paper and compost. This reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or the ocean. Recycling (or properly disposing of) electronics and batteries prevents hazardous chemicals from seeping into the surrounding soil, air, and water. In many areas garbage is disposed of using burning; recycling helps reduce the amount burned and decreases the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. Visit your city or town’s public utilities website to learn what can be recycled or composted.
- Pick up litter and abandoned fishing gear on beach and/or participate in organized beach clean-ups to help reduce what ends up in the ocean. Nothing goes away but we can put unwanted items in a better place.
Penguins eat small to medium-sized fish, squid, and crustaceans, collectively referred to as forage fish. Forage fish are exceptionally important and include some of the largest fisheries in the world and produce a sizable share of the global wild marine fish catch (Alder et al. 2008). Humans through overfishing and poor fishery management have depleted many large fish and now are harvesting small fish that seabirds and marine mammals depend upon for food. At least one third of the forage fish should be left for them to eat (Cury et al. 2011 Science, Pikitch 2015 PNAS). Up to ninety percent of forage fish caught are processed for other uses such as food for chickens, pets, and fish farms. Increased fishing pressure has been a factor in the collapse of some fisheries, including the devastating collapse of Peruvian anchovies in 1972, which negatively impacted wildlife populations and the Peruvian communities that depended on the fish for income and food. Many practices used by fisherman can cause damage the seafloor and other wildlife can become caught or entangled in nets.
What you can do to protect their food:
- Eat sustainable seafood. Use guides to choose seafood that is harvested sustainably. Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, Carl Safina’s Sustainable Seafood Program, or NOAA’s Fish Watch to learn more about your seafood.
- Pay attention to the ingredients of other items, such as nutritional supplements and pet food, and avoid those that contain fishmeal.
Whether you’re hiking local trails or traveling, reduce your wildlife impact. Each year more than 100,000 people visit the Magellanic penguin colony at Punta Tombo, Argentina and over 200,000 visit the Galápagos islands. Tourism can benefit the local economy but it can harm the environment and wildlife. Pick experiences that increase your conservation understanding, provide financial support and jobs to local communities, and foster protection of wildlife and their habitat. Ask companies, organization and government what they are doing to support conservation. Parks and organizations may try to minimize the impacts of tourism on local habitat and wildlife so find out what they are doing and whether it is meaningful to conservation. It is up to you to act responsibly and up to you to make government and business accountable to promote meaningful conservation.
What you can do to be a responsible tourist:
- Support organizations that promote conservation, create conservation jobs, and educate people about wildlife and the environment.
- Choose wisely about where you sleep and eat. Choose places that minimize their impact on the environment by using local resources for building, minimizing waste, and serving local, sustainable food.
- Stay on marked trails. This can help protect habitat and reduce the impact on wildlife.
- Respect wildlife. Do no touch or feed the animals and pay attention to your surroundings when driving or walking.
- Obey the rules put in place by parks, governments, or private agencies in charge of wildlife protection.
Long-term research is expensive and rarely funded by government agencies. To continue our research, we depend largely on private donations and support. Donations, large and small, offer us the opportunity to learn about penguins and train the next generation of conservation biologists. We develop the science to help protect these ocean sentinels. Sign-up for the penguin update that comes out twice a year about our research and conservation results.