Climate change tagged in penguin decline

Nov. 14, 2012 at 2:51 PM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Climate change, not the impact of tourism, is mostly driving the decline in populations of chinstrap penguins in the antarctic, a U.S. study found.

Researchers funded in part by the National Science Foundation determined the breeding population of chinstrap penguins has declined significantly as temperatures have rapidly warmed on the Antarctic Peninsula.

"We now know that two of the three predominant penguin species in the peninsula -- chinstrap and Adelie -- are declining significantly in a region where, in the last 60 years, it's warmed by 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) annually and by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter," said Ron Naveen, founder of a non-profit science and conservation organization, Oceanites, Inc.

There has been speculation tourism may be having have a negative impact on breeding chinstrap penguins, especially at Deception Island's largest chinstrap colony, known as Baily Head.

Naveen and other researchers with the Antarctic Site Inventory say the evidence says otherwise.

"The decline of chinstrap penguins at Baily Head is consistent with declines in this species throughout the region, including at sites that receive little or no tourism; further, as a consequence of regional environmental changes that currently represent the dominant influence on penguin dynamics, we cannot ascribe any direct link in this study between chinstrap declines and tourism," chief study scientist Heather Lunch said in an NSF release.

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