Penguins Dine Free in Argentina

October 22, 2008

Argentina bans commercial fishing in Burdwood Bank, a key marine wildlife area in the Patagonian ecosystem that is home to albatross, penguins, whales, and seals, among other species.

There’ll be plenty of fish in the sea for penguins, sea lions, albatross, and other seafood lovers living off Argentina’s southern coast. The country’s government has banned commercial fishing along Burdwood Bank, a 694-square-mile submerged island located 136 miles from the shoreline, guaranteeing an abundant supply of dinner for the many marine animals that feed here.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) considers Burdwood Bank a critical wildlife area. Many of the island’s native species, including a variety of hard and soft corals, are found nowhere else on Earth. The bank is also the breeding ground for the ecologically important southern blue whiting and Fuegian sardine. WCS has worked to protect the region as part of its Sea and Sky initiative, which seeks to promote management of the vast Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem. The ecosystem ranks as one of the most productive regions in the southern hemisphere.

The Argentine Fisheries Secretary implemented the Federal Fisheries Council mandate on September 26, permanently banning all fishing activities in the area. This includes bottom trawling, an industrial fishing method that employs large, heavy nets dragged across the seabed, and takes a heavy toll on corals, sponges, and other animals. The method can be destructive to underwater ecosystems that serve as both spawning grounds and ecological storehouses.

“Armed with sound science, Consejo Federal Pesquero has taken a big step in ensuring sustainability in Argentina’s fishing industry by protecting Burdwood Bank,” said Dr. Claudio Campagna of the WCS-Sea and Sky Program. “With the protection of this small, but critical area, the ocean is better able to replenish what we take from it, and equally important, Argentina’s unique biodiversity is preserved.”

The biodiversity of the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem, which contains and surrounds the Patagonian Shelf, is sustained by the nutrient-rich Falklands-Malvinas and Brazil currents. The living resources of the area, particularly fish and squid, are of major economic importance. They also sustain breeding and feeding aggregations of albatross, penguins, whales, and seals. The community of top predators and migratory species in this vast area come from as far as Antarctica, South Georgia Island, and even New Zealand.

WCS’s involvement in Patagonia dates back to the 1970s and has included research, training, education, and policy development. The Sea and Sky initiative is funded by the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas and the Liz Claiborne/Art Ortenberg Foundation.

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