New Atlas of the Patagonian Sea

June 2, 2010

The ambitious atlas, compiled from data gathered over a decade, shows how albatrosses, penguins, elephant seals, and other marine animals use a critical region of the South Atlantic Ocean.

The first atlas of South America’s Patagonian Sea, released by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Birdlife International in November 2009, is now online. The atlas, which can be found at http://atlas-marpatagonico.org/, contains the most accurate maps ever assembled for this ecosystem and shows key migratory corridors spanning from coastlines to deep-sea feeding areas off the continental shelf hundreds of miles away. It also includes information on the penguins, albatrosses, and various other species that live there, as well as features of the marine habitat.

Data for Atlas of the Patagonian Sea: Species and Spaces was gathered by a team of 25 scientists working over a 10-year period. The team tracked 16 species of marine animals, which produced some 280,000 uplinks of data over the Patagonian Sea, a huge area ranging from southern Brazil to southern Chile. The resulting 300-page book, written in both English and Spanish, was edited by Valeria Falabella and Claudio Campagna of WCS, and John Croxall of Birdlife International.

The atlas will be used to help inform policy decisions in the region such as managing fisheries and charting transportation routes of oil tankers. This vast region, which spans 1.1 million square miles, is increasingly threatened by burgeoning development and overfishing.

“This unprecedented atlas was essentially written by the wildlife that live in the Patagonian Sea,” said Dr. Campagna, who runs the WCS Sea and Sky initiative. “It helps fill in many gaps of knowledge and should serve as a blueprint for future conservation efforts in this region.”

The atlas underscores the need for a new network of marine protected areas that would include open-sea environments linked to key coastal areas. Many of the species tracked travel vast distances between their breeding grounds and feeding areas. For example, satellite data revealed that southern elephant seals travel more than 6,200 miles during an average season at sea, plus an equal distance in repeated vertical dives for food.

The list of species tracked for the atlas includes five species of albatross, three species of petrel, four varieties of penguin, two fur seal species, the South American sea lion, and the southern elephant seal.

The completion of Atlas of the Patagonian Sea is due in large part to the generosity and long-standing support of the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation for the WCS “Sea and Sky” initiative, as well as support from Judith H. Hamilton, James M. Large, Christopher B. Hockett, and Isabella Rossellini. WCS’s conservation work in this region also receives support from the Mitsubishi Foundation for the Americas and Mr. and Mrs. James M. Large, Jr.

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