US Says Climate Change Is Threatening Emperor Penguins

In this file photo, emperor penguins are seen in Dumont d’Urville, Antarctica, on April 10, 2012. (REUTERS/Martin Passingham/File Photo)

The U.S. wildlife agency says Antarctica’s emperor penguins are now threatened because of the effects of climate change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a warning that the species is in danger of disappearing, or becoming extinct, if steps are not taken to protect it.

The declaration officially calls for protections of emperor penguins under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The flightless seabirds are native to Antarctica. But the U.S. agency said warming oceans linked to climate change have harmed the penguins’ sea ice environment. The animals need sea ice to reproduce, hunt for food and avoid other creatures.

Martha Williams is the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She said in a statement the listing of emperor penguins on the ESA demonstrates a “growing extinction crisis” affecting many species worldwide.

“The listing of the emperor penguin serves as an alarm bell, but also a call to action,” Williams said.

The wildlife agency said a major examination of available evidence suggests the penguins are not currently in danger of extinction. However, if carbon emissions continue to rise, temperatures will as well, leading to more sea ice destruction. This harm could result in the emperor penguins disappearing “in the foreseeable future,” the agency said.

The agency’s declaration followed a 2011 request by the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity to list the penguins under the ESA.

Climate change has reduced reproduction rates in emperor colonies, the agency said. One example is the Halley Bay colony in the Weddell Sea, the second-largest emperor penguin colony in the world. Officials say several years of poor ice conditions in areas around the colony led to the drowning of all newborn penguins beginning in 2016.

The endangered declaration is designed to improve international cooperation for conservation efforts and increase financial assistance. The action also requires federal agencies in the United States to take steps to reduce extinction threats.

Shaye Wolf is the climate science director for the U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity. She told Reuters news agency she sees the U.S. declaration as a warning that emperor penguins need “urgent climate action” in order to survive.

“The penguin’s very existence depends on whether our government takes strong action now to cut climate-heating fossil fuels and prevent irreversible damage to life on Earth,” Wolf said.

The 1973 Endangered Species Act is credited with bringing several animals back from the danger of extinction. These include grizzly bears, bald eagles, gray whales and others. Some drilling and mining industries have opposed the act because it can halt development in areas considered necessary for species survival.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

species – n. a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants

alarm bell – n. a device that makes a loud ringing sound to warn of danger

emission – n. the act of producing or sending out something (such as energy or gas) from a source

conservation – n. the protection of animals, plants, and natural resources

fossil fuels – v. fuels such as coal, oil, or natural gas that are formed in the Earth from dead plants or animals

irreversible – adj. not possible to change; impossible to return to a previous condition