Emperor penguins have been officially declared a threatened species due to the impact of climate change on their habitat. On October 25th, Emperor penguins were added to the list a threatened species by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of the United States, whose environmental standards are the strictest in the world.
“This listing reflects the growing extinction crisis and highlights the importance of the ESA and efforts to conserve species before population declines become irreversible,” service 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.”
Emperor penguins have long been at risk of extinction due to the rapid reduction of sea ice as a result of climate change and global warming. After more than a year of collective efforts to raise awareness of the risk, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it has been listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Stephanie Jenouvrier, associate scientist and seabird ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), after decades of study, suggested the imminent risk faced by emperor penguins. With this major legal step, international cooperation in conservation strategies is encouraged, funding for conservation programs is increased, research is stimulated, and concrete tools to reduce threats to this species are obtained.
Federal agencies are now obligated to reduce threats to emperor penguins, including ensuring that federal projects that emit large volumes of carbon pollution do not endanger their habitat. “Listing emperor penguins on the endangered species list is an important step in raising awareness of the impact of climate change as many species on Earth today face a very uncertain future, it depends on people working together to reduce carbon pollution,” said Jenouvrier.
Daniel Zitterbart, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who has used remote sensing to understand the state of the ocean and ecosystems, said that emperor penguins are a sentinel species that highlight the vulnerability of ice-dependent animals. He noted that despite living far from human activity, the far-reaching effects of climate change represent the most substantial threat facing the species.
Emperor penguins – the largest species in the world – is at risk because the increase in the planet’s temperature and the change in the global climate are melting the Antarctic ice, a place used as protection against its predators and where there are currently 61 colonies. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, colonies are projected to decline by more than 90%.
It is estimated that its population currently reaches approximately 650,000 specimens, but it is estimated that it will decrease between 26 and 47% by 2050, depending on the evolution of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. At the same time, there is great uncertainty about the existence of the species by 2100. WHOI estimates that 99% of emperor penguins could have completely disappeared.
According to Travel + Leisure magazine, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared 23 species extinct in 2021, including the Ivory-billed woodpecker, which was America’s largest woodpecker and had been listed as endangered since 1967. Since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, more than 50 species have been removed from the list due to species recovery and over 50 more have been moved from “endangered” to “threatened.”