/ 9 October 2008

Warmer world threatens ‘Happy Feet’ penguins

More than half of the colonies of Antarctica’s penguins, including emperor penguins made famous by the Hollywood film Happy Feet, face decline or being wiped out if the world warms by two degrees Celsius, a report says.

Rising temperatures in coming decades would lead to less sea ice in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica and fewer nesting sites and feeding grounds for penguins, global conservation group the WWF said in the report 2 Deg C is Too Much.

”The problem is very serious. Antarctica and the Arctic are the most threatened regions from climate change,” Juan Casavelos, the WWF’s Antarctic climate-change coordinator, said on Thursday.

”In the Antarctic Peninsula, the temperature has risen 2,5 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, which is five times faster than the global average,” he said from Barcelona, Spain, where the report was released at this week’s International Union for Conservation of Nature congress.

Global temperatures have already risen on average by about 0,6 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

The report says unless nations slashed carbon emissions, the world would warm by an average two degrees Celsius in less than 40 years.

But temperatures near the Poles have already risen much faster, leading to dramatic melting of glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula, off the bottom of South America, and sea ice at the North Pole.

”The situation is quite critical because in the past 50 years, the emperor penguin population has decreased by 50% in all of Antarctica,” Casavelos said.

On the Antarctic Peninsula’s north-western coast, Adelie penguin numbers have dropped dramatically over the past 25 years, the WWF’s report said, calling for rich nations to agree to steep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions in United Nations-led climate talks.

”Fifty percent of the colonies of the iconic emperor penguin and 75% of Adelie penguin colonies face marked decline or disappearance if the global temperature is allowed to rise two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” the report says.

”Under two degrees Celsius global warming and the projected decrease in sea-ice thickness and increase in open water area, emperor penguins will find it increasingly difficult to find new nesting areas,” it says.

With less sea ice, Adelie penguins could be pushed further south but this could hamper their hunts for food during the dark winter months because they need at least a few hours of daylight to find food, the report says. — Reuters