SAN FRANCISCO— Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) and the Center for Biological Diversity today sued the Obama administration for illegally delaying protection of penguins under the Endangered Species Act. The Interior Department failed to meet its December 19, 2009 deadline to list seven penguin species at risk of extinction due to climate change and commercial fisheries. These penguins will not receive desperately needed Endangered Species Act protections until Interior finalizes the listings.
“Penguins should be marching toward recovery, not extinction. These amazing species face a double whammy from the threats brought by climate change and industrial fisheries that deplete the penguins’ food supply and entangle and drown the penguins in longlines and other destructive fishing gear. They deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of TIRN.
“While sea ice melts and oceans warm, the Obama administration is stuck like a deer in the headlights. Instead of saving penguins from the leviathan of global warming while it still can,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center attorney, “our government is dragging its feet.”
In 2006 the Center filed a petition to list 12 penguin species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In December 2008, the Interior Department proposed listing seven of those species as threatened or endangered – African, Humboldt, yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland crested, and erect-crested penguins as well as a few populations of the southern rockhopper – while denying listing to emperor and northern rockhopper penguins despite scientific evidence that they also are threatened by climate change.
Today’s lawsuit challenges the Interior Department’s illegal delay in finalizing the listing of the seven proposed penguin species; the Center and TIRN also intend to file suit against Interior for denying protections to emperor and rockhopper penguins. Warming oceans, melting sea ice, and fishery harvests have wreaked havoc on penguins’ food supply: krill, an essential nutrient for penguins, whales, and seals, has declined by up to 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean. Reduced food supply has diminished populations of species ranging from southern rockhoppers and Humboldt penguins of South American islands to the African penguin in southern Africa.
Endangered Species Act listing would protect penguins from multiple threats, raise awareness of their plight, and increase research funding. Federal approval of fishing permits for U.S.-flagged vessels on the high seas, for example, would require analysis and minimization of impacts on penguins. The Act also has a key role in managing greenhouse gas pollution by compelling federal agencies to look at the impact of the emissions generated by their activities on listed species and reduce those impacts.
Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) is an environmental organization working to protect and restore endangered marine species and the marine environment on which we all depend. Headquartered in California, with offices in Texas and Costa Rica, TIRN is dedicated to swift and decisive action to protect and restore marine species and their habitats and to inspire people in communities all over the world to join us as active and vocal marine species advocates. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org and www.TIRN.net
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.