Argentina's Waters

Magellanic Penguin Photo
A rapidly expanding South Atlantic fishery is among the greatest threats to Argentina's marine species, such as this Magellanic penguin.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Magellanic Penguin Colony Photo
More than one million pairs of Magellanic penguins in 50 colonies nest almost exclusively on the coast of Argentina.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Sea lion Photo
On the Argentine Coast, WCS scientist Claudio Campagna takes a quick break from tagging sea lions.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS

The Argentine marine environment is both productive and harsh, ranging from marshy lowlands in the north to windswept cliffs and glaciers in the south, with adjacent waters varying in temperature from subtropical to sub-Antarctic. The southernmost point on the continent, known as Tierra del Fuego, straddles Argentina and Chile and is beset by some of the world’s most tumultuous weather, which has resulted in numerous shipwrecks throughout recorded history. Isolated and sparsely inhabited, these shores harbor some of the world’s most spectacular concentrations of wildlife.

The region remains remote and wild. Though it has suffered the effects of oil extraction and transport and overfishing, it still provides critical habitat for huge colonies of Magellanic penguins, as well as cormorants, albatrosses, elephant seals, southern right whales, sea lions, and fish, such as hake and Patagonian toothfish. The living resources of the area, particularly fish and squid, are of major economic importance. The rich marine ecosystem in the southwestern Atlantic ecosystem sustains breeding and feeding aggregations of albatross, penguins, whales, and seals, and wildlife breeding and feeding spectacles in the region draw seasonal tourists. The southwestern Atlantic marine ecosystem also includes the Jason Islands in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, home to a spectacular breeding seabird community, including the largest colony of black-browed albatrosses in the world, with more than 140,000 breeding pairs.

Fast Facts

  • Spanning 700,000 square miles, the Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem, which contains and surrounds the Patagonian Shelf, is one of the largest and richest marine ecosystems in the world.
  • Magellanic penguins number more than one million pairs and nest almost exclusively on the coast of Argentina in more than 50 colonies.
  • Almost one third of the world’s remaining southern right whales breed in waters along the coast of Patagonia.


The Patagonian Large Marine Ecosystem has a history of exploitation for oil production and commercial fishing, which has resulted in a reduction of breeding populations and habitat degradation. Many species are in decline and are now globally threatened.

The principal threat to the region’s marine wildlife is the rapidly expanding South Atlantic fishery. Unsustainable, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by commercial fleets threatens many fish and squid species found on the continental shelf and slope off Argentine Patagonia, and adversely impact wildlife higher up the food chain. Conservationists are concerned that renewed pressure from the fishing industry on recovering stocks of hake, in addition to shrimp, squid and Patagonian toothfish (better known as Chilean sea bass), will impact wildlife that depend on these resources to feed themselves and their young.

Other threats include pollution, climate change, human disturbance, wildlife diseases, and the introduction of non-native species. There is a need for continued education to build upon increasing public awareness of the value of preserving marine ecosystems.

WCS Responds

WCS began working in coastal Patagonia in the 1960s, conducting research and conservation of southern right whales. In the 1980s, we expanded our efforts to protect the other spectacular colonies of marine mammals and seabirds, including the southern elephant seals of Peninsula Valdes and the Magellanic penguins of Punta Tombo as well as other birds such as cormorants, gulls, and terns.

The Argentine coast is a focus of more than a dozen longstanding WCS projects that have been instrumental in generating new information on wildlife, as well as the creation of new protected areas on the coast and increasing community awareness of wildlife. Today, WCS’ conservation efforts on the coast even include the protection of the largest parrot colony in the world, which resides in the cliffs that face the ocean near Viedma in northern Patagonia. Our Sea and Sky project is helping protect the health of the Patagonian Sea, inspiring local interest in ocean conservation. Working with our partners, we have helped improve ecosystem management for this vast stretch of the southwestern Atlantic Seascape—an epicenter of biological productivity.

From the Newsroom

Penguin Chicks Face Increasing Risks February 3, 2014

The life of a young Magellanic penguin has never been easy. Now, a new study shows that the vulnerable chicks face additional threats to their survival from climate change.

Argentina’s Open-Ocean ReserveAugust 2, 2013

Argentina has created its first open-ocean protected area, Burdwood Bank. This sanctuary in the Patagonian Sea will protect whales, penguins, and rare cold corals. WCS commends Argentina’s government on the achievement, and thanks local partners of the Forum of NGOs.

Expedition Uncovers Wildlife Wonders at Tierra del FuegoFebruary 25, 2011

WCS partners with local groups to protect elephant seals, albatrosses, penguins, and other marine wildlife in Admiralty Sound, on an expedition to help safeguard this coastal region.

New Atlas of the Patagonian SeaJune 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.

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