2009 Is for the Birds

January 9, 2009

With support from WCS, Argentina declares a new coastal marine park to protect half a million penguins, cormorants, oystercatchers, and other rare seabirds.

Argentina’s penguins rang in 2009 with a new marine park that will protect their nesting grounds onshore as well as their feeding grounds at sea. The park is home to half a million Magellanic penguins, along with several species of rare seabirds and the region’s only population of South American fur seals.

The Government of Argentina signed the marine park into law in December. Its creation represents a joint effort by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), National Parks Service of Argentina, Government of Chubut, and local partner Fundación Patagonia Natural. It also received support from the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility.

WCS researchers, together with Fundación Patagonia Natural, worked to ensure that the park’s boundaries would include both onshore areas and adjacent waters. The researchers found that the area’s wildlife faced increasing pressures by commercial fishing and the oil industry. Seabirds foraging in the waters risked entanglement in commercial fishing nets. Other threats included expanding offshore oil drilling and pollution from tankers transporting petroleum from southern Patagonia to Buenos Aires.

“The park protects one of the most productive and extraordinary marine ecosystems on the planet,” said Dr. Guillermo Harris, director of WCS-Argentina. “The creation of this park comes in the nick of time for many species that are threatened by the region’s fishing and energy industries.”

Located in Golfo San Jorge in Chubut Province, 1,056 miles south of Buenos Aires, the park safeguards 250 square miles of coastal waters and nearby islands strung along almost 100 miles of shoreline. The region’s Magellanic penguins represent an estimated 25 percent of the entire population in Patagonia. Two nesting colonies of southern giant petrels also inhabit the region’s 50 small islands. These bird colonies represent more than 80 percent of the petrel population on the entire Patagonian coast. Other denizens of the oasis include the endangered Olrog’s gull, the white-headed steamer duck, and almost a third of all imperial and rock cormorants in Argentina.

Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas has provided funding for the park and for WCS’s efforts to safeguard coastal Patagonia. WCS has been active in the region since the 1960s, helping to conserve southern right whales, Magellanic penguins, and southern elephant seals. Our Sea & Sky program is committed to supporting the health of the Patagonian Sea and inspiring local interest in ocean conservation.

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