NEW YORK (MARCH 31, 2010) – The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced an agreement to create a new marine protected area in Argentina that will safeguard one of the country’s most unique seascapes for both people and wildlife—including the only colony of Southern rockhopper penguins on continental Argentina’s 3,000-mile coast.
Located to the south of Puerto Deseado in the province of Santa Cruz, Parque Marino Isla Pingüino – which translates to “Penguin Island Marine Park” – will safeguard more than 650 square miles (1,700 square kilometers) of coastal waters strung along almost 60 miles (100 kilometers) of shoreline.
Among the species that will benefit from the park’s creation are Southern rockhopper penguins. Rockhoppers are sometimes described as the “punk-rockers” of penguins due to the “spiked” plumes on their crown. They also have bright yellow “eyebrows,” red eyes, and pink feet. Unlike other penguins which slide on their bellies or walk and awkwardly climb to negotiate obstacles, rockhoppers get around on land by jumping, both legs at once.
The park’s creation represents a joint effort by the Government of Santa Cruz and Argentina’s National Parks Service and is the result of years of study and conservation work by WCS. The new designation will balance wildlife needs with those of the region’s human population by educating local communities about conservation issues and promoting sustainable development activities compatible with conservation goals.
“This decision by Argentine officials represents a significant commitment by the government to protect an extraordinary marine ecosystem,” said Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Latin American Programs Avecita Chicchon. “The creation of this park will help to ensure a future for the threatened species in this region and will protect the area’s unique natural heritage.”
The global population of Southern rockhoppers has fallen sharply by about one-third in the last thirty years to roughly one million pairs. Currently, the species is classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
While Argentina’s coastline is largely undeveloped, its wildlife is threatened by pollution caused by offshore oil drilling and transport, and by entanglement in nets used by commercial fishing fleets. WCS has been working in the region since the 1960s and has been involved in the conservation of southern right whales, Magellanic and rockhopper penguins, southern elephant seals and many other unique wildlife species. As part of that effort, WCS is helping to coordinate management of coastal protected areas around the southern cone of South America in Argentina and Chile.
The treaty authorizing the park was signed by President Dr. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, of Argentina, Governor Daniel Peralta of the Province of Santa Cruz and by Dr. Patricia Gandini for Argentina’s National Park Service, and is awaiting ratification by the Santa Cruz provincial legislature. After this occurs, a draft of the law establishing the park will be sent to the Argentine Congress for final approval.
The designation of this new protected area was made possible by the generous support of the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation and the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas.
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