WASHINGTON DC, January 12, 2009 - Argentina’s penguins rang in 2009 with a new marine park that will protect their nesting grounds onshore as well as their feeding grounds at sea.
The park is home to half a million Magellanic Penguins, along with several species of rare seabirds and the region’s only population of South American fur seals.
The Government of Argentina signed the marine park into law in December. Its creation represents a joint effort by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), National Parks Service of Argentina, Government of Chubut, and local partner Fundación Patagonia Natural. It also received support from the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility.
WCS researchers, together with Fundación Patagonia Natural, worked to ensure that the park’s boundaries would include both onshore areas and adjacent waters. The researchers found that the area’s wildlife faced increasing pressures by commercial fishing and the oil industry. Seabirds foraging in the waters risked entanglement in commercial fishing nets. Other threats included expanding offshore oil drilling and pollution from tankers transporting petroleum from southern Patagonia to Buenos Aires.
“The park protects one of the most productive and extraordinary marine ecosystems on the planet,” said Dr. Guillermo Harris, director of WCS-Argentina. “The creation of this park comes in the nick of time for many species that are threatened by the region’s fishing and energy industries.”
Located in Golfo San Jorge in Chubut Province, 1,056 miles south of Buenos Aires, the park safeguards 250 square miles of coastal waters and nearby islands strung along almost 100 miles of shoreline. The region’s Magellanic penguins represent an estimated 25 percent of the entire population in Patagonia. Two nesting colonies of southern giant petrels also inhabit the region’s 50 small islands. These bird colonies represent more than 80 percent of the petrel population on the entire Patagonian coast. Other denizens of the oasis include the endangered Olrog’s gull, the white-headed steamer duck, and almost a third of all imperial and rock cormorants in Argentina.
Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas has provided funding for the park and for WCS’s efforts to safeguard coastal Patagonia. WCS has been active in the region since the 1960s, helping to conserve southern right whales, Magellanic penguins, and southern elephant seals. Our Sea & Sky program is committed to supporting the health of the Patagonian Sea and inspiring local interest in ocean conservation.
Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of the GEF, said, “The Global Environment Facility is the largest funding mechanism for protected areas worldwide, investing in more than 1,600 protected areas covering more than 360 million hectares, predominately in terrestrial ecosystems. Yet clearly there is still a lot of work left to do in the marine environment. It is here the GEF intends to catalyze similar efforts and where the global community has so far lagged behind in achieving equal protection status”.
She added, "One important step forward is this partnership, which supports the Government of Argentina, Fundación Patagonia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society in their collaborative efforts to designate a new national marine park.
This new initiative will protect onshore breeding colonies and corresponding feeding habitats for over a half million penguins and other threatened marine wildlife in the majestic Patagonia region. And it is emblematic of GEF's ongoing goal to address the global marine ecosystem coverage gap within national level protected area systems. Building on this success we hope to see more national coastal and marine protected area networks to conserve marine biodiversity, enhance long-term fisheries management, and contribute to local livelihoods."
"I applaud the Wildlife Conservation Society for the successful creation of a new coastal marine park in Patagonia,” said Congressman Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. “I also am pleased by the support provided by international and multilateral agencies including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility. Through the tireless efforts of these organizations, over a half million penguins and other critical marine wildlife will be protected. When I traveled to Argentina last year, I learned about the tremendous diversity of wildlife in the Patagonia region and the need to protect the area for future generations. The park’s creation comes at a crucial time in preserving one of the world's most remarkable marine ecosystems from over fishing and damaging oil exploration.”